Perfect timing:  How do I know when my child is ready to start piano lessons?
Perfect timing: How do I know when my child is ready to start piano lessons?

Perfect timing: How do I know when my child is ready to start piano lessons?

” There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”

J. S. Bach

Well, playing the piano is not exactly that easy, unless you’re Bach. Starting piano lessons, although challenging, is also fun and life-enriching for anyone, at any age. Most people start piano as a child, and a common question from parents is, “How do I know when my child is ready to start piano lessons?”

My parents didn’t have to wonder much about me, because I was one of those weird kids who would go up to anyone’s piano and start pressing the keys. I didn’t have to wonder about my children starting music lessons because they didn’t have a choice — each kid began Suzuki violin at age three, before they had any idea what a violin was.

There are three basic areas of development that a parent can look at to assess whether it’s that magical time to start piano, and one area that relates to parent/family factors.

The first area is physical development. Can your child hold onto things without dropping them? Can they color in the lines? Can they trace or write letters? Can they move each finger independently of the others? Do they have enough stamina to sit up straight for 15 minutes? If your child isn’t there yet, don’t worry. Gross and fine motor skills develop at different rates in different kids.

Next is cognitive development. Piano lessons require the child to be able to understand that music is read from left to right, top to bottom. Have they started reading words/books yet, or do they understand that this is the basic movement of reading? Do they know their right from their left? Can they count to ten? Can they understand and perform basic commands given by a non-parent adult? If not, wait until they have these skills.

Emotional development is also important. Piano lessons involve listening to a teacher, following directions, and responding to constructive criticism. The child will be, in almost all cases, mostly wrong at the beginning. Can they accept the teacher’s direction without getting upset? Can they handle the normal frustration of repeating tasks until they are mastered? I’m talking about warm-hearted, friendly criticism that also includes praise for tasks correctly done and compassion for the struggle to do them. A child who is emotionally ready for piano lessons will respond positively to a teacher’s criticism.

The final factor, independent of the child’s personal readiness, is parent and family readiness. When I started piano lessons, my parents bought a piano and found a good teacher who was in our neighborhood. This meant that I had a decent instrument to use and was able to consistently attend lessons, even if I had to walk. When our kids started violin, we got them each their own violin (2 years apart, they aren’t twins), and found a good teacher within a reasonable driving distance. This is basic; a family needs to be able to provide an instrument and commit to attending regular lessons.

After this basic level of readiness, a parent needs to be able to practice regularly with a small child, and to work regular practice into an older child’s schedule. It can be difficult for a very young child to understand what they are supposed to be doing in a practice session, and having a parent there to point things out and reinforce what goes on in the lesson makes practicing much more effective. An older child might be able to remember what to practice, but isn’t capable of planning their time to include practicing. In general, it’s wise to make practicing the normal thing, not what you do when you have time. Days off practicing should be unusual. Even short practice sessions are better than none.

Practicing isn’t always easy or fun, so the parent needs to be able to adapt by providing more immediate reinforcement. The parent also should listen to mastered pieces, ask the child to play for others, and praise their efforts. Listening to various musical styles, as well as the family’s favorites, can reinforce what is learned in the lessons and expand the student’s musical knowledge. Basically, if you can decide that you’re a family who does music, who finds music important and enjoyable, then you’re ready for your child to take lessons.

An experienced teacher can help you determine whether your child is ready for piano lessons. Contact Christopher Piano Studio for more information.

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