Many parents who reach out regarding piano lessons aren’t really sure where to begin. So in this blog, I am going to outline my top tips to getting started and having a successful piano experience for your child.
Will I need an instrument?
The short answer is yes. You will need an instrument for your child to practice on each week in-between lessons. It really is better if that instrument is in the house and your child has instant access to it.
What should I buy?
You’ll get varying advice depending where you look. Ideally a good acoustic piano is the best instrument to start on but in reality not everyone has one nor the space to fit it in their home.
An electric keyboard is a good starting point for younger students and I love the Yamaha series. The keyboards should have touch sensitivity. This allows students to press a key and control the volume (touch), in much the same way as a piano.
These keyboards are not normally full-sized. This means that they have 61 keys instead of the 88 keys a piano has. This will only really become an issue once your child moves away from the beginner books.
The great benefit of these keyboards is all the additional functions – recording, different instrumental sounds, rhythms and the ability to connect to music software on a computer. These means there are lots of great tools for experimenting and composing with. I always had a set of Yamaha keyboards in my classroom and students loved playing melodies and composing their own pieces. You are usually looking at spending between $200 – $600 (depending where you live) on one of these instruments.
Other benefits include the ability to wear headphones for practice, it comes with an attachable stand, the keyboard is lightweight and easy to move, and you can always buy additional items like a foot pedal, stool and x bar stand for the keyboard to sit on. Often music stores sell all of this as a bundle package and it really is worthwhile buying it all rather than buying as separates at a later date.
For a full sized keyboard that doesn’t break the bank, I would recommend the Yamaha P45 portable piano. It’s around the $500 mark and will last your child for years. It’s a full size keyboard (88 keys) and you can buy the keyboard stand for the keyboard to sit on. I would recommend the stand in the picture rather than an x stand as it is sturdy and less wobbly. This will help with practising and will also mean that the piano is at the correct playing height.
Again you can purchase all the accessories and I would highly recommend getting a good piano stool. The piano stool in the picture above doesn’t adjust but you can buy adjustable piano stools and they really are a good investment.
If you decide to buy an acoustic upright or grand piano then it will last your child for a life time if properly maintained. You will need to keep the piano regularly tuned (once or twice a year) and this way the piano technician will be able to monitor the strings, pads and action to ensure the piano stays in great working condition.
I would always recommend buying a new or second-hand piano from a piano shop as they will have had it serviced and maintained and can help with delivery and future care of the instrument. If you do decide to buy secondhand from the internet it can be easy to buy an instrument that isn’t good value, so make sure you seek some proper advice from a piano technician or music teacher before buying it.
Do I really need lessons?
There are some fantastic pianists who are self taught, who can play from ear and who never read music. There are others who have learnt solely from the internet and recordings. Whilst this is awesome and inspiring, the majority of musicians don’t start this way and many who try this method find it very challenging and quit quickly.
The benefit of lessons is that the specialist teacher was once a beginner so understands the challenges of learning the piano. The teacher will help your child with good posture and technique that avoid injuries, will select music that is progressive and will help with understanding how to play musically. As most music teachers have been to university and studied music at a higher level, they will also be able to help guide your child through exams, audition pieces and help with the process of applying for music at university if this is the route your child eventually takes.
Does my child have to practice everyday?
Your child doesn’t need to practice everyday but does need to practice between lessons. It’s really like going to the gym – if you go regularly you stay fit, your muscles become stronger and you enjoy the quick progress you see in becoming healthier. If you only go to the gym once a week then the rate at which you will see change will be slower. This is the same for playing the piano. It takes time and consistency to get good and this requires regular practice.
The best practice is goal orientated rather than time orientated. If your child works on mastering the scale for the week or a particularly challenging section of a piece then that will lead to success. Often when people practice for 30 minutes they just play pieces from beginning to end with the same errors. This doesn’t improve your playing.
Will my child need music books?
Your child will absolutely need music books and there are thousands of amazing pieces and books. Your teacher will guide you through the process and help you buy the right books. Often people want to download music for free and this is breaking copyright rules and does impact the livelihood of composers. More importantly, it denies the child from having a book of 30 pieces to play from. You’ll be surprised at how many people still have their music books from when they were a child learning an instrument and it is great to revisit this music.
Can my child play for fun or do they have to take exams?
Playing a musical instrument should be fun and of course can be hard work at the same time like any other hobby. The amazing thing about music is that it is a life-long hobby and the skills you learn will never disappear.
There are some great external music exams and for some children they love the challenge and structure of working towards a goal. ABRSM is a great course and has specific series of piano exams that go from prep to Grade 8 and then onto diplomas. For students obtaining grade 6 and upwards these are recognised by universities, particularly in the UK where the grades are converted into UCAS points.
Some students do not like taking the exams and prefer the challenge of performing in recitals and concerts or even recording their pieces onto Youtube. They like accompanying others, playing in bands or playing duets. This is also perfectly normal and there really is no right or wrong path for learning a musical instrument. The main thing is your child enjoys playing the piano and feels a sense of pride and joy at their progress.
Does my child have to play classical music?
Regardless of the musical genre or style your child wants to play, the language of music is the same. So if you play jazz, blues, classical or church music the way to read the notation, rhythms and musical terms will be the same. This is what makes music a universal language and why learning to read music opens up so many doors to young musicians who want to play different genres and styles of music.