4 year old and learning piano

What’s the general experience on how to learn piano at a young age?

China bambina is 4 and a couple of months, and China wife decided it’s time to get musical. We bought a used Yamaha about a month ago, and got a special recomendation to study under a “master”.

Well, today was the first day and “master” seems more like a rote “tyrant” to me. I wasn’t at the lesson but my wife was. Starting out on “theory” and learning to read music. A little bit of hitting some keys. I would guess that for a 4 year old, learning simple stuff like chopsticks and nursery songs would be a lot more fun and get some hands on the piano thing going.

China bambina did not enjoy the experience. Although I met her as they got home, and she promptly took me in to her piano and started trying to play along with her Japanese nursery songbook.

Anyway, that’s a long winded intro. How do little kids in the US or elsewhere tend to start playing piano and what was your experience? I mean is it try to bang out a couple of songs and then put a little structure around having fun on the piano? Or is it this is step one of a thousand step process to become a concert pianist and you better do it right from step one?


Sack that teacher, right away. Otherwise China Bambina will be hating the piano before turning five. I’d suggest looking for a Suzuki method teacher - much more appropriate for young kids.

I think four years old is a fine time to learn piano… with the right teacher. In the States, the Yamaha program has group lessons and kids learn together by playing all kinds of musical games. They learn to love music and develop musical skills without the tyrant approach. Possibly you might want to shop around for a different teacher. Good Luck!

I’m a student teacher who teaches beginner piano, and most of my students are young-ish (5-6 years old). I’ve only been doing this since January, and ironically enough, most of what I do is a ‘learn as I go along’ as far as teaching is concerned. The master teacher there (my piano teacher and boss) gives me a lot of freedom as far as curriculum. This was rather disconcerting starting out, since I had never taught piano before, let alone to a five-year old, so much of what I do/know is stuff I picked up along the way. Granted, some of it you just have to learn through experience; its difficult to directly tell someone how to teach someone else how to do something, a big part of it is interpretive since everyone learns at their own rate.

Anyhoo, I don’t have any official ‘method’, but the beginner book I give to little kids generally emphasizes how to sit properly, locating ‘middle C’, differentiating between ‘high notes’ and ‘low notes’, identifying letters of notes on the piano, and learning how to identify notes on the staff, learning to count along with the piece and maintaining tempo, etc. Each private student spends 30 minutes with me, and the younger kids always have a parent present (I prefer that arrangement, as opposed to having an adult male alone with a child in a small room for 30 minutes). Much of my teaching is explaining things to them, and I try to make things interesting and break it down to be understandable to a 5-6 year old. A lot of what I talk about also relates to the parents. IMO, the parent has a big part in helping the child learn the piano, by being dilligent about getting them to practice. Many parents are clueless about music theory/piano, so I help them understand what their child is working on, and how they can help their child master the pieces assigned properly. Generally, they are given a few simple pieces explaining something new (rests, time signatures, half notes, legato, etc). Its kind of like math- what you learn is built on things you already understand. Because of this, I generally only have them progress in the book when I am confident they understand what they are doing. Since many of the children are very proud of themselves when they master something (they love to show off to me. Its the greatest feeling in the world for me, especially when I’m still learning how to be a good teacher :slight_smile: ) If they are struggling, I’ll spend more time on what they are currently working on, and generally won’t make them do something new until they understand what they are currently doing.

4 is a bit on the youngish side. I’m not that experienced as a teacher, so I’m not sure if I could help China Bambina hypothetically (although I would sure be willing to give it a shot). I do work with 4-year olds at my tutoring job, and I know that it is about having a lot of patience with them, and not going too fast. If the teacher makes it fun, the child will learn very quickly. I had a student about a year older than your child, China Guy. When she first started she was very shy, avoided eye contact with me and barely spoke. However, after only a month of playing the piano starting from scratch she was playing a recital piece by memory and absolutely loved taking lessons.

Beethoven started at four. His dad used to rap his knuckles when he made mistakes.

My kids started at five. Pianola NEVER liked it, and we let her quit when her school started instrumental music in 4th grade. She did trumpet for two years, hated it, and quit. She wanted to start guitar lessons last year, and quit that. Asked for an electric bass for Xmas last year, fooled around with it for a few months, now it’s gathering dust. (She’s 14 now.)

Banjo is nearly 9, and still doing piano…he’s running hot and cold on it. I’m not sure his teacher is the best one for him.

My parents tried to start me off young (maybe 5 or 6).
I absolutely hated it. :mad:

Even today I can’t stand the sight of the piano, and I’ve forgotten most of what I’d learnt anyway.

I really, really, really do not recommend forcing a child to learn a musical instrument, simply because the parents want him/her to become an achiever.
Kids should spend their time playing and having fun.

But thats just me.

China Guy, my daughter started learning 15 months ago when she was seven. She had started tinkering around on her cousins’ piano (she was no prodigy, let me add) and wanted to learn. She’s quite a bright kid but not overly hard-working - loves having a good time - and learning the piano has been very good for her “development”.

Her teacher was recommended by the elder cousin, and came with a reputation for not being interested in children who just wanted to go through the motions. She’s turned out to be very good for Natalie, even when she gets a bit pissed off that she hasn’t practised. (We have since instituted a realistic practice timetable, which we should have done before.) Indeed, we’re pleased when she gets pissed off - even if Natalie cries, which she’s done once or twice - because she needs the discipline. But this is Hong Kong, and the teacher’s a good-hearted lady. The idea of a “Master” in China (a la Confucius, dispensing knowledge) is frightening to me!

I asked Natty last night what she did in the first few lessons and she said that only the teacher played in the first 45 minute session, introducing her to the sounds of the piano, and I guess the fun tunes it can produce. She then started on little one-line, one-hand “pieces” of her own, which she got great fulfilment out of playing. “Theory” wasn’t really touched on in the first few months - I was the one who tried to teach her Every Good Boy Does Football etc. - but this may be because the teacher tailored the teaching to Natty’s strengths. She’s got a lovely touch but her sight reading, “ear” and technical ability are hardly Mozart like.

If I can suggest one thing, it’s to find a teacher who has a connection with the kid and who understands kids. Natty’s teacher has got her performing at music shows in malls (singing Bridge Over Troubled Water as well as playing a piece). She didn’t take long to spot that our daughter loves performing, so she played to that strength.

We still use a Yamaha keyboard, and won’t upgrade to a proper piano until she passes her second exam. She takes her first (Grade Two) next month.

I taught for years, and I much preferred adult students. I didn’t take very little kids at all; my youngest was about 8 and really a prodigy. (We were studying blues and jazz; I didn’t bother with classical for him, because he got it taught better elsewhere.)

There’s something about self-motivation that makes learning music really worthwhile. I say this mostly from a teacher’s perspective, but also as a student … there’s really no point to learning music if you don’t like it, if you don’t want to learn it.

Four may very well be a bit young. You might want to make a piano (and/or other instruments) available, and see what your child’s interest level really is. My family were all musicians, and my mother started me with lessons when I was four, but I really wasn’t ready for it for a few more years. I played on my little toy piano (like Schroeder’s) for years, on my own, before I begged for (real) lessons and thankfully got them. I really wanted to learn to play the piano. But if I’d been taking lessons only because my parents made me, I’d have rebelled. Even at four, I would have been (and was, in my mother’s lessons) uncooperative and unproductive.

I guess I really am not a believer in forcing a child into music lessons. Not that that’s what you’re doing, mind; guiding is fine. But really be attuned to your kid’s own interest level; in the end, that interest, that personal drive, is the required ingredient for becoming a musician.

I started piano lessons when I was 6. I took group lessons after school, once a week. After two years, my parents switched me to private lessons, once a week unless we had a competition coming up, then twice a week.

Both the group and private lessons combined theory and learning songs to play. I really don’t remember much about the group lessons, except that I enjoyed it. My private teacher was pretty tough, but also a really warm, caring person (thanks, Mrs. Ellingson!) who seemed really proud of all her students. It seemed like her lessons were geared a lot towards recitals and competitions. We did a lot or preparation, which worked well for my goal-oriented personality.

I wanted to post to this, though, to share my mother’s brilliant idea to get me to practice. She never nagged or scolded. Instead, she told me that if I sat down to practice after dinner, I wouldn’t have to help clear the table or do dishes. She enjoyed it because she got to listen to music while she was cleaning up (and by the time I was in high school, it was actually pretty good music). I felt like I was getting out of something and, because I ended up practicing so much, I got good enough that it was very fulfilling to me. I had always liked playing, but it eventually got to be something I was really proud of.

I was interested in the piano when I was a little kid. I remember playing the piano (tinkering on it) when I was four. In fact, I was able to puzzle out a beginning piano book on my own and figure out where middle C was. I had an interest in it, and I liked it.

However, I liked art more. Given a choice, I would have preferred art lessons, but instead I was forced into piano lessons. I resented it and while I got semi-decent at piano, my heart wasn’t in it and I was allowed to drop lessons after a few years.

Years later I asked my mom why I was forced to take piano lessons even though I had a much more marked interest in art. (I might add, when I did get private art lessons as a teenager, it was only due to my dad’s insistence. My mom was against art lessons at that time.) My mom answered that music lessons were important, but somehow, art wasn’t. She was obviously reflecting her own biases and when she tried to explain her reasons, they didn’t stand up to the smell test.

Because I was forced to take piano lessons, I resented the piano and didn’t want much to do with it for years. I finally did resume piano lessons as an adult.

Looking back, I wish that I had been offered both art and piano, and I wish that I hadn’t had piano shoved down my throat while my interest in art was often suppressed and on occasion, actively discouraged.

It doesn’t do any good to try to “mold” a kid in such a way—the kid is gonna like what they’re gonna like, nothing you can do to change that. Not that you want to do this, obviously, which is why you started this thread, China Guy. It sounds like this teacher might take all the joy out of the piano for your kid, and that would indeed be a terrible shame.

I was interested in the piano as a young child because we had one in the house, but my mom had been told that very young children should wait to take up piano until their hands got bigger, and that violin was a great ear-training tool. So I took Suzuki violin as a child from age 4-7 and then piano from then on. I actually minored in it in college (although I haven’t really played since). I do have an excellent ear, don’t know if that’s the violin or not. The point is, by the time I took piano I was old enough to know whether I actually enjoyed it or not. And yeah, I didn’t practice much (I was unfortunately too talented a sight-reader - I’d have been much better off and gotten much more out of my years of lessons if I couldn’t have coasted like that!) as a kid sometimes, but it was never a battle like it seemed with some of my friends. I’d honestly wait on the piano, personally, just from my experience. Do Suzuki violin (they make violins in little sizes for little hands, see) or whatever, and when she’s old enough if she wants to do piano she can.

Started piano at a fairly late age–10 or so, compared to you lot ;)–but I teach kids.

I try to make the teaching technique suit the kid in question, playing to their strengths and likes. Mostly at first lesson I spatter out a bit of everything–theory (reading music, learning terms, etc.) and hands-on work–and see what they like. That way, I know how to make a lesson more fun and get them interested in their playing.

China Guy, I think four is a great age to start taking piano lessons. I started at this age, however I learnt under the Suzuki Method which involves lots of listening and copying simple songs (learning to read music music comes a bit later on). AFAIK it is based on a similar theory to how kids learn language in that you allow kids to develop some skills in speaking before you expect them to learn to read.

If I was looking for a piano teacher for China Bambina, I’d take GorillaMan’s advice and go Suzuki. I’d look for someone who makes lessons fun and provides lots of positive feedback (so that if by any chance China Bambina doesn’t become a professional concert pianist, at least she’ll have had a good time developing some musicality, discipline, co-ordination and confidence performing in public).

Just to clarify on my own experiences, I started playing the piano when I was 7. At first I wanted to learn, because I was impressed with the piano players in the mall. However, once I discovered how much work was involved, I got discouraged very quickly. Monday afternoons were weekly torture sessions when the teacher would come over to our house and force me to start over on a piece if I made so much as a single mistake. This was aggrivating to me, and I really wish that teacher didn’t do that. I’m not learning anything by playing the part I already know, I wish I could have hammered out the difficult parts specifically…but oh no, my finger slips on one F sharp, and its back to the beginning :rolleyes:

I too became unhappy when my parents did not let me bug out of playing early on. However, I became convinced that there was no way I was going to get out of playing the piano- I sullenly accepted it was just a part of my life from now on. Ironically, by doing this, I started to take some positive steps forward. When I was about fourteen, my parents divorced and could no longer afford lessons. I putzed around on the piano for ten years but didn’t make any progress without the lessons.

Finally, around last year, I missed the lessons so much I started taking piano lessons again at the music store where my mom teaches (she teaches vocals). I loved it. Granted it took me seven grueling years to enjoy playing the piano, but it happened. I know some dopers are saying not to force the child to do this, and while I partially agree, something else you have to understand is that some children are simply going to be impatient about it- they don’t hate it entirely, they just don’t have the current attention span/discipline to see it through. This is where you have to be on top of them, because there is a chance that it could be very rewarding in the end. I’m glad my parents forced me to stay at it, because if they didn’t I wouldn’t have this wonderful job teaching other people the piano :slight_smile: