There’s nothing more precious than little Children. When I was 10 years old, I was able to assist in the early elementary Sunday School class. It was such a privilege and so much fun that I instantly fell in love with young children specifically ages 3-6. When I was beginning my teaching career when I was in high school, I had the opportunity to teach 5 and 6 year old sisters. This girls were adorable, nervous, and easily distracted. They found my stuffed frog who sat on the piano much more interesting than the keys. They just wanted to play!
When I was in college, we discussed teaching piano for young students in my pedagogy class. We learned how to uses the distractions (such as my piano frog) as a teaching aid. Place the frog on the student’s head and have them hold perfect piano posture for ten seconds, have the frog hop from groups of two black keys up and down the piano, have the frog hop on a key to demonstrate staccato notes with a bouncy arm, and many more activities we learned. In class we were taught that the goal of piano lessons for such young students is for them to have fun, love music, and develop crucial skills that set a foundation for future study. I have held to that philosophy and seen that by having fun at the piano the student naturally becomes proficient at playing the piano. When something is fun, exciting, and rewarding the young child (and most individuals regardless of age) are drawn to that activity.
Lessons for the preschool student also teach so much more than how to play the piano. They teach listening, fine motor skills, problem solving, discipline, attention to multi-step instruction, and school preparatory skills. During the first few lessons students frequently play incorrect notes and do note even notice, however once their aural skills is developed they immediately notice if something is not correct. The students learns to be aware of the sound they are creating and how to express themselves.
Technique is a major part of lessons for tiny floppy hands. At first the goal is to have the student play just one key with a natural hand shape, and then that goal grows into having them play chords and pieces with fluid relaxed and controlled movements. This transfers over into their everyday activities from coloring, holding a spoon, kicking a ball, or holding a pencil.
One of my favorite activities with young students (even up to age 9), is to act like a student and have them be the teacher. If, for example, I kneel on the bench and play incorrect note values the student has to determine what is wrong and how to correct it. This activity is always accompanied by endless giggles, and helps the student become aware of common issues and how to change them. Many times I also stop them and give them a puzzled look “That sounds funny. What isn’t quite right?” I ask. Most of the time the students realize what they are doing wrong and figure out how to evaluate it to make it better.
Even though I do everything in my power to make piano exciting and fun, it does take discipline. Regular focused practice, overcoming difficulties, and doing things out of the student’s comfort zone is a part of learning the piano. These set the foundation for future disciplines of life.
Also establishing a foundation for the future is the ability to follow multi-step instructions. Countless times through out a lesson I will tell the student to use a specific hand, finger, and put it on a note. I expect the student to understand these three steps and follow them. Other times I will tell them to play a specific section of music with a specific dynamic, arm movement, and rhythm. Learning to follow complicated instructions prepares them for school and other activities.
A couple weeks ago I taught a 5 year old who is not even in kindergarten how to add numbers 1-4. When I first introduced the topic I was rather skeptical if she would understand the concept of holding tied notes for the value of both of the notes, but when we danced, clapped, played, and wrote ties I was stunned to see she was adding beats flawlessly. I couldn’t help but think how much of an advantage she will have starting kindergarten already knowing numbers and simple addition.
Starting piano lessons when the student is young prepares them for school, life, and gives them an advantage musically. Most of the time when I get a new student they do not know anything about piano. At the average age of 8 years old starting piano, the student has a lot to learn before college. However, when a student starts piano at age 4 and has four years advantage of most students, they are able to experience more repertoire, foundational elements, levels, and fun. When a spunky child with marker still on their hands and sip cups in the car arrives for a piano lesson with a grin on their face and music on their minds, It is a precious gift to be able to teach them. When those little chubby legs are swinging and voices are singing as the student learns how to create beautiful music, potential soars. When the little arms with bandaids and stickers pull themselves up onto the bench of an incredible instrument, most see 88 keys and a small child, but I see potential.