Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How Young is Too Young?

Like most piano teachers, I get asked a ton of questions about piano lessons over and over again.  One question seems to come up more often than the others:  what is the youngest student you are willing to teach?  In other words, how young is too young?

I wish there was a simple answer to this question.  No two children are exactly alike.  A 4-year-old may be ready for lessons while a 6-year-old is not.  Here are some of the questions I ask inquiring parents to help them determine if now is the time to begin lessons for their youngster.

  • Does the child have a firm grasp on the alphabet, counting, and sequencing?  These skills are fundamental to some of the basic elements of playing the instrument.
  • Can the child remain focused on a single task for several minutes?  While the lesson is broken up into various segments and activities are varied in order to keep young minds active, the student will still need to be able to remain on task for 5 minutes at a time. 
  • Has the student shown interest in playing the piano?  You would not believe the number of times that parents answer "no" to this question.  While I firmly believe in musical education, it is not something to be forced upon a child.  Placing them in lessons before they are emotionally, physically, and intellectually ready can result in a negative experience.
Once I have asked these simple questions, I begin to get a sense of who the child is - in the parent's mind, at least.  If it seems that the child might be ready for lessons and is younger than 7, I advise the adult that young children sometimes progress slower than their older counter parts.  I cannot predict where it will happen, but there often seems to be a single concept that becomes a roadblock to the young mind and takes a while to get past.  Rather than focusing on what they cannot do, I choose to spend a lot of time re-enforcing what they have already learned in order to insure that they are still enjoying playing the piano.  Generally, the student will let me know when they are ready to explore the new concept again through their questions and we normally have success.

If the parent is cool with a slower pace for the young child, I recommend having a few lessons together without making a long term commitment.  This allows everyone involved -- teacher, parent, and student -- to see if the relationship will work and is worth the investment of time and finances at this time.

If pushed into a corner to give an age, I normally suggest that a child begin lessons no earlier than the spring semester of kindergarten.  There's nothing scientific that I've found to support that....it's just been my experience.  Let me hear from you.  How young is too young to begin piano lessons in your studio?