When is a child ready to begin piano lessons?
A child is ready to begin piano lessons when she can follow simple directions, has a reasonably good attention span, demonstrates the capacity to grasp the basic concepts presented, and is willing to practice a minimum of four days a week for at least a 15- to 20-minute session. Almost all seven- and eight-year-olds are ready to begin lessons, but most four-year-olds aren’t. Five- and six-year-olds can go either way, depending primarily on their willingness to practice.
My three-year-old seems highly musical. Should he start taking lessons now?
For very young children (under the age of four) who seem musical, enrolling them in a pre-school-age music class is an excellent option. These classes won’t accelerate a child’s readiness for lessons, but exposing children to music fundamentals like rhythm and melody early on can help develop their overall musicality. By the way, if you think that your child may be ready for private lessons but aren’t sure, the best way to find out is by having him take a trial lesson.
How can parents help their children learn?
A young piano student will do best when she has a parent who sits in on the lessons and works with her during the week. The older the child, the less important this becomes, but certainly any child under the age of six or seven will profit from consistent parental involvement.
Is it really necessary to learn a piece with the “right” fingering? Shouldn’t students be able to use the fingering that feels comfortable for them?
Yes and no. Yes, the “right” fingering is almost always the best fingering—and it’s the best because it’s the easiest. If a student accepts the teacher’s word for this, he will soon learn for himself that the indicated fingering is the fingering to go with. And no, a student shouldn’t insist on using his own fingering; 1) because his own fingering will in all likelihood be inconsistent, and 2) because it will inevitably lead to bad fingering habits which will make future pieces more difficult to learn than they have to be.
My daughter started piano lessons when she was seven but quit when she was nine. She’s thirteen now and we’re thinking of starting her on lessons again. Will she be able to pretty much pick up from where she left off?
When it comes to learning a musical instrument, the term “use it or lose it” definitely applies. No student can just pick up from where they left off, even if the time in between lessons has been as short as a few months. Furthermore, if your daughter got an inadequate foundation in the basics—i.e., counting, pitch-reading, sight-reading, fingering, etc.—this may have hindered her ability to progress beyond a certain level. Therefore, your daughter’s next teacher will need to identify her strengths and weaknesses and then develop an individualized program to help her make the most of what she already knows and to overcome the inevitable deficits. The good news is that with the right teacher and the right attitude toward learning, your daughter will be able to recover everything she’s lost and probably go way beyond it.
What is sight-reading and why is it so important?
To “sight-read” a piece of written music is to read it and simultaneously play it without ever having laid eyes on it before. When sight-reading, it’s important to play the piece at a slow and steady tempo throughout, ignoring any mistakes you might make along the way. In other words, you play the piece as if you’ve already learned it and are performing it. The main reason sight-reading is such an important skill is that the better a sight-reader you become the less time it will take you to learn a new piece. When you expand this idea to cover all the pieces a student may learn in a year, it becomes obvious that good sight-reading skills will dramatically increase a student’s rate of progress.
I’ve been thinking of enrolling my child in a music school that is on a semester system. Do you think this is a good idea?
Learning a musical instrument (as opposed to learning geography, for instance) must be mastered step-by-step. Any arbitrary time off from lessons will slow down a student’s rate of progress, in some cases significantly. While it’s true that music colleges are on a semester system, their students usually have the self-discipline needed to practice for several hours as part of their daily routine, as well as the knowledge to make sure they remain on the right track despite the temporary lack of a teacher. This is rarely the case with a beginning or intermediate student, whether child, teenager, or adult. That’s why less advanced students need ongoing lessons (ideally 52 lessons a year) to maximize the results they can expect. Some music schools—Bridgeport Academy of Piano Arts is among them—offer bonuses to students who take all their lessons (generally accomplished by making up any missed lessons).