As a piano teacher, I am often asked to teach children who are very young. It is not unusual for parents to feel that they must start as early as possible in order that their child gets a good head start. Sometimes very young children are able to learn to play but as a general rule, it is better to wait until children are at least 6 years old. It won’t do any harm at all to start a year or two after the child is ready but it can do much harm to start before they are ready. Children who start too young make slow progress and often get frustrated or bored. A pattern can settle in where the child feels pressured to do something they find too hard and they soon associated the piano with bad feelings. Children who start a little later immediately make great progress and like practicing because they get the reward of being able to easily play well.
So – in answer to the question -it really does depend a lot on the individual child but, in general, somewhere between 6 and 12 years old is the best age to start piano lessons. Beyond the age of 12, it is still VERY possible to start learning, but earlier is better for a number of reasons.
Reasons to start lessons young include:
- A large part of learning to play an instrument involves developing left/right-hand co-ordination and this comes more easily to younger children who are, after all, simultaneously developing this skill in relation to other activities.
- Another important aspect is learning to read music. This is more tricky and a longer process than many people realise and so better started at a younger age.
- Younger children are more easily motivated to practice than teenagers, so it’s good if they can develop some proficiency before they reach the teenage years when they have so many other emotional challenges. If they are already quite good by the age of, say, 13, it will be much easier for them to continue with their studies.
- If they have friends who started at a younger age a teenage beginner will be acutely aware of their own relative lack of skill, which can be de-motivating for them.
- It is easier for parents to be involved and to help with practice when children are younger.
Most music tutor books are aimed at beginners aged between about 7 and 10 years of age.
It can, though, be a mistake to start lessons too young so parents must always be honest with themselves.
Signs that your child may be too young to start lessons include:
- He/she is usually pretty tired after school and needs the weekend to wind down and recharge.
- He/she is having difficulty with any subject at school. For example, if they are still struggling to read words they are going to find reading music very stressful.
- He/she gets muddled between left and right. This is especially a problem for pianists who need to learn to use either left or right hand at the correct moments.
- He/she is very active and prefers to be up running around rather than sitting still.
- He/she finds it difficult to sit and listen to music for more than a few minutes. (Although if they are simply getting up to dance along to or conduct the music that is fine!)
Signs that your child is ready to start lessons include:
- He/she finds school work easy and has no problem finishing the homework set by their school teachers.
- He/she sometimes gets bored at home and needs a challenge.
- He/she likes to listen to music and often sings songs heard on the TV or radio.
- He/she is good at reading and writing.
- He/she is keen to please parents.
- He/she knows which is right and which is left, instantly.
- You, as parents, have the time and energy to help with and encourage practice.
I must sound a word of caution here. I have occasionally had brilliant students who have started to learn whilst showing none of the above signs that they were ready. They simply wanted to be able to play and were prepared to put in the effort needed in order to do that. So, please take the above lists with a pinch of salt.