Are you considering piano lessons for your child?
Learning to play the piano is very rewarding, but it is not easy. Some teachers advertise that they can have the student playing songs they know in just a few weeks. I don’t believe this approach to learning the instrument gives the student a proper foundation in piano technique—that is, training the hands and fingers how to push down on the piano keys in order to achieve a beautiful sound. Learning to play takes years of lessons and practice. There are many small steps along with way, and with practice the student will continue to grow and learn to play more and more difficult and interesting music.
Many scientific studies show that playing music increases brain activity and development in children. Playing the piano involves many different skills, from finger dexterity to concentration and focus. It gives the individual a creative outlet for their emotions. It develops discipline and increased auditory skills. I recommend a google search of “benefits of music lessons” to find many media reports about the various scientific studies that show the many benefits of music lessons in childhood.
Practice, practice, practice
Practice is key to piano playing. Professional pianists continue to practice many hours a day, even the most gifted. The more a student practices, the faster he or she will advance. For example, if a student wishes to master a particular song or technique, it may take that student ten hours of practice. If the student practices one hour per week, it will take two-and-a-half months to achieve the goal. If they practice a total of two hours per week, it will take half that time, five weeks. But if the student practices for one hour per day, then the goal is achieved in just 10 days.
The teacher and parents should agree on an amount of practicing that is expected of the student. Just as parents need to be sure that children do their homework assignments from school, they have to take responsibility for practicing. Some students don’t have to be reminded, but most of them do.
Choosing to play the piano
Deciding to learn to play piano is an excellent choice. Every style of music can be played on the piano. Melody and accompaniment can be played together, or the piano can accompany another instrument or singing. The piano is a great instrument on which to improvise and compose music. And the musical concepts you learn on the piano can be transferred to other instruments. I would urge everyone to play as many instruments as they have time for, as it will increase appreciation for and love of music.
I teach my students both technique and musicianship. Technique means how your fingers press down on the keys. Fingers should be strong and flexible, not rigid. The hands should be loose and quiet. The weak fingers, usually the 4th and 5th fingers, need to be as strong as the others. Learning piano technique right from the beginning is very important to the student’s playing as they advance through more difficult music.
By musicianship I mean learning to read music, to understand all the symbols that are used, and also to develop excellent rhythmic and sight-reading abilities. Rhythm is a crucial part of playing the piano, and although everyone starts out with varying degrees of natural ability, everyone can learn to play simple as well as complex rhythms with ease. It just takes practice.
Piano vs. Keyboard
I strongly recommend that children and adults learn to play on an acoustic piano or a high-quality electronic piano with weighted keys, but not on a keyboard. Keyboards don’t feel like pianos—they lack resistance when pressing down on the keys, and thus the student’s fingers do not develop strength or control.
While sitting at the piano, posture is important. The student’s arm should be parallel with the ground while playing, so young children may need to sit on a cushion. Also, it helps if feet are not dangling, so the use of a stool or other support is recommended.
I have decided to use the Faber Piano Adventures materials for beginning students. While they are not perfect, they are a very good teaching method. I include other materials that I feel will be beneficial. As soon as possible, I have students playing classical pieces. I also want my students to play music that interests them, so I use a combination of classical, popular and jazz music tailored to the individual student.
I do not teach the Suzuki method; however, I do use some of the Suzuki materials and philosophy. Parental involvement is a key component of the Suzuki method, and clearly students advance more quickly with greater parental involvement in their practicing.
Ultimately, parents and children must make a commitment to learning to play the piano—as much commitment as they put to learning academic subjects like math and reading. Commitment is necessary in order to succeed.
– Corey Sevett