What Kids Need in Piano Lessons

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First you’ll need to drop the dry, boring lecture-demonstration. It’s not going to work. Maybe with a kid who has had years of lessons, but with a beginner? They’ll run screaming from the room.

For almost all kids, a piano lesson is really just a half hour experience with an adult. You can choose to make it a lecture, or you can resolve to increase that child’s enthusiasm for the instrument by any means.

But the fact is that many children have difficulty with piano lessons because, as a child, they are simply not getting what they need.

What kids need, at first, is music making, not theory, not notation or any other pedagogical nonsense. To a child, music is as easy as banging on a drum. Yes, piano is more difficult than banging on a drum, but you can’t go wrong starting with what the child expects. Piano is easily simplified.

So piano lessons, at first, should be designed around what the child finds enjoyable, rather than a rigid curriculum taught since the 1830s.

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If you’re a parent, you need to consider if the teacher is right for your child. It is a pairing that must be complimentary.

As a parent, I would rely on my child’s reaction: if they don’t like the lessons, it is the wrong teacher for them, usually a disciplinarian.

Of course there’s a place for discipline, because piano is an exceedingly demanding and unforgiving art. But not in the beginning, when you are trying to get the child to adopt the piano as a treasured toy with which they often play.

Put simply, enthusiasm is more important than curriculum any day. The piano curriulum is quite set, so you can set about learning it from almost any approach.

What is the teacher like? Gruff, warm, cold, distant, a lecturer, a pedant?

The truth is that the manner of the teacher has everything to do with how well your child accepts the lessons and can thrive and learn.

So let’s examine exactly what the average child, starting piano, needs in order to succeed at it:


1. A piano lesson has to be more than a pre-arranged viewing of a set of skills that need to be learned. The child must be engaged, at their own level, at that moment. Don’t expect a child to an adult, expect them to be childish. Let them be themselves.

2. Kids need to play music they know and love. It’s up to the teacher to find out what songhs appeal to the child, and arange them appropriately. This takes a lot more effort on the teacher’s part than simply going from page to page like a robot.

The truth is that most beginning piano books include fake, “cardboard” pieces, made-up exercise pieces created to intyroduce concepts, and not to make music. Kids hate this music if it is all they are given to play.

3. Not every lesson is a winner. Children can be tired, sick, uninterested no matter what you do.

In this case, I just review things that they already know, based on the assumption that more repetition never hurts. Or I just tell musical jokes.

You have to be clever enough to mask routine tasks as games. Also know when to stop pushing unless they seem to be ready to be pushed.

4. A lesson can’t be all reading music. That is too tiring for almost all kids.

Learn to make the proportion of fun to work more liberal, say 7 parts fun to 3 parts work. Adjust as needed.

Each child needs a different approach, since people are such individuals. If the teacher has a one-size-fits-all approach, you are fairly sure that this is a lazy teacher. They go from page to page, making it easier for themselves.

Seek out a teacher who wants to unlock your child’s enthusiasm for music throught the piano. This takes much more work on the part of the teacher, an effort that most piano teachers don’t want to make.

The lesson belongs to the child, not you. Find out what they are willing to learn that day and present it to them in a fun way.

Forget your curriculum, and think of what the child needs that day. If it is nothing, be clever enough to disguise a simple skill as “nothing.”

Copyright 2012 Walden Pond Press


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