Piano For The Very Young
People ask me about piano for the very young. I get correspondence from many people who want to start their child at the piano at the age of two or three. I think that there is no age too young to start piano. Alphabet training, and This Little Piggy are appropriate for any age. They represent the beginnings of reading and math. But the approach for the very young must be completely different from that of conventional piano lessons, and with completely different expectations.
Age Appropriate Expectations
If you teach a three year old and have five year old expectations, you are in for a rude awakening. True, there are amazing talents even at three, but 99.9999999999% of three year olds are very delicate creatures. Examine first your motives. If you want the child to be a concert pianist, you are close to engaging in child abuse. The life of a musician is slavery, and it is unthinkable to condemn a child to that without their mature assent. If, however, your motivation is to simply awaken music within the child by means of the piano, you have selected an easily attainable goal. Let the child's reaction guide you as to how much further to go past awakening a sense of enjoyment.
Pretend it doesn't exist. The index finger is fine.
It exists in the simplest form: you produce it, and they feel it. Don't expect a three year old to understand it the way even a six year old does.
They exist mostly if you play them. You can try to introduce two note chords. Just get them to use two fingers, and plan for the future. Don't expect much on their part, but they usually can participate in ear training. Is it happy or sad?
They don't exist at first. Later they might, but they confuse the very young, who can't understand an extra set of keys on another plane. Stick with white piano keys at first.
Easy and natural to do, just don't make it complex.
It doesn't exist. You can play an exploratory game with a quarter on the back of their hand. But you'll be lucky to get them playing with two index fingers, much less a flat or curved hand position. It is meaningless to a child of this age.
It's irrelevant unless they're not even on the bench. Avoid bringing up issues they can barely control. You'll be too busy trying to make sure they don't fall off the piano bench.
Are you kidding? Find a song they love and see if you can interest them in it. Insist on nothing, expect nothing, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Five minutes may be a maximum. You have been warned.
When the child says the lesson is over, specifically or implicitly, the lesson is over. Period. Most kids are happy with maybe ten minutes, and very few regularly want twenty-odd minutes. When the moment has passed, it has passed. Your job is to make sure they want another five minutes next week.
Playing With Both Hands
Coordination of the brain hemispheres comes much later, but you can try. Children vary wildly in this development, and there is no one rule. I've seen 12 year olds who still have issues with it, so be very careful not to frustrate the child. Very young children have extreme difficulty with anything approaching two-hand coordination.
Pace Not Curriculum
In conclusion, keep it fun, forget pace and curriculum and instead try to find some element that amuses and fascinates them, and then elaborate upon that. The younger the child, the more you must make a piano lesson seem not a chore. Think of the piano as this big furry animal, and you have to get the child to like it and want to interact with it again and again. You can only win the battle of the piano over the long term. And the battle can be lost forever in a single moment of impatience, anger or guilt.
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