Starting A New Child Piano Student
Upon meeting a new piano student, determine their level of interest. Do this by playing a song, familiar to their age group, and measure their reaction. As soon as you establish that you will be doing something of interest to them, they will relax. Then they will allow you to present the musical ideas within that song. It's not a piano lesson at that point. It's finding out about something they like.
The best lesson I remember having on this subject was from a documentary about The Horse Whisperer. This man had an uncommon grasp of what animals are feeling. The Horse Whisperer stated, "I don't ever yank on the rope connected to the horse. I let it drag on the ground at first, and later I pick it up, but if the horse pulls away, I let him go. I want the horse to know that we are here to find his level of comfort. After a while he trusts me and I can ask things of him."
The Child's Reaction Shows You What To Teach
In the same sense, I let the child find their level of interest, and that in itself generates enthusiasm. I can almost guarantee you that the child of today will not be attracted to a gruff (or even friendly) adult explaining the voluminous rules of musical notation for twenty minutes or so. That dosage is far too high, far too early. Show, don't tell. Lectures mean nothing to a six year-old.
Reading Music Exhausts Kids
Take care not to poison the atmosphere of the beginning piano lesson with drudgery and failure. Pick a small hill or pile of leaves to climb, and take your time doing it. To a child, even the simplest sheet music is an incomprehensible, Himalayan labyrinth of nonsense. Their brains are generally not ready for the experience of translating symbols into actions until they are carefully prepared.
Explanations Don't Help
Thus, in my experience, a younger child who is having difficulty reading music is invariably not ready, in terms of their brain hemisphere development, for the much more complex translation of symbols into actions. Actions alone are much easier for them to grasp.
Teach The Notes Visually
Show a new student visually how to play the right hand of the opening of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. You can get a five or six year old to do it with ease. Asking them to read the sheet music for the Moonlight Sonata will result in blank stares. Which do you start with, algebra or addition?
It's the same at the piano. Let the new student's interest be your guide to their curriculum. A set curriculum will never work until the child is carefully prepared for it.