Q. How old should my child be before they start piano lessons?
A. I recommend that students be about nine years old. By this age the child usually has enough physical dexterity to play the instrument, plus enough developmental preparation to be able to understand certain abstract concepts that one finds in music. A 9-year-old will usually progress much faster than students who start at age 5 or 6, because they are more developmentally ready.
Q. Are there any special concepts my child needs to know before starting piano lessons?
A. Your child should be able to understand simple fractions (halves, fourths, and eighths) and be able to add halves and fourths.
Q. How involved should I plan to be as a parent?
A. You have two primary roles: encouragement and accountability. Your child needs to know that you are excited that they are learning music. You should praise their progress and make a point of listening to your child regularly. Make it clear that you enjoy listening to them. (Do not say, "Take the keyboard to your bedroom to practice your assignments, I don't want to hear that racket anymore!")
You also need to check with your child frequently to make sure they are practicing all of their assignments. Ideally, you should look at their assignment notebook yourself and ask to hear specific pieces during the week. Children have a tendency to play their favorite pieces and neglect the others and then say, "Yes Mom, I practiced!"
Q. How much should my child practice?
A. I recommend 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Beginner students who have very short songs can aim for 15-20 minutes a day. I recommend that students play each song a minimum of three times a day.
Q. I don't have a piano. Should I buy a piano or a keyboard?
A. If you have the space and the budget for a piano, a real piano is definitely the best choice. However, a keyboard can be a workable substitute.
Q. What kind of keyboard should I buy?
A. There are many good keyboards available, but your keyboard should have two important features. First, the keys should be touch sensitive, meaning that they get louder if pressed harder. Typically a keyboard with weighted keys (i.e., they feel more like real piano keys) has this feature, although some non-weighted keyboards are touch sensitive as well. Second, the keyboard should be able to accommodate a pedal, which can be purchased separately and plugged into an outlet on the back. While keyboards often come with lots of fun extras, such as pre-recorded songs and different sound options, these are not nearly as critical as having touch responsive keys and a pedal.
Q. Where can I buy a keyboard?
A. Local music stores typically carry a few models, or you can order one online from a variety of sources.
Q. What size keyboard should I purchase?
A. Try to get something with at least 61 keys. Models with 76 keys are even better.
Q. I want to buy a piano. What should I look for when choosing my piano?
A. The following things are helpful to check. Problems in these areas are usually fixable but if there are too many, you may have a large repair bill and/or the piano may have been neglected and have many hidden problems.
1. Play each key-do they all work?
2. Is there a good touch response - when you play forcefully, do you notice a difference in the volume?
3. Are the keys overly stiff-i.e., do you have to push very hard to make sound come out?
4. Are the keys significantly chipped or broken?
(Note: Most pianos have three pedals; some older models have two. Either way is fine. The pedal furthest on the left makes the notes a little softer. The pedal furthest on the right makes the notes ring longer. This is the one you care about the most. Don't even worry about the middle pedal.)
1. Do the pedals go up and down or are they lying "dead" on the floor?
2. Does the damper pedal (the pedal furthest on the right) sustain the sound of the notes well, with a clear ringing sound?
3. Do the pedals creak badly when being pushed down?
1. Does each key have a clear, pure sound (no muted, indistinct, or twanging notes)?
2. Are the notes well-balanced - i.e., are the high notes too quiet in comparison with the rest of the keyboard or vice versa?
3. Are the low notes muddy or foggy-sounding and is it hard to distinguish one from the other?
Q. I have a piano but it needs tuning and/or minor repair. How much will it cost and who should I call?
A. There are many excellent piano technicians in the upstate area. I personally use Case Brothers. Costs of tuning can be $100-$150, depending on the company. If additional repairs are needed, the cost may be higher.
Q. How do I take care of my piano?
A. If at all possible, do not put your piano on an outside wall. Interior walls are better because they do not have the temperature fluctuations that outside walls have. Do not put piano near a fireplace or other heat source, in order to avoid drying out and warping the wood. Keys can be cleaned with a rag and gentle household cleaners such as Windex or bleach-free Lysol. Test a small area first. Pianos should be tuned approximately once a year.
Q. What books should I buy for my child?
A. If you take lessons from me, I will be happy to pick up the music you need to save you a shopping trip and to make sure you get the exact book.
My personal favorite book for children is the Alfreds Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1 for the Later Beginner, ISBN: 0882848178. This works very well for ages 9-12. For ages 13, my favorite book is the Alfreds Basic Adult Piano Course Lesson Book Level One, ISBN: 0882848321.
Q. How important is it for my child to participate in a recital?
A. While performing skills are useful, there are many ways to acquire them without participating in formal recitals. Recitals can be a fun outlet for performance-minded students, but they are definitely not a requirement, especially for beginners. Performing experience can be gained by playing for family gatherings, church services, nursing homes, or other venues, not just recitals.
Q. My child wants to learn a different instrument but I want them to learn the piano first. What should I do?
A. Piano is an excellent foundational instrument. It is easy to play and easy to understand. It is an ideal instrument on which to learn the basics of music, because the technical skill involved is much less demanding than many other instruments. Thus, the student can concentrate more on learning to sight-read notes and count rhythms. I recommend that students take at least one year of piano before moving on to another instrument.
Q. What qualities should I look for in a teacher?
A. The three most important qualities in a music teacher are how well they understand music, how well they explain it, and how well they relate to and inspire your child. Professional credentials are less important than finding someone who teaches well and gives your child a love for music.