Let’s face it, learning the piano is a difficult thing to do. No matter what method of teaching you choose, whether it’s from a conventional book, or from a downloadable ebook or one of the online sites that provide a variety of animated and interactive learning tools (read reviews here), the key to success with the piano is PRACTICE. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Think of any skill that requires the use of your hands in a highly dexterous way, juggling or conjuring for example. You don’t see these guys read a new trick in a book then just go out and perform it in front of an audience do you? No, they invest hundreds of hours in practice, honing their skills to a knife-edge before they even think about going near an audience. And that’s the way it is with piano.
When it comes to teaching piano to children, practice is the part that causes the most grief. They just don’t want to do it. And I don’t blame them. When you’re just starting out, progress can be slow. It can be ages before a satisfying tune emerges from the keyboard and while they’re working towards that first decent piece of music (which will motivate them to continue) the temptation to pack it in can be very strong. You may have heard the old refrains ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m rubbish at this’, ‘ I’m just not getting any better at this’.
Well, don’t let them give up – it may be hard on you now, trying to keep them going, but they’ll thank you in years to come, I can guarantee it.
Of course, there are other kids that take to the piano like a duck to water, they can’t get enough of it and they’ll sit there bashing away all afternoon if you let them. But these kids are unusual and need a completely different approach. Sometimes they need encouragement to stop practising and get outside and kick a ball around.
So how much practice should they (the normal kids, that is) be doing? In my experience, if your child(ren) is/are under 8 years old then about twenty minutes a day is about right. For mine (7 year-old twins) I break it up into two sessions – they do about ten minutes after breakfast but before they leave for school then another ten after school and before they’re allowed to watch any TV (the same goes for all homework – no TV before it’s all done). Everyone knows that the attention span of kids is remarkably short and beyond ten minutes is a dead area – nothing goes in, they just want to be off. So capitalize on those first ten minutes (twice a day) and you’ll be doing the right thing.
For smaller pre-school kids, reduce the period and increase the frequency. A four year old should be able to manage two or three sessions of four to five minutes a day, but at this age you’ll need to be a bit more sensitive about calling a halt when they’ve clearly had enough. Also a bit of variety is a good idea. You could try a mix of playing at the keyboard and flash cards or special software (read review here) for learning the note names and positions as well.
The overriding message in all of this is ‘don’t push it too hard’ – if your child gets to the point where he/she feels that they are being pushed beyond what they naturally want to do, then no amount of encouragement and/or discipline is going to make them enjoy playing the piano.