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Piano Lessons: Basic Training

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So your child comes to you and asks, NO BEGS, to take piano lessons. After you pick yourself up off of the floor, you gush, “Of course, honey, whatever you like.”

Besides, you’ve heard so much about the benefits of playing the piano, and perhaps you’ve even had the joy of playing an instrument yourself. Now, how do you make your child’s dream a reality? Where do you start? How do you find a teacher? What does it cost?

Ahem. Allow me to help. I’ve been on the recipient end of hundreds of parents like you. In my next blog, I'll be tackling the "how-to's" of finding your child's soul-mate teacher. However, let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

Q1:  Where do I find a teacher?

  •  Ask your child’s music teacher at school for referrals. Good neighborhood teachers often have a posse of students in your elementary school.
  • Technology, my friend, technology. Studios may have their businesses listed on Google business, have personal websites or Facebook pages.
  • Check into music/arts schools in your area.
  • Retail music stores often offer lessons.
  • Ask other parents whose children take piano lessons.

I get 95% of my new students through referrals and the family chain (you know, sibs and cousins).

Q2:  We aren’t willing to commit to an acoustic piano right now? Will a digital keyboard suffice?

It’s a very subjective matter and you can find a variety of so-called experts who have different musical experiences and opinions on the issue.

For me there is only one thing that really matters when it comes to learning, owning, and playing piano;  playing should add something magical to your child's life.  Music should allow them to express themselves in a way that few others things will let them do. My part, is to give your child the musical tools and inspiration to get there!

Here’s my bottom line: If you don’t already own an acoustic piano, buy the very best acoustic or digital keyboard that you can afford: NOTE: a digital keyboard MUST (and MUST is in bold caps for a reason) have 88 weighted keys.

True story: Several years ago, a young boy started taking lessons as a first grader. I walked into their very lovely home one day (this was very early in my teaching career). My hand in his, this excited little boy walked me to his piano. His orange Alfred’s Basic primer was laid out on top of a very expensive dining room table. In front of his book, I gawked at a one-octave, plastic table-top 'toy' piano. The keys were multi-colored, and played kind of  "plunkity".  Seriously, I can't think of any other word to describe it.   I wanted to scratch my eyes out.  I must have held some measure of composure, yet making my point; this toy was not an acceptable instrument. Soon after, his parents purchased a beautiful Yamaha baby-grand piano.

Let me ask you, how can you expect your student take piano lessons seriously if he isn’t playing on a complete instrument?   Afterall, one couldn’t pretend to fully learn to play a brass instrument with a mouth piece only? (Okay, I concede.  Perhaps, you can learn the embouchure with the mouth-piece only.)  

My point is this:  She needs a proper instrument. Either digital or acoustic pianos are fine choices as long as they play like a good piano should.

How do you know if a piano plays ‘good’?

Generally it’s difficult to know that, especially if you don’t play the piano. My advice is to rely on someone who does play and can test some acoustic pianos for you.  Hire a piano technician to take a look before you buy.  You'll be able to negotiate the price down if work needs to be done.  If that is not possible, then read enough articles, reviews, piano forums, or blogs to formulate the best decision you can from those sources.

Call John
Recommended: Piano Technician

Here’s a note of caution:

It is likely that a good acoustic piano and a good digital piano will cost you about the same amount. With an acoustic instrument, you will have an initial tuning and possibly a few sundry repairs to tack onto the price tag. Each year, the tuning will set you back about $125 (locally). But, that should be about it. In six years, your child is done with the piano, and has moved on to the drums. Your digital piano will have lost considerable value, while the acoustic piano will maintain its value.

Please give your child the opportunity to learn how to play and interact with music on a good piano. Trust me, they will likely thank you for it and cherish the gift of music you have given them.

Recommended article on choosing a digital piano: Best Digital Pianos for Students

Q3:  What age should a student begin piano lessons?

Ahh...my favorite question. Kids are all over the map developmentally. My oldest had at least 30 dinosaur names memorized at age four, while my youngest (now age 15) my own kids and have taught hundreds of piano beginners. More important than a chronological number, there are milestones they should have reached by the time lessons commence.

  • Can engage in a task for 20-30 minutes.
  • Show interest in piano learning.
  • Shows interest in reading/knows how to read.

Check out this article I wrote on this very subject for the Livingston Parent Journal in 2002.

Q4:  What is the time commitment per week?

It is especially important in the beginning, that you, the parent, not only schedule time out of your child’s schedule, but your own for lessons and practice. Your teacher may or may not require you to observe/participate in your child’s lesson (probably 30 minutes). Plus, I think it’s absolutely imperative for one parent to be attentive at at practice time at least until the student has a firm grasp of what he/she is doing on the piano. Here is when you may enter... "the 3 'T’s' Time" (and don’t say I didn’t warn you): tears, tantrums, and threats.   The threats would be on your part, “Practice or else”!

As far as practice goes, it’s important to remember that one has to actually play the piano in order to really play the piano.

So, are you READY?   SET.    GOOOOO!

Next week, I’ll uncover a few questions you must ask yourself and your prospective piano teacher before getting started with lessons. 

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