10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons

This is a quick checklist of things to do, buy, learn and decide before your child has their very first piano lesson.

Working your way through this checklist will speed up your child’s learning curve, possibly by months (maybe more!), and once you’ve covered every item below you will be a superbly equipped parent entering into the role of nurturing the growth of a new little (or not so little) pianist.

1. Buy a piano. This may or may not seem like a no-brainer to you. In case it’s not, let me explain. Your child will not make progress without a piano at home with which they can practice between lessons. So until you have a piano don’t bother organising to take piano lessons. Unless your goal is to pay for really expensive babysitting.

Ideally you will buy a good quality acoustic piano, but there might be reasons why you would prefer a digital piano (usually issues related to living in an apartment or a very small house). You want an acoustic piano because it does cool stuff that digital pianos can’t do – things like capturing harmonics when you silently depress the keys and then play other keys – and because the ‘touch’ your child will develop when practicing on an acoustic piano will be a better touch than when they practice on a digital piano.

But if a digital piano is the best option for you you’ll discover that a digital piano offers some wonderful extras that acoustic pianos don’t deliver (things like recording your performance and a variety of sound options – how many extras, and how wonderful they are, will depend on the quality of the digital piano you buy). The thing is you need weighted keys, touch sensitivity, a fixed pedal, a music stand that is not flimsy, and a sound that really does match the sound of a piano (as compared to electric keyboard).

2. Put the piano in a part of the house that isn’t a. lonely and/or b. where the only TV is. Two of the biggest reasons children don’t end up practicing is because they’re either lonely in the glummest/most distant room of the house or because everyone else wants to watch the television and the piano is in the same room. Having the piano hidden away communicates that the piano is not something normal or useful; having the piano and tv competing for acoustic space is just asking for conflict in your family.

3. If you have an acoustic piano, keep it tuned! This is more of an adminstrative burden than it is a major expense (you need to find a piano tuner, book them up, and then be at the house while they tune the piano), but if your piano is out of tune your child(ren) will find playing the piano far less pleasant, and you won’t enjoy hearing the piano played all that much either.

4. Have the piano in your house for months – even years – before your child begins lessons.  This is about developing a sense of the everyday about the instrument (the piano is a part of normal life) as well as allowing the child to explore the instrument quite thoroughly prior to lessons beginning. To which end….

5. Encourage your child to play around with the piano prior to beginning lessons. You can’t break a piano by playing it, and your child will develop a sense of familiarity with the layout of the keys (black notes in groups of 2 and 3 placed between white notes) and the way the keys make sounds (high sounds towards the right, low sounds towards the left) as well as different effects the piano can make (softer sounds when you press more gently, sustained sounds when you depress the pedal, etc.). This saves time in the first weeks of lessons and, more importantly, means that your child will have a confidence when being asked to try ‘new’ things on the piano in these first few weeks and months.

6. Purchase a chair/piano stool/piano bench that is height adjustable.  Sitting at the right height is a huge part of what makes playing the piano comfortable and effortless, and sitting at the wrong height can prevent the pianist from creating beautiful sounds. Don’t make do with cushions – organise a permanently available means for your child to sit with maximum ease at the piano.

7. Notice what your child discovers at the piano, and (when the time is right) talk about their discoveries with them. Does your child play the same thing (or variations of the same thing) every time they get near the piano? Or do they experiment with one kind of sound for a few days and then move on? Do they try to pick out tunes, or are they more interested in piano role-playing? Do they play across the full length of the keyboard, or restrict themselves to one area?

Noticing the way your child experiments is an essential foundation to being able to talk about what they are doing. And talking about what your child does is an essential part of validating and consolidating the discoveries they are making.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure of the exact musical term, talk about the kinds of feelings the sounds reflect, what the sounds remind you of, and ask your child to talk about their intentions, ideas and reflections. Some pianist gestures are gentle, others are cheeky, while yet others can be very sad indeed. Starting out your child’s pianistic journey by talking about emotion, attitude and texture (smooth/spiky, for instance) puts your child at an enormous advantage in communicating with others about their playing.

8. Make sure your child knows the difference between their right and left sides. This is a bigger issue than simply knowing the right hand from the left; having your child be aware that they can create an action on one side of their body and then mirror that action on the other  develops physical-spatial awareness that will be immensely beneficial when learning new skills at the keyboard. Which is to say: having a child practice jumping to the left or jumping to the right will help them be better pianists. Anything that asks a child to do things with their body in terms of left and right will lay the foundation for physical fluency at the keyboard.

9. Make sure your child knows their alphabet. From A to G. And maybe back again. This won’t be covered in the first lesson (normally), but if your child understands that the musical alphabet goes A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B, etc., they’ll save at least half a lesson. And if your child can think through those letters backwards you’ve probably saved two more whole lessons over the course of the first year.

10. Show your child a treble and bass clef. And explain that the treble is for high notes, the bass for low notes. If you have no idea what a treble clef is then google it. This is just a symbol, but the more familiar your child is with what these symbols look like these easier it will be for a teacher to introduce new ideas quickly during the first year or so of lessons. The treble clef in particular is an oft-used symbol to represent music – your child may well have already seen this symbol and just never quite understood what it meant (it just means the notes on it in the top half of the piano). Being confident distinguishing these two symbols could save half a lesson or so at least three times in the course of the first 12-18 months of lessons.

I’m sure readers of this post will be able to contribute more great ideas for things parents can do before their child begins piano lessons, but these are my top 10.  If every new student had these items covered … Well, I can dream, can’t I?!

83 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons

  1. Wow Elissa! You must have read my mind! I am getting ready to begin teaching my daughter piano in the next 4-6 months and was just wondering how to, er, prime the pump. So far, we have accomplished 9/10 on your list (and #10 is what remains). As a pianist, I’m sad we only have a digital piano, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

    Will you be writing a follow-up post to this? Curious about top 10 things to do once child begins! I am thinking of using a Suzuki-inspired method (I’m not trained, but have read loads). Would love to hear your thoughts on approaches
    for young students (age 3-5).

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Oh, that’s fantastic to hear (that this is so timely for you!)! These things are very much in my mind because I have a 4 year old myself, and I’m noticing the things I’m doing to have him lesson-ready. Your comments are inspiring me to get some follow-up posts written as soon as possible!

  2. This is GOLD, Elissa. And I loooove Number 1. [Got tricked just last week on that one!]

    What about Number 11?

    I have heard that the post-modern 11th commandment is
    Thou shalt not commit thyself!

    I think Number 11 is Help your child to know their finger numbers and especially to know that the thumb is 1 and the pinkie is 5.

    1. Yes, that would have been number 11, I think, but it’s complicated if kids are already learning violin…. And there are things not on the list that I’m taking for granted even if parents don’t anticipate their children learning an instrument – things like being able to clap in time….

  3. Spot on Elissa – love the first point! Seems like a no brainer, but I had 3 sign up this year at school with no access to a piano!!! I shall keep a link to this very handy! All the best :)

  4. Very helpful post – I will put a link to it from my blog/website. Whenever I interview new students (and their parents!) I always ask if they have a piano and whether it is kept in tune. Many do not, due to financial and/or space constraints, and generally ignorance about the instrument. I have played a couple of my students’ pianos and have, largely, been horrified at the quality. These are pianos which were bought second hand, very cheaply, and are not properly maintained. It can have a serious affect on the way a student plays if their instrument is not in tune, or has keys that don’t work etc. I think another factor is making sure the child actually wants to learn, that it is the child’s choice to take up the piano (or indeed any other instrument). I have encountered a number of students who are being hot-housed or forced to play by pushy parents, and they are not the best students, for all sorts of reasons. Plus the parents can be a nightmare!!

    1. Great suggestion – but not until parents have determined what kind of lessons they will be organising for their child (or which teacher they will be taking lessons from). There can be quite substantial differences in style, format and content from one teacher/teaching style to the next! Younger siblings are often advantaged in this sense – they know they will be taking lessons from the same teacher as their older sister/brother, and they have no doubt spent time around the teacher over the previous year(s) prior to lessons beginning.

      Having said that, it’s often not possible to observe a lesson in situations where teachers are working one-on-one, so while this can be helpful it might be beyond the control of the parent to organise….

      1. I had a little girl turn up to a seasoned student’s lesson. Observing how I work with Susan, who has been coming for six years and is fifteen years old, would not give five year old Rosie any idea what her lesson would be like!

  5. I found your blog yesterday via a link at the Piano Adventures Forums http://pianoadventures.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=55067#Post55067 . I have immediately read the entire blog, and am impressed, amazed, awed, inspired, by your amazing insights and clarity of expression. I’ve now subscribed to be notified of new posts — the first time I’ve done that with a blog — and reading that you are on Twitter, tempts me for the very first time to join Twitter just so I can follow your tweets. Thank you so much for writing this amazing resource.

    I recently bought a piano and began taking lessons. I taught myself to play piano as a child, but have not had access to a piano for thirty years. I am loving every instant. I go home from work and could play nonstop until bedtime. (Single, no kids, allows me this luxury.) For some reason I find myself absorbed with reading about piano teaching. You’d think I’d want to read about how to play piano — but no, it’s the passion and the dramas and the insights of teaching that fascinate me. Alas, I don’t think my ear (very mediocre) or my skill (unlikely to reach elevated heights, although I would adore to be able to reach a point of being able to play Beethoven sonatas and Bach fugues) will probably ever bring me to a point of being able to be a teacher myself.

    I also find myself wanting to rush right out and buy all the children’s books you’ve written about. My sister and I often give each other children’s books, and I think from your blog I have now gotten gift ideas for a long succession of birthdays and Christmases for her :-).

    Thank you so much for your wonderful writing.

    1. Christine, thank you so much for your comment – a reader who appreciates the children’s book reviews AND the music theory rantings! I deeply appreciate your taking the time to give me such positive feedback!

      All the best with your lessons – I meet a surprising number of piano teachers who have taken up the piano in adulthood and found themselves addicted (it’s easy to think you’ve missed the boat if you didn’t start in childhood). Who knows where life will lead?!

  6. Great comment about the piano “not being near a TV”. As a piano teacher, I’ve had students tell me that having the piano near the television actually helps them concentrate better, since they have to “multi-task” during the lesson. LOL, but I do agree an environment free of distractions is better. Good post, thanks!


  7. I like #9 (… and maybe back again). I used to give students a little quiz as their first lesson. One question was to recite the alphabet to G …. and then recite it backwards, from G to A. The question was asked to determine if the student could “reason”. Actually, I found the question a good indicator of a student’s mental agility.

    Good set of points.
    Dan Severino

    1. Hi Dan,

      My son has just had his first piano lesson. His IQ has been rated as high average and verbally superior, but, despite being nine years old, he literally would not be able to tell you that the day after Tuesday is Wednesday, let alone go backwards from G to A. He’s dyslexic and has enormous problems ordering anything.

      I’d suggest that, just as someone has said that IQ tests are good at determining how good someone is at doing an IQ test, asking someone to recite from G to A is good at determining whether they are good at reciting from G to A – and not necessarily anything more.

      We’re keen for him to learn piano as a kind of therapy, as well as because he is a naturally musical kid – he spends most of his free time humming, and pulls harmonies out of nowhere when listening to music in the car.

      We went for the ‘Simply Music’ method for its hands-on approach and after 5 practices this last week, his 10 fingers are going up and down really impressively compared to the real struggle he had with it in the lesson. Here’s hoping it continues!

      1. Hi Les (!)

        The issue of children with learning difficulties learning the piano is a fascinating one. Firstly (and excitingly) – piano lessons have the potential to make an amazing contribution to children ‘unblocking’ in regard to a range of difficulties.

        Secondly, many piano teachers are not well-trained to cope with teaching a child with learning difficulties! Despite this, the one-on-one nature of the lesson situation is perfect for tailor-made learning approaches, and piano teachers as a profession relish the challenge of finding ways for each child to connect with music and with the piano.

        Dyslexic students do face substantial challenges with reading music (unsurprisingly!) and, because traditional piano teaching does have a significant focus on teaching music literacy alongside pianistic skills, it can be extremely useful for teachers to test things like being able to say A to G forwards and then backwards in order to see how easily children can think in *this* particular way.

        Facility with sequencing and ordering is a particular kind of mental agility (and one that is tremendously helpful in fast-tracking musical learning, as it happens), but it is not the only kind of mental agility! On the other hand, I would think that your son will find his skill at thinking around patterns will be greatly enhanced by his musical experiences.

        My experience is that parents are not always keen to share with a piano teacher information such as an assessment of dyslexia, and sometimes teachers struggle on for months trying to figure out what’s going on. Well-informed piano teachers can let parents know whether they think they will be a good fit for the needs of children with specific difficulties.

      2. Maureen, your suggestion implies that dyslexia is a straightforward “getting-it-backward”, which isn’t the case at all… The ability to create sequences such BAG is precisely the ability that dyslexics *don’t* have. Dyslexia manifests in different ways, but what it all comes down to is a difficulty with doing *precisely* the thing you suggest.

  8. Hi Elissa, love your work! I have a question about #1. I live and work in Western Sydney, and a lot of the families I work with are not well off enough to purchase a piano straight away. When we speak about it, I even agree with them that they should not buy a piano (a pretty significant purchase) until the child/student has shown enough commitment to learning the instrument long-term. What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Samantha, thanks so much for your comment and question! In thinking about a reply I’ve realised I should write it as a whole new post – which I will try to do before the weekend is over. There are a lot of issues in this question, and I’ll unpack them in that post (as soon as I have an hour or so free).

      1. If you want to treat this, please do not start off by saying anything that can be interpreted as, “If you are satisfied with a piece of garbage or so poor that you can only afford junk, then I suppose a digital is what you’re stuck with, but do save your pennies toward a Steinway.” The current technology of digitals is so much further ahead of ANY acoustic that ANY family is likely to find on craigslist or online — where most families will go to find a piano anyway — that implying people are settling for insufficient garbage by not buying an acoustic is really doing a disservice to the whole concept of music education. 99% of the acoustics that are to be found in a teacher’s students’ homes are almost literally unplayable, unmaintained junk. This is always brushed off or rushed past when people talk about buying pianos, with a big “yes but” tacked onto the end, and it’s a serious problem not only for the teacher but for the attitude of the student.

        I can think of NO acoustic that I’ve ever encountered outside of a professional concert hall that could hold its own against a good digital. Piano teachers really have very little idea of how poor the acoustics most of their students’ families must suffer with, and how good the digital technology is getting every day.

        The resigned attitude of “I suppose trash is good enough for the poor and the uncommitted if nothing else is available” is far more musically crippling than not having a Bosie Imperial could ever be. If I had a nickel for every person who mopes and moans that they are permanently crippled because they are “stuck” with a mere digital piano instead of the glittering Bechstein of their dreams, I would be spending my NYE in France. :-(

        Sorry. I really do feel strongly about this, though.

      2. Hi fireandice, why would you think that I would address this issue by describing digital pianos as garbage/junk? I’m more than a little surprised you’re devoting so much comment to an attitude I haven’t expressed!!

        Having said that, I’d much rather have my acoustic piano than any digital I’ve ever played. :-) It’s not a concert hall piano but I have no doubt that no digital would be preferable.

        Many students have dreadful pianos, however, both acoustic and digital, and the real goal is to have our students working with quality instruments, no matter which of the two options are pursued. And most students who buy a digital don’t buy the kinds of instruments you are describing so positively!

        Piano teachers are often shy about asking students about their pianos, or giving advice, and I think a big part of this issue is having more knowledge both in the piano teaching profession and in the general community regarding what makes a good instrument…

      3. I think I would disagree with some of your comments about digitals. If we are buying a digital for $1000 versus an acoustic for $1000 digitals definitely are the best option. When we are talking about $5000 (and yes I have both a $5000 digital and $5000 acoustic), the digital is still digital. It is still programed to accept a range of touches. Sort of like driving a car and accelerating. But instead of going 1km/hr, 2km/hr, 3km/hr etc… it stays the same speed till it hits 10km/hr, and then stays the same speed till you have the accelerator pressed hard enough to get 20km/hr. While it is better to play a digital than an out of tune piano where the keys get stuck down etc. If the student is willing to spend enough to get a really good digital, then they may as well get the acoustic – and get the sensitivity of touch. One of my students has a $20,000 digital. his touch on the acoustic piano (and particularly his balance) isn’t as good as my students who have decent acoustics. Digitals have their place, and we are very thankful for the rhythms and effects of digitals, as well as being able to use it when we are travelling in an RV. And to some parents they represent better choices. however, the parent needs to be aware of the limitations and what that mean for the child’s pedagogical future. :)

    2. Thank you for your excellent suggestions. I expect my students to have a piano before they begin, but I tell them that digital or acoustic does not matter as much to me. Even a keyboard is fine with me for beginners, as long as it has at least 76 keys and is touch-sensitive. I did have a student begin once without a piano, and it wasn’t very fruitful. So I decided to make this a must to begin lessons.

  9. #1 is also one of the first questions I ask prospective students’ parents. Sadly so many of them have no instrument. It has been in my heart for a long time to provide a Practice Studio for students. It would be a store front divided up into practice rooms. Parents would pay a small fee per hour of practice for their child. This would be cheaper than buying or renting a piano AND they would have access to a piano teacher – ME! I would also teach my students there. And in my dreams it would have enough room for my group lessons to do marvelous things and there would be a nice recital hall! I can dream, right? :-)

    1. Nice dream!! That’s an interesting idea, but I wonder if it really would end up cheaper for the parent?

      You would need to charge enough to not only cover the cost of the piano being practiced on, but you would need to cover all your other costs (rent, rates, electricity/gas/water, fit-out, insurance) in the amount you charged parents, and I presume there would only be about 5 hours a day that students would want to be practicing away from home (roughly 3.30 to 8.30pm, possibly an extra hour in the morning?) and you would also need to cover a wage for yourself for every hour you need to be at the venue in order for it to be operating when you are not teaching. I’ve done a quick calculation, and I think you’d need to charge $20 per hour minimum in Sydney, and that’s assuming a completely full practice schedule… By the time a child does even 3 hours practice a week the parent is going to do the sums and realise they’ll pay off an entry level acoustic upright piano in less than a year at that rate!

      Especially once public liability insurance is taken into account our economy is not at all geared for sharing….

    2. This is what they do in china. It is a bit challenging practising with the sounds of all the other practisers in your ears though.

  10. Elissa, That’s a wonderful list, but I think it would also be helpful to begin some rhythm awareness and movement. Most students have a little trouble with keeping a steady pulse — but some of them really struggle. (Or maybe they don’t struggle, and that’s the problem! :>)

    Thanks again for the helpful list.

  11. Agree with this excellent list. It is amazing to me how many parents when they inquire about lessons for their child, ask in the next breath if they need to have a piano. Well of course they do. I always explain that the child may start on a small keyboard, but that they should be prepared to invest in an accoustic piano in about 6 months. A second-hand acoustic piano isn’t that much more expensive that a good digital. But you have to shop a bit. I have a fabulous Canadian Willis over 70 years old which has accompanied me to Hawaii. I paid less than $1000 for it and use it for recording.

    The main thing after having an instrument to practice on, is that the child not be too young. I don’t take children under 8 because I want them to learn quickly before they become bored. And I have found that if you start a child at 6 and three years later, when he is 9 and you have a new 9 year old student, by the time they are both 10 and a half, they’re prertty much at the same level. But the one who began later is MUCH more enthusiastic.

    it’s a matter of attention span, physical size of the hands and above all the difficulty of learniing a new “code” after learning the code of the ABC’s and reading. The code of music is much more complex, involving knowing the notes on the piano, on the staff lines and then coordinating the fingers to play them …. in time …. and with correct dynamics. Wow …. what a complex thing this is for a child.

    There are other wonderful more physical skills a child can learn in the earlier years. Any form of dancing, gymnastics or games. There’s plenty of time to add the discipline of music lessons.

    So good to read a teacher’s comments on how to prepare a child for those lessons. Thanks ….

  12. I was very happy to uncover this great site. I need to to thank you for your time for this particularly wonderful read!! I definitely loved every part of it and I have you saved to fav to look at new stuff on your web site.

  13. Hi Elissa,
    Great article and love your blog. My sister Gina pointed me in this direction as I was bugging her with questions about children’s piano lessons (my 7 & 9 year old are keen to play). Just wondering if you have any posts about choosing the right piano teacher and what to look for in a good piano teacher. I’ve really got no idea but I know it is so important with other disciplines (e.g. ballet) so I’m sure it make a huge difference with music too. Also can you recommend any piano and/or violin teachers for children on the Sunshine Coast.
    Thanks very much.

  14. Hello. I will like to find out can a child start their actual piano lesson on age 4. I have heard from some comment which are not encourage due to their fingers are still not fully develope.

    1. Answer is, absolutely. Children can start learning piano from 2. Actually it is the best age. Their ears are still open to new sounds. (such as learning a new language). But this equally applies to learning music. A studnet that comes to me at 8 years of age never catches up with those who started at 2 or 3. HOwever I suggest you find a highly qualified Suzuki Teacher in your area. I’ve found other teachers try and copy me, and they ruined the children’s love for music – as they didn’t have the training or expertise to be able to approach teaching a child younger that 6 or 7 (who are at a cognitively different stage). Like everything, as they use their fingers they develop strength. Never have I had a student damage their hands from starting young. However I have had students come from other teachers who started at 8 or 9 who have had damaged hands/arms/backs. Hope that helps :)

      1. I’d like to just add that the right age is different for every child…. Or at least, the right kind of learning for one child at a specific age will be different to the right kind of learning for another child at that same age. One of the valuable aspects of piano lessons is that teachers can create a customised learning program for each child’s unique needs (no matter what age they are!).

  15. Quickie comment on “capturing harmonics when you silently depress the keys and then play other keys” … You’d be surprised how many of them do this now. :-) The technology is advancing daily, literally. It all depends on how much dosh you’re willing to put out, but anything above a Clav CLP-380 will do this as a matter of course.

    1. I’ll take your word for it, as I haven’t done a check of the latest digital pianos for about 12 months. Certainly when I wrote this article I was responding to the digital pianos currently in use (rather than the very latest advances in the technology). I’ll report back (and alter the text of the original article) once I have an idea as to the proportion of digital pianos in piano shops that do have this feature! :-)

  16. As many have listed above, the quality of conversation is
    fabulous! As a returning student and Early Childhood music educator
    the importance of preperation for success paramount. Clear
    documents such as this article are invaluable. I have found
    preperation the key through my own journey, and invaluable in
    influencing the perception parents have on what is required when
    beginning pre-instrumental lessons. Preperation of the parent for
    what is expected, of the environment for practice and lessons.
    Preperation of the student both in basic musical awareness,
    listening and movement coordination skills (beat, sound quality,
    timbre) and clear open communication on all fronts. Thank you for
    adding to my growing resource. I intend on supplying this link to
    parents of students in my prep and grade 1 music and movement
    classes, to ensure that by the time they are ready to begin the
    savings are there to buy an instrument of suitable quality and the
    parents are ready to support, then the child will reach their
    individual potential. I would love to read more your suggestions
    for the instruments of choice either digital or acoustic and a
    price range for beginner parents. Your (all be it contriversial
    posting?) the requirements parents should look for in a teacher.
    Any tips involving pattern recognition and ways around this if
    lacking and the hits and misses we have as teachers. ( in response
    to the Dyslexic strand of conversation) Thanks for your dilligence
    and ongoing support Elissa, invaluable!

    1. I was so pleased to read all the comments on children taking piano lessons. My 4 yr old grandson is just starting his lessons. He has loved music since he was born…..has great rhythm, sings, hums and loves to listen to music. I think he will truly enjoy the piano as he gets so excited talking about his lessons…..he is so animated!

  17. Thanks so much! I was in this dilemma, I have 3 kids, twins-3 and daughter – 5 — I just purchased a used piano because my dd is starting piano lessons and my twins are too young so they are starting just rhythm classes. Anyhow, I was not sure if to keep the piano downstairs in our house (live in an apartment) for fear of the twins being to rough…. or upstairs with grandpa and have her start to practice upstairs. From your blog you recommend where she spends most of the time which would be with us… and then you say to have the piano at home for them to get used to it… Thank you so much!!! I am just glad that you said that nothing will happen to it from playing.. which I know will be a lot of until the excitement wears off. I will keep you in my favorites as this journey just begins.

  18. If you’ve been blessed with a neighbor or family member who’ve learned a string instrument or a wind instrument, do you remember when they first started learning? How did they sound as a beginner? Yes, if you’ve had this experience you already know where I’m going with this. Piano is the easiest instrument to sound good at right from the beginning, lowering frustration levels for the student and the people around them. I know because I learned the violin too and I’ve been to my share of violin recitals and band concerts. This advantage for piano is actually both a blessing and a curse–especially when you reach the advanced levels.

    Also, the piano helps to lead into just about any other instrument your child could want to play next. I even know any drummers who started with piano. It helped with timing and playing with others well.

  19. Great tips thanks, I recently bought a digital piano because of lack of space (only have a small apartment)
    for now….already my toddler is playing “tunes” on it. I’m hoping it will continue for many years to come and he will enjoy and learn to play tunes for his mom :)

  20. Whilst I think there are many very valid points here in the list of 10
    I would like to comment, perhaps more by way of adding to what should be done before starting formal piano lessons.

    I particularly will comment on

    1. Children should start learning on an acoustic piano
    2. Children should be able to recite the alphabet
    3. Introducing Treble and Bass clefs as a measure of high and low.

    It is my belief that children have an innate feeling of music from the very earliest of days. There is some evidence also that this goes BEFORE they are born – in utero. In fact I have tested this a little with my own grand daughter (now almost 3) and can say that I believe there is some evidence for it, based on a sample of 1. But that’s another story involving a piece of piano music of Schubert.

    However, I believe that we should be encouraging children from the very earliest of days to experience music – at this stage we are talking about responding to music – moving and singing and perhaps playing small percussion instruments – all the elements of music can be introduced in an age appropriate way, without any of the technical jargon. It seems a perfectly natural learning option and would be in itself a perfect grounding for learning instruments when the fine motor skills are adequately ready for it. This could be as young as 3 or 4 when their reading skills are not developed. Should we be stopping them? I believe firmly that the best learning for a child occurs during the first 7 years, when children are like sponges and when they most likely are innately musical beings.

    An acoustic piano is a wonderful instrument and almost essential for playing music from late Classical era onwards. But it’s prudent to remember that Mozart and Haydn, and a young Beethoven, did not write for the modern piano as it is. That being said it’s almost impossible to imagine putting Liszt or Debussy on anything but a finely tuned/pedalled instrument to capture every nuance – but this is a LONG time into the learning process. An acoustic piano is a rather large investment and I would hate to think that the cost of that and its maintenance puts anyone off.

    I want to see that society puts as much value in music education as they do on gaining sporting prowess. We wouldn’t THINK of restricting children from engaging in any sort of sporting activity until they had the fine motor skills required (and some maybe never will). My grand daughter does gymnastics and has done from age 2. She does swimming. And she has participated in music class from the age of less than 12 months. She sings in tune. She loves to sit at any keyboard, whether digital or acoustic and experiment. She dances to music, reacting to the rhythm. Now she recognises those first 7 letters of the alphabet but I don’t think it necessary for her to associate sounds with letters. It’s confusing at this age. She sings recognising high and low by singing solfege and moving to feel high and low in her body, not to the right or left in a horizontal plane. She will start learning to play the piano (because we have one, as well as digital keyboards) long before 6 or 7 or 8. Not because she is super intelligent, but because it is a natural progression where music is as natural to her life as learning to move and to speak.

    Music is a language and so we can see the natural relationship that develops as they learn the skills of language – first there is lots of listening. Then there is replicating sounds, random and maybe non-sensical perhaps, but gradually becoming ordered and refined and more complex. Then there is reading. Then writing. Immerse them in literature and music and they reap the rewards.

    Not all teachers will be able, or willing, or trained enough to ‘teach’ the very smallest of toddlers. But as a teacher I so love it when a young student comes to me and already has music in the blood – not because they know the letter names of the notes, but because they ‘feel’ the music. I have seen children as young as 6 who are listening to what might be considered sophisticated classical music (one who listens regularly to Shostakovitch, he started early childhood music classes at about 18 months) and talks about how it makes them feel.

    That’s a big investment by parents as well I know, but such an amazingly worthwhile one, given what we are learning about how good music is for brain function and even intelligence.

    1. It’s an interesting one, isn’t it, the question of whether an acoustic piano is ‘worth it’ at the start. A topic worthy of a post all by itself.

      I can’t imagine anyone in any context advocating for children to be denied access to music until they begin formal instrumental lessons. In a perfect world a musical education designed for very young children should precede the kind of instruction that happens in a piano lesson, and these days many more parents do seek out these experiences for their very young children than ever before. But if a parent has a seven year old child who hasn’t been in music classes since they a toddler (or before!) neither the parent nor the child should be led to believe that it’s too late! It’s not!!

      One thing that is a delight is when young students begin their piano lessons already with a knowledge of solfège rhythm names – this, above all other early visual literacies, makes the first lessons incredibly easy for both student and teacher alike.

      As to the alphabet: there are some children who struggle with reading, and there are children who struggle with sequencing, and my point about children being familiar with the first seven letters of the alphabet fails to account for these groups of perfectly musical children who are perfectly ready for one-on-one piano lessons. This omission needs to be rectified.

      Having said that, there are plenty of 2 year olds who know their alphabet. And not many 2 year olds ready for piano lessons. If children don’t know their alphabet when they begin piano lessons it’s not a problem at all! But time will be spent, at some stage or other, learning what is not already known. And since most children beginning piano lessons are at school already….

      I’ve never met a child who didn’t ‘have a feeling for music’ in some way or other. I have met children who don’t have a vocabulary for that experience. The piano lesson can be a joyous means for expanding the child’s capacity to articulate their musical ideas, either through their interaction with the instrument, through their voice (singing) or through words.

      As to the treble and bass clefs – I’m not sure what the problem is with associating these symbols with either the idea of higher/lower or with the idea of the geography of the keyboard. Obviously the geography of a keyboard only comes into play if the child has access to keyboard instruments, but if a child does have the chance to experiment with any keyboard instrument this reality (where the high and low notes are to be found) will be apparent… Maybe I’ve missed something?!

  21. I started taking lessons when I was 8 or 9 and my parents bought this beautiful upright Kawai piano; however they didn’t just purchase it for me because my dad played piano, so it wasn’t like there was a chance I would decide I didn’t like it, quit, and the expensive piano went to waste. (It was no problem though, I loved and still love playing the piano). If your child is starting lessons I would recommend buying a keyboard for the first year, if they are under the age of 11 they won’t learn anything advanced enough for a full 88 key piano to make a difference (mostly twinkle twinkle little star and the like), but if they seem to love it and stick with it for a year or two invest in a nice piano. After about 3 years you cannot continue lessons effectively without a full weighted 88 key piano (preferably acoustic).

  22. These are all really good points you are making. As a piano teacher myself I know the challenges of teaching youngsters only too well. I particularly appreciate the fact that you bring up point 6. In my experience getting set up in front of the piano correctly is crucial to mastering the keys. I feel so strongly about it I recently made a video on that point. You can see it here: http://www.secondsightmusic.com/teaching_library.html

  23. So glad to read so many helpful suggestions as I prepare to help a young (6 years old) friend get a feel for the piano. I have no expectation of teaching her formal lessons but want to respond to her great interest and just perhaps encourage her parents to consider more formal lessons -and a piano–for her. I am surprised that almost no one has mentioned the value of vocally matching pitches and ear training. This has been so much fun for my own children and quickly helped them connect themselves to the keyboard. I would be interested on your comments about this element of musical learning.

  24. Hi, my husband and I wish to gift my nephew, who is going to turn 2 next month, a piano for his birthday. His father gives piano lessons to people of all ages (he has his own music school). But I want to keep it a surprise for the whole family, so I don’t want to ask him about the type of piano that would be best. I have a budget of $500, and I would really really appreciate it if you could tell me what a good piano (brand, quality, size, # of keys, etc.) would be for my tiny tot. Thanks!

    1. Um…

      OK, firstly I need to know what country and currency we are talking, because $500 buys a different kind of instrument in the US to what it will buy in Hong Kong. :-)

      Secondly, if your nephew’s father gives piano lessons the immediate question to come to mind is why does your nephew even need a piano???! Doesn’t his home already have at least one?!

      I would suggest putting the $500 toward an instrument your nephew can use for many years rather than a toy.

      You want 88 keys, weighted action, a fixed pedal (not a pedal on a lead that shifts around on the floor), and that’s a minimum. If someone bought a piano for my son without consulting *me* I would think they were wasting their money. :-)

      1. Well, we thought maybe a children’s piano would be more appropriate for him at this age, and he can transition to the one his dad has as he grows up. But what you say makes sense. Thanks a tonne! We’ll probably give him a bicycle :-)

    2. I agree. There must already be at least one piano and maybe even a digital keyboard in the house already. Perhaps best to put the money to buy a voucher for a well run, pedagogically sound pre school music class program, and buy some suitable sturdy percussion instruments.

  25. A great list: I have recently started to make some enquiries about my daughter learning piano. I learnt myself as a young child and there are many things I DON’T want for my child based on my own experience of learning. This is why #1 surprised me the most because I had a small Casio keyboard I played at the kitchen table for at least 12 months before my parents ‘acquired’ a second hand, water damaged, untuned piano with a broken pedal that I practiced on in a damp garage. But hey, it was acoustic! I still remember running my hands over it’s lid as I sat up on two somewhat unstable editions of ‘the yellow pages’ and the scent of the keys as I tirelessly practiced my scales each morning. I loved it and I respected it because I was so ‘lucky’ to have it on loan from a relative.

    My #1 would be: Find a great teacher. Because it was my teacher’s unrealistic expectations that set me up to fail when I was left at UTS to sit for a two hour exam as a 7 year old. Still – he didn’t kill my passion entirely. A good piano teacher knows the balance between theory and practice and nurtures the student more than their parents’ wallet.

    Please consider that by setting an expectation that children have a piano you are excluding students who may be at a financial disadvantage. I think learning the piano should be more accessible to kids. Perhaps though you are writing this from ‘a perfect world perspective’…

    Thankfully, my daughter’s world is closer to the perfect world perspective than mine was, and closer than many of the students I teach in South West Sydney. So I will investigate purchasing a piano (if it all fizzles out I could rekindle my own passion) but I am still not sure who I could trust to teach her.

    I guess there is a fine line between encouraging your child to learn and ‘pushing them’. I think it would be a worse crime to not try because you don’t want to be a pushy parent or you can’t afford a piano….

    1. I absolutely understand your point about the need for an instrument being an impediment for families living in (or near to) poverty. But the cost of lessons *very quickly* outstrips the cost of the instrument… A year’s tuition (from a good teacher) could pay for a fairly acceptable instrument.

      It’s better for a child to have the instrument to experiment with, to explore, than to take lessons without having access to an instrument. If the student cannot practice the learning that takes place between lessons will be seriously/massively reduced. So massively reduced that the student without access to a piano at home will progress at (at best) half the rate as the child who has a piano at home.

      Poverty absolutely does preclude children from taking piano lessons. My own piano lessons were in part funded by me walking home from school instead of paying for the bus (where I grew up there was no school student free transport scheme) and in other reasonably draconian measures (saving lunch money by not eating lunch, not buying clothes, etc). I really do get it. But I couldn’t learn to play without having access to an instrument. I’ve known kids who practice at a church hall every afternoon, but for most children there are no community pianos available for them to use for regular practice…. Playing the piano is just not a cheap option…

      In some countries there are all kinds of programs to alleviate this lack of access – free lessons, scholarships based on hardship, pianos donated, and so forth. But Australia doesn’t seem to have any such programs in place. It would be wonderful for this situation to change! But in the meantime, I can’t lie and say that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a piano at home – because it makes all the difference in the world…

      1. Thanks for discussing this at length with me. You do ‘get it’ I can now tell. And your tips for piano exploration prior to lessons make absolute sense to me as both a mother and a primary school teacher.

        I appreciate your honesty – if it really does make all the difference in the world then it should be shared. Your knowledge and passion on the subject is very satisfying to me as a reader.

        Please continue to share the struggles you experienced as a young pianist – I think others will find this very encouraging.

        You acknowledge the inequities for children in learning the piano and as you say; this is a very unfortunate situation in Australia.

        I will follow your advice and save for a piano first before considering lessons. Thanks for the discussion. Your blog was recommended to me by Dr Rachel Hocking.

    2. There is also the option of finding a church will a nice piano. I had no piano of my own, but found that most churches like the security of people using their premises, and were happy for me to use their pianos regularly.

  26. As a parent, I was pleased I remembered to ensure that my son’s nails were cut and clean before his first lesson!
    Apologies if this has already been mentioned above – I have to admit that I haven’t read every word of this very interesting and useful discussion.

  27. OMG…I could not have read this @ a better time…We got this upright piano (Hienzman making) from a family friend…got it tuned six months ago and am now considering putting my 7yr old daughter in lessons( actually going tomr for inquiring). I also have a 4 yr old daughter,not sure if I can afford both @ the same time…good to know there’s no age-limit to learning piano. It most certainly is a very expensive sport…no doubt…but also would love to give this opportunity to them as I never got one myself…I always pictured myself playing Violin in front of a sold-out crowd lol…Anyho I would love to thank you for your wonderful and very insightful read! Much appreciate! keep us posted:)

  28. I realise this is an old article. However, there is much great advice here. However, I teach piano to children as young as 2. I wouldn’t expect them to know their left and right, and their alphabet or treble and bass at all. It isn’t necessary as they learn those concepts as they learn. They pick up those ideas as they are referred to in the lesson, in a natural learning type of way. Just as they learn how to speak just by hearing words, not by being asked to memorise their alphabet or grammar first.

    1. Sarah, no, I completely agree! If you are teaching 2 year olds then you need a different set of criteria. :-)

      The vast majority of students beginning piano lessons (as compared to music classes) are at least 5 years old, however, and the vast majority of teachers work from method books which work in such a way as to make this advice very pertinent!

      I’m confident that the kind of curriculum you use with your 2 year old students is not the same as is used with most beginners!

  29. Many of these comments are from parents that know how to play or are musically inclined. I’ve always wished I had the opportunity to learn how to play as a child. Unfortunately I never had that opportunity. This may be a silly question but, have you ever heard of a parent learning to play along with their child? Taking classes together or spending time learning together?

    1. Not at all silly, and in fact I’ve known of several parents who have taken up piano lessons parallel to their child commencing lessons! At the very least I encourage parents who have never learned to play a musical instrument to sit in on lessons for the first year or so. This gives the parent an opportunity to become attuned to the elements that are involved in constructing a performance, in engaging in practice, and in a basic understanding of musical notation.

      As with so many things, the more a parent knows about the skill the child is acquiring the better able they are to support their child’s learning…

  30. Oh, that’s fantastic to hear (that this is so timely for you!)! These things are very much in my mind because I have a 4 year old myself, and I’m noticing the things I’m doing to have him lesson-ready. Your comments are inspiring me to get some follow-up posts written as soon as possible!

  31. What a fantastic blog post! All those useful and practical tips. Out of all I like No.9; preschoolers would know the alphabet and is a good idea to teach them the notes of the keyboard. I compare this to the days of the week and the young ones quickly understand the concept of having just 7 names only throughout 88 keys. Thank you so much.

  32. Great piece! I just found this searching info about piano for kids because we just got one yesterday! Having grown up playing piano, I cannot agree more with your points. Thank you! I am excited to share your post with others!

  33. Thank you , im learning piano myself and i find that this has helped me alot , my family is very musical but not the best talented when it comes to instraments , and my dream is to be a pianist and singer some day ! Thank you for helping me !

  34. “#12 Find a teacher who will teach in your home” …………. this was learned the hard way here, after my kids left school to go to the teacher i our bog city, the total transit times were 2 hours during ruch-hour traffic……….. kods got fed up with the futility of travel over the meagre pleasure of music classes.
    Last Sunday morning a very wiling teacher arrived here, at 10am when the kids are ideally fresh for learning new concepts.

    #13 Establish a block contract so the kids know the period of curriculum and the teacher can deliver paratice materials also I can experiment or try to find a better teacher ………… my contact is for 10 double-classes for our 8 and 10 year olds)

    1. Oh, this sounds just awful, Grade Three at 55 years young!!! It sounds as if you have had the most awful experiences in your quest to connect with a piano teacher!

      It sounds as if things started very badly for you indeed. I would think that a 60 minute commute to a piano lesson and a 60 minute commute home from the lesson would be simply too far for anyone *before they even decided to begin*. Most people wouldn’t have countenanced this kind of travel in the very first place, I’m quite sure. It sounds as if this was a shock only after the decision to go to a teacher so far away had already been made.

      In regard to your proposed #13 – it is usual for teachers and students to meet prior to lessons commencing, for everyone to get a sense of how they connect, and for the teacher to explain their approach and philosophy, giving everyone a chance to establish that this is a positive relationship to move forward in, both personally and educationally.

      It sounds as if you have had a really rough time, and it does sound like I should maybe write a post for parents “on how to find the right teacher for my child”…

      So sorry to hear of your difficulties!! I hope you have now found a teacher who meets your needs.

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