Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions

January 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Private Lessons

If this series of answers does not adequately answer your questions about music lessons, please email me.

What age should I start my child in lessons?

Immediately! OK, so a 3-month old may have difficulty reaching an octave on a piano. But there are options such as Kindermusik for teaching rhythm, musicality, and expression for toddlers. Participating in a pre-school program can contribute to the development of motor skills, listening skills, and social interaction.

For private piano lessons, I usually recommend age 5 as a good starting point. Children’s motor skills are usually ready for the keyboard at that point, and the excitement of producing music is high. While progress may not be rapid until ages 8-10, an early start is beneficial for a child’s musical development.

Interested in strings? You don’t have to wait till age 5. Programs like Suzuki are designed for children as young as 3. Be prepared, however, for the expense of a series of growing instruments that grow with your child. More than in any other musical discipline, the size of the instrument is vital to the student’s success.

Brass and woodwind instruments are difficult to start before age 8. They require the coordination and strength of facial muscles and breath support that younger students lack. But that doesn’t mean that students should wait till age 8 to study music. Students who approach an instrument having a background in piano and basic theory have a great advantage. Pre-band instruments such as recorder, fife, and Orff instruments are also beneficial.

Drummers be patient! The serious study of percussion needs to prefaced with the development of keyboard skills. The basics of rhythm are best learned at a piano. Mallet percussion demands a knowledge of the keyboard. This is so important that percussion classes that I’m familiar with are open only to those who have completed a minimum of two years of piano lessons.

How much does my child need to practice?

There are three factors that influence the amount of practice necessary. The first is the standard of progress expected. As a general rule, increased practice = greater progress. Funny how that works, isn’t it? This principle is similar to the ratio between study time and test grades.

Secondly, the student himself is a factor. Some students catch on more naturally than others, but diligence and hard work can trump natural talent.

The third factor is somewhat related. How does the student practice? What does he spend his time doing? Is he watching the clock? Listening for the kitchen timer? Is he playing his favourite pieces from 3 weeks ago? Or is he focused on the task at hand, committed to overcoming the hurdles before him?

Your teacher will likely suggest (or demand) a particular time for your child to spend at the piano. This may range from 15 minutes a day to 2 hours a day. But keep in mind that success is not measured by a clock, but by musical accomplishment.

My child wants to play the guitar (or saxophone, violin, drums, etc.) Do they really need to learn piano?

The piano keyboard is fundamental to an understanding of music theory. While piano lessons aren’t mandatory for success, they will aid the student in achieving that success. No successful instrumentalist will look back on piano lessons as a waste.

Is it possible to learn the piano by ear? If so, why bother learning to read all those complicated notes?

Yes, you can. But why would you want to? Playing by ear means you are limited to playing music that you have heard. Why limit yourself to music you already know? That’s like sitting in a library reading only books that have been read to you. Think of the thousands of books that you could experience if you knew how to read! Note-reading opens up the world of music for your personal exploration.

I’m an adult who wishes I had taken piano as a child (or did take piano and now wish I hadn’t quit). Is it too late?

That depends on your determination. It’s never too late if you care enough about it. Unfortunately, adulthood brings responsibilities that affect our priorities (like paying the bills!). But don’t let the joy of music slip by in the rush of life. If you’re resolved to learn music and can afford some time (even a little bit) regularly practicing, you can fulfill your dream.

Do we need to own a piano to take piano lessons?

Ownership is not the required part, but regular access to a piano is a must. But before you decide to borrow someone else’s, do your homework. Scheduling your practice time around someone else’s practice time, nap time, or dinner time may be a bit more complicated than you think. I would suggest watching classified ads for a used piano or visit your local music store for an acoustic or digital piano.

What type of piano should we buy?

Pianos come in many shapes, sizes, and colours. At first, the selection may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to. The basic types of pianos are acoustic pianos (grands and uprights), and digital (electronic) pianos. Your first piano will not likely be a grand, nor does it need to be. Grand pianos are in the dreams of all music lovers (myself included), but they cost a lot of money and take up a lot of space. So if you’re a beginner, don’t feel obligated to make such a purchase.

The term “upright piano” speaks of the vertical position of the soundboard (where the strings are) contrasted with the horizontal position of a grand piano’s soundboard. Upright pianos come in various sizes (although they all have 88 keys!). But although size may be important to the home decorator in your family, the quality of the sound and the stiffness of the keys are more important factors. If you know someone who plays the piano already, I would suggest having them play a piano before you buy it and get their opinion.

Do acoustic pianos need to be tuned?

They certainly do. In fact, the vast majority of pianos in the universe are out of tune because they don’t get tuned as often as they should. “Tuning” a piano simply means tightening or loosening the strings so that every pitch is where it ought to be. That’s an oversimplified explanation that would offend most professional tuners, but it will suffice. The job should best be left to a professional tuner and not something you should tackle yourself. Check the Yellow Pages.

Is an electronic keyboard sufficient?

If you don’t want to be bothered to hire a piano tuner periodically, an electronic (or digital) piano may be for you! These instruments never go out of tune. Many piano studios are using these types of instruments exclusively. However, you will want to be cautious about scooping up the next one you see at a garage sale. They don’t all qualify. Also, you will find that after playing for awhile, you will long for the touch of a “real” piano.

Any particular brand names?

While I don’t claim to know the industry inside out, I will recommend the leaders. Roland has some quality instruments these days. Yamaha doesn’t just make motorcycles! In fact, their Clavinova line is an excellent choice. Kurzweil is an option worth looking at. Other brands may make acceptable instruments, but these three are known for their quality, while other brands focus on offering keyboards for the lowest price, while sacrificing quality.

Any particular features?

Comparing features can be tedious, but doing your homework will pay off. If you are buying a piano for the purpose of developing your keyboard skills, set the following parameters. These are a must:
• Full size keys (some sold in electronic stores have miniature size keys that will fool you into thinking that your hand can span two octaves!)
• 88-keys (Don’t settle for 61 keys. These instruments are created for a different purpose)
• Weighted keys (Keys which are tapered underneath like organ keys are not weighted. You want to simulate an acoustic piano to improve your control over the keyboard.)
• Authentic piano sound (a “patch” electronically-speaking that will do justice to the music you are studying. Some digital pianos sound tinny or hollow.)
• Sturdy stand (anything that allows the keyboard to wobble while you’re playing is not sufficient).
Plenty of other bells and whistles are available, including rhythm sections, sequencers, transposers, and 40 million built-in sounds. But don’t sacrifice the requirements above to buy a high-tech toy. You can buy one of those later.

For more information about buying and caring for pianos, visit the Piano Education Page. Some opinions expressed there may contradict what you have read here, but the article contains much helpful information.

Comments are closed.