A good age to start piano lessons?

(79 Posts)
WiganKebab Sun 03-Mar-13 16:10:04

We have a piano and I'd love the kids to be able to play. They like to play around on it, but I haven't organized lessons yet as they're only young (eldest is 5). What age is a good age to start (without being a pushy mum...) wink

boogiewoogie Mon 24-Jun-13 14:28:18

No need to get cross as it's not a competition Savemenow. No one is depriving a child of 5 years of enjoyment just because they start at 10, once they start they have the rest of their lives to learn it to a level that they want to and that they are happy with. What if your a child started at 5 and hated it for 5 years by the time they were 10 but parents still insist that they learn it because it's a "good thing to learn an instrument"?

It doesn't really matter whether they start at 3 or 13 (unless of course you are trying to get your dc into music college and need to get grade 8 by the time they're 16 or whatever) as long as it is the child who is enjoying it. I believe that it hampers the child's enjoyment and progress if they are forced into it from an early age. DCs started at 4 as DH teaches them. It has had its advantages but DS used to throw tantrums at DH for finding it too hard or just not being able to get things right first time. We got proper lessons for him at 7 and he has been better since. He's very diligent with practise and now reluctantly admits that he actually likes the piano. Piano tutor reckons once, they show a keen interest in it then they are ready to learn.

FWIW I'm glad to hear that piano lesson is the highlight of your week. DS has his every fortnight and though dreads his tutor initially, he's always relieved to hear that he's done well. Then it's my turn and that is one of the highlights of my fortnight!

SaveMeNow Sun 23-Jun-13 22:54:56

To be honest I get a bit cross with the whole - let them wait until they are 10, they'll soon catch up those who have been learning for years - kind of argument!! So what if they do - how about the 5 years of enjoyment the child who started at 5 has already had???? My dd is 6 and her piano lesson is one of the highlights of my week- the pure enjoyment on her face is fantastic!!

lambakins Sun 23-Jun-13 21:11:38

DD is 6 and started piano lessons a few weeks ago. She is into it and will go off and practice by herself but I prefer to kinda hover when she is practising as don't want her picking up bad habits!
She is a very good reader as is her little sister who is 5. Lil sis is wanting to learn too but her fingers are so small so I am justing having fun showing her the very basics and she is learning 'Mary had a little lamb'.
Their main bad habit is not keeping their hands up but my piano teacher said to practice balancing a penny when they are playing and not let it fall off!
Piano lessons stop over the summer so will resume in Sept. Its all fun for now as don't want to turn them off.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 22-May-13 19:46:28

Looking forward to your report!

thesecretmusicteacher Wed 22-May-13 19:36:30

I could have a youtube version as permanent background noise so it sank in a bit for a few weeks...... I'll bump the thread if I progress

[can I join those apologising to the OP for the hijack please, though I see she has long ago wandered off to do something more relevant]

Weegiemum Wed 22-May-13 14:44:17

My ds started at 9, got distinction in grade 1 at 10 and is about to sit grade 2 at 11 (he's in primary6).

Dd1 started at 12 (already played accordion) and is skipping grade 1, going straight to 2 at Christmas.

Dd2 started most recently, at 9. She's got grade 1 violin already, doing 2 soon, and will sit grade 1 piano around her 10 th birthday in nov.

I can recommend a fantastic teacher in Glasgow!!

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 22-May-13 14:40:41

smile Will you give it a go?

I also wonder about the link with memory. When I teach DC the suzuki tunes I read, play, memorise, and then teach them from memory. I've had to psych myself up to this, telling myself that of course I can learn to play "Long Long Ago" from memory. grin And of course I could. But I still had to tell myself that. Does learning by ear automatically mean memorising? I suppose it must! So it has advantages.

I remember hearing on the radio about some ancient Greek philosopher who pooh-poohed the idea of writing things down - it would mean that you would lose the important skill of remembering things. grin

Other "achievable" music:

How about the 3rd movement of Mozart's A minor sonata? Notes are easy ...

And Schubert's 4th D899 impromptu (minus the middle section) - almost all just broken chords in logical procession, plus a few other chords.

thesecretmusicteacher Wed 22-May-13 12:13:06

Ooh those are both well-judged challenges! Just about not out of reach (if you don't mind the bumble-bee being more of a slug!)

Wouldn't it be fascinating, given that we know that blind classical pianists are out there, to find out about their methods? Not because it would be better than notation, but because we'd be able to see the structure of their learning?

My oldest son has electric guitar lessons which are nearly all aural with occasional tab. But the syllabus is highly structured and logical - it's fascinating to read his reports. They talk about "achievable licks" and things like that....

The children I work with tend to be at the less able end of things (it's about enrichment, social music-making, etc), so I don't get them to the progess levels where we would be able to answer these interesting questions....

By the way, I noticed that Jools Holland has a very basic introduction to boogie-style 3-minute lesson on his home page - I think that gives some good ideas.

pianomama Tue 21-May-13 22:02:41

How about "A Flight of a Bumblebee" by ear smile ?

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 21-May-13 21:30:56

1st Beethoven sonata - the third movement. grin

thesecretmusicteacher Tue 21-May-13 21:18:10

well, if someone can find me a nice easy andante Grade 6 or below Beethoven sonata 2nd movement I'll give it a go and report back.

pianomama Tue 21-May-13 21:05:27

sorry OP, but interesting topic though..

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 21-May-13 20:42:19

Sorry, a slight distraction from the OP. blush

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 21-May-13 20:42:01

thesecretmusicteacher - that's what I don't know. And you never play the same piece the same way everytime anyway, do you? I'm not such a good player, but I find that I try different things out everytime I play a piece. But maybe that's easier when it's all written down. But then that may be because that's how I process information. confused Do you really think it is impossible to learn a Beethoven sonata, say, by ear? Does the Suzuki program go as far as that by ear?

thesecretmusicteacher Tue 21-May-13 20:15:11


perhaps it's not "how far you can go" but "in what directions you can go?" (Jools Holland being an obvious example of a virtuoso who doesn't need to read music to go as far as he wants to).

I don't think you could play classical music the same way each time if you'd picked it up by ear - you'd start turning the chords upside down and interacting with it rather than playing it.

thesecretmusicteacher Tue 21-May-13 20:12:57

should have said yes you're right pianomama lots of the classical repertoire would be hard to make out on a recording.

I can work out Bach by ear but can't work out the fingerings IYSWIM. I sometimes if I have learnt an alto or tenor part by ear I find myself playing the bass part or tune which is not very good.

my older son prefers to improvise and memorises quickly so unfortunately his teacher thought he could read music quite well and got a shock when she entered him for grade 2 and gave him the sight-reading smile.

My younger son is rather rule-bound and loves reading the music. I have to pretend we are only playing by ear "while we find the books".

thesecretmusicteacher Tue 21-May-13 20:09:25

I think most of the jazz pianists never learnt to read music.

Nor did Irving Berlin.

Nor has Paul McCartney.

Maybe I should call the latter two "genius long-lived happy millionaires" rather than "virtuosi"

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 21-May-13 19:52:45

Being somebody who relies heavily on reading, I'm also interested in how far you can go without reading music. My friend's DS learns Mozart sonatas by ear, which is magic as far as I'm concern! smile

I teach my kids to play by imitation (sort of Suzuki style) as well as by reading notes. They can play more "advanced" pieces by imitation than by reading notes, but the difference is not astounding. But we are quite lazy ...

pianomama Tue 21-May-13 13:45:32

thesecretmusicteacher - sorry, I don't actually have audio recordings..
Still I think missing out written notation will limit enormously what and how one can play. Out of interest who are the piano virtuoso who learned piano by ear?

pianomama Tue 21-May-13 13:39:13

Wigeon - sure Stevie Wonder did not have a choice being blind..
Thank God Beethoven knew how to write down his music when he got deaf though.
I see your point about learning to talk without needing to read but then if you cant read, you are only ever relying on who is around you and what they know / music they play.
The whole point of having books and written music is to collect and preserve the knowledge and music. Reading a novel is not the same as someone telling you what happened , I think music is similar.

thesecretmusicteacher Mon 20-May-13 20:47:11

"However, his playing in never robotic and he has a very definite taste and style of playing, creating lots of moods, colours and characters on his playing"
sounds lovely! wonder if you can attach an audio to your profile smile

interesting about his teacher's approach.
Yes, if you learn by listening, you must be learning to play that musician just as much as that composer IYSWIM. I don't think that's a bad thing...

I'm sure some music is hard to learn by ear - but most isn't. You do tend after a certain level to diverge between greater freedom for the musician to work out the content (in some genres) versus greater detailed notation of what is intended (Beethoven!)

I admit, the Chopin thing is something DS1's piano teacher told me... mind you, she does know an awful lot about the lives of the composers. But I'd better make way for any passing Chopin scholars....

Re the Richter quote: yes, that is one way of looking at music. The idea is that the music belongs to the composer. One person, and one person only (the conductor) is allowed to have some creative input in delivering it. But the music is an object - like a Greek Vase in the V&A - our job is to see who can revere it best. Apparently, Beethoven has a lot of responsibility for introducing this idea of the great master whose works are untouchable - there is a book called "music - a very short introduction" which introduces the history and politics of this kind of idea.

Alternative ideas are that music is essentially made in the mind of the listener - I absolutely love that idea! Philip Ball wrote a terrific book called The Music Instinct. It's really good!

pianomama Sun 19-May-13 22:40:51

Interesting. DS is a "promising pianist" , I guess he learns piano "professionally" which is not necessarily what everyone wants from learning an instrument. I can hardly play myself (or read music) but am very good at figuring any melody by ear with one hand on the piano.
He, on the other hand, is surprisingly less fluent (but will figure it out after a while).
However, his playing in never robotic and he has a very definite taste and style of playing, creating lots of moods, colours and characters on his playing.

I noticed that his teacher never plays new piece for him or recommends to listen to any recordings while he is learning it - I am sure that important part of learning the piece is his own interpretation of the written music.

Surely if you learn a piece by listening to a recording, you are copying whoever is playing it?

I am not sure about the statement about Chopin would not be imp
I can't imagine learning Bach inventions and sinfonias by ear - with 2/3 voices?

Chopin would have been disgusted, as he refused to teach any pupil who played his music just as he had written it.. - is that really so?

I remember watching an interview with a great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter who in reply to a question about his "interpretation" said something like "I do not add anything - everything is written by the composer - it's all in there"..

thesecretmusicteacher Sun 19-May-13 10:44:56

Hi boogiewoogie,


There are two reasons to teach aurally.

Firstly, I think all classical musicians would agree that you need to develop your ear to be a musician. That is the solid foundation upon which technique sits. Technique without ear is like a wobbly wall - tends to fall over. Now, although ideally we would have every child singing, some children don't/won't/can't sing for various reasons, but can develop their ear via an instrument. The various applications of Kodaly for instruments are along these lines.

Secondly, you can teach aurally not as a precursor to learning it "properly" (with a book) but instead learn to play based not around paper but around the shape of your hand/mouth and the shape of the instrument and to have a direct link between your tonal awareness (ear), your body and the instrument. This is how the majority of the world's virtuosic electric guitar players have learnt - they have still put in those 10,000 hours of playing (and then some!), but the structure is based around ear, hand, guitar and probably also recording devices if they risk forgetting something..... do you see? These methods tend to teach the communication side of music faster than notation methods can do (notation can often be the reason for poor communication between learners). And they allow musicians to do the things that notation is very bad at - rhythm lengths, timbral changes, etc.

Wigeon Sat 18-May-13 22:46:42

Pianomama and boogiewoogie - of course standard notation is only one way in which anyone learns music. A parallel is that you don't need to be able to read to be able to talk. You learn to talk by listening and talking, experimenting, and by being corrected (on your grammar and pronunciation, for example). The vast majority of music in the history of the world has been made without recourse to standard notation. Even now, a huge amount of music is learnt and made without standard, or indeed any, notation.

A child can certainly learn quite a bit of piano playing without reading notation. Stevie Wonder is a good example of a pianist who doesn't read notation, and never did!

boogiewoogie Sat 18-May-13 22:30:37


How do you suppose one should learn music if not by reading it first? What about rhythm? What about sightreading? Do you teach music mostly aurally then?

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