Some Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a good age to start piano lessons?
A: Much depends on the natural ability and maturity of the child and the level of commitment of the parents. The ability to learn piano requires both nature and nurture: i.e., an aptitude from birth and a home environment that can develop that ability. Usually a child’s natural aptitude can be seen at a very early age (age 2 or earlier) by the child’s interest in music and the ability to carry a tune. Certainly a talented child and a disciplined environment are a perfect combination; but a parent who is strongly committed to rearing a musical child can go a long way with disciplined lessons and practice, even with a child of limited aptitude. It is difficult to set an age at which such nurturing should begin, but as a rule, most children are mature enough to begin lessons by the age of six or seven. However, it is usually true that the greatest pianists began much earlier than that; and some severely immature children may not be ready until age 8. Beyond that, the window of opportunity during which the natural aptitude for musical language-learning begins to narrow, and children who don’t begin until after age 10 will most likely be limited, especially in their ability to learn to read music.
Q: Should I require my child to begin or continue piano lessons even when they have little or no interest?
A: This is a common question. Piano lessons is a discipline that will benefit anyone who is subjected to it, regardless of their natural abilities. In our age of easy distractions offering immediate gratification, such as sports, television and computers, music lessons are often viewed with frustration and scorn. If your only interest as a parent is keeping your child happy in the short term, music lessons are probably not for you. But if you are interested in what is best for your child, the benefit of music instruction as a skill for life is incomparable. Music instruction has been found to correlate with greater discipline and higher academic performance. Furthermore, pianos or keyboards can be found everywhere, and many young people can earn extra income even as teenagers by teaching piano or find an outlet for their skills by performing for senior citizens or other community groups. Even if they never make a career of it, the potential for satisfaction and usefulness for an entire lifetime far surpasses many activities that offer short term pleasure but few long-term gains.
Q: My child is very interested in music but is being increasingly torn between playing the piano and playing his (or her) band instrument, which gives him an immediate outlet for his effort. We are tempted to simply drop piano lessons. What would you recommend?
A: Many have called the piano the greatest of instruments. In addition to having the broadest tonal range of any instrument, and having more music written for it than any other instrument, the piano, along with the organ, is unique in that it can be fully enjoyed without the accompaniment of any other instrument. Thus, while the violinist, cellist, flautist or trombonist hears only his own part and feels lonely without being surrounded by other instruments, the pianist plays and hears the full harmony of the music. The simple fact is that one who takes piano lessons in his or her childhood, even after getting away from it, is far more likely to return to it later in life. Unfortunately, such is rarely the case with band and string instruments, which have a very high “dropout for life” statistic. In the case of a child torn between the two, you may be doing your child a favor by requiring the continuation of piano lessons, even alongside the other instrument, despite their short-term lack of interest.
Q: Is it possible to take piano lessons if I only have a keyboard and not a piano?
A: It is certainly possible, especially at the beginner level, to practice piano lessons on a keyboard, but it is important to realize that a piano and a keyboard are really two different instruments. Many people will start their children out on a keyboard in order to avoid the expense and inconvenience of purchasing a piano. But more often than not, the keyboard will lull them into a sense of thinking things are all set for the long run, when in reality the limitations of the keyboard can often do more damage than good. All but the most expensive keyboards have poor touch (or responsiveness to the hands of the player), and a sound and that is in no way similar to that of a piano (after all, the keyboard is really an imitation of the real thing). As a rule, most piano teachers will say it is better to start on a real piano from the beginning, but if that is not possible, the use of a keyboard should not be continued beyond the first year. For more information on pianos vs. keyboards, please see “Piano or Keyboard: Making the Decision.”