I started piano lessons at the ripe old age of 5 in my small home town of Weatherford, Oklahoma. This beginning was always in the cards for me, because my parents were both musicians. My father was a trumpeter and a band director, and my mother was a piano teacher. She taught lessons in our home after school; my sister and I would do our homework or watch TV in the living room to the soundtrack of our neighborhood friends’ weekly progress. So when I began my own journey into formal music training, it felt like a sure bet that I’d be successful, love my lessons, and have an easy time of it.
But that didn’t happen, exactly. As most parents know, it’s not easy to teach your own children (though hats off to my mother for giving it a go!). After about a year, I tried lessons with the other teacher in town, Mrs. Taft, who for the life of her couldn’t get me interested in things like proper hand position, reading notes, and counting. My sister loved her piano lessons, and was playing challenging music and succeeding at every turn, but I wasn’t really that excited about getting better at the piano.
What I was excited about was...singing.
I sang constantly. I sang when I woke up, playing in my room, at recess, and in the elementary school choir. I made up melodies and sang the words to my primer reading books. I sang along with every record my parents played, and to the radio whil
e my dad worked in the garage. I sang directly into my parents’ ears on long road trips until they had to ask me to stop. I was a singing machine! And if voice lessons had been available for children my age in the 70’s, well, I would’ve been a prime candidate.
In accordance with the times, I had to wait until I was 13 to start voice lessons, which I promptly did, and never looked back. I loved my voice lessons so much that I ended up getting a degree in voice in college, and honing my piano skills along the way. But what if my parents had been able to put me in voice lessons when I was younger, say at age 7, or even at 10? Would my interest in piano have been revitalized? What would I have been capable of? How far would I have gone?
The Excitement Quotient
If your child is like I was, singing or listening to music pretty much nonstop, and can read a little and has even the slightest interest in what a music lesson is, my advice is to sign him or her up and just give it a try. Capitalizing on excitement is a great way to test the waters for private lessons: enthusiasm is high, there’s built-in motivation to learn and practice, and there are huge opportunities for personal growth, regardless of age. An excited beginner at age 13 is just as capable as an excited beginner at age 6 (or 25, or 50); it’s truly never too late to start learning to sing or play an instrument.
But there are more children who should give lessons a try who might not be obsessed with music. They might be crazy about numbers or puzzles; they might love art or making things; they might love video games and the conquering of every new level. At first glance, these interests seem wildly different than what I described earlier about a child who constantly sang. But as it turns out, these are wonderful characteristics for a music student to possess, because...
...There’s More to a Lesson than Just Music
I’ve had several new adolescent piano students over the last few years who have started because they wanted to learn to play the music in their favorite video games. They love this music, and it’s usually very melodic and interesting to learn. But it turns out that these kids already possess a skill, from their video-game playing, that is so helpful when practicing the piano: they can focus on a challenging task until they get it right. That, in a nutshell, is what practicing an instrument is like! Some of these pre-teen and teen beginners have progressed very rapidly simply because they had honed their patience and perseverance through playing video games. It’s a skill that translates extremely well. Luckily, the music they love from their games inspired them to try out the piano.
What about other young people who possess these same skills, but don’t even consider trying an instrument because they don’t know about the similarities? Tell your children about them. Show them this blog post. Talk with an instructor. Schedule a trial lesson. It may just be that the time to begin has never been clearer.
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