Today, my older son not only goes back to school after the holiday break, he also starts back at piano lessons. My son has a love/hate relationship with the piano – he LOVES to think he can play the piano, but he HATES to practice. And, I kind of agree with him. Practicing 30 minutes a day means you are sitting AT THE PIANO for thirty minutes a day, and he’s not necessarily one to sit for 30 minutes for anything. But, the payoff is so worth it – he can read music, he’s pretty good at playing, and we finally have a few more songs in our repetoire other than “Hot Cross Buns” and “Jingle Bells”.
I am asked fairly regularly when is a good age to start piano lessons. Actually, the decision was pretty much made for me by our piano teacher. She requests that children be in first grade before taking lessons from her. And, she has a good point. Children need to be able to count and have some basic reading skills tucked away before embarking on the journey of piano lessons. Math, reading and music are so interrelated that having some basic number and counting concepts, as well as letter and word experience, is probably the most important key to success with learning to play. Now, first grade is not the end-all age, but most kids have these skills easily down by first grade. Some are ready earlier, and some may need to wait another year.
Another question I am often asked is how long my son will take lessons? Well, it is somewhat up to him. Right now, he doesn’t like practicing, but we’re working through that. We’ve broken his daily practice schedule into two 15-minute sessions to make it easier on him. And, we let him have one (sometimes two) “free days” a week. However, if he comes to a point where he is not productive or progressing, then it isn’t a battle worth fighting (and paying for!). My goal is for him to have at least 3 years of lessons (he’s in year 2 right now), ideally 5 years. He is already talking about what other instruments he would like to play: guitar, trumpet (his grandfather played the trumpet) and drums (of course). Piano is an excellent foundation for those other instruments and will make learning something new that much easier on him. Of course, should he wish to continue to take piano lessons, we will definitely go with that idea as well!
The biggest key to our son’s success with piano has been establishing a routine for practicing. He does best after school, after his homework, and after a snack. Our timer is set for fifteen minutes, and his teacher has “assignments” he must complete each week. He has a series of warm ups he does at each practice session, then the remaining time is spent working on pieces his teacher requests. He plays through them a minimum of three times, more if there are some tough spots. Each week, his teacher also assigns theory “homework”, and he chooses the practice session he wishes to complete it. It usually takes the entire 15 minutes, so he usually knocks it out pretty quickly. He practices every weekday and one day over the weekend, subject to change with our family’s schedule of course. And, over the holidays and parts of the summer when he doesn’t have lessons, we cut back his practice time to 15 minutes a day. It gives him a bit of a break while still keeping his mind and his fingers on task.
If nothing else, my husband and I feel that our children will gain a world of knowledge about music, patterns, structure, routine and beauty through their piano lessons. And, most importantly, they will grow an appreciation for performed music and those that are accomplished at their art, whether they are or not!