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Piano and Your Preschooler
If your child is approaching the age of four, and if you are looking for constructive, enriching experiences in which to channel that boundless curiosity and energy, then your child may be ready to begin piano study.
For decades, the common age to begin piano instruction has been around age seven or eight, and some piano teachers are still reluctant to accept very young students; however, piano lessons or classes for preschoolers are rapidly being started in all parts of the country. Today, four-, five-, and six-year-olds are beginning traditional piano study and surprising their teachers and parents with the speed of their musical development.
This pamphlet is designed to answer the many questions parents are asking about preschool piano study and the benefits of such study for their child. Veteran music educator Ann Collins has provided answers to questions that parents frequently ask when they first become aware that such programs of study now exist. As the co-author of the Sing and Play preschool piano series, an associate professor of piano at Western Illinois University, and an internationally known piano pedagogy lecturer, Mrs. Collins offers the following encouragement and advice:
What are the benefits of piano study?
A: Music and children are a natural combination. Most children respond to the pitches and rhythms of music practically from birth, and are eager to express themselves through movement, singing and playing an instrument. Through piano study the child can learn much about the process of learning and develop an awareness of how self-discipline and daily practice can improve skills. The joy of musical expression and building of self-esteem are also enhanced by correlating muscular, visual and aural development. Parents of my students often comment on how much piano study has helped their child in preparation for school and in developing other non-musical skills.
But why piano rather than some other instrument?
A: The piano is an excellent instrument on which to begin music study. It is an instrument that is found in many households, it is an easy instrument on which to produce a pleasing tone, and it covers the full gamut of musical expression including melody harmony and rhythm. The beginning pianist may continue piano study for many years on the way to a professional career, or continue to play throughout his or her life for relaxation and enjoyment. The student may decide to use the piano as a springboard for learning other instruments or as an accompaniment for singing in the home, church or community. As a professional or amateur musician, your child will benefit from piano study and will continue to reap the rewards of the experience for years to come.
What should my child begin piano study at age 4?
A: In recent years, educators have come to realize that the preschool years are optimal learning years for developing musical abilities. The musical aptitude with which each child is born should be encouraged and developed with singing, listening, moving, and playing experiences. A well-rounded preschool piano program will include all types of activities designed to fully develop musical aptitude.
Preschoolers are usually eager to learn to play the piano, and this interest may diminish if they are put off until they "are old enough." Older children often comprehend concepts more quickly than their physical playing skills can develop, and can become frustrated in their desire to play difficult music immediately. Preschoolers are much more patient with themselves. It hasn't been long since they've tackled walking and talking, and they are quite accustomed to learning through repetition and practice.
I have found that students in the Western Illinois University Preparatory Piano School who have started as preschoolers are able to play the piano with greater physical ease, have stronger rhythmic skills, are able to listen with a keener ear, and are less inhibited about performance for others. By the time they reach the age of seven or eight (the traditional starting age) they are playing interesting, exciting music and have developed a habit of daily practice. Therefore, their enjoyment is greater and they are much more likely to continue study throughout their school years.
Will we need a piano at home?
A: Absolutely if you do not already own a piano, you should start shopping for one immediately some parents have started their child with lessons before acquiring a piano and have realized that the child quickly fell behind his class. Plans to take the child to a grandparent or neighbor's home for daily practice soon prove impractical. When a piano is right there in your home begging for attention, children usually beckon to the call and visit the keyboard several times a day.
Won't I need to help my child at home
What if I don;t know anything about music or piano playing?
A: More important than your knowledge of music or piano is your dedication to helping your child succeeds. Parents who know nothing about the instrument learn right along with the student. Attend the lessons or classes so that you will understand what is to be practiced at home. Observe how the teacher approaches each task, and make notes on the way concepts are explained or presented. Your enthusiasm and support as well as your gentle guidance in daily practice sessions will be a very strong force in the musical success of your child.
How long should I expect my preschooler to practice?
A: Remember that the quality of time spent at the piano is much more important than the quantity of time. Each preschool piano student and his parents should experiment until they find a practice routine that works for them. For some, 15-20 minute sessions once a day may be best. For others, several 5 minute sessions a day will be more profitable. Some time should be spent with the parent carefully guiding the child, and some time allowed for the student to experiment with the instrument on his own. Practicing is not a negative experience for preschoolers. It is natural for the child to want to repeat a new skill over and over, and most parents report that the child returns to the piano may times a day to enjoy his exciting new achievements.
Are group classes or private lessons best?
A: I prefer group lessons for preschoolers, but many teachers find private lessons to be effective. In a small class setting, the children learn by watching each other, enjoy the social environment, and seem more likely to participate freely in a variety of activities. Since preschoolers are obviously not going to sit at a piano for 45-60 minutes, we provide a variety of learning experiences through singing, movement, games, writing and ear-training activities along with the actual piano playing. These kinds of activities are more easily and effectively done with a small group of children.
How do I choose a qualified teacher?
A: The same qualifications for a teacher of other levels of piano are true for preschool piano: the teacher's training, performing ability, teaching skills, and rapport with students are all important. Interview the teacher, talk with parents of his or her students, and listen to those students perform. Then consider further qualifications for teachers of preschoolers. Has the teacher attended seminars or workshops in preschool piano teaching and studied or observed learning characteristics of preschoolers? Does he or she have the ability to relate to this age group? Your child's reaction to the teacher's personality can also be an important factor in future success.
How much will lessons cost?
A: There is no standard fee for piano instruction. Group and private lesson fees vary according to region, class size and teacher qualifications. Quality teaching is worth a higher tuition.
What can I expect my child to accomplish in a preschool piano program?
A: Each teacher's curriculum and objectives are different, but I can answer the question in terms of what our students accomplish. At the end of two years of study, the children can sing and play sixty to seventy songs or pieces. They can read the grand staff from bottom-line G to top-line F. They read, understand, and respond to a variety of note durations (quarter note, half note, etc.) as well as a large vocabulary of musical symbols and terms. They can aurally identify major or minor, up or down, step or skip, and same or different melodic and rhythmic patterns.
They have learned to sing many songs and developed control of their singing voices. They have had a variety of experiences in moving to music, listening to music and improvising or creating their own music. They have also learned to listen to music discriminatingly and are able to identify various instruments of the orchestra and simple musical forms. They have shared their music performance with family and friends in several formal or informal recitals and, most importantly, they expe¬rienced the joy of making music their own.
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