Simple question, right? Let's talk about it!
We all know that different children develop at different rates, and there are a lot of skills that all need to be in place before a child is ready for lessons (especially private, one-on-one lessons). Since we at Desert Home Music School don't know your child (not yet, anyway), we developed a "checklist" that can help us make that decision with you.
Once we (parent and teacher) have made a preliminary decision, we will set up a short introductory lesson ($15). It gives our teachers a chance to meet the student with the parent present, and perform an assessment, after which we will make a recommendation. If we confirm that the child is, indeed, ready to start lessons, we will finish the registration process, and book your next lessons. If we think your child isn't quite ready, we will give you some suggestions about the next steps to take to prepare him or her for private lessons next term or next year.
Here are some of the criteria we use to determine whether a child is ready. During your first conversation with our teachers, we will ask you about these things.
Have your child make a fist, and measure the distance from one side to the other. If that distance is less than about 2 inches, their hands might still be too small to play a full sized piano or keyboard (which is what we use in our studio).
Can s/he manipulate a fork and knife, use scissors, or properly hold a pencil, and does s/he mostly color inside the lines? These are fine motor coordination skills that will help you tell whether or not your child will have sufficient dexterity to play piano.
When your child sits on the piano bench, with hands on the piano keys, are his or her arms bent at the elbows, with the forearms more or less parallel to the floor? (It's ok if their feet don't touch the floor yet, but the arm position is important to avoid injury.)
Are your child's fingers strong enough to push down a piano key without using their arm strength? Piano or weighted keyboard keys have resistance, and we want your child to be able to easily make a sound on the piano with only the strength of their fingers.
Can your child count to at least 10? There are a lot of numbers in music. Rhythms, finger numbers, measure numbers, intervals... the list goes on. So it's important for your child to be able to count to 10 at a minimum.
Does your child know the alphabet? The "musical alphabet" only goes as far as G, and then
starts again at A, but a piano student needs to know that alphabet well enough to repeat it
forwards and backwards, which is much easier if they know the whole alphabet pretty well!
Can s/he read? Ability to read is not a deal-breaker, (I, myself, learned to read music at about the same time as I learned to read words) but the ability and desire to learn to read is a great indicator that the child is ready to learn the language of music.
Can your child usually identify left, right, up and down? Can s/he recognize patterns? Piano is dependent on each hand working on its own, and on the student being able to see whether a particular line is being played by the left or right hand, and whether the pattern of notes is moving up or down.
Can s/he sit still, pay attention and focus on one task for 30 minutes at a time? The shortest lesson we offer at Between the Lines Music School is 30 minutes, and while there will usually be several shorter activities during their 30 minutes, we need the student's attention throughout that time.
Has your child been asking for piano lessons? For how long? If not, did they respond positively when you suggested it? Has s/he been experimenting on the piano at home (or Grandma's, at school)? Have their teachers commented on their interest in music?
How does s/he respond to instructions/direction/ criticism? Nobody likes to be told they're doing something wrong, and our instructors are adept at giving criticism gently and non-judgementally, but there will be corrections, and if your child doesn't respond well to trying something again in a different way, s/he might not be ready.
How does your child respond to activities that challenge their current skills? We want your child to have a good time in their lessons and learn to love making music. But piano lessons (and the practicing that comes with them) are not always fun. There are complex concepts and physical challenges in music, and, like learning any other new subject, there will be frustrations. If your child is unwilling to attempt things that are difficult, then piano lessons may become a battle, rather than a pleasure.
Your honest answers to these questions will probably give you an idea about whether or not your child is ready to start private piano lessons. But there's one last thing to consider:
Are You Ready to Be a "Piano Lesson Parent"?
We, the instructors, see your children once a week, for between 30 minutes and an hour. We show them new things, and teach them how they will be able to achieve them. Then they leave, go home, and we leave it up to you to help them get the rest of the way. So if you have a young child and you want to enroll them in piano lessons, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Do you have an acoustic or digital piano?
A digital piano or electronic keyboard is ok, especially in the first stages of learning, as long as:
It has full-size keys (the same size as those on an acoustic piano)
The keys are "touch sensitive" (ie: if you hit the key harder, it sounds louder)
There are at least 61 keys (a full-sized piano has 88).
Weighted keys (where there is resistance, like in an acoustic piano) are best, but not strictly essential if your budget is limited.
If the piano comes with a pedal (it might be called "damper" or "sustain"), that's great too. If not, you can usually purchase a pedal later when it becomes necessary.
If you don't have one yet, are you ready to purchase or rent one upon beginning lessons? Our teachers are available to consult with you on a good option within most price ranges, but your child must have a piano or keyboard to practice on.
Are you prepared to make periodic purchases of books/sheet music for your child?
These books are not expensive, (usually between $8-$15) and will only need to be purchased once or twice a year, but they are essential to continuing progress, and are not supplied by your teacher.
Are you ready to assist with practicing?
If your child is young, this means physically sitting with them every day for about 15-20 minutes to help them with fingerings, counting and reading the instructions from their teacher. As they get older and more independent, it may just be reminding them to get their practicing done, just like any other homework.
Don't worry if you don't read music or play piano yourself... we will be happy to explain everything you need to know to help your kids!
You will likely need to help "run interference" with the rest of the family to ensure a calm, quiet practice time. We know that space is often at a premium, but your child won't be able to concentrate on practicing if big sister is playing video games in the same room or if there's a lot of traffic in and out of the piano area.
Are you ready to commit to attending weekly lessons for at least 6 months?
We understand that life sometimes gets busy and kids today have a lot of demands on their time. But learning a musical instrument is something that requires dedication on the part of not only the student, but the parent as well.
Consistency and accountability is key, and your child needs to hear from you (and see from your actions) that music lessons are a priority.
You may need to remind your child that all of us made an agreement to stick with piano lessons, especially when they get frustrated.
We at Desert Home Music School want to make your child's music learning experience the best it can be. The best way to start is to make sure that each child is getting the best musical instruction for their age and stage of development, and that parents feel encouraged, empowered and enthusiastic about helping their child learn to love music!
Note: We will be following this blog post with some guidelines to assess readiness for the other instruments we teach, so stay tuned!