A question that people often ask is “What is the best age to start learning the piano?”
It’s usually in reference to children of course. I should perhaps start by saying that there is definitely no upper age limit! Many adults decide to start learning with no previous experience of playing an instrument, or perhaps knowing how to play something else, they’d like to broaden their skills and learn piano as well.
Let’s start with children though.
Babies are known to respond to sounds and rhythm even before birth. The mother’s pulse is the first rhythm they come to know. Baby books tell us that babies learn to speak quicker if traditional nursery rhymes are sung or chanted to them. If you’d like your child to have a headstart in music later on, then teaching nursery rhymes and songs is a great beginning.
Learning music more formally uses several different skills at the same time. Listening and repeating, reading music, manual dexterity, and for a great performance, recognition and expression of emotions. Tiny children can’t be expected to be capable of mastering these all together. There are practical considerations too – piano and most keyboard keys are a fairly standard size, comfortable for an average adult hand but a real stretch for very small hands, and the child needs to be able to sit comfortably next to the keyboard and reach the keys in the first place.
So ideally, your child needs to big enough to be comfortable at the piano, and understand how reading works (not necessarily to be a fluent reader though this will help as some of the music tutor books I use have a lot of helpful hints written in, as well as the actual pieces of music). Written music works in a similar way to written text – individual signs relate to different notes, which are put together to make a melody. Normally the earliest that would be sensible to begin is around 5 or 6 – children differ so much and this will still be too young for some. If in any doubt, you are always welcome to bring your child along for an introductory taster session (free) and I will tell you honestly if I think he or she is just too young.
Depending on what stage of development your child has reached, I will select suitable teaching materials to fit their needs and adapt my teaching style accordingly.
Early Years Musical Activities
Even before your child starts to learn an instrument formally there are many activities that will help them to develop musical skills. Here are some examples:
Listen to music! We are so lucky nowadays that there is a huge amount of music available to listen to, whether on the radio, television or the internet, not to mention all the CDs and DVDs that you can buy. Try to listen with your child to a range of different styles of music as well – you might find all kinds of things you never knew you liked yourself. And don’t just have music as background. Take the time to select a piece of music, sit down and listen with your child, and talk about it. “Is that happy or sad music? Does it make you want to dance? Or to sleep? Does it sound like the wind, the sea, animals?”
Go to a live concert with your child. If you’d like your child to learn piano, try and find a place to listen to someone playing piano, whether solo or in a band or ensemble. The best concerts for children are in small venues where you can feel you’re quite close to the performers. That way it feels “real” and not just like watching on the telly as usual.
Learn and teach nursery rhymes and songs. Clap along, dance, bang a small tambourine. All these activities develop a sense of rhythm and melody. If you don’t remember the tunes, you can easily buy collections of songs for little ones on CD. Play them in the car and sing along!
Join a parent and toddler group that encourages singing and dancing. Join in – everyone else feels self-conscious too, don’t worry about it! Your child is more likely to get involved if he or she is just copying what you do.
Learning the piano later in life
If you had lessons as a child and you just want to pick up where you left off, that’s easy. I understand that you’ll be a bit rusty, and I’ll take time to assess what you can remember, talk about what kind of music you want to learn, and work out a programme for you to refresh your old skills and build on them.
Never learned piano or any other instrument before? Not a problem, it really is never too late, providing you’re motivated to learn and you’re prepared to spend time practicing. There are some excellent tutor books designed for older learners so you don’t have to contend with cute cartoons and pretty pictures (unless you want to of course!). The main barrier people come across when starting in late teens or older, is frustration at not being able to play what you want to play NOW!!! At this point you just have to remember that it’s like any other skill you have to learn: you don’t go out of your house to run the London Marathon without training for it, you don’t plan a dinner party for 78 when you’ve never boiled an egg. With all these things you have to start somewhere and work up to the main event and it’s exactly the same with learning to play the piano.
Start simple, practice, and you will see real progress – many of my “mature” pupils have been surprised at how fast they start to play “real” music!