When Should My Child Begin Lessons

A large number of questions that I get are about my opinion on when a child is deemed ready to begin lessons. While there are no hard and fast rules, there are some pointers and signs that you can use to determine when your child is ready for lessons.

One cannot magically deem a child to "be ready" for lessons at any given point. More important is the idea that the child needs to be tuned into music from early on - from the age of 1 day is a great starting point. It doesn't matter whether you want to start a musical genius or if you simply want your child to be delighted with the wonderful sounds of serious music. Perhaps the single easiest and best thing you can do to get your child ready to begin lessons is to expose yourself and your child to lots of classical, jazz, and other forms of musically sound and well performed music together. An appreciation of good music will help get and maintain your child's interest.

How wonderful for the child to be hearing the music of Bach's Violin Sonatas or Partitas, to Chopin Etudes, Mozart's The Magic Flute, or Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony as well as the jazz/improvisational sounds of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, George Shearing or Gary Burton! One does not need to spend thousands of  pounds investing in a huge CD collection; having a radio station tuned in to the sounds of the great classical and jazz composers is an excellent way to develop knowledge and appreciation of good music. With rhythmic patterns, harmonics, and melodic ideas already well established in the child's musical ear, the segue into lessons will be an easier process because the child can see a well-defined goal for the lessons.

There are varying opinions as to when a child should "officially" start lessons. Give a good deal of thoughtful consideration to the fact that, the younger the child is when beginning lessons, the more involved the parent will have to be with actively helping out with practice time, attending the lessons and being positively involved during the lessons. Generally, the child should be able recognize numbers 1-5, and understand the correlation between the numbers on the page and the finger numbers. If the child knows the alphabet letters of A through G, that is all that is required from a beginner. Most beginning books will spend a lot of time reinforcing these skills, so don't be too concerned if the knowledge is not always perfectly articulated.

Your child should be able to sit still for about 10-15 minutes while focusing on having fun at the piano. Under no circumstances should you expect a little one to be able to sit for longer than 10-15 minutes at a time while keeping a strong focus on any one musical concept. If your child can do these things, chances are you can start meaningful lessons for the child. Many parents get very frustrated because they expect their child to be able to concentrate for a longer amount of time. The child simply cannot, and lesson time and practice time becomes pure torture.

There are many musical concepts that can be taught via moving physically up and down the piano, playing notes at the highest and/or lowest parts of the piano for example, going up and down the keyboard saying the letter names of the notes aloud, going up and down the piano finding all the groups of two and/or three black keys, or finding the individual natural keys on the piano. Rhythm can be approached in a very active manner, having the child clap their hands and/or march in time to certain rhythmic notation.

There are of course exceptions to any and all claims of appropriate starting ages for children. Some teachers have had excellent students start as early as just under three years old. Others were not really ready until later. Don't let your expectations and desires be the sole determinant of when the child begins lessons or how fast you feel they should progress. The most common frustration of the parents arises because they have forgotten that their child is taking the lessons and doing the practice.

Remember, the child is a child, not a miniature adult. Your child's teacher must also recognize this seemingly obvious, but often overlooked, fact of life.

Although having an acoustical piano is not mandatory for the beginning student, it certainly is beneficial to have for the child to experiment with and create. If money is a factor, there are many places that will allow a person to rent an acoustical piano (not a grand piano per se). If you choose to get an electronic keyboard initially, the keys need to be the size of a normal standard acoustical piano and touch sensitive, because nearly all beginning methods introduce dynamics such as forte (loud) or piano (soft) after a few lessons.

Make sure the physical practice space has adequate lighting, ventilation, and a solid, secure seat. One can often find piano benches on e-bay, etc., if your piano does not already have a bench.

If you have an acoustical piano, please make sure that it is in tune; having it tuned twice a year will help. Remember that much of the life of a child is devoted to exploration of new things and concepts, so the more you can make the home situation like the studio, the more the child will be able to indulge his exploration instinct at home.

It's important to keep an open dialogue going with your child's teacher about how he is progressing in lessons. This is true for children of all ages, but especially for really young students. If, after some lesson time has transpired, your teacher feels it is best for your child to stop lessons for a while and wait a bit before restarting, it generally best to accept that advice, rather than force the issue or create a negative experience for your child.

Wait six months to a year before restarting lessons. In that event, no one has failed and it doesn't mean your child will never be ready to begin lessons. Nothing negative should be thought of the concept of waiting a bit to restart lessons. In the meantime, keep the music flowing at home, let those notes continue to be heard. Then you can restart your child's lessons a little later with the child still having an interest and desire to learn.

If the previous exposure to music has been going on for a long time, and if the parent(s) have reasonable expectations for their child taking lessons, it should be a positive and life-long endeavor for all involved. Always feel free to communicate honestly and openly with your child's music teacher, if there are any misgivings or questions about what should be done, or if things are not going as smoothly as one would wish. However, please keep in mind that most of these discussions should probably be done away from the child, perhaps setting up a separate time for a phone consultation or personal time with the teacher sans the child.