Thanks for stopping by A Family Place. I enjoy working with families, and sharing the power of music with them. Kindermusik provides this outlet for me. This blog will allow me to share thoughts and ideas that can help families in their journey.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Thoughts on piano lessons

As a piano teacher for many years I am often asked my thoughts on learning the piano.  Let me share my story!

I grew up in a rural area of Florida, and I only knew a few people who played the piano.  I had a toy piano, and I must have banged on that a lot as a kid.  On my 7th birthday, a big truck pulled up to the house. I told my mom that this truck must be at the wrong house, because it was a piano company truck. It was in the right place, my grandparents purchased a brand new Baldwin piano for me!  I'm sure I was excited at first, but then came the lessons.  I could tell you many things I recall about those lessons, but the bottom line is I didn't like it.  I wanted to quit.  Long story, but I continued taking and now my career involves teaching music!

Parents tell me how much little Johnny loves music, how they always go to the piano at grandma's and play. So, they want to start Johnny in piano.  Did anyone ask Johnny if he wanted to take piano? Maybe he goes to the piano at Grandma's because there isn't much to do there! Just because a child likes to sit and play, doesn't mean they are interested in the specific techniques of learning the instrument.  There are lots of children who like to splash in the pool and swim, but that doesn't mean they are interested in joining a swim team and learning good technique.

Here are my top five things you should consider before beginning private lessons.

1. Sing, move and play with your child in a musical environment.  If you are interested in music and learning, he will be too. I teach Kindermusik, and I believe it is the BEST thing you can do to provide a positive foundation in music fundamentals.

2. Determine if your child is the right age and stage for lessons.  Most piano teachers like children to be 7 years old. Their hands have grown and their fine motor skills have improved. There are many details in studying the piano, and patience is required. Studying music is not easy, but it provides many lessons beyond the songs they learn.

3. Provide a well maintained instrument.  Have it in an accessible location in your home...not near the TV! I believe it is acceptable to begin with a good keyboard if that is the best economic fit for your family, but an acoustic piano is preferred.

4. Find a teacher that is right for your family. Some teachers are flexible, some are not. Many teachers push students to enter festivals, and competitions and to memorize many songs.  Other teachers just have a couple of recitals a year, and their students don't memorize.  What do you want out of the lessons?  Find a teacher that can provide that for your child.

5. Make sure your child practices. Kids don't usually want to practice, nor do they want to brush their teeth or clean their room or do their homework. If your child is taking lessons, you need to help them set a time to practice. You are paying for these lessons, and they can be quite expensive, don't waste your money or the teacher's time with a child who doesn't practice. Encourage your child to have family recitals, play for grandma over Skype, or maybe to play at school on a talent show.  All these things will boost their confidence.  When they feel good about what they can do, they generally want to practice! Success breeds success.

How much should expect to pay for private lessons?  That depends on your location and the experience and education of your teacher.  Private lessons always cost more than group lessons.  Some instructors will come to you, but that results in a higher fee.

How long before I am able to see progress in my child?  Every child is different! Some children learn quicker, have a natural tendency, and practice is always a great indicator.  If a child is willing to practice consistently then you should hear lovely music in a couple of years.  

One last thought -
Piano is different than any other activity your child can choose.  With ballet, soccer, swimming, gymnastics, football, etc... your child goes to a practice and comes home. Piano involves going to the lesson, getting instruction and then home to practice. I believe that is why so many students don't enjoy it and drop out, it's lonely.  That is another reason to wait until your child is older.  The younger they begin then the parent has to spend more time helping the child practice.  That is why I encourage parents to enroll in Kindermusik, Musikgarten or Music Together before making the leap to private lessons.

Check out these links for more information: 10 Things you should know before your child begins piano lessons

Ideas from PBS on music lessons

How old should my child be to begin lessons?

Moving from Our Time to Imagine That!

Kindermusik Our Time is for ages 18 months - 3 years. Imagine That ages are 3 1/2 - 5 years. What happens during that 6 month time when Our Time ends and Imagine That begins? Parents want to know if their child should move up as soon after they turn 3 or wait. They will often say things like, "they are the oldest in the Our Time class, I wonder if they should move?"

Let me give you a personal perspective. I have 4 children, the youngest is Kate. She has always been mature for her age because she was the youngest, and because she grew up with college students babysitting for her! She potty trained at 18 months. She had done music since the womb.

Kate and Imagine That? She could have, and would have done fine...but we stayed in Our Time for another semester. I attended Kindermusik with Ms. Wendy on Tuesday mornings at 9:30, and had a great time. She has a December birthday, thus turning 3 mid-year. Should we move up to Imagine That?

She got to be the oldest! She had lots of great ideas for us to do for the activities! We had lots of fun being together and enjoying music. When she moved up to Imagine That in the fall, she was ready.

That is my story, but here are some guidelines for you to consider with your child:

  • Separates from adult without crying; enjoys interacting with peers.

  • Thinks creatively - has moved from "what animals do you know?" to "what might we see in our pretend tree?"

  • Recognizes the needs of others; can be empathetic; take turns (usually!), understand classroom rules and why they are important

  • Developing abstract language and thought - can sustain a pretend play and enjoy developing an idea for up to 5 minutes or more.

  • Can tell stories, relate a series of ideas, connect own experiences to those of others

  • Beginning to take turns - can accept "she is playing the woodblock, and you have the tambourine today"

  • Has broad movement vocabulary, and can explore the same movement in diverse ways ("What other parts of your body can twirl?")

  • Can sit and listen to a story or musical selection for several minutes, and comment on what they have heard.

  • Knows simple shapes, colors, weather, seasons, and is beginning to count

  • Participates in singing, and reciting rhymes.
Talk with your child's teacher and get her perspective...every child is unique!

Is my child ready for Young Child?

Kindermusik for the Young Child is for ages 4 1/2 - 7. It is the developmental leap to the school age child. Musically, it is the culmination of all that has come before.

In addition to movement, instrumental play, singing, and creating, the Young Child student begins to learn musical notation (notes and rhythms). Melodies are learned on the glockenspiel, which is a wonderful pre-keyboard instrument. Children who continue through all 4 semesters of the Young Child program are also given the opportunity to learn the dulcimer and the recorder.

As a piano teacher of over 30 years, I don't take students who have not been in the Young Child classes. WHY? Because the foundation given in Young Child makes the transition to the piano so easy. Children without that foundation don't have the same 'musical sense' or rhythm as those in Kindermusik.

A parent of three Kindermusik grads told Ms. Wendy that their children are musical because they came to Kindermusik.  Another mom of a local high school pianist and vocalist told me she knows his foundation and love of music came from Kindermusik.

Here are some guidepost as you consider choosing Young Child.
  • exhibits self-confidence and reliability in a classroom or group situation
  • is interested in fine motor control activities - reproduces shapes, letters, enjoys puzzles, games and drawing.
  • follows directions and can participate in an activity with groups doing different things simultaneously
  • has good abstract thinking skills - can answer questions such as "how do you think a composer can make music sound like birds?
  • can sing whole songs, and is developing a good sense of pitch
  • is eager to learn, and is developing self-motivation
  • can work independently for short periods toward a set goal
  • is ready to begin understanding concepts of practice, proper handling of an instrument, and playing a tune as opposed to exploring ways of creating sound on an instrument.
Early elementary age children have many choices for extra curricular activities, and parents have to decide how to spend their money and their time. Kindermusik for the Young Child promotes learning and a lifetime skill, and Kindermusik...a good beginning never ends!

Young Child year two or .....

Here's a scenario that happens frequently: My child has participated in Kindermusik for several years, and has completed the first year of the Young Child curriculum. Should I move them to private piano or violin instead of completing the Young Child sequence?

A child completing 1st year of Young Child is usually 5 or maybe 6 years old. Many piano teachers do not take students until they are 7. Violin teachers will take children at a younger age because their are instruments designed for smaller hands (1/4 and 1/2 size violins). What are the advantages of completing the Young Child sequence?
  • Kindermusik is a group activity and children enjoy making music with their peers.
  • Kindermusik includes many games that make it more than just learning a new song. The songs are just fun, they teach skills like ear training and form.
  • Kindermusik introduces the children to composers and styles of music through listening and moving to music. This doesn't happen in most private lessons.
  • The 2nd year of Young Child has the children playing a dulcimer and a recorder. The dulcimer is a string instrument, the recorder is a wind instrument - both require fine motor skills. Violin and piano are fine motor skill driven too.
  • Steady beat is continued to be reinforced in Kindermusik through ensemble playing. All music requires a steady pulse, but the group aspect of Kindermusik helps the children feel it easier than doing it on their own!
  • Ensemble playing is more prevalent in the 2nd year of Young Child, and this encourages listening. Is someone too loud? do we have a steady beat? can you hear the melody?
  • Private lessons cost considerably more than group classes.  For example, Kindermusik for the Young Child is $250 for the entire semester, including materials.  Private lessons can cost $350 and more for the semester, plus books are extra.
I have seen students leave the Kindermusik curriculum, take piano later with "holes" that have to be repaired. Students who continue through year two of Kindermusik have a solid foundation!