“Is my child too young?” When to start piano lessons.
Many parents see the value of children learning music and taking piano lessons. However, inevitably, questions of, “What’s the best age for my child to start piano lessons?”,“How old are kids typically when they begin piano lessons?”, “Is it too early for my child to start piano lessons?”, or “Is it too late for my child to start piano lessons?” begin to pop up. Here are my answers to these questions:
There is no universal age at which children should start taking piano lessons. I’ve taught beginners of all ages; the youngest kids I’ve ever started were only 3 years old when they had their first lessons and I’ve had beginners starting from scratch all the way up until 16 years old. Young people can start piano lessons and play successfully at any age.
Age is just a number – a guideline that can be discarded. In general, the older a child is, the more likely they will have all the skills necessary for piano lessons. In other words, a child of 6 years old is probably going to be more ready than a child who is 3 years old – but then again, everyone is different!
In my studio, I do not set a definitive age for when children should start piano but I do look at 3 factors that help me determine whether kids are ready for piano lessons. I check for these factors in the initial meeting I have with these students and their parents. Here they are listed below:
1. BASIC SKILLS
When I meet with a prospective student, I am always asking myself questions that help me figure out if the student has the following categories of skills necessary for taking piano lessons. Often, for this category of questions, I find out by conducting activities and tests on the children in our first lesson to find out how they’re doing.
a) Focus and Listening skills
- Does this child have the ability to stay at the bench for at least 8 minutes at a time?
- Does this child listen to the teacher’s instructions?
- Is this child able to stay on task?
- Where are the child’s eyes looking? At their hands? The piano stand? At the teacher? Or are they staring at the stickers they know I will reward them with?
- Can this child copy what I clap or sing?
b) Communication skills
- Is this child able to talk yet?
- Can they have a conversation with me?
- Will this child be able to let me know how they are feeling?
c) Gross Motor and Fine Motor skills
- Can this child move each hand independently?
- Can this child move each finger independently?
- Can this child swing his arms in circles?
- Can this child walk and stop when music is played?
If my answers to these questions are mostly “Yes” then, it’s a safe bet that these kids have many of the basic skills necessary for taking piano lessons.
That being said, it’s important to realize that each child is different in their rate of growth. There are some children who have all the above skills quite early on in life and some who take longer to develop, not achieving that level or being quite “ready” until later in life than others. We take it in stride.
Of all the factors listed, this is the most important factor that I consider when evaluating whether a child is ready to take piano lessons.
A child MUST be interested in learning music. All children will eventually grow and all other skills can be taught, but initial interest is difficult to get going if it is not already organically developed by the child themselves. Here are the questions I ask parents to answer:
- Does this child go to the piano on their own?
- Does this child enjoy messing around at the piano?
- Does this child watch their other sibling(s) practice music? Do they want to join in?
- Does this child stop and listen to music?
- Does this child enjoy singing songs?
Again, if most of the answers to these questions are “Yes”, then the child is most likely interested in taking lessons. For prospective piano lesson parents, observe your children carefully because these “light bulb” moments are often very fleeting. Sometimes, interest will develop over time. Give your kids frequent exposure to music and they may be inspired to take lessons.
3. ARE PARENTS READY?
Both of the factors I’ve discussed so far revolve around the child – but the third factor lies with parents.
When a child begins piano lessons, it is important for parents to realize that they have a big time commitment to make for piano lessons as well.
I often ask parents to consider the following questions:
- Do I have time to take my child to and from piano lessons?
- Do I have time to sit with my child in their piano lessons and to actively listen and watch how my child is being taught?
- Do I have time to practice with my child at least 5 days a week on a regular basis?
- Do I have time to carry through what I observed the teacher practicing with my child in their lesson at home?
- Will I be able to bring my child to lessons regularly?
- Can I juggle my child’s piano schedule with the schedules of my other children?
- Can I juggle my child’s piano schedule with my own schedule?
Of course, there are some parents who are incredibly busy and drop their children off to lessons or supervise practicing indirectly at home. That’s perfectly fine and in some case, works better for children who are already quite independent. However, it’s important to know that most beginner students do progress faster when they have a parent actively there for all piano activities, at least in the first year of lessons, until the child has learned enough practice skills and independence to do so on their own. The financial investment in that first year of piano lessons would not be worth it if your child progressed slower than their potential.
MORE ABOUT AGE…
As mentioned earlier, the age of beginner piano students’ varies depending on the child. However, there are a few considerations to take regarding age that parents need to know about:
Teaching a child who is 6 years old versus teaching a child who is 3 years old is vastly different. A good piano teacher needs to know how to adjust their teaching to be appropriate to the age and be comfortable in doing so. There are some piano teachers who do not have experience with young kids and treat them as if they are little adults; i.e. lectures, long periods of sitting and listening, few movement activities or stories.
There are some piano teachers who only teach students of a certain age. I have many colleagues for example, who will only teach kids who are only age 6 and higher. If you are planning to start your young child with a specific piano teacher, make sure you check that they are qualified and comfortable enough to teach that age group.
If you are planning to start your child with a specific approach such as Suzuki or Yamaha, often these programs have specific recommendations of what age to start at; some of these programs start as young as 3-4 years old. Do check.
“GIVING YOUR CHILD A HEADSTART” – IS IT REALLY TRUE?
I’d also like to address the belief out there that encourages parents to start their kids learning music early; this is due to a very prevalent philosophy: “If you give them a headstart, your kids will be better off in the future”. Some of these philosophies go even further: “If you give them a headstart, your kids will do better than their peers in the future.” Not only do I think these philosophies put a lot of stress and added concern on the part of parents, but it puts a negative competitive edge to music lessons, which should be after all, be about learning and enjoyment.
It is true that learning music has a lot of advantages and a child who starts music lessons at a young age will experience these benefits sooner than another who starts later. However, it’s important to realize that music learning comes in many other forms besides formal private piano lessons, most chiefly they come in the form of exposure: whether they be in the form of private piano lessons, group music classes, lullabies sung at bedtime, dancing to a song, concerts, recordings, radio, youtube, and television.
Children should be exposed to music as early as possible – but it needn’t begin with private piano lessons. It is better to let the child develop at their own pace before rushing them into lessons before they are ready. The last thing we want to do is develop children who dislike their piano lessons simply because it was too early to start and we have to struggle to get them to continue.
What parent does not want to start their kid off on the right foot err…hands? Take the time to weigh all the factors before determining the best time to start your child on piano lessons. We piano teachers are always here to help. In my studio, I am more than happy to meet with you and your child to help determine if they’re ready! 🙂