First Things First
Before deciding if your child is ready for piano lessons, parent’s should look over this list to see if they are ready.
Yes, for your child to succeed at Piano Lessons, they need to have daily access to a piano. An acoustic piano is preferred (I’ll explain why in a bit) but an electronic keyboard is acceptable.
Electronic keyboards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and have mostly replaced the piano as a “starter” instrument. Electronic Keyboards for Piano Lessons should have 88-keys like a standard piano keyboard. The keys should be full sized just like on a piano.
The number and variety of instrument sounds on the electronic keyboard are really not a factor in terms of piano lessons. The variety of sounds is fun to play with but you should be sure that your electronic keyboard has a realistic piano sound(s), harpsichord and, possibly organ sounds. That’s really it. If the choice is between a large variety of sounds and and a few really good sounds like the three listed above.
Where real, old-fashioned pianos have it all over electronic keyboards is in the important area of piano action which affects the instrument’s “touch”.
Piano action is the term used for the mechanism that works between the piano keys and the piano strings. Every time a key is pressed down a complex series of wooden pieces, springs, hammer etc. (the “action”) are needed to transfer that energy to strike the string and make the sound.
This piano action mechanism give each piano its feel or touch.
Simply put, “touch” is a way that piano players describe how a piano/keyboard feels to play.
Most non-piano players will logically think that the easiest or softest touch is the best choice. But this is not so.
Piano players like to feel a little resistance when they play. It gives them more control of the sound.
I have two electronic keyboards. One was relatively inexpensive and it has a very light touch. I find it difficult if not painful to play that instrument for more than an hour or so. My other, high-end keyboard has a touch that is very similar to that of a real piano. I can play that one for hours without any pain.
In better electronic keyboards with more-piano like touch, the keys are often referred to as being weighted or the user will have options such as: “Hard”, “Medium” or “Soft”. More expensive keyboards like mine actually have some kind of physical mechanism in place to mimic the traditional piano’s action or feel.
What all of this discussion of “touch” means for a beginning piano student: some resistance in playing a note on the piano is actually a good thing, a very good thing! This resistance will help strengthen those young finger muscles.
To me that piano “touch” is the biggest benefit of a real piano. You and your family will have to weigh this major benefit against the cost of the instrument and the fact that acoustic pianos need to be tuned about twice a year.
I use the Faber Piano Adventures series for all of my students. There are Faber books that are appropriate for every student: youngsters, pre-teens, teens and adults. Please go to the FREE lesson sign-up page for more information on these books.
If your child has had some lessons with a previous teacher and already has a set of appropriate piano books, I will be happy to work with those books. As they are completed, I would then move your child into either the Bastien or Faber books.
Faber books are readily available at local music stores so I would suggest that you look through them with your child to see which series your child finds most appealing visually.
Very young piano students will need their parent(s) to:
Attend their child’s lesson and pay very close attention. (Some parent’s tell me they actually learn to play the piano themselves by doing this!)
At home the parent(s) will have to closely supervise their young child’s practicing to be sure that what was explained at the lesson is understood and done at home.
Practice expectations for very young piano students will be 10-15 minutes a day which can be in divided into several sessions. Practice should happen a minimum of five days out of seven per week.
Once piano students are in about third grade, their parent(s) can supervise the lessons from another room as their child by then should be independent enough to practice on their own.
Playing for the Family
Looking Back on my own musical development, I think that one of the key ingredients that got me where I am today was the practice that my Dad started of having me play for him and my Mother after church every Sunday morning.
This performance experience was priceless. It also gave my week of practice a focus as I knew that my Mom and Dad would be listening to me on Sunday. Of course, they where listening to me all week while I practiced but playing for them on Sunday felt more like a recital or concert.
So, I would strongly recommend that you start this tradition with your child. Set aside a regular time that works for your family and have your child play through some songs for you. If other members of the family are studying music, have them participate as well.
This can start after a week or two of lessons. At that stage, the recital may last five minutes. The sooner you start the more natural it will seem and there will be no “stage fright” or anxiety about performing later in life. As your child advances these family performances my last 30-60 minutes.
If you decide to do this, I would strongly recommend that parents and other family members:
1) Pay attention — Sit quietly and listen. Your child will love that you are focused on them and their music.
2) No criticism — Young musicians need all of the encouragement that you can give them. I am sure that you have some of your child’s art work hanging on your refrigerator even if you know it will never hang in the Milwaukee Art Museum. Well, when your child plays for you, you really need to have that same sense of un-critical appreciation.