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#556416 - 11/13/01 11:41 AM Too young to start piano lessons?
kittenfish Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 12
Loc: Guilford, Connecticut
How does one decide when to start lessons for a child? My son is 4. I'm sure his attention span is far too short (never mind his fingers) right now. I could not teach him myself since I know nothing about music, so I'm asking about lessons with a teacher. Is 4 far too young? What about 6? Thanks.

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#556417 - 11/13/01 11:54 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
jodi Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 6959
Loc: The Evergreen State (WA)
It all depends on the child, and on the teacher. What you DON'T want to do is turn your kid off to the piano by pushing him too hard too early. There are some here who started their children early, and some (like me) who started them when they started to read. (first grade) Realize that you will have to attend the lessons to know what your child is to do during the week, and you will need to sit with your child each time he practices to help. As they get a bit older (mine are 7 and 10) I just need to sit the first few days when they are learning the notes and the counting for the new songs. Piano lessons are a big commitment on the parents part too - I'm not sure how many people realize that. Jodi

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#556418 - 11/13/01 03:25 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
kittenfish Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 12
Loc: Guilford, Connecticut
Jodi, Thanks for your advice. I am a little concerned about the level of commitment required from me. I get tired just thinking about "working" with my four year old son. His attention span is rather short. I think your point about pushing too hard is a good one too. I don't know anything about music and I would like to give my children this gift of being able to make it. I have no ideas about making professional musicians of them so I can wait a few more years. Perhaps a good test would be when he can make a bead necklace or a batch of cookies without driving me crazy for lack of focus. :rolleyes:

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#556419 - 11/13/01 04:31 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
jodi Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 6959
Loc: The Evergreen State (WA)
I know plenty of fantastic pianists that didn't start playing until they were 6 or 7. No need to rush anything. It made sense to me to wait and start until they were reading from a reading the music standpoint, although, I know that the right teacher can work with younger children that don't read yet. One benefit we have noticed with our youngest - He is left handed, and was not nearly as interested in drawing, or coloring early on as out oldest. He had a lot of trouble at first learning to write in a legible fashion. Once he started taking piano lessons, his hand eye coordination seemed to improve immensly. His handwriting is already better than my husbands... \:\) Jodi

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#556420 - 11/13/01 05:41 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Megumi Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/01
Posts: 12
Loc: New York
Here's a bad example of pushing too hard too early.

My mom started me on an old organ when I was 4 and I moved on to a piano when I was 5. For the first few years I enjoyed playing and progressed pretty quickly. But then, when I was about 8, I had a new teacher who was SUPER mean and hit me sometimes. (It was a common practice where I grew up.) I was so scared of her!! My parents didn't play any musical instruments but for some reason my mom REALLY thought I could be a pianist and pushed me so hard. (Whoese daughter did she think she had???) I ended up absolutely hating everything about piano!! I quit lessons when I was 12. I played on and off for fun until high school and then completely stopped.

Now I'm 35 and started playing again last year. I enjoy it so much and wish I had kept playing when I was younger. But at the time, there was no way I would have!!! I think it's very important to have a teacher (and parents) who can show you how much fun it can be to play the piano, especially when you are very young.

Megumi

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#556421 - 11/13/01 06:19 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
okat47 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/13/01
Posts: 193
Loc: Canada
Maybe instead of piano lessons right now, he could do some sort of general music class. He could do singing, or movement, or one of those group music classes they have for really young kids. Sorry I can't give you anything more specific.
I started to play when I was 5. My parents were pretty lax about the whole thing, so maybe that's why I stuck with it. I think the main thing at that age is to have fun and develop a love for music. The commitment and all that can wait.

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#556422 - 11/13/01 07:58 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Dwain Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/01
Posts: 2419
Loc: Columbus, Ohio
My two daughters, ages Nine and Five, started lessons a few months ago. Five loved the lessons, and loved the teacher, but did not have the maturity or discipline to practice regularly. We fought with her for a bit about it, to no avail. We worried: "If we push her too hard, we'll ruin her love for music." We worried again: "If we let her quit this, she'll think she can quit anything once it gets a little hard."

Finally, after discussing the issue with her teacher, we agreed to postpone her lessons for about a year, till she matured a bit more. She still likes to putter with the piano, and she's always interested when Nine - and Dad - are practicing and taking their lessons. Several times now, she's asked, "Dad, is it time for me to start taking piano lessons again yet?"

It isn't, but I'm encouraged by her attitude that we did the right thing. I think she'll do fine as a piano student that I'll have to refer to on the Forum as Six.

I've never been one to think that a person must choose the right preschool for their kid to assure that they ultimately get into the best graduate school, and I think that worry about when to start kids with piano lessons is a little like that. Sometimes we -with the best intentions - try to push our kids to not be kids a little too quickly. I think I did that with Five. If you're concerned that waiting a year or so for your son to get a slightly longer attention span would be advisable, you're probably right - no one knows him better than you. And I wouldn't worry, he'll have plenty of time to do just great with his lessons.

Dwain

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#556423 - 11/14/01 10:45 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
kittenfish Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 12
Loc: Guilford, Connecticut
Thank you all for your insight and sharing your personal experiences. Frankly, I'm relieved not to add the stress of trying to impose my grand desires on my little musical genius ... for the moment. Dwain, practicing with Nine sounds like a very nice time, a pleasant memory that she'll have her whole life.

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#556424 - 11/14/01 11:50 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Dwain Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/01
Posts: 2419
Loc: Columbus, Ohio
 Quote:
Originally posted by kittenfish:
Dwain, practicing with Nine sounds like a very nice time, a pleasant memory that she'll have her whole life.[/b]


As will I \:\)

Dwain

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#556425 - 11/16/01 02:37 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Carol Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/24/01
Posts: 18
Loc: Cleveland, Ohio
After many years of teaching piano, I decided to only start at age 7 or entering 2nd grade. At that age they understand more and can progress much more easily than at age 6. Some 6 year olds can't even sit on the bench for the whole half hour. Some of the smaller ones had to crawl onto it and I would think Oh what have I gotten myself into?! I showed my own kids the notes when they were 7 and they just took off on it at that age. Hope this helps. Carol

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#556426 - 11/29/01 10:06 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
kittenfish Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 12
Loc: Guilford, Connecticut
Carol, Thank you. As a teacher, I think you probably have a pretty good handle on a good "general" age to start. And you bring up a good point, one that I hadn't really thought of (getting a child to concentrate on lessons). I was only thinking how painful it would be to monitor his practicing. My son is one of those who would find it difficult to sit on a piano bench for 30 minutes. I have to chase him around the house to get his socks on! Thanks!

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#556427 - 11/29/01 05:12 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
ryan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 1995
Loc: Colorado
I think it depends on both the teacher and the child. It depends on the teacher's comfort level and skill in teaching young children. And, it depends on the child's interest level and ability to concentrate. As people have already mentioned, there are a lot of things that can be taught to younger children before they ever get to note reading. There are games and exercises that can be used to teach rhythm, listening skills, singing skills, etc. Programs that teach these things can be very beneficial, and can really give a youngster a head start when the time comes for piano specific lessons.

I started when I was 5, and played three pieces in a studio recital after only 7 lessons. I was taught out of the Suzuki method and had a teacher that was very good with children. I had a very good ear, and could learn the pieces quite rapidly. On the down side, the later methods I was put in did not teach reading effectively (they tried...), so I had a problem with reading for a long time after that.

Starting younger children out playing by ear is not a bad idea, though, because they can get fast results learning to play things before they can read them. However, they must be put in a method that teaches reading effectively before too long, or playing by ear can become a crutch and a hinderance. Again, this depends on the comfort level and skill set of the teacher - not all teachers are willing to do this.

Ryan

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#556428 - 11/29/01 10:54 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Nina Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/01
Posts: 6467
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
I agree with whoever posted that it is a good idea to start with music appreciation and rhythm. My neighbor's daughter started music "lessons" at about that age, but the classes were primarily clapping, singing tunes with different feelings and rhythms (e.g., "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in legato, in staccato -- 'like a robot', slow, fast, etc.). The kids seemed to have a great time and they learned to count and keep time.

My own teacher (who also teaches kids) has an interesting mnemonic for helping kids get the rhythms of the various note values:

quarter note: "chips"
eighth note: "salsa"
quarter note: "enchilada"

She's got another for triplets, but I can't remember it offhand. The kids really get the idea and I confess I've even used it myself!

At any rate, rhythm is a major part of good music performance and kids seem to really enjoy learning it.

(I've also heard of kids who were pushed too early into reading music, and somehow got mixed up between the fingering numbers and the keys they were supposed to play... took forever to get them to unlink the two and actually learn the musical staffs.)

Nina

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#556429 - 11/29/01 10:57 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Nina Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/01
Posts: 6467
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
whoops, enchilada = sixteenth note, doh!

Maybe this is why my interpretation of Beethoven's Pathetique always sounded weird??

Nina

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#556430 - 11/30/01 03:16 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Penny Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 2943
Loc: San Juan Capistrano, CA
KinderMusik is a program designed to teach the fundamentals of music in a truly fun way. They use instruments, puppets, scarves, sing-song stories and songs from all over the world to spark a love for music. Even toddlers can get the concepts of rhythem and beat. Go here:
KinderMusik home page

to learn more. I did it with both my children and loved every second! BTW, my son started piano a couple months before he was seven. My daughter is three and I at first considered the Suzuki method but have since decided against it for the very problems discussed above.

penny

[ November 30, 2001: Message edited by: Penny ]

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#556431 - 11/30/01 10:07 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
ryan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 1995
Loc: Colorado
I don't have first hand experience, but I know several people who love Kindermusic, and their children do too. One friend I was talking to the other day said that both his children have visibly benefited from the program, and they are younger than 5.

Nina, I have had transfer students who mixed up finger numbers and keys, but it seems to have more to do with the teacher and method than the age of the student. One transfer student that had this problem was 15 and had been taking lessons for two years. This can be a real flaw of the Middle C based methods - teachers that use these kinds of methods must take special care so their students don't learn to read only the finger numbers. This is one of the reasons why I use a landmark and interval/pattern based method for teaching. It avoids this pitfall. It also teaches how to read by interval and pattern, which forces the student to have a more horizontal view of what they are playing (critical for sightreading) and is potentially faster than translating each note to it's name and then finding it on the keyboard. It takes more of an investment up front by the teacher, but it's always been worth it in the long run.

Ryan

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#556432 - 11/30/01 01:01 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Nina Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/01
Posts: 6467
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
Hi, Ryan:

I don't teach (piano, at least) but what you say makes a lot of sense to me. I do know when sight-reading that I don't really have to "read" the notes on a standard chord, or an alberti bass. You can just tell by the shape of the notes on the page, then you can just pick up the starting or ending note and fill in from there.

Sounds like you're a great teacher!

Nina

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#556433 - 12/02/01 03:41 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
sys$hobbit Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/02/01
Posts: 14
I have 11 month twins myself and have had them play the piano with me eight or ten times a day since they were about a month old. They love to play with Dada, and we're experimenting with games like, play loud, play soft, play high, play low and can you play this note? They love it.

My mom was a piano teacher, and perhaps I can paraphrase her advice for parents:

With young children focus on teaching them to love music. Children love to sing and dance and play silly games and if you do the same with them they'll learn to love music all their lives.

When you do send a child to lessons remember not to isolate them. Just decide in your mind that music practice is always a good sound...as long as they're practicing right. Make sure you take the time out to sit with the child for one hour every day while they practice. Sitting next to them will encourage them and it will be shared time that they'll enjoy. But if you banish the child to a separate room they'll consider it punishment. They'll grow to hate the piano and will stop just as soon as they can.

Teach things that are within reach or just at the edge of the child's cognitive development. For a five year old the difference between a half-note and a quarter note is a non trivial thing.

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#556434 - 12/02/01 10:01 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
SteveY Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/01
Posts: 1820
Loc: NJ
I'm not a piano teacher, so I'm not an expert at early childhood development in music. But I have two young boys (2 & 4) so I'm very much interested in this. Here's a real-life example:

When I was 3 1/2, my parents thought they saw some musical ability in me and signed me up at a local Yamaha school. At the time, Yamaha didn't have anything for kids my age so my parents had to talk them into letting me in. After about a year, I began private lessons with the teacher from the Yamaha class (she was great). However, like most kids, I was more into other things than practicing. I loved sports and would rather play baseball or football than practice the piano. My parents tell me now that they had decided early on that music was as important a part of my education as math or spelling and that they would not allow me to quit (as quitting math or spelling would have been out of the question). Within a year or two, a couple things happened: First, I began to hate taking lessons. Second, because I was essentially forced to practice, I improved simply by force of (my parents') will. This continued for years. My parents simply would not allow me to go to little league games or practices until my piano practicing was done. As you can imagine, it caused a lot of friction in my family. When I got into high school, I was finally allowed to decide for myself. I immediately quit. I enjoyed "lording" my decision over my parents for awhile, but within a month or two, I started missing it. I started realizing that after almost 12 years of lessons, I actually could play fairly well. In fact, I might even be better at the piano than at sports (which was a horrifying thought for me). I started sneaking in playing when my parents were gone and after a few months, I came back with my tail between my legs and asked if I could take lessons again -- but this time, I got to choose the teacher.

I'm now 34, and have been a professional musician since I was 19. In fact, I put myself through college this way. And even though music is my business, I still have a strong passion for playing, composing, etc. Now that I have two little boys, I have a tough decision. On one hand, I have all those feelings of hating playing for so long. On the other hand, the end result is pretty great. As I look back, I realize that one thing my parents didn't do is find other kids who were doing the same thing as me. I had lots of friends to share sports with, but no one to share music with. I take my kids to concerts, to my studio (when I can), and try and get them to see that playing music is just as cool as anything else. I wonder if that might have helped me. Of course, some may criticize the way my parents handled things. That's OK. I struggle with it too. I really do resonate with their assertion that music is just as important as math or science. But at the same time, I'd like to go the extra mile in making it fun for my kids as well. My four-year-old is in a Kindermusic class and it's a little "lite" for me. I wish it had a little bit more depth musically. I really enjoyed the Yamaha school, and after going to music school I realize how good the method really was. I wish there was something like that where we live.
_________________________
PianoWorld disclaimer: musician, producer, arranger, author, clinician, consultant, PS2 aficionado, secret agent...

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#556435 - 12/02/01 06:04 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Amy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 433
Loc: Upstate New York
If your 4 year old has a short attention span I would not recommend starting him out quite yet. I started when I was about 6. Does your son want to play or do you want him to play? If he truly wants to play then maybe you should consider letting him but if it is you who wants him to play then I would definatly wait until he is older and wants too. Many good pianists start around 6 or 7.
_________________________
-Amy-
*Visit my page! http://www.expage.com/pianopalace

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#556436 - 12/02/01 09:29 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
pepper Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/13/01
Posts: 171
Loc: SF CA
I think the very best thing you can do to get your very young children interested in music is also the easiest thing you can do -- simply have classical piano music playing in the house all the time (well, I guess you could play other types of music, but I'm a classical nut). They will sing with it and dance to it and of course love it.

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#556437 - 12/02/01 11:40 PM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
ryan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 1995
Loc: Colorado
Good point. Our son (almost 4) conducts along with his favorite pieces. He really likes timpani and horns, and cues them in. Amazingly, he always times it right! He also makes up his own music on the piano, "thunder" and "dinosaurs" in the low registers, "rain" up high, etc. He memorizes melodies like crazy, and even memorized the tune that one of those halloween decorations sang, in just a couple of listens. He is not ready to start reading music yet or even start lessons, but I thing he is getting a pretty good start.

Ryan

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#556438 - 12/03/01 12:42 AM Re: Too young to start piano lessons?
Ray G Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/28/01
Posts: 9
Both of our sons started in Kidermusik and similar programs at an early age [around 2]. Both have enjoyed their experiences and really love music. We decided not to start our oldest son, who is now 7, with piano lessons at an early age, for a variety of reasons relating to his attention span, frustration tolerance, etc. He is now excited about taking lessons and we feel that the timing will be perfect for him to start this summer.

On the other hand, we began lessons with our yougest son at age 4. He's been taking lessons for about 6 months now and has been really enjoying himself both in his lessons and his daily practices. He'll occcasionally lose focus but he is 4, after all. His teacher [who usually discourages pupils from starting so young] has been very happy with his progress so far.

The trick will be to keep the experience a positive one for both boys. A new piano to replace our aging old electronic keyboard will help \:\)

Bottom line is that I agree with others in this thread that whether or not a child is too young depends in large part on the child.

Ray G

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