What Is The Best Age To Start Piano Lessons?
It depends entirely on whether you intend to use the conventional methods. If you intend to use the conventional, “by the rule” piano methods, then don’t even think of starting before the age of six. If you intend to use a child-friendly method such as Piano by Number, by ear, by eye, there is no age limit.
Any child that can identify the numbers 1-12 is a perfect candidate to begin enjoying and learning music at even the youngest preschool piano level. But the younger the child, the simpler you will have to make it. And you will have to control your expectations.
Start As Soon As They Can Count
In terms of maturity, I would suggest the age of four or five as a good age to start with Piano by Number. Soon after begin to slowly introduce the concepts of sheet music as presented in our book, I Can Read Music. If you encounter any difficulties with sheet music, take a step back and continue with Piano by Number.
Number The Keys
Preschool piano should be marvelously entertaining and not too serious. After all, there are only a few basic musical ideas (up, down, black, white) that we are trying to get across to our eager audience.
Number the keys as in the piano below.
Should The Youngest Read Music?
A child should easily grasp the concepts presented in a beginning conventional piano book. If they don’t they are too young for sheet music. Allow them to continue enjoying Piano by Number until they are old enough to make the transition from numbers to notes.
Age 2 to 3
Kids this age will want to approach the piano if you make it fun. The most you can expect is to establish a friendly relationship with the instrument. Since kids this age have barely gotten control of numbers, only the most repetitious, familiar and simple number songs will work. Try approaching the keyboard entirely visually, not relying on any printed symbols at all. Your pace should be glacial in terms of curriculum, but bright in terms of mood.
Age 4 to 5
Since kids have now gotten control of numbers, you can try actual songs that they read off a page. Numbers will work best, but you might be able to introduce the symbol for Middle C, and find it on the piano. There is no point in homework other than having them find songs they like and recognize, and can navigate at the keyboard. At this age, children are still hazy on what a task is, or an assignment. Better to go with their flow, and keep them coming back to the piano for more fun.
Fingering and rhythm really do not exist at this age in terms of reproducing a song exactly. Playing with both hands is usually barely possible due to the lack of development of the corpus callosum, the bridge of nerves and ganglia that join the two brain hemispheres together. I would be very careful about insisting on anything other than a cheerful, open attitude.
Age 5 to 6
This is considered the optimum age to start piano. Any age above 5 usually means a child can do a little directed work. At age 6, a child knows what a task is, and has more motor control over their fingers and hands. Fingering can be easily introduced, and the idea of rhythm broached. You still need to keep the game-like feeling to the lessons. Playing with both hands is usually possible, depending on the child, and the arrangement of the hands. You may try insisting on things, but be wise enough to know when to back off.
It is one thing for a child to recite vocally numbers as high as they can, but quite another to recognize the symbols for each number, 1 2 3 4 5 . Many preschool children can play any numbered piano key you say to them, but have difficulty playing numbers that they find on the page. Piano by Number slowly builds the abstract skills necessary to decipher musical symbols later, and promotes children’s sense of security in successfully deciphering them.
For children who cannot yet identify the symbols for numbers, the piano keyboard is an ideal place to build confidence with those symbols. It also has the the added attraction that music itself produces a “good-mood” effect that is conducive to learning more complex skills.
I recommend starting kindergarten kids with Piano by Number. Then make limited attempts at reading sheet music depending on the child’s sense of security with the piano. Kindergarten kids are very ready for games of any kind, and begin to have the skills necessary to put several hand movements together into a group of movements. Children of this age still are most comfortable with numbers. But they will tolerate more games preparing the way for reading sheet music.
Make games out of everything. Sheet music is fascinating but very tiring for kids this age. Better to expose them 5 minutes at a time than risk exhausting them. With this age, you may be able to teach them chords (three piano keys played with the left hand.) I allow them to play 2 note chords (two piano keys with the left hand) until it becomes obvious that 2 note chords are too easy.
With piano by numbers and chords under their belt, first graders are ready to conquer the right hand of sheet music, and engage in a study of chords. At this age, kids are emotionally ready to play the game called “happy and sad” wherein the teacher plays chords and has the child try to guess their (the chords) emotional or dramatic quality, happy or sad.
Kids love this game and never tire of trying to listen and assess the emotional quality of the chord! Earlier than this age, many children seem to have difficulty grasping the idea of a sound having a certain emotional quality.
Two Final Rules
1. Keep coming back to ideas, again and again.
2. Never acknowledge a child’s failure to grasp these ideas, just show comic surprise and move on.
Children at the piano have an uncanny knack of showing you an honest effort if the task is not incomprehensibly difficult. Break down complex motions into easily grasped bits.