Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Should My Child Start Piano

Having driven my three daughters to lessons for two decades I consider myself qualified to answer this question. My father in law, Albert Goepper was a gifted musician who started out very early taking lessons with his mother, also a gifted musician. Eventually Albert took lessons with other teachers and as a child took some lessons at Julliard. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and playing in bands was a natural for him. He played in a big band and eventually became part of the Army/Air Force Band and when they spit he went with the Army Band, Pershing's Own in Washington DC. His career in the band spanned 33 years. He played trombone in the band but piano at White House Parties and many other venues. He taught lessons and played many gigs on the side.

When I married into the family I started to learn about classical music. Something I have a great appreciation for now. Albert was a very good piano teacher and I hoped that our children would have a smidgen of his talent. When I began to pick his brain about lessons his theory was that the child should be able to read, sit still, and listen and follow instructions. He felt that while some children can do well at age 5 or 6 that a child of 7 can learn everything the child of 5 or 6 learns in a year in his fist 6 months. So financially why start too early. As it turned out our three daughters got more than a smidgen of his talent and have all majored in piano in college and are all teaching so here are a few suggestions I have to offer:

1. It takes years to learn to play the piano. In this want it right now era you must have patience and be in it for the long haul. So many people who took lessons as children say I wish my mom hadn't let me quit. Some parents who wanted to play and didn't now insist their kids play without considering desire, ability and determination. When our girls began lessons we told them they could never quit. Having the history we did with their grandfather we thought there was a good chance they could do well. We told them they could try other things and quit if they didn't like it but they had to take piano until they left home. Does your child like music, are there musical people in the family line? Do they have a desire to play piano? Piano is the foundation for all instruments. They can move to other instruments easily from piano. They will know both music clefs and theory basics and it will also help them with singing.
Make this a serious decison and don't let them quit without a valiant effort.

2. Find the best teacher you can afford. Lots of people teach piano. Ask about their degree.
Is it in piano or music ed with an emphasis in another instrument? A piano major will generally be a better teacher, not always, but they should be. It's really hard to find a piano teacher with a doctorate that will teach children. They mostly teach at the college level. That seems a shame to me. It would be great to get the children started with someone who won't teach them a lot of bad habits. You might find a college student who is a piano major studying with someone really good who would not be as expensive but would not mess your child up with bad habits. Many colleges have prep departments.

3. Support the teacher. This is a group effort. You must insist that your child practice.
The teacher cannot make the child practice. You as the parent are paying for the lesson.
Would you take your child to a doctor and then not do what they told you? You need to make sure the child knows you are not going to cave in and say "okay practice tomorrow", "you'll have to quit if you don't practice" Don't bribe. There should be appropriate consequences if the child doesn't practice. Quitting is not a good option.

4. You need a real piano or a very, very good keyboard with weighted keys. Most teachers do not like keyboards. I think they have their place but I'm not a teacher. I think after the child has been playing for several years and maybe is starting to play more difficult music a keyboard can be a fun instrument to have. Ideally it is nice to have both but if you are going to take lessons you need a decent instrument. Start out with a used piano. You can always sell it and get something better.

5. Listen to your child play. Ask if they understand what they are supposed to do for their lesson. If they don't, then communicate that to the teacher. Don't try to be the teacher just encourage the child. Do not sit in the lesson. This may intimidate the child or the teacher. If you have checked this teacher out then don't feel like you need to sit in the lesson. It's not a good idea.

6. Music lessons have the potential to help your child in many ways. Studies show that children involved in music do better in math. What a benefit. If you are serious about piano lessons it will pay off and in 5 years you will be enjoying beautiful music, you'll enjoy the first years too but when you look back and see what the child has accomplished it will have been worth the effort, time and money that you invested in your child.

Our oldest daughter, Sarah, graduated from Tennessee Tech University in Piano Performance and has her own piano studio in northern Kentucky and this Christmas she recorded a professional CD for us. It's priceless to us.

Our middle daughter, Laura, is working toward a masters in Theory at SMU in Dallas, Texas. She will be working as an assistant at a national piano conference in Chicago this summer. She graduated from UK in piano performance. Laura has her own students and teaches at several piano studios in the Dallas area.

Our youngest daughter, Marylee, is a sophomore at Uk in Art Administration with an emphasis in piano. She has her piano studio in Wilmore and works as an assistant to Bryan Crisp for the Tri State Ensembles.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Mom! As a piano teacher myself, I agree with SO much of your post. I will forward this on to families that I teach!

    Finding the right teacher is so important! The teacher can either nurture a love for music, or instill a fear and dread to it. (Isn't that the way it is with finding the right pastor too?) I've been taught that the piano-teacher-student relationship is like a triangle. All three are so vital in the development of that student. If one side is not doing their part, the entire success of that student is at stake. How important it is for the parents to listen to the student practicing, and encourage them weekly! I loved it when my Mom came to listen, or to sing along with what I was playing. That was invaluable to me as a source of nurture and love. That showed me on so many levels that, my parents were just as invested as I was, and really loved how I played.

    One thing I will disagree with is your comment, "You need a real piano or a very, very good keyboard with weighted keys". A keyboard is never a substitute for a piano. Never. If anything, over time, your child could lose ground on the touch, weight, and pedaling that only the piano can offer. I do think keyboards have their place. (in a closet locked up). Ha! Ha! I'm just kidding, but if you are serious about the piano, buy a piano.

    Also, the comment, "Do not sit in the lesson. This may intimidate the child or the teacher. If you have checked this teacher out then don't feel like you need to sit in the lesson. It's not a good idea." This is true in some cases, but not in all. In studying the Suzuki method, the parent in the lesson is mandatory, and is part of their method. It works wonderfully with some students in other methods as well. It all depends on the student. The teacher should come to that decision and take the student and the parent into consideration. I know that I have students that have their parent sit in on the lesson every week, and it has been fantastic. I have some students where their parent waits in the car every week, and that has been in the best interest of the child as well.

    Mom, you have a wealth of information, especially being a "piano Mom". I wish all my students parents had this philosophy to find a great instrument, to support the child and the teacher, to listen to their child weekly, and to never let the child quit without a valiant effort. It pains me so, to see a child with so much potential quit so easliy. You are so right!