If your little one is showing an interest in music, it’s only natural that your instinct as a parent would be to look for formal training. We all want to help our children achieve and thrive! Perhaps, like us, you believe that a musically rich life is a happy life. However, it’s important to keep in mind that little brains don’t process information the same way ours do, and little fingers may need more time to get stronger. What’s more, there are some intrinsic musical skills that your child can absorb the same way they learned to speak: through experience. Without these skills (that is, without the requisite experiences necessary to learn them), your child may be at a disadvantage, even later when they begin piano lessons.
The good news is that there are clear benchmarks you can keep an eye out for to know when your child is ready to move onto formalized training! In general, your child is ready for private instrument study when she can comfortably handle the following:
- She is beginning to read
- She can focus on a single task for up to 20 minutes
- She can accurately model a steady beat in her body (especially in her lower body– this skill develops later)
- She can sing an entire song on pitch (especially if she can start on a different note and remain in tune)
Obviously, the first two factors are about letting you know they are ready to handle the diligence of one-on-one instruction. Naturally, you don’t want to pay for lessons that won’t help your child progress, will make the teacher into a glorified babysitter, and could even cause your child to associate musical study with frustration– or worse, boredom. (Remember also that you will be called to play enforcer with regard to practicing at home between lessons.) Do not rush into lessons if your child is likely to fight the process! Instead, explore group classes that provide a musical foundation through play. Remember, Play is the Work of Childhood. These experiences allow children to make connections, explore boundaries, and test things out for themselves without having to think or work the way we adults do. Some great activities to start with include Dance classes, or group music-making experiences like Music Together or Kindermusik. And, of course, don’t underestimate the value of playfully explore music and movement together at home!
If your child checked the first two boxes and you think they can handle the challenge of focused individual learning, let’s consider the second two: these elements tell you about your child’s musical aptitude at this moment. Responding to music is wonderful! You can often observe babies rocking or flailing their arms to music and this should be encouraged. In time, these rocking and flailing movements will start to match the beat. Eventually, if given the opportunity to move and explore within the context of music, your child will likely start moving their feet to subdivisions of the beat (and ideally, the larger constructive beat– again, smaller, faster movements happen first). When this physical expression of music is accurate, take a listen to your child’s vocal expression of music.
Contrary to popular belief, tone deafness is very, very rare. Rather, what we see in society is a whole lot of underdeveloped ears. People who studied a musical instrument in their childhood can almost always match pitch with their voices. This is because reading music requires an internal skill we call “audiation”– think of it like “your mind’s ear” or hearing a song inside your head without actual sound. If your child can recall a tune from memory and sing it accurately, they are well on their way to having a strong sense of audiation! If they can sing along with a favorite recording accurately, that is also a wonderful start. If they are singing along in time, but with a few wrong notes, encourage them to sing it from memory– even if it doesn’t improve in accuracy right away, you’re still helping them to exercise that internal sense of audiation, hearing inside their head. This last point may not seem related to playing piano, and it’s true– kids can learn piano without it, but if your child has acheived this simple benchmark before beginning lessons, they are going to have a much easier time learning the abstract concepts within music and music-reading. Kids who find music concepts are easy are kids who have fun exploring how it all fits together! And these are kids who love music lessons and move most quickly. Other kids can get through the rigors of music-learning, too, but perhaps their enthusiasm and enjoyment would be greater if they spent more time on internalizing the basics first.
For most kids, we start to see this type of preparedness around ages 4-6 (that said, every child is different!). The last piece of the puzzle is fine motor coordination: using your fingers independently! By the age of 6, nearly all children have the finger dexterity needed to begin playing piano (or the capacity to develop it through practice), and of course, their fingers will rapidly strengthen during the course of lessons and practicing.
Ready to learn more? Read about Choosing Your Piano or if you think your 5 or 6 year old is ready to learn piano, Schedule your free intro session with Cardon Studios to meet a teacher, and learn more about how we can help them achieve and thrive!