Children not interested......what age to start? : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I have been a piano teacher for 22 years and from time to time I have had various frustrations as times have changed over generations. 22 years ago students who took piano were ones who were very dedicated to music and practice time. Now it seems parents are getting their children into anything and everything and wnat their children to "have fun." I maintain about 30 students per week and I would say half my students themselves are not interested in music. Each month I send home a newsletter with informative tidbits to help with practice, etc. Kids come to lesson and tell me that they had a ball game or this that and the other to do and so they couldn't practice. I wonder why the kids are taking lessons if they don't have time to practice? If I approach a parent they will tell me they know that their schedule is hectic but to please continue to work with their child the best I can. Parents don't want the sturn way of old but when Johnny can't play his recital piece like the neighbor's kid then I'm asked questions about my teaching methods. It is really frustrating. Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated. Another problem I have noticed over the years seems to be the age in which parents want to start their children. I do not take children before the age of 6 years old, I start with reading notes, no finger # playing or preschool rhythm. Even at the age of 6; I think piano, the disapline it takes, the extra amount of years it takes to get to an advanced playing stage are putting children at a disadvantage. I tell my parents of young students the advantages of waiting but they are gung-ho to push their kids in as soon as possible. Parents have no idea how hard music is and I think they are of the mind that piano is going to be a "fun" adventure for their child. I would like to know how other instructors have handled this situation.

-- Annette Ross (, September 06, 2003


Well, whether parents like it or not, the simple fact is that a child needs to practice 5-6 days a week to make progress, and even to simply maintain current skill. No practice=inability to play=loss of interest=no practice, and around it goes. Parents need to put it on their schedule, just like they schedule the lesson, baseball practice, dinner, etc. You might need to help them with this--sit down with them and schedule it with them. Since it's the beginning of a new year, this is a good time to do it. They will either see that they really DO have time to practice and start seeing that the child does it, or that they really DON'T have time to practice and quit. For new students, be up front with parents from the very first phone call, especially if they don't have much musical experience. They will want to know how much lessons will cost, what kind of piano they'll need, etc., and you can also tell them the amount of time required for practice, whether a parent needs to attend lessons or help with practice, or whatever your requirements are. Put it in writing in your studio policy, too.

Kids age 4-6 are "early childhood" kids and have different needs from the 7+ crowd. Parents of 7+ kids need to see to it that the child gets to the piano, and just sort of "be there" to encourage and to help if necessary. But parents of 4-6ers need to be the teacher on the six days there is no lesson, and attend every lesson. If you state this directly to parents, it might help them decide to wait. And put it in your studio policy that you accept children in 1st grade and up, or whatever your policy is. Personally, I love 4- 6ers. Many of them have better finger coordination than kids who start later. They are curious and willing to try new things. But it requires a different teaching strategy, much more energy and advance planning on my part, plus training in early childhood education, and willingness to go very slowly. They need many activities and games, none lasting more than about 8 minutes. I jump right into note reading too (using my own method based on If there are music readiness classes near you, such as Kindermusik, or teachers who specialize in very young beginners, you could offer recommendations to parents who call. I know what you mean about parents wanting to push their kids into things. One of the first things I ask a prospective parent is, does your child ask for piano lessons? Or is he/she attracted to the piano like a magnet? Usually I get an idea of their mindset from their answers, and can recommend starting right away or waiting awhile, or say "no openings now" and hope they never call back!!!

Hang in there, and trust your own experience. It sounds like you don't have any trouble attracting students. Don't be afraid to set your rules/guidelines and then live by them.

-- anon (, September 06, 2003.

Oh, I understand your frustration! I suppose in a way it's nice that today's children have so many opportunities. As much as I love piano, I'll admit there are times I wish I had other interests and passions, but as a child I never learned a sport, art, dance, or anything else...just piano. Sometimes I feel like a kind of boring person (or sometimes just a bored person! I really need some new interests after all these years of teaching piano!) But back to your questions. I don't think the lack of practice is related to the child starting at too early of an age. In fact, sometimes the younger students (5-6) have fewer other commitments, and also aren't as bored with the easy, "babyish" beginner songs, and they do quite well. Now, for the other part of your question, of course it is entirely true that without genuine commitment, then genuine progress will simply not occur. I remember reading an interesting thread over at the site. One of the teachers there has a "2-track" system, one track for the serious student and one for the "recreational" student. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that after a certain period of time in which the student failed to meet the practice requirement, or expected progress, then the teacher placed the student into her "recreational piano program". And I'm thinking that those students couldn't participate in competitions, recitals, etc, and that basically the parent was supposed to understand that this track would not produce the kinds of results that students on the "serious" track would show. (I'm probably paraphrasing her system really poorly. If that teacher reads this, please forgive me for any incorrect explanations!) I liked how this teacher was shifting the blame for lack of progress off of herself and onto the student for his/her choice to not practice enough.

-- annie (, September 07, 2003.

Hello, I am going to respond to your question about what age to start piano lessons first. I am taking the liberty of assuming that you use a fairly tradition method. Children you are forming beginning reading skills generally find piano makes more sense. I take students at the beginning of second grade and or before fourth grade and find this is a great window of opportunity. We live in an age of entertainment and yes kids think that they should be entertained, and it should be fun to learn piano . Do you think that piano is fun? How do you convery that to your students? There are many teaching/learning games on the piano keyboard that teach basics. Every lesson should include time to talk, time to laugh, and time to sing, since these ways of expression help the child learn. You ask about students who do not practice. It is not possible to learn to play the piano with out practicing. Your students represent you as a teacher. How do you feel about that? When I do the get aquainted interview with a prospective parent and student, one of the things I say is "If you do not practice, I will take you off my schedule". That is of course each individual teachers decision. Take time to examine your personal goals as a teacher. Best wishes.

-- Mary Ann Templeton (, September 12, 2003.

Annie, I really like your post about the "recreational track" for piano students. I think it is a good idea. Do you want children to have music in their lives via an instrument or not? I know in many elementary schools they have children take up the recorder, which admittedly is much less expensive and far more portable than any piano.

What I don't like to see is where people who teach (and I see it more with piano than other instruments for some reason) really look down on people who just want to learn for their own pleasure, and are not/were not EVER interested in doing recitals and so forth. What is wrong with just learning an instrument for the pure enjoyment of it? I know a lot of those students get shunted off to the "Parks and Rec" community education classes, but I would think that if a private teacher needed some extra money, he/she could do that sort of teaching as well. Not everybody likes group lessons.

Just my $.02.

-- GT (, September 14, 2003.

Annie, the teacher you're referring to with the 2 courses of study is me. And your paraphrase was pretty good! :) Anyway, I spent many months contemplating this move and created this new program because I have so many students in Jr. and Sr. High who are faced with many new and exciting things to do with their time BESIDES practice. I let 3 students go this past year too because I expect practice and they were no longer willing to do it. Like the original post, it is disheartening to teach, year after year, numerous students, who seem to basically be taking up your valuable time and space...something someone else who very well would commit to practice could benefit from.

Actually, I believe several of my current student's parents may be in for a wake-up call when Dec. rolls around and I have to tell them that their child is being recommended for my recreational course of study due to their failure to maintain a consistant practice record based on my minimum practice requirements. And I believe I'm being quite reasonable about it all too. It is all explained in detail in my policy which they all (supposedly) read and signed. I require at least 5 days/week adequate practice. I provide a time guideline for each level as a goal to shoot for with the understanding tho that some assignments may require less time, some more. When they do their 5 days, AND the assignment goals have been reached, they get a silver star on a chart. Going beyond this minimum, they get a gold star. I tell them repeatedly at the get go that "stars are good." Now, I explain that there are times when practice is impossible (illness, vacation, finals, etc.), also that on occaision they may simply not want to practice. So, I have given each student 3 "Practice Passes" that they may use in the event of a poor practice week. I'll ask no questions, and give them a blue star for each pass presented to me. Remember "stars are good." At the end of the term (Dec.), I'll look at the chart. If they have on average more stars than not, they will remain in the traditional course. If more non starred weeks, they will be recommended for the recreational course. The recreational course is NOT the best value for the money. Same tuition, lighter repertoire, relaxed practice expectations, no participation in recitals, studio events, fun days, parties, etc. It's basically a 3 mon. probationary period for the student/parent to decide if they want to continue piano study with me (and the expectations that go along with that) or find someone else who doesn't expect the same standard of committment. After the 3 mon. period, if the student is ready to return to the trad. course, great! If not, they can have 1 more month in the rec. course. After that, they MUST move back to the trad. course, or be let go. And they can only be in the rec. course 1 time in a given teaching year. If after returning to the trad. course, they fail to reach practice standards, they WILL be let go.

I know this may seem tough by today's whimsical standards, but I too have been teaching for many years, and have grown tired of "carrying" students who don't have the interest when others are willing to do the work but can't be fit into the schedule.

Interesting note: after the first fall lesson back, only 4 of 18 students practiced their 5 days. All others fell short. I gave out the practice passes at the 2nd lesson and explained the stars, etc. so this week I'll be curious to see the practice records. Oh, btw, if someone has 5 days checked BUT their playing doesn't demonstrate that they have applied the practice steps given and not reached the goals (spelled out clearly on assignment sheet), they don't get the star. My goals are bare bones minimum and reasonable for the students based on their ability and level of study too.

If anyone wants more details, just email me privately.

-- Gretchen in IL (, September 14, 2003.

re: fun. Sometimes I think of an analogy that can be used on the parents. If you were to go to Disneyland, you would need to plan the trip, bring along the correct luggage, organize the children, make sure somebody waters your plants when you're away, etc. before you would experience the fun. All fun takes work.

re: questions about your methods. You can disallow students from playing at the recital but if you let them play, both they and the audience will learn that it takes practice to succeed. If you're asked uncomfortable questions about your methods, just say, my method is beyond reproach. The child didn't practice enough, that's all.

re: age of starting. I have noticed that six year olds take two years to learn what a seven year old learns in one year. So I tell parents to wait if they wish to save money and travel time.

-- Anita (, September 19, 2003.

Anita, the Disneyland analogy wouldn't work with anyone who lives within a couple hours driving distance of it-- no planning involved, you just go.... ;-)

I think part of the issue is *really* determining what the expectations of the parents and the child are up front, and pre-screen out the ones who are truly overbooked. Try to find out their schedule (you may find the child more honest about this than the parent). Do they come to you expecting to go on Julliard or other serious schools of music, or are they taking piano as just another activity which will be dropped once they're out of high school or college (band comes to mind here, unless you continue on in your local community band). Also, is the child truly interested, or just taking classes because Mom and Dad are making him? Is the interest of the child truly in classical study, or do they really want to learn piano so they can play the music they hear on the radio--in which case you might be the wrong teacher for them?

I think it is important to expose children to learning a musical instrument, but I also think that the child should choose the instrument, not the parent, with affordability being one, but certainly not the only concern. If the family can only afford a keyboard instead of an acoustic piano, to me that is not a reason to refuse a child as a student. How many children learn on Macs at school but have PCs at home? You learn on both. You can always buy an acoustic piano later, when the child has shown sufficient interest in practicing to warrant it. In some cases, a child is actually interested in another instrument, like guitar, or a band intsrument, but is overruled by the parent (who themselves may have always wanted to play piano, but never got around to taking lessons....). How do you break that news to the parent?

-- GT (, September 19, 2003.

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