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?