What young beginners learn in piano class

Brain gym in piano class

Playing the piano needs different parts of the brain to work together simultaneously.

Young piano students in their first year learn to :

  • Read written music and play the correct pitch & rhythm, at a steady pace with an appropriate tempo.
  • Play soft, loud, 46 brain-619060_640legato (joining the notes) or staccato (with notes detached).
  • Sing so they learn phrasing, and can identify mistakes in pitch.
  • Listen and hear what’s good and what needs to be worked on.
  • Accept correction even when their work is excellent. This is because standards of achievement need to move higher over time, for progress.
  • Practise on their own at home with parent support, growing more independent as they grow up.

Then, there’s the physical aspect of how to depress the piano keys, playing with relaxed shoulders, good posture & hand position, and fingers which are firm, not floppy.

Here’s a related post : A guide to buying a suitable piano bench


One of my adult students has been learning the piano for a little bit over a year. Here’s what she said to me yesterday.

Playing the piano has changed the way I think. I can’t really identify the difference, but I can feel it in the way I get things done.

I get feedback similar to this from parents of young children after a year or two of piano class. It’s the reason why many of my busy piano parents who started out just mildly interested in piano class later became extremely supportive of their child’s piano practise.


The role of the piano teacher with young beginners

A child’s first year at piano class sets the pace of his/her future learning. Quality piano teaching needs to be supported by daily practise at home.

The attitude of parents to home support for music education, and their understanding of what playing the piano involves matter a great deal.  The piano pieces at this level sound very easy, and parents new to music education can and often do make the mistake of underestimating the job of the piano teacher. 

  • Teachers who teach beginner level piano need a very secure knowledge of piano playing technique upto an advanced level. So that they teach good playing habits from the start and correct problems before they set in.
  • Piano class needs movement as young children often have difficulty sitting still. Rhythm exercises on the floor alternated with playing at the piano are great for young children. Piano teachers need to be physically fit with a high energy level.
  • Each child learns differently and piano teachers need a repertoire of varied teaching techniques and fun activities that will appeal to children with different learning styles.
  • Parent support at home is essential and teachers need to be able to work with parents and help them understand how to support their child at home.
  • Piano teachers need the ability to make piano class fun and yet keep the learning challenging enough for progress, all at the same time.
  • Piano teachers often need to teach children to think, explore ideas and ask questions. This is very important here in India where ideas on what is respect for teachers and large classroom sizes often make school teachers clamp down on questions.

Teaching beginner level piano is a challenging and exciting job. Piano teachers need to invest both time and money in learning and studying, to keep their teaching skills up-to-date, as learning styles of each new generation of children are different.

There’s a huge value to those early years in piano class, even for  the child for whom learning goes slow. For the average child, the best age to start preschool piano lessons is 4 years old and the best age to start regular piano class is 6 years old.

I loved you

My inspiration for this poem is something that happened many years ago. I can still hear the screaming – it echoes in my mind.

I remember opening the door to ask if my neighbour needed help and she smiled apologetically, saying :

“We loved our son so much that we never said no to him.”

She continued to explain, saying “He’s gone so used to getting his way that he’s screaming the place down, because I’ve just said he can’t go out. We’re starting to say no when he behaves badly, but sometimes we get so tired, we just give in.”

 

I loved you, so I never said no.

I wanted you to have order in your life,

So I cleaned up after you.

 

Now, you’re growing up and I can’t face the tantrums.

You don’t have the ability to take the knocks that life will give you,

And you don’t have the independence you need to stand up on your own.

I’m fed up.

 

I realise I taught you wrong.

I realise, but not because I can see how immature and badly behaved you are.

If so, then I would have seen the warning signs long ago.

No, I realise because it’s gone so bad that it’s starting to affect me.

 

You’re young so it’s not too late to change but the problem is this,

That shouting has become my way of teaching you.

Because I am tired and my patience is wearing thin.

I shout, feel guilty, and then I give in to you once again.

 

When I look at what I did, I wonder why.

Why nobody spoke to me and guided me right.

Or talked to me when I was doing wrong.

Or did they try and fail, because I ignored them?

 

Did I really think I was preparing you for life?

Did I show you my love in a way that you needed me to?

Or was it all about what was easy and about what made me feel good?

Or did I think that you’d just learn the skills you required for life on your own?

 

I’m bearing the brunt now.

Still unable to be consistent in disciplining you.

Yet learning very grudgingly.

Only changing when you behaviour gets so bad that you’re forcing me to change.

 

Why can I not admit I don’t know, so I can learn faster?

Learn what YOU need to help you grow.

Know when YOU need me to be kind or to be tough,

Do for you and teach you to do for me.

Because you need to learn to do for me first, before you learn to be of service to others.

 

Why can’t I learn to say no without shouting,

So you accept it without getting defensive,

So you open up to me and understand my decisions.

So you learn to deal with disappointment,

and are prepared to take the knocks that life has planned for you.

 

Realisation hits and I’m trying, even though I fail many times

I know now that it’s not about success, but about making the effort.

What you need from me is the thing I find most difficult to do.

But I’m trying.

Because at the end, it’s not about me,

It’s about my love for YOU.

 

 

Questions parents of young beginner piano students need to ask

Here’s a list of 8 questions that come up over the course of piano teaching. I’m addressing these answer’s specifically to the parents of my new beginner students.

1) Does my teaching approach suit the parent and child? Do the parent, student and teacher have the same goals?

Parents and students goals change over time, so these are questions I constantly asks myself. Because the teaching styles of different teachers are different, and there may come a time when the student needs a change.

I keep parents involved with what’s happening in piano class through comments in the homework book, emails and phone calls where necessary. When children give trouble or go through difficult phases relating to learning, I rely a lot on parent support, and this helps both me and the student, as it has a very very positive impact on learning.

Parents of young children who don’t wish to be involved in piano class and want their child’s learning to happen without any involvement at home, definitely need a teacher with a different approach.

2) How quick does the class progress?

This depends entirely on whether your child practises regularly or not. Children who practise get taught something new, and children who don’t practise, mostly revise work they’ve forgotten.

3) Should I correct my child’s practise mistakes?

The answer to this is a big big NO. Your child needs, from the first, to listen and correct his/her own mistakes. You may however help, by asking questions to make your child listen and think. For example :

“Did you play correct? Can you play it again, it sounds so good!” Your 5 year old child might say it was correct, even when it was wrong, but will play a second time and will automatically be paying more attention – is more likely to hear a mistake, and stop and correct it. Teacher’s correct mistakes and explain in class, so your child will learn to hear mistakes fairly quickly.

This approach eventually leads to really good – and independent learning.

4) What do I do when my child practises regularly, with great enthusiasm and committment, but practises WRONG?

Here’s when you need to talk to me – preferable on the phone, so your child can’t hear, and we can talk about what needs to be done to remedy this. I write instructions in the homework book, which you can help your young child read and follow, and will take up any special learning issues your child has.

5) Why do we need targets or goals?

Parents pay a fee in expectation that their child will learn, and the teacher spends valuable time on a student with the same hope. Setting targets helps the parent, student and teacher work towards a common end. The purpose of the target is not to put pressure on the student, and I say this very very emphatically!

Rather, it is to ensure that progress in piano class happens with absolutely no pressure, so the young student thinks of piano playing as a fun and relaxing thing to do.

6) Why does the parent need to be ‘around’ to implement practise. Can’t they just tell their child to ‘go practise’ or ‘get practise done’?

The piano is a very lonely instrument, unlike the violin or guitar, where students have more opportunities to play in groups. Young children whose parents implement practise by saying ‘play for me’ because -’ I love to hear you’ or ‘I find listening to you fun or relaxing’ usually have children who grow to love the routine of piano practise.

They develop a routine, because their parents taught them this, by being around every day. It surprises me, that even working mother’s are able to make time to do this..until I realise, it’s not just because they enjoy their child playing, though that’s a part of it.

More, it’s because they realise there’s long term value to their child’s musical development, and are willing to put in the regular effort that is necessary to help their child learn.

7) My child gets some things well and struggle with some others

Piano playing is a lot of learning. It takes time to work on a piece and get it right. Sometimes, children work very hard and it still takes time. If the homework book shows that 50% of your child’s work is good – your child is doing well.

As the level of difficulty increases, the pieces get harder, and your child grows up, results take more time. This is when your child and I the teacher, need your help – to reinforce the idea that even good students struggle.

In fact, the life of a pianist is a constant effort to be better – because learning never ends. What your child is now learning, is enjoy learning. To be confident in the face of a struggle – the struggle to learn. To be mature in the face of adversity, and to keep trying, even when things get tough. It is very true, that piano students learn skills in piano class that help them get through life.

8) Why is my child’s progress so slow?

It’s your child’s practise routine – or really, lack of it…..It often takes parents anything from 3 months to a year to realise that their young child needs help with practise – to schedule practise, and a daily routine, so that it’s not overly crowded with too many activities.

Children with very tight daily schedules get stressed and tend to learn very slow as a result. I’ve written about my overly scheduled students in ‘Coping with the over-scheduled child in piano class’

A warm welcome to all my new students and their parents – to the joy and the challenge of learning to play the piano.

“Children don’t need time”

“Just have a baby, put your child in a creche, and continue with what you were doing before you had a baby. That’s what I did…” That’s  what a friend said to me in an effort to pressure me into having a baby!

I just stared at her in total shock. I could see how neglected her child was, and was horrified at her advice.

As I write this, I’m a married woman in her 40’s who does not have a child. I have never been comfortable discussing ‘why’ I don’t have a child with anyone other than my family, doctors on a ‘need to know’ basis and a few trusted friends! So, mostly everyone does not really know the ‘why.’ I feel it’s a private matter and have, unlike a lot of other Indian women, always had the support of family in this.

Up until a few year ago, I’ve been accosted by people who want me to have a baby. I use the word ‘accosted,’ because they were generally very rude and angry and sometimes even offensive – ‘Who will look after you when you grow old” was their trump card, when all other attempts failed.

“You don’t believe in God that is why you are able to accept that you are never going to be a mother” from a neighbour who was upset that I wasn’t depressed about being childless!

I’ve had a family connection – a grown man with college going kids call me up and shout at me on the phone for not having a baby! … I’m putting this down to stress from his family problems!!

I’ve been to a funeral, standing battling emotion, paying my respects to the family of the deceased and been cross-questioned one of them about being childless! …. maybe some kind of mental instability could account for this ??

I will not mention the advice that I should try IVF (in-vitro fertilization) – something I personally disapprove of, because I feel the risk of birth defects or health problems for the child, with IVF and an older mother are much higher.

I personally think that if the God’s meant for me to be a mother, they’re powerful enough to make it happen. If they, in their wisdom, think otherwise, I will be grateful for all the other joys they have given me, and not ask for more.

I have had one caring friend tell me that her children are one of the greatest joys and also the greatest hardships of her life. And that despite the struggles she is grateful to have been blessed with her kids – that children need time, love and attention, and parents-to-be should know that and be prepared for the joy and commitment of being parents, before having children.

I think she had it right!