I still remember the excitement of beginning to learn the piano and receiving the book I was to learn from. I was either 5 or 6 years old. (Books cost a bit more than 40 cents these days!)
I was allowed to colour in the pictures of the pieces I had learned too.
learned about Mrs. Treble and Mr. Bass and their child, Middle C.
As a piano tutor and course creator, I flick through my first book with both amusement and interest – some things will still work after all these years, but we do need to have approaches that work in our times.
6 years old
By 6 years of age the child is much more likely to be able to manage well the 5 points mentioned for 5 year olds (see last week’s blog), and if all those points are in place by the time they are 6 they are likely to be able to start well and keep going.
Check out my blog for getting goals in place for your 6 year old to start well, especially when he or she starts on a course that involves reading music. These relate to forming important habits that will help them develop into fine musicians. Basically, to recap the main issues:
- There needs to be clear, regular communication with the tutor as to what needs to be practised and how.
- There needs to be a regular time and place, agreed to by the pupil and parent, to practice.
- The parent needs to be consistent about making sure the agreed practice happens.
- There are reward systems along with genuine enthusiastic encouragement from the parent in the whole process.
I can virtually guarantee success if these 4 things are in place when your child starts learning an instrument with these guidelines.
7 to 10 years old
The biggest challenge I see for this age group is that these days children have so many activities. It seems an optimal time to learn many skills, and learning an instrument is packed in with everything else. Consequently time for practice is compromised. Even though they are likely to be more independent than at 6 years of age and practice on their own, there still needs to be the consistency of the above 4 points.
Here are some real case studies (with names changed) of situations where aspects from the 4 points above were missing.
The wrong instrument
Sally started very enthusiastically, but after a while I noticed that she was not pressing firmly enough on the keys. Other pupils learning in her group were doing fine, but this timid playing continued each week. She would gain confidence during the lesson, but the same timid playing returned the next week. I then found out that somehow the information about using a touch-sensitive keyboard had not been picked up and she was practising on a non touch-sensitive keyboard – one where the notes sounded the same regardless of how firmly the notes were played. It meant that when she came to her lesson, the touch-sensitive keyboard played softly and she didn’t have the same level of confidence to press the notes and make the sound. It also meant that she would not be able to learn to play with loud and soft expression in her music. Getting the right keyboard was so important for her confidence and enjoyment. Clear understanding of the tutor’s expectations would have helped to make sure she was using the right instrument.
Practicing in various locations
Billy’s situation is becoming more common. Each week he was with either his mother or his father. Dad didn’t have a keyboard at his place and so the practice only happened when Billy was at his Mum’s place. But because of his mother’s determination to see him learn the piano (and Billy really wanted to) they kept up practice regularly on the weeks when he was with Mum. In some ways the concentrated practice on those alternative weeks made up for the lack on the other weeks. His progress was not as good as it could have been, but was definitely steady. Between them both they made the best of their situation, and it worked.
Too little practice
Tally was coming regularly to lessons, but every week there had been very little or sometimes no practice. She was quite capable and even with limited practice we were able to move on to new material most weeks. But because the lessons were during school time, I saw nothing of her parents except at concert time. I was surprised as she moved to another school that she was planning to continue with piano lessons. I am sure that with more parental involvement and practice she could have achieved so much more at her instrument. She might have realised what I knew – that she was really able to play well if she put the time in – yet somehow I think she felt herself a poor musician.
Starting well and keeping going. We all need help along the way, don’t we? I’m glad my parents didn’t give up on me after I started, just because I didn’t always feel like practicing, or the pieces no longer had pictures I could colour. And every generation needs to adapt to the new learning styles and the situations we face, without throwing out the old ways that worked too.
I love working with beginners and seeing their excitement at learning how to play a new piece. I’ve also loved creating a beginner course that works with today’s young learners.
But whatever course you learn from, or whenever you start learning, it is the way you develop consistent habits around your learning that makes the difference. And that goes for adult learners too. It is good to begin as a youngster, but you are never too old to start!
2 thoughts on “When is a Good Time to Start Piano Lessons? Part 2”
Shari Barr says:
Thanks, Delwyn, for your advice. I do love reading your blog. I have a question maybe you could address: What can you do to correct a bad musical habit? I don’t think I got enough practice in the “counting out loud” habit at the beginning, so I can remember (as a child) guessing on the counting for a new piece, which of course never works! So what would you do? I was just wondering. Thanks again, Shari B
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Thanks Shari, really glad you are enjoying reading the blog. This question is such a good one. You have already come up with some of the answer. To get rid of a bad musical habit you need to re train your brain and do it the correct way with ‘enough practice’ for it to become automatic. When counting rhythm we need to make sure we count each bar/measure with the shortest note value in mind throughout. For example:
A piece in 4 4 with quarter notes (crotchets) count: “1 2 3 4 ” throughout.
eighth notes (quavers) : “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and ” throughout.
sixteenth notes (semiquavers) “1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a throughout.
I know some of the counting seems redundant (if you are not using the shorter note values all the time) but if we start counting this way consistently even in the easier music, more complex rhythms are sorted quicker because you don’t change the beat pattern when it gets harder. You just slot the rhythm into the ongoing steady count for each bar/measure.
And you are also right about counting aloud. It is more of a help than we realise. Check out my short blog on that:
Counting aloud counts for a lot. http://accentmusicschool.com/2016/06/
Another suggestion is to make sure you are counting the overall piece at the same time beat as the most difficult passage. If you can’t, then go over that passage slowly with a steady beat (counting aloud the appropriate rhythm for the note values in the piece ) until you can master it at the speed you want the whole piece to be at. (Try 3x correct then 3x correct in a row)
If that isn’t clear get back to me – I was going to include examples of actual music but haven’t worked out how to copy an image into this answer. I can email those to you.