Is Your Child Ready for Piano? 3 Signs to Look For
1 Mar 2019 | by Nabillah Jalal
You’re never too old to learn the piano, but is it ever too early?
As a private piano teacher, most frequent enquiry from young parents is: “Is my child ready for piano lessons?” Beyond the child’s age, many factors determine if a child is emotionally, physically and mentally prepared for music instruction.
When I meet a kindergartener for her first lesson, I use the one hour to assess the child’s capabilities. For example: How long can the child sit still before she starts to fidget? Has his hand grown large enough to rest comfortably across five white keys?
These are important questions! An excitable child won’t benefit from a 1-hour lesson if he can only concentrate for less than 5 minutes in one sitting. It’s not a productive use of the parent’s money, either.
There is no best time to begin private piano lessons for kindergarteners. Based on my experience, they are generally ready between the ages of four and six. Their mileage may vary.
Here are the litmus tests I use to assess a child's readiness.
1. Motor skills
Can the child stretch his fingers across five adjacent white keys on the piano? In other words, is his hand large enough? If the answer is no, your child may not be ready for piano lessons.
In addition, does the child have the finger strength to press against a weighted key? If the child doesn’t have the motor dexterity to hold a pencil or a spoon, working with a keyboard can wear him out.
What to do instead:
Not to worry. Even without formal lessons, your child can still experience the early-age benefits of learning music.
You can set the groundwork by incorporating song and dance into your family routines. This can be as casual as teaching your child to move to the beat when singing in the car. If you want structure to your child’s music exposure, you may consider introducing her to a new genre or instrument every week.
2. Math, reading and vocabulary
Learning to read music is like learning a new language mixed with basic math.
Your child needs some mathematical skill to count beats and note values. With piano pieces that have lyrics, reading skills come into play as well. This will allow the child to belt out the lyrics when they practise, which is fantastic for improving their sense of rhythm.
Perhaps the most important criteria for me is that the child can communicate verbally and meaningfully with the teacher. If the child doesn’t have the vocabulary to do so, he’s not ready yet.
What to do instead:
You may want introduce your child to TV programs, games and books with a musical element to them. There is a smorgasbord of TV programs with either singalong content (Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer) or vocal/symphonic accompaniments (Looney Tunes, Silly Symphonies).
Don't underestimate the power of learning language via music. Research shows that the same neural pathways in our brain are responsible for processing music and languages. That’s why songs are especially effective at improving linguistic skills in toddlers. It’s also why musically trained children score higher on reading, vocabulary and comprehension skills.
3. The 15-minute test
To benefit from a private piano lesson, your child should be able to concentrate for at least 15 minutes in one sitting. Children who have had exposure to preschools, childcare centres or other guided learning environments will perform better in this regard.
Make no mistake: My piano lessons are at least one hour long, and it's normal for children to be distracted to some extent.
But if the child’s poor concentration affects his learning too much, this may not be the correct time to enlist a private piano teacher. Not to mention that without a certain level of discipline, practising at home will be almost impossible.
What to do instead:
If poor concentration is a concern, group piano lessons is your next best option. For a start, young children find it less intimidating to face a teacher in a group setting. It’s also true that children in group settings often motivate each other with healthy competition.
As you can expect, the drawback of group coaching is that teachers can't customise their approach to the individual student. In many cases, this can cause the child to develop a weak foundation with their playing posture, counting of beats, etc.
At some point, it will be in your child’s best interest to study with the full attention of a private piano teacher.
Sooner rather than later
I always, always recommend starting your child on piano as soon as possible. There are studies that suggest younger children have faster-firing synapses that accelerate their ability to learn new skills, but I won't touch on that.
My reasoning has more to do with habit. Many habits form and become fixed from when the child is as little as nine. That’s why it’s always preferable for children to start practicing the piano from an early age. It’s how they become accustomed to the idea of practising.
Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule! I started learning the piano when I was 8, and was none the worse for it.
Are you, the parent, ready?
The rewards of learning the piano are undisputed. It results in improvements to cognitive functions across the board – to the point that it actually improves their academics. It cultivates their creative, interpretive and performative skills. It has a positive impact on their sleep, self-esteem and stress management.
But most of these benefits won’t come to pass if the parent isn’t ready to invest time, money and energy into the child’s piano practice. Without the parents’ involvement and support, a child is unlikely to go far.
Financially, parents will need to invest in a piano or at least a keyboard for home use.
Most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, parents need to be involved in their children’s practice between lessons. Left to their own devices, most children will not follow through with practice.
When I was a child, I maintained my interest in piano only because my mother was extremely involved. Daily practice was compulsory. Like many 8-year-olds, I hated practising even though I loved the instrument. You should expect the same with your child!
For young beginners especially, joining your child on the bench when he’s practising the piano will exponentially increase his chances of success.
NJ Studio's lessons
If a child meets the above requirements, and if you as a parent are ready to be involved, piano is a fantastic starting point for introducing her to music. NJ Studio specialises in the narrative teaching approach, using storytelling to transform how children interpret and relate to music. Speak to us about our piano lessons today.