Starting Lessons Right - Piano
8 Ways to Get the Most Out of Piano and Keyboard Lessons
The following are guidelines to help you have a successful, rewarding, experience in learning the piano. We have arrived at these conclusions after many years of teaching hundreds of students.
1. Starting at the Right Age
Of course adults can start an instrument at any time. The real determination of success is the ability and willingness to commit to practicing. The biggest challenge for most adults is having the patience to hang in there. For some reason they expect immediate mastery, where a child will often appreciate the small steps and be happy, even though the progress is much slower than the adult.
For children, starting at the right age is key to the success of their lessons. The sooner the better isn't always right for an optimal learning experience. Waiting until the child has reached the right age greatly improves the odds of success.
For piano lessons we recommend waiting until 5 years of age. In some cases where the desire is great, we will do a short evaluation of a younger student to see if they are physically and mentally ready to start. We offer a Music, Drama, and Singing class that starts as young as 3. This would be a good way to introduce a younger child to music, and have him or her better prepared for formal lessons.
2. Choosing Between a "Real" Piano and an Electronic Keyboard.
A real piano is usually going to sound and feel better than an electronic keyboard. Still, there are other factors that each family should consider.
- Size - A piano is usually larger than a keyboard. Being larger it will be a lot harder to move, and if your house is small, you might have trouble finding space for it. You may be better off with a keyboard which will usually fit in a bedroom.
- Sound - A tuned piano will have a rich full acoustic sound. A keyboard can also have a rich full sound, but the cheaper models will usually have a "cheesy" electric sound. The downside to the real piano is that it will need to be professionally tuned about 1 time a year, at a cost of at least $100. An electronic keyboard should always stay in tune. Another advantage to the keyboard is that they usually have many sounds including organ, brass, strings, etc., while the piano will have just one sound.
- Price - Good pianos can be found from a few hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars, while decent keyboards can often be found for much less. Still, to find a keyboard that has keys that feel weighted (like a real piano) you will usually need to spend at least $500.
We often suggest that a student start with a keyboard and if they stick with it they can invest in a real piano later. Then they will have the knowledge and experience to make a better choice.
3. Performing Builds Confidence
You don't have to be a great musician to perform. A student that has a few months of dedicated practice should be able to play at least one song from start to finish. It doesn't have to be a difficult piece. The experience of performing builds the student's confidence and creates the desire to tackle even more challenging material. A well-rounded musical program will include performance opportunities in the way of recitals, showcases, outdoor concerts, and other occasional events throughout the year.
4. For the Best Results, Choose Private Instruction
Group lessons work well for beginners to get exposure to an instrument, and to let parents know the desire level and practice habits of the child. Once the basics are mastered, it would be best to have private instruction.
Private lessons are undeniably superior since the student has the undivided attention of the instructor. Also, the student can progress at his or her own pace, with extra time being spent on the individual student's desires and weaknesses. The pressure of having to keep up with other students or the frustration of having to wait for other students who may not have even practiced their lesson can be very discouraging. With private lessons, progress is expedited and the student gets a customized lesson providing him with the knowledge he wants and needs.
5. Be Aware of the Quality of the Teacher
Of course there are many very good musicians that never studied their instrument formally. Some have learned by ear or picked up knowledge from friends along the way. But to be able to properly teach someone else, there should be a certain level of formal education that has been achieved. This way the student knows that the instructor has taken the time to train in the field that he is teaching. Not only do most of our instructors have university, college, or music conservatory degrees on their instrument, but they also perform regularly in various professional settings.
When teaching children, knowing how to relate at their level and keep them motivated is just as important as being knowledgeable on the instrument. A good school will choose from a pool of many potential instructors, saving you the time and trouble of searching for a well qualified, professional teacher. In our music academy, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher but a career and responsibility, which are taken very seriously.
6. Learning in an Appropriate Setting
Not only is it necessary to have a qualified teacher, but also having an optimal learning environment is very important. With ½ to 1 full hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since all of the time is focused on learning music and all of the tools and materials necessary are already in place. Although a traveling teacher sounds like a good idea for convenience sake, the reality is that there are distractions like phones, pets, or other kids which sometimes make concentrating difficult. It is also common during a lesson to have a situation come up where a specific problem needs to be addressed. With a complete library of musical materials and references readily available a teacher teaching at an academy can address the problem immediately rather than putting it off until the next week. Hearing peers who are at different levels of progress can also inspire students.
7. Use a Metronome (or Drum Machine)
Once a student has played for a couple of months and is beginning to get comfortable finding the keys and hitting the right notes, it would be time to get a metronome. A metronome is just a device that makes a clicking sound. You set the speed of the click to the recommended speed or if there is no recommended speed, you set the speed to a point that you are able to play your song or exercise that you are practicing. A drum machine is really just a deluxe version of a metronome with lots of cool drums sounds, but it also costs more money. It can be used for the same purpose as a metronome. If you have an electronic keyboard that has programmed rhythms, that can work instead of a metronome too.
8. Making Practice Easier
As in all things, improvement in music takes practice. One of the main problems with studying an instrument is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between students and parents that ensues. How to make practice easier:
- Time – Set the same time each day to practice so that it becomes a routine or habit. This is especially good for children but works for adults too. The earlier in the day that this happens the more likely the practice will not be put off until tomorrow.
- Repetition – This method works quite well when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a younger person 20 or 30 minutes may seem like an eternity. Therefore instead of a time frame we suggest repetition. For example do this song 4 times each day and this scale 5 times a day. Then the clock is not the enemy, as soon as the work gets done (correctly) the child is free.
- Rewards – Children respond well to rewards. As parents we can reward the child by saying when your practice is complete you can have x number of minutes on the PlayStation or other coveted activity. As teachers we sometimes will use stickers or more importantly, the praise of the teacher "Excellent job, keep it up" can be the best reward. For adults, usually a nice cup of java or other beverage will make the experience a little more rewarding.
In conclusion, playing a musical instrument should be an enjoyable experience, not a stress inducer. There will be times, usually at the end of the term for children, or a big project at work for adults, when the student will not able to practice. The goal is to learn at your own pace, not at the pace your friend or idol learned. As long as you know that you want to learn the instrument and that you are giving it your attention as much as is realistically possible, then you are being successful. The fun is the journey.