The Chinese version <鋼琴教育> has been published on hongkongparents.com.
Why do we learn music/piano?
Listening to music is a bundle of joy. Making music gives us an even more profound sense of enjoyment and a deeper understanding of this universal language. Providing your child with music education is a wonderful gift of lifetime to him/her.
For decades, different studies show both explicitly and subtly the many benefits of music learning, including improving IQ and enhancing children’s learning capability in all areas of learning even academic subjects like maths and languages.
Piano training is in fact a great way to train one’s mind and discipline, and requires both physical and mental coordination. To start with, it is already difficult to coordinate both hands together playing materials with different notes, rhythms, articulation and dynamic markings. Then we need to use our feet to control the use of pedals, changed frequently without coinciding with the hand movements at times. We need to understand and present the various styles and forms of music by different composers in different periods and genres, listen to our own playing. Indeed, piano playing requires concentration, coordination, intelligence and memorization.
When should a child start learning piano?
I would say usually no younger than age 4. It is very hard for a child to sit quite still and concentrate through even a 30-minute lesson every week. It is also difficult for him/her to be able to understand the teacher’s direction, react to it and perform it. It takes time for a child at such a young age to adapt to such a new learning concept, but it is a very good training. It requires much patience from the child, the parents and the teacher, especially during the first six months. The progress might be slow and minimal during the first year, depending on the learning mode and maturity of each student. Do not expect a child to play something very fancy quickly at the beginning: quite on the contrary, we should take time to build a solid foundation of piano playing and musical concept right from the start. Naturally the fancy things will come later.
If you really want your child to have music education earlier than 4, I suggest you bring him/her to one of those music group classes, offered at many music centers/childhood music education centers out there. In those classes, toddlers learn to know rudimentary music knowledge while at the same time enjoy music making and social interaction with other children.
How to choose a teacher?
Parents should understand that it is of utmost importance to choose the right piano Teacher, especially the first one, for your precious Child. Although a student might have many piano teachers in life, the first teacher can almost determine how s/he feels, thinks and responds to his/her musical training. It also depends on what kind of piano training you want for your child.
Before looking for a teacher, think about what you want for your child. Do you want to your child to feel joy in music? Or do you just want your child to pass exams in the shortest period? You should find the suitable teacher who can fulfill your requirements. Do not look only at the qualifications of a teacher or just how many years the teacher has been teaching (or how old s/he is). When you find a desired potential teacher, contact him/her first. Prepare some questions you want to ask the teacher and talk to him/her. If you can set up an interview with her or set up a trial lesson, good. You can get to know that teacher better. If not (as some teachers do not offer this), then go try for a month and see how your child reacts to the lessons and the teacher. Other than professional qualifications (not just obtaining some piano diplomas by exams only) and teaching experience, you should also look for a teacher with some performance experience and knowledge in teaching methods and music in general. Look for someone who is passionate in teaching, compassionate for children, and who possesses good communication skills with parents and students. The best way to find a teacher is of course through referral or suggestions from friends and family.
What happens in a piano lesson?
Piano lessons should include more than learning a few pieces and some scales for an upcoming exam or competition.
First of all, the lessons should be pre-planned and well structured, according to the progress plan made by teacher with further discussion with parents and students. In general, teacher should teach basic techniques with suitable exercises, songs appropriate for the student’s level and ability. The teacher should also teach the student aural training with certain exercises and basic music rudiments with general theory/musicianship. When student has reached certain level, teacher should also teach him/her some basic keyboard harmony/improvisation technique important for building a student’s musicianship.
Teacher is also responsible for teaching a student how to practice at home with efficient practice methods and plans. Parents and students are responsible for getting practice done and well at home according to teacher’s instructions before attending each lesson. Without practice, there is nothing for even the best teacher to do.
After reading this article about piano learning, I hope you understand that music is something your child should enjoy and be educated with, and playing the piano is one of the best ways to achieve this goal; however you also believe that your child has to work hard and practice in order to play the piano better, instead of trying to find the easiest and shortest route to it. Therefore you understand that playing the piano is about the process but not the goal, and it is a skill for lifetime. You would help your child to practice, in a strict and systematic yet positive and encouraging way. You might want your child to take part in exams and competitions, yet understanding that they are merely milestones and guidelines for your child to achieve in the long and winding path of piano learning. You would find a teacher who is well informed about piano performance and piano pedagogy, a teacher who is kind, loving and passionate about piano teaching.