It depends entirely on whether you
intend to use the conventional methods that employ only sheet music. If you
intend to use the conventional methods, then don't even think of starting before
the age of six.
The reason for this is that preschoolers are just too young for
the standard sheet music methods that exist. Many have difficulty understanding the tasks
asked of them in a conventional piano lesson outside the home, and have great
difficulty with the abstract concepts and symbols necessary to read sheet
If you intend to use a friendly
method such as piano by number, there is no age limit: any child that can
identify the numbers 1-12 is a perfect candidate to begin enjoying and learning
music at the piano.
In terms of maturity, I would
suggest the age of four or five as a good age to start with piano by number, and soon after
perhaps begin to slowly
introduce the concepts of sheet music as presented in our book, I
CAN READ MUSIC.
If you encounter any difficulties
with sheet music, back off and continue with piano by number.
A child should easily grasp the
concepts presented in I
CAN READ MUSIC, and if they don't they are too young for sheet music and
should be allowed to continue enjoying piano by number until they are old enough
to make the transition with ease.
Better to wait than to frustrate.
I recommend starting children of
preschool age playing piano by number. Preschoolers are just getting used
to numbers and letters. Many teachers have found that having children identify
numbers via the piano keyboard is a fun activity that builds confidence with
The most important aspect of using
piano by number for preschoolers is to first recognize the capabilities of the
child: can the child identify numbers if the graphic representation of those
numbers (on a page) is presented to them?
It is one thing for a child to
recite vocally numbers as high as they can, but quite another to
recognize the symbols for each number. Many preschool children can play any numbered piano
key you say to them, but have difficulty playing numbers (or any symbols,
for that matter) that they find
on the page.
Piano by number slowly builds the abstract
skills necessary to decipher musical symbols later, and promotes children's sense of security
in successfully deciphering them.
For children who cannot yet identify
the symbols for numbers, the piano keyboard is an ideal place to build
confidence with those symbols, with the added attraction that music itself
produces a "good-mood" effect that is conducive to learning more
Seeing the first twelve numbers,
1-12, spread out on a piano helps children to imagine numbers as a sequential
Probably the biggest secret of
teaching music to children this age is to allow kids to be kids while they
learn. If you do this, and it requires unbelievable patience and creativity,
they will reward you with constant effort, and humor!
The younger the child, the less I
expect. If they only learn that the piano is a fun place to be, you've had a
major victory as a teacher and a parent.
I recommend starting kindergarten
kids with piano by number, and then making limited attempts at sheet music
depending on the child's sense of security with the piano. Usually, this is no
problem. Kindergarten kids are very ready for
games of any kind, and begin to have the skills necessary to put several hand
movements together into a group of movements.
Children of this age still are most
comfortable with numbers, but will tolerate more games preparing the way for
reading sheet music. But you must make games out of everything. And back off from teaching sheet music as soon as you see
their eyes start to show exhaustion, perhaps 5 minutes at most. Sheet music is
fascinating but very tiring for kids this age. Better to expose them 5 minutes
at a time than risk exhausting them and making them feel like failures.
With this age you may be able to
teach them chords (three piano keys played with the left hand) but usually I
allow them to play 2 note chords (two piano keys with the left hand) until it
becomes obvious that 2 note chords are too easy.
I don't insist that children play
with both hands at this point, that is, chords with left hand and melody
(numbers) with the right hand. It is enough that they can make their way through
a few moments of a song that I show them, always carefully chosen to allow them
to master a simple-enough task.
For example, a child this age should
begin to easily have knowledge of the first three chords (three piano keys for
the left hand) known as C, F and G. Any child can do this with enough focused,
If a child does begin to read sheet
music, be careful to gain complete mastery of the notes of the right hand, say
the first 5 keys above Middle C, before attempting to introduce the left hand.
It is my feeling that merely
introducing the idea of "lines and spaces" (sheet music) is
more than a victory at this stage.
The reason for this is that sheet
music is much more of an abstraction than numbers for children of
this age. Children gravitate to what is most comfortable for them, and you can
bet at this age that it will be "piano by numbers," because it is less
abstract than sheet music.
Children who are allowed the room to
succeed at "piano by number" no matter how glacial their pace, are
perfect candidates for reading sheet music, because they are properly prepared.
SCHOOL: FIRST GRADE
At this age, you can start with
piano by number to build confidence, and readily move on to sheet music a little
bit at a time within a few months.
First graders seem magically wired
to try the piano! All the physical perceptions necessary are in place; numbers
are no problem, playing with two hands is no problem.
But if a child has difficulty with
playing two hands simultaneously, do not insist, as most kids this age have
great difficulty with two handed maneuvers. It is enough to expose them to the
idea that two hands are involved, eventually simultaneously.
With piano by numbers and chords
(two or three piano keys played with the left hand) under their belt, first
graders are ready to conquer the right hand of sheet music, and engage in a study of chords.
At this age kids are emotionally
ready to play the game called "happy and sad" wherein the teacher
plays chords and has the child try to guess their (the chords) emotional or
dramatic quality, happy or sad.
Kids love this silly game, almost
like a game show, and never tire of trying to listen and assess the emotional
quality of the chord. Earlier than this age, many children seem to have
difficulty grasping the idea of a sound (the piano chord) having a certain
emotional quality (happy or sad.)
At this point it also becomes
possible to introduce "finger games," that is, games that teach a
child to move beyond using the index finger. I always allow kids to start with
the index finger, if that's what's comfortable.
It may take a long time to get a child to
use all the ten fingers properly, but it is worth waiting for, especially if in
the meantime you are teaching them other valuable things.
Believe it or not, kids will let you
know when they are ready to use all five fingers.
I'll tell you the formula for
success. It has three stages:
1. Teach the notes, the numbers, get
the kids to decipher the commands and play the correct keys as best they can,
with whatever finger comes to their mind
2. Introduce the idea of five
fingers, slowly, as a game, as a joke. I always say, when they play with only
their index finger, "Oh, you were born with only one finger on each hand!
Wait! I see other fingers under there, all curled up!" Try that 50 times
and they will start using more fingers all by themselves, I guarantee it.
3. Rhythm is best left to last. The
only thing I do at this point is to play rhythm games. I never, ever insist on
rhythm in a piece of printed music, numbers or sheet.
Don't even think of rhythm in the
usual sense for first graders. Better to try simple rhythm games like "fours"
that give children the idea of regularity, of pattern, of
To start the process of learning
fingering, I begin with a
game called "threesies," in which they play, starting from Middle C;
123, 234, 345 456, etc using the right hand thumb, index and third finger in
ascending order. Kids
love the complexity of this, but if it is too difficult after several tries,
then try something else for a while.
Two more "rules:"
1. Keep coming back to ideas, again
2. Never acknowledge a child's
failure to grasp these ideas, just
show comic surprise and move on.
Children at the piano have an
uncanny knack of showing you an honest effort if the task is not
incomprehensibly difficult. Break down complex motions into easily grasped bits.
Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved
See also PIANO
LESSONS: A CHILD'S POINT OF VIEW
See also TEACHING
PRESCHOOL CHILDREN PIANO
DELAY READING MUSIC
A CHILD'S CONFIDENCE WITH NUMBERS
PRESCHOOL A GOOD AGE TO START PIANO?
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