Starting a 4.5 YO on piano
December 6, 2018 5:55 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning to introduce our 4.5 year old to piano. What do you recommend to make this something fun?

Lady Haddock and I both played when we were young, and can still play a little, so we can model how playing an instrument is fun. I also play guitar and bass, and our daughter has enjoyed playing guitar with me, as well as exploring the sounds my MIDI keyboard, Maschine, and Minilogue make. All of those require dad’s participation, though, and I think she’d be receptive to something she can use solo. She likes going to the music store and playing with the pianos and proudly announces that she’s playing some or other song.

She will get lessons from a professional teacher who works with young kids. We will keep the experience low pressure and light—we’re not trying to raise the next Lang Lang.

Did you have a good experience introducing your young child to music lessons? What worked? What didn’t?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
I think it all depends on the teacher. Find a gentle teacher that understands that age group. My kids' teacher was a first grade teacher for many years, so she is an expert at kids first, and good enough at piano second, which is fine. If they decide to get really serious later, we can find a more virtuosic pianist and switch teachers.

Also, whether 4.5 is old enough totally depends on the kid. For us, when umbuzinho had just turned 5, we started him in a group class with parents present, and it was a terrible, humiliating experience for me because he just couldn't focus or sit still like the other kids. But after that, we stopped and waited until he was 6 to start private lessons. That has gone much better.
posted by umbú at 6:37 AM on December 6, 2018

A lot depends on the teacher, and if she/he knows how to introduce concepts to a little kid. I have never once heard our teacher get upset or angry or even raise her voice--I do not know how the woman does it, she is a goddess. I waited until 6 years old to start, and both my kids have taken to piano pretty well. At least, they don't whine and grumble about having to practice, the way I did when I was their age.

The six year old has a 30 minute lesson and the eight year old has a 45 minute lesson once a week. They are required to practice every weekday, but their practices are only about 5-10 minutes, which I wasn't too happy with at the start but have come to realize that is key (heh!) to their actually still enjoying playing the piano, rather than being forced to concentrate for a longer practice. The teacher gives explicit instructions for the practices (play this song five times during the week, play the left hand of this song and then the right hand and then together, etc.) because they aren't capable of realizing their errors and self-correcting quite yet.

I also played a couple mind games with the kids: I picked a fairly easy song (Ode to Joy) and declared that it was my favorite, which made the kids want to practice it and play it nicely for me. The teacher chose that song as one of the ones for my son's first recital last June, possibly related. I also have a bet going with my oldest, to see how quickly he can surpass my skills, and he's eager to beat me. (My sight reading is miles beyond his, but I'm crap with the left hand, so the bar keeps moving.)

I told the kids about how I enjoy listening to them practice, and if I'm home for their practices I'll get a cup of tea and sit on the couch next to them to listen and participate. They really love sharing that time with me, and I'll tell them stories of when I was learning to play. If they're having a bad or good day, we'll talk about how you can express your feelings through music by the choice of what you play or the style.
posted by Liesl at 6:42 AM on December 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

We started our daughter at 4. Our teacher is amazing with young children; she offers lots of praise, and corrects in the spirit of “Wonderful! Now let’s try it THIS way,” making it into a game. I think corrections have to be done super carefully in order not to become about shame or power (but it sounds like you have a good perspective there). So be picky about your teacher.

Dexterity and body-understanding can be significant challenges for very young children (at least they were for ours), so for the first year there was more time spent on music games / secret music theory teaching than at the piano bench, but that is 100% a feature and not a bug in my opinion, so I suggest being open to that if it’s what works best for your particular kid (assuming it’s something your teacher offers).

We aim for regular practice of 5 minutes every morning. It works so much better than longer sessions on fewer days. It builds confidence and that helps with some of the social/emotional stuff we struggle with. Honestly, it has been a wonderful/sometimes-painful venue for working on those skills, which we would have needed to do anyway - our daughter has wanted to play since she was two (seriously) and so she has some skin in the game and some love, and our hope is that what she learns about committed practice, and patience with yourself, and how often you don’t know how to do stuff right away and that’s okay, will eventually transfer to the rest of life.
posted by eirias at 6:50 AM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

You don’t mention if you have a piano at home.

I can’t speak from direct experience but I plan to buy my kid a nice acoustic toy piano. I admit I like them too, but I also feel that it’s important to have something immediate and acoustic that doesn’t need to be turned on and booted up. Also of course the action is very different, unless you’ve got a really nice hammer-action midi keyboard.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:27 AM on December 6, 2018

Seconding the Schoenhut pianos. My musical piano-playing friends have one (in addition to larger keyboards) and love it. An always-on device is great, especially one that sings back (as all acoustic pianos do) to other sounds in the room.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:17 AM on December 6, 2018

My sisters and I were all started on piano at age 5, with the same teacher. The result was the following:
- Eldest sister quickly transitioned from "WHEE! PIANO LESSONS!" to "Dear god, I hate this, stop making me.". She was allowed to quit piano at age ~10 and never looked back.
- Middle sister was fairly chill about the whole thing. Kept up with lessons until high school graduation, still plays to this day.
- Youngest sister (me) was super excited and enjoyed lessons but hated practicing. Kept up with lessons until high school graduation but hasn't played since.

This should show you that it really depends upon the person, and their enthusiasm for music (or even playing on a keyboard) doesn't necessarily mean they are suited for piano. Honestly, I feel like 4.5 years old is too young, but I think 5 years old was too young for me to start on piano as well. Due to my experience, I a little bit worry that starting that young runs the risk of having them getting turned off from piano forever.

HOWEVER, piano is not the end all be all. I think music is a WONDERFUL thing for people to be involved in, but some people are more geared to different instruments. I know that part of the reason why my eldest sister hated piano so much is because her fingers are hyperflexible and it was awkward/uncomfortable for her.

As a foot note....
- Eldest sister joined the school band and THAT clicked for her. To this day she still plays bass clarinet, including in concert bands. She also was very involved in musical theatre and sings. And she joined a handbell group that she loved.
- Middle sister also joined band and was a percussionist. She also joined a handbell group, which she loved. As for piano, it remains a passion for her and she plays just as a hobby but also in larger settings, including in a jazz group she started
- Youngest sister (me) also joined band, and really loved playing trumpet and baritone and was a member of the band until high school graduation. Also took singing lessons, has been a member of numerous choirs/groups over the years, and enjoys singing to this day.

So in summary, yay music, but be flexible in the instrument. And 4.5 years old is very young IMO.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:09 AM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

If she's used to using a tablet, definitely download all the free music games that seem interesting to her. I don't know of any specific names, but I've seen multiple programs that show a student how to play a simple melody on 7 keys, and they can press the keys to play it back. I have yet to see a child who doesn't enjoy doing this more than practicing real piano (unfortunately.)

Even if some of the games aren't super music-educational, it can serve as a nice break in her practice if she gets frustrated. Having a way to "take a break" while still engaging the mind in music is always a positive. Good luck!
posted by andruwjones26 at 12:22 PM on December 6, 2018

Piano lessons have been fantastic for my three kids--it was one of the better things I've done as a parent. One good motivator for my kids is that I am in a couple of bands, so they see that playing music can be fun for a lifetime. Also, my oldest really got into music, so he is great role model and motivator for his siblings.

One thing that really worked with my youngest was me practicing with her. I don't play piano or read music. I just learned along side her, playing together a couple octaves apart. She saw that I made mistakes, and we would laugh at them together, which gradually helped her to become less frustrated with her own mistakes. I would also vocalize my thinking a lot to help her hear how I worked out things out (like where to place my fingers).

Curiously, it was very different with my first two. I used to listen to them practice and eventually discovered that I could correct them and be fairly demanding/exacting--and they still really enjoyed it. I would have hated having someone do that to me, but for whatever reason, they responded really well that kind of discipline. That approach would have driven my youngest into fits of rage--so be prepared to try out ideas if things aren't working out.

Here are a few points I agree with that others have made:
* 4.5 yo sounds young to me, too, but perhaps her teacher has had success with kids that young
* a lot depends on the child--every child will react differently
* short practices sessions (around 10 minutes usually) have been very success for us
* if you don't have a piano, I'd recommend getting a keyboard first. I'd figure out what model you want and keep an eye on Craig's list. We got one with a full set of weighted keys and a pedal
posted by agog at 2:06 PM on December 6, 2018

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