5 Myths about teaching a Preschooler Piano...
Myth 1: Only Musicians can teach their children.
While it is true that musicians are more likely to teach their young children music, just like an avid skier is more likely to take their children skiing, or financial advisers are more likely to talk to their kids about money, anyone who wants to teach their children music can do it. I am not an expert at math, and will be relying on my husband when our children are teenagers, but right now my preschoolers are just learning. I am very good at playing with math manipulatives and demonstrating how 1 and 1 is the same as 2. If you are teaching a tiny children, you have years of learning behind you and that gives you an advantage. What you don't know you can learn quickly. You don't have to be an expert, you just have to be a little ahead of your child and be willing to guide them along a learning path.
Myth 2: Children must be able to read before they can begin piano.
While reading ability certainly helps, it is not necessary. Children can learn to read as they learn piano, what they really need is the finger dexterity to be able to play the keys. Activities like playing with play dough, doing puzzles, cutting with scissors, threading string, and coloring will help a child develop these muscles. Musical concepts can be taught from infancy with programs like Your Child Can Discover and Little Musician, actual piano learning requires a physical skill. Having the finger dexterity to play the keys is the only prerequisite for piano readiness, in my opinion.
Myth 3: You must find a teacher willing to teach a preschooler piano before you can start.
Of course the need to find a teacher ultimately depends on you, your goals for your family, and your budget. Certainly if there is a local teacher who takes tiny children, that's a big bonus. But many piano teachers do not want to take students until they are 7 or 8. They want students who can read. (See how these myths are interconnected?) Some will take students as young a 5, but you will be lucky to find a teacher who will take a 3-year-old. You may have better luck finding a mommy-and-me music class, a children's choir, or some other group setting. There are good reasons for this too. Often a 3-year-old does not have the attention-span for traditional piano lessons. Sitting at the piano for 30 minutes can be hard for many 7-8 year-olds, let alone a 3-year-old. While there are interactive games and such that can be used to give children a meaningful lesson worthy of the commute to lessons and the parent's money, teaching preschoolers requires a different teaching paradigm and approach than older kids and most piano teachers do not want to deal with it. When you get right down to it, piano success at any age requires consistent practice, a parental duty, and teachers know that most parents will not work with their preschoolers like they would an older child, and a child will not progress without practicing. How much easier to give kids a meaningful weekly group music class and perhaps a CD to listen to throughout the week. If you can find a teacher willing to take your preschooler piano, and having a teacher will help you stay motivated, that's great! But parents can teach their preschoolers much on their own, and whatever they learn will only help when they are old enough to find a great piano teacher in the community willing to take them.
Myth 4: Only gifted kids should start early.
When I hear this sentiment, I have to wonder how one recognizes or defines a gifted child. How do we know a child ISN'T gifted if we do not introduce them to their element? How many children could have been the next Mozart, but instead of the court composer parent figure, they were born in abject poverty? While I do believe there are truly gifted children in the world, I believe that the majority of the time the true secret behind the apparently gifted child is an early introduction to the art, a genuine interest, and time spent developing the skill. Anyone, child or adult, who spends an hour or two a day developing a skill will improve and progress. All children have a great capacity for learning, and this is especially true for preschoolers. When I examine the family life behind a gifted child, I usually observe that the parents are very interested and involved in their child's education. That effort has been made to provide a positive learning environment. That while play is certainly a part of their day, no apologies are made about the time the child spends learning, but rather the child will declare that they love their instrument. They love it because they have had positive, loving moments of success. Children love success as much as anyone. No one should be ashamed for time spent teaching their own children, gifted or not.
Myth 5: Teaching a preschooler piano is a big time commitent.
It doesn't have to be. If you want your child to be gifted at piano, it will require more effort than if you want to introduce your child to musical concepts. The way to get the most bang for your buck is to consistently give small pockets of time to your child at the piano. Your child will gain more from 5 minutes a day, 6 times a week, then they will 30 minutes once a week. The smaller the child, the smaller the attention span. If they know that piano time will be short and fun, they will be more willing to sit down and will be more engaged in the on-on-one time you are offering them. Consistency is the key.
I am a proponent of early learning, as you may have guessed. My own children are not musically gifted by any means, but I do teach them consistently, and it is on that foundation that they have progressed. When I made the following video, my husband wondered if it would be incredibly boring. Well, maybe, at least if you are expecting to see a prodigy amaze you with incredible talent. That's not the purpose of this video. The purpose is to invite you into my living room and see how I teach my own preschoolers. Ruth is 3 years old and I spend about 5 minutes doing piano with her each day. That's all. She needs to play her song 3 times a day. We also have other musical moments here and there, but this is her devoted piano time.
Not to be outdone, here is my 5-ear-old playing "Betty and Bill". He has it memorized, and he loves it because his left hand gets to cross over. At first he thought that kind of trick was only for girls, but he now recognizes it for the gender-neutral ability that it is. In the coming weeks I'll do another post on how I teach my older children piano.