If you’ve been teaching piano for a while you’ve probably been asked this many, many times: “What is the best age to start piano lessons?”
Hand size, finger independence, and the desire to persevere all play their part in the beginning, but the answer should almost always be “start now!”. If you’d like to immerse your child into the world of music – why not, see how it goes? If they think those prime years of opportunity have already passed – they’re wrong. Adults: if you feel the same about starting yourself – guess what? So are you. Studying music at any age is good for body, mind, and spirit, and something to enjoy for a lifetime, whenever that journey begins.
To play, study and appreciate music is of course a wonderful thing; but in more practical terms, learning the piano aids the development of self-discipline, hand-eye coordination and problem solving (to name a few), whilst embedding a skill that can bring a lifetime of happiness and sense of achievement. According to the Journal of Educational Psychology, “students who take music courses score significantly better on maths, science and English exams than their non-musical peers.” Surely, even if it’s something you don’t stick with for life, the act itself carries with it many substantial benefits.
Is It Ever Too Early?
Now, it’s true that a quick Google-search can probably find a three-year-old playing like they’re Jimmy Smith (among other things) but that certainly doesn’t mean that your three-year-old is ready to commit to lessons each week. Children under the age of five who show an interest in the piano should probably be allowed to explore the instrument (among other things) without any kind of formal structure. They may be incredibly curious, which is fantastic, but the attention span needed to actually progress might take a little while longer to develop.
Cultivating a general interest in music and its innumerable expressions is only ever going to be a good thing (and something we actively encourage). Singing, dancing, and listening to your favourite music around the home is a wonderful way to spend time with your family whilst exposing young ears to a myriad of sonic adventures; but If you’d like to be a little more hands-on than that, then there are also many pre-school music programs available, such as Little Notes (other services are available).
Are You Ready?
The best time to start piano lessons will be different for everyone, but how do you know what the right age is for your child? Here’s a three-part checklist to help:
1. Hand Size
Before starting piano lessons, make sure that the child has hands large enough to be comfortable using a keyboard. If the can cover 5 white keys within the span of little-finger and thumb, that’s a pretty good rule of… thumb.
2. Finger Independence
Working from one finger to the next, you should work on developing the finger independence for each hand of the player. The little finger is definitely the trickiest to move without affecting the ring finger next door (try it yourself!), but with a little practise each digit can be strengthened pretty quickly.
3. A love of Music
Without doubt, this is the most important factor to consider before you even begin to explore the subject of trying piano lessons: do they (the child) actually take a real interest in music? All of you adults will appreciate (especially the Brits) that nobody likes forced fun. Well, this concept also applies to forced hobbies. If the interest is led by the child then you can expect them to succeed because of their own desire. If that passion isn’t present, you might find you’ll end up in power struggle that ultimately someone has to lose (worse-case scenario, you both do).
The Sweet Spot – Five to Eight
Within this age range, kids have already had pre-school/nursery and primary school experience, with adult-directed lessons imbedded into their learning. Young, ‘spongy’ minds of this age are primed to pick up new languages and build neuro-connections at an amazing rate – learning the language of music applies just the same.
Another, more practical reason, is that it’s much easier to pick up a new skill when you’ve got lots of time to grow at your own pace. The older you get, the more likely it is that our lives fill up with a variety of other interests. A good thing with an array of its own positives, of course, but time itself will become a scarcer, so it’s really profitable for the learner to build a solid foundation before their wide interests start to accelerate later on.
One thing that might slow a five-year-old down as they begin to study is their ability to read fluently at this early age. With this in mind, the Rockschool Piano Method books stimulate the development of this skill from the beginning. Although this might be a struggle and cause some frustration early on, a good foundation of decoding symbols from a page is incredibly value when it comes to developing musically later on.
What this development also means it that you don’t have to wait until a child can read before beginning music lessons. Reading and writing music shouldn’t be introduced until much later, but they will be much more prepared for it when that time comes.
Is It Ever Too Late?
If you were taking notice during the intro, you already know the answer – it’s it is, of course: absolutely not. Anyone who really wants to learn the piano and is willing to put in the time to practice can learn as quickly or even quicker than a younger child in those most influential years. (Especially if that child doesn’t really like playing in the first place.)
As we get older, it is not only our bodies that get less flexible, but also our brains! But, at the same time, our ability to focus, conceptualise and stubbornly persevere can most definitely increase. Your determination and tenacity to excel on the piano is a gift. If you possess it – why not start now?
What a lot of people forget post-childhood is that they’re actually really good at lots of things. They’ve mastered their native language (and maybe some non-native ones along the way), they can do mathematics, developed problem-solving skills for multiple situations. They can walk, run, dance, ride a bike, drive a car, play sports, cook, read and many, many things younger children would struggle with.
Young children aren’t actually good at much yet, for obvious reasons. Because of that – compared to their adult counterparts – they are less likely to get frustrated and then feel awkward about their limitations. It’s easier to stick with the things that you’ve already mastered. The struggle and obduracy that you’ll end up displaying should also ensure that you feel proud of yourself after each hurdle is cleared. Don’t give up – you can do this. Remember: all you’re really doing is connecting with your inner child all over again. Set whatever time you have aside, make sure your environment is right for you to lock-in and, most importantly, enjoy it.
Not that hard really is it?LEARN MORE ABOUT ROCKSCHOOL'S NEW PIANO METHOD BOOKS