By Courtney Hall
There’s no simple answer to “how old does my child need to be for private piano lessons?”. Every child is so different in their development, maturity, attention span, and interests between 3-7, and every family has a different parenting style and routine at home that all effects the child’s success in lessons. The first requirement that is a necessity is knowing left from right really well. They also need to be able to identify written numbers and letters really well, and if they are starting to read independently, that is a huge help. Lastly, they need to be able to sit relatively still, focus, and be able to follow directions for about 30 minutes.
Although learning to play an instrument is fun, it is also takes a lot of really hard work. Very young children are all about having fun and aren’t so good at doing hard work yet. I have agreed to do lessons with 3, 4, and 5 year olds before, and although they have the capability of learning piano, it almost always results in the same thing– getting “burnt out” and fighting their parents horribly at home when they’re told to practice. They have fun at their lesson and still want to take lessons, but they absolutely refuse to practice at home. Therefore, the progress is so unbearably slow without practice between lessons that everyone starts getting discouraged. Now there’s always some resistance to practicing no matter what the age, but I feel like there’s usually a big difference after about kindergarten or 1st grade when they’ve been through a little school and start understanding homework because basically that’s how lessons work– a half hour private lesson then at least 5 days of piano homework to work on independently. The older they start, the faster they progress and get to harder songs which helps them have more confidence and enjoy piano more, so they’re a little less likely to get burnt out.
How creative the parents can be with practicing at home can be a huge help though. If the parents make piano practice a short consistent part of a daily routine and are really creative about making it feel like fun and games, piano practice is likely to go a lot better.
For children younger than 1st grade students, make sure they have had at least 3-6 months minimum of just playing around on the piano before starting lessons (the longer the better–even years!). This is actually very beneficial because they’ll be learning where the high sounds and low sounds are and learning that they can make quiet & loud sounds and short & long sounds (which cuts out several lessons where you have to pay me to teach those basic things when they could be learning it on their own through experimentation and play!) And for girls in particular, at least 1 year of a dance class before starting music lessons is really beneficial. My students who have dance experience almost always seem to do better in piano lessons because they’ve experienced music and rhythm through their body and have already learned how to keep a steady beat necessary for piano playing. And most importantly, make sure you are making music a major part of your life at home by listening to classical music, kids songs, pop/rock songs, traditional/folk songs, patriotic songs, etc. very often. Singing at home is extremely important too– exploring their voice is the most intimate way to explore music and become aware of pitch that they will hear on other instruments. Kids that have been exposed to lots of music at home almost always have an easier time learning piano! I also highly recommend enrolling in several semesters of our Preschool Music, Story, & Art Class for ages 4-6. Not only does it give kids exposure to music and instruments from around the world, but it also gives them a chance to explore pitch and rhythm that they will need experience with in piano lessons, get comfortable with our school environment, and practice direction following skills needed in lessons.
So, in my experience, starting at age 7 or 8 has been by far the most successful. But by age 6, a lot of children are ready for private lessons. Occasionally some children are ready by age 4½ or 5. And very very rarely, there are some children ready at age 3 or 4. Personally, I worry that if you take a risk and start lessons before age 6 just to see if they can handle it and it ends negatively, as they get older, they’ll have it in the back of their head that piano was difficult and boring and be hesitant to give it another try. I’d prefer for piano lessons to be a successful and enjoyable experience from the very start for all of my students.
I personally didn’t start lessons until 3rd grade. My grandma had a piano at her house that I was allowed to play around on as a young child, and I started learning the basics about music notes in my elementary music class in the public school system. When I finally started piano lessons, I progressed very quickly through the beginner books which gave me a lot of confidence and motivation to continue. I never felt like I was falling behind other kids who started lessons at a younger age. I’ve met a lot of other professional musicians who didn’t start piano lessons until late elementary school, and they all turned out to be incredible musicians!
I hope this gives you a better understanding of when to enroll your child in lessons and helps you understand why some piano teachers will refuse to teach very young children.
I also HIGHLY RECOMMEND purchasing this children’s clarinet with 8 color coded keys prior to starting piano lessons. Your child should be able to independently read the “notes” to the song and play them in the correct order and should be willing to play songs through 2-3 times in a row to “practice.” This is a great demonstration of cognitive ability, attention span, fine motor skills, left and right coordination, and musical interest that are all needed in piano playing. If they are unable to complete this with the children’s clarinet, it is very unlikely that piano lessons will be successful. Download the songs to play here.
Piano Lesson Readiness Checklist
Although it’s not impossible to start lessons without these skills, if your child already possesses the few academic & fine motor skills below, they will progress MUCH faster and you will get much more for your money when enrolling in lessons. It is very beneficial to work on these skills at home to increase the productivity during lessons:
□ My child can recognize & confidently name written letters of the alphabet (particularly A-G for music)
□ My child can recognize & confidently name written numbers (particularly 1-5 for music)
□ My child can confidently name their right & left hand
□ My child can identify and label different fingers on their hand (specifically, piano finger numbers that can be found here: https://lessonsinyourhome.net/blog/teaching-piano-finger-numbers-piano-lessons/ )
□ My child can tap on a table with each finger using just ONE finger at a time
□ My child can easily recognize patterns (for example, if you put the same objects in a line arranged in groups of 2-3-2-3-2, the child can complete more of the pattern and also point to just the groups of 2 and just the groups of 3 like the black keys on the piano are arranged)
□ My child can sit and focus on an activity for at least 15 minutes without getting up or asking if they’re almost done
□ When I play a sequence of 5 piano keys, my child can copy what I just played accurately
□ My child already has a piano or keyboard with full size keys to practice on at home and has had at least 3+ months to play around on it prior to beginning lessons (the longer the better!) **Required!**