When is my child ready to start piano lessons? How old should my child be before starting formal music instruction?
I began teaching piano lessons to children during my senior year of college. Since then, I have taught hundreds of lessons over the years to children ages 4 to 65. It’s never too late to learn! However, I am often asked these questions by eager parents of preschoolers who want the best start for their young, budding musicians.
One summer during my early years of teaching, I taught piano basics to 3 four-year-old children whose parents wanted to get them started as early as possible. This was the youngest I had ever taught and so we started 20-minute private weekly sessions. These children were wiggly! At the age of four, they had trouble sitting still on the piano bench and listening to instruction. Practice at home only happened when their parents took a very active part in the practice and always sat with them on the piano bench. Through this experience, I learned a valuable lesson about four-year-old children and where they are in their learning style. Four-year-olds are still exploring their world, experimenting with toys and objects to discover different results, and moving around seeing where their bodies are in space. Two years after this experience, I was learning a new way of teaching music to younger children through Music Together® classes.
Based on my experiences, both as a private piano instructor and a Music Together® class instructor, here are my recommendations to consider before beginning private or formal piano lessons:
- A child should be 5 to 6 years or older and have some basic reading skills. Learning music notes is an extension of literacy training.
- Wait until at least one semester of Kindergarten is completed. At this point, children have learned some skills of sitting and listening to instruction for longer periods of time.
- Although opinions about hand size and handspan differ between piano teachers, I suggest waiting until a child can move each finger with relative independence which happens between ages 5 and 6 years. This can be seen by holding a pencil correctly, imitating simple finger play songs (think Itsy-Bitsy Spider), and showing numbers 1-5 by counting on each hand.
If you wish to begin your child in music lessons before age 5, consider a parent-child music class. I began teaching Music Together® classes in 2012, because these classes were designed for children under five years old. There are many good parent-child music classes available, however, Music Together® has their own body of research on the impact of music development in young children. After several semesters of Music Together® classes, children by age five can achieve basic music competence, which means that a child is able to sing in tune and have accurate rhythm – both skills that will help tremendously in formal music lessons later.
My private music instructor colleagues and I love it when a new student has some basic musical background or competence and is quickly able to grasp basic rhythm concepts and sing their notes when playing music! The learning curve is lessened and it is easier for children to more quickly understand patterns, tones and rhythms introduced in each music lesson.
Along with a parent-child music class, here are some other experiences younger children can have with music to prepare them for formal music lessons:
- Listen to a variety of music, jazz, classical, rock, folk and ethnic music when in the car or at home playing and discuss the music.
- Take your child regularly to a library story time. Not only will this foster a love of books and reading, but many librarians know that music is an enrichment to literacy and they incorporate music and songs during the story hour.
- Find out about concerts for children around town. Often there are instrument “petting zoos” that go along with the concerts or “meet the singer/band” opportunities afterwards. Also, The Nashville Symphony holds the The Ann & Monroe Carell Family Trust Pied Piper Series, symphony concerts designed for young ears!
- Take them to music museums – there are several right here in Nashville. The Country Music Hall of Fame has a full list of hands on activities for children. Other places include the Musicians Hall of Fame and The Johnny Cash Museum.
- Check out a musical theater production for children. My family and I love The Nashville Children’s Theater performances where many of their plays feature fantastic music and musicians.
- Look for free music concerts in various parks around town, especially during the summer months. My family and I have frequented concerts at the Red Caboose Park bandshell in Bellevue each summer. Cheekwood offers musical concerts during the summer months and the Nashville Symphony plays at Centennial Park each summer.
As parents, you don’t necessarily have to be musical yourself to encourage lessons or instill an appreciation of music in your children. Remember, it’s simply your job to foster a love and appreciation of music within your own children as they grow.
Have a child under 5 years old? From now until March 17 come try out a Music Together® Class on a Thursday or Friday at 10:00 AM for FREE at my location at Renee’s Groove Room in Hermitage. In addition, when trying out the class you will receive information on how to access 8 FREE Songs from Music Together, LLC! Sign up here and mention The Nashville Mom at the “How did you hear about Music Together?” section: http://www.inharmonymusicmidtn.com/tryout-class/
Carrie Friddell, MT-BC has taught piano lessons for 21 years to many children and adults in the Middle Tennessee area. As board certified music therapist for 11 years, she also works with children and adults using music to help achieve non-musical goals such as social interaction, communication and mental wellness. She leads Music Together® Classes in Hermitage and directs the Rising Star Choir. The Rising Star Choir is a choir for children ages 8-18 who are on the Autism Spectrum or have other special needs. When she is not busy focusing on her music business, she enjoys time at home with her two kids, her husband and her cat. Taking yoga classes is her other love. She once ate a 20oz Steak encrusted with espresso beans in one setting, but that’s another story….