There are all sorts of beginners at the piano. Here a few examples of them:

Absolute beginners. They know absolutely nothing except that they like the sound of the instrument and a parent is letting them have lessons.

1 or 2 tunes beginners. They can play a tune they learned from someone. They may know the starting note, but not always. They use their ear and the patterns they saw to play the tune.

Another teacher beginners. They began learning from another teacher and have not moved on from basic skills for a range of reasons. Sometimes they need help in particular areas that may not have been a focus previously.

Beginners at different ages. This can affect the expectation of how quickly they want to achieve something. Younger ones generally trust that you will guide them. Older ones may want to take short cuts and could miss some of the vital basics. Or they simply grasp concepts more quickly and learn at a much faster rate.

Although the basic essentials are necessary for all beginners, my focus is usually on those from about 6-11 years of age. Whatever their background, I have 6 key competencies that are basic to the beginner’s future progress. I constantly keep these in balance as I work with my pupils in their first year with me. It will depend on the pupil as to what needs the most attention at any given time, so I have not listed them in order of importance.

  • Relaxed but correct position of the whole body at the piano – from seating posture down to fingertips
  • Immediate recognition of notes from C below middle C to C above, without having to be in a particular hand position
  • Ability to count a steady quarter time beat and play simple rhythms from eighth to whole notes in 2 3 or 4 time
  • Ability to keep their eyes on the music page as they play without watching their hands
  • Ability to listen and play back a simple melody they have heard by ear, with starting note and range of notes given
  • Ability to create music of their own at whatever skill level they have reached.

How far the pupil reaches on any of these competencies will depend on the quality of practice and parental support through the week to establish what is covered in the lesson. Some will barely get there, and others will go way beyond. But keeping them all in balance makes for an excellent foundational start at the piano.

To practise or to practice: that is the question. How we should write this word is a bit of a dilemma, given that readers come from various parts of the world. For an American the spelling of ‘practice’ remains the same whether using it as a noun or a verb. For most non-American English speaking countries, it is correct to spell it practice when it is used as a noun, but practise (practised, practising) when using it as a verb. As New Zealanders we try to stick to this convention (and mostly we are consistent 🙂 ).

For the same reason, you will likely find us spelling ‘color’ colour, ‘realize’ realise, ‘dialog’ dialogue, ‘enroll’ enrol, ‘meter’ metre, and so on. Please don’t hold this practice against us!

Perhaps this would be a good place to list some other North American/British equivalents which particularly relate to music. We reserve the right to use either (pronounced ee-ther or I-ther) or both.

UK                                       USA

Stave/staff                           staff

Bar                                      measure

Bar line                               bar (or bar line)

Breve                                 double whole

Semibreve                          whole note

Minim                                 half note

Crotchet                             quarter note

Quaver                               eighth note

Semiquaver                        sixteenth note

Demisemiquaver                thirtysecond

(Whole) tone                       whole step

Semitone                            half step