For success in piano study, a child must demonstrate mental, physical, and emotional readiness. In a general way, readiness is linked to chronological age, but there is a great deal of variation. A three-year-old may be ready, but a five-year-old may not be. I have found that most children aged three-and-a-half are ready for real piano lessons (as opposed to movement-to-music or music appreciation classes).
Here are the criteria I use to screen young children for readiness. You can use these as gidelines to evaluate your own child’s readiness for music study. (These are questions I ask parents on the telephone before we discuss their coming for an in-studio interview.)
- Mental Readiness
- Can the child say the alphabet?
- Can the child count to 20?
- Can the child sit still and concentrate for at least 10 minutes at a time?
- Does he know his left from his right most of the time?
- Physical Readiness
- When the child sits on the bench, are his forearms fairly parallel to the floor?
- Does the child’s hand measure at least two inches across the large knuckles?
- Can the child use scissors?
- Does the child color fairly well “within the lines”?
- Emotional Readiness
- Has the child asked for lessons? For how long has he been asking?
- If he has not specifically requested lessons, does he (1) go to the piano to experiment (or is he drawn to one like a magnet elsewhere if you don’t have a piano at home)? (2) pretend to play (such as on the arm of a sofa)? (3)react favorably when you suggested lessons?
- Does he respond to music he hears by dancing or moving to it? Have teachers remarked on his interest in music?
If your child doesn’t measure up in at least half of the criteria, he isn’t ready for lessons. It’s better to wait than to start and have a bad experience.
Parental readiness is the other half of the equation!
- Are you ready to sit on the bench for 20-30 minutes daily to help your child practice? If your child doesn’t need your active help, will you keep him company in the piano room if he desires?
- Are you willing to run interference with other family members to ensure quiet time for practice and to stave off negative remarks about music study? Can you generally count on other family members for support and cooperation?
- Are you willing to commit to the on-going dollar and time costs?
- Are you willing to rent or buy a piano (if you don’t have one)?
Without your providing structure and support, piano study is doomed from the start. Best to wait until you can do it right!
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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