One of the most frequently asked question I receive when parents learn that I am a piano teacher is, “What age do most kids start piano lessons?”. I can recite off the tip of my tongue the test answer I memorized back in college, “the average age begging piano student is 7 years old.” Even so, most of the students that I start are 5 or 6 years old. My first two piano students post-college were 4 years old. They were enthusiastic learners and even after I moved they both continued taking lessons. When I started piano, my parents thought it best that I was reading books fluently before approaching the instrument so I was nearly 9 years old. I recently started a 12 year old who had never had a formal lesson up until that point. With that wide range being between 4-9 year old, it comes down the the readiness of the child and the preparedness of the family.
Some of the precious families that I have babysat for over the years are eager to provide every opportunity for their toddler/infant. They ask if I would teach a two year old or baby. While there are many opportunities to introduce music to a young child, formal instruction of an instrument should begin when the child is more developed. The child should be able to recite and write at least the first seven letters of the alphabet, count to five, sit still with good behavior for 15-25 minutes and physically be able to press down a piano key with a relaxed hand. They must be willing to work on assignments daily and complete coloring and drawing pages at home with some adult supervision. Piano lessons should be a long awaited privilege prefaced by clear expectations.
In the early years, the child should be preparing for the exciting day that they get to begin piano lessons. According to Daryl Walters,1 “The musical aptitude for children younger than nine appears to be developmental.” In other words, babies from before birth to the age of nine should be exposed to and introduced to as much quality music as possible to enhance their ability to process musical information later in life. The greater exposure to music with its various harmonic structures, instruments, and rhythms, the greater toolbox the child will have to work with once they begin formal lessons. However, It is not enough to simply bombard the child with musical sounds. Music must systematically and thoughtfully be introduced to a child. Repetitively practicing, singing, or playing specific pieces to an infant in the womb have been shown to hold fast in the infant’s core being.2 Young infants can be involved in music classes such as Kindermusik, Music Together, or Musikgarten which encourage movement to music, clapping babie’s hands, using shaker and age-appropriate instruments, and singing familiar songs. Most cities have child-friendly concerts such as The Nutcracker, family summer night Jazz on the lawn or The Magic Flute or Peter and the Wolf. Attending concerts and formal productions of music with your young child can have a tremendous impact in creating a significant musical aptitude.
Within the home, family members can encourage musicality by making it a part of their life. One family that I taught would have after dinner dance parties as their father stroked the keys of their baby grand Kawai with everyone from the baby, toddler, elementary aged siblings, twelve-year old, and their mom dancing along. Having discussions about the music can help bring awareness. While listening to a pre-selected piece, a parent may inquire, “what instrument do you hear right now?” or “Did you hear how loud it got when the drums came in?” or “This makes me think of a purple cotton candy sunset, what does it make you think about?” All of these bring focused attention to the music and musical patterns that will later impact the child’s learning ability. Lately on Pinterest I have discovered a plethora of picture books about music to informally but systematically introduce the child to music. They also have ideas of how to make instruments from spoon-marcharies, to shoebox guitars, to rain sticks, to rubber-band harmonicas. Building an instrument and creating a rubber-band band in the living room helps the child express themselves creatively, and demonstrate the priority of music.
Assisting in the early development of the musical aptitude of your child will go a long way once they are ready to formally begin lessons. When the child is showing signs of readiness and passion about the instrument, they can go exceedingly far in reaching their musical goals with careful guidance and support from the family and the teacher. So as much as I love to share a solid number for begging piano students, the range varies depending on the individual. Depending on the preparation, willingness of the student, musical aptitude, work ethic, and maturity, the child may be four years old and bursting with readiness, or the student may be twelve years old and a little too young for the responsibility of learning an instrument. A first lesson evaluation can be helpful in determining how the child responds to the instruction and if they are ready to begin their musical journey. Tending to the young child to encourage their musical development is like watering a fresh flower in the early spring awaiting the moment it will be ready to burst forth in beauty and grace.
1.D.L. Walters, “Edwin Gordon’s Music Aptitude Work, “The Quarterly, 2, 2 (1991): 68
2.(P. E. Wilkin, “Prenatal and Postnatal Responses to Music and Sound Stimuli—A Clinical Report,” Canadian music Educatior(research edition), 33 (1991): 223-32.)
Inspired by chapter 3 in “Raising Musical Kids A Guide for Parents” by Robert A. Cutietta