I’ve slowly but surely come to the conclusion that once per week lessons are insufficient for the very young beginner. Not having taught a fledgling below the age of 7 until 4-year old Rina came along in August, 2011, as my experiment-in-progress, it became crystal clear that short, quality exposures to piano instruction were more valuable than a long 30-minute lesson, spaced by a week.
Even 7 and 8-year old newbies would greatly benefit from twice per week lessons as it provides vital reinforcement of hand position, note reading, and phrasing, allowing good habits to be nursed along in the early phase of learning.
Having exchanged ideas with Irina Gorin, an Indiana-based piano instructor who has had considerable experience teaching students in the 4 to 7-year old range, I concur with her recommendation that starting the very young child of 4, on two-15 minute lessons each week makes sense just from an attention span perspective. There’s just so much a 4 or 5-year old can absorb beyond the 15 to 20 minute juncture. (or less) (Gorin has created an innovative instruction, titled Tales of a Musical Journey geared for the younger set of piano learners)
After 3 to 4 weeks of these short lessons, she moves students to 20 minutes, twice a week, and in another 4 to 8 weeks, she believes they’re ready for 30-minute lessons, with an option to come once a week. But in the course of her teaching, she’s found that parents inevitably choose to stay with the double instruction arrangement because it relieves mom or dad of the responsibility of “teaching” the child between lessons.
And this introduces the question of whether all parents can teach or “coach” their own children.
I’ve found that in most cases, mom or dad don’t have enough emotional “distance” to help the child realize piano-related goals between lessons. They’re often vested in what they deem the “success” of the child in reaching learning landmarks, and can’t easily accept the slow, steady, sometimes erratic progress a child makes from lesson to lesson. This is where performance anxiety seems to sow its seeds.
I’m often surprised by the physical tension in the arms and wrists of very young children, and while I’m not a licensed psychologist, I can instinctually tell when certain perfection-related demands are made on the child at home. These students don’t feel comfortable making mistakes, and they tighten up in response.
Schools and even pre-schools add to the pressure pot, especially when the testing regimen kicks in.
In New York City and other cosmopolitan areas, little pre-schoolers enter the pool of candidates for private school in grueling competition with their peers, having to own a resume befitting an applicant for Harvard. In this Ivy League-related pursuit, the performance grid clamps down on these youngsters when they should be out on the playground giggling and romping with their playmates.
Did I miss something here?
So piano lessons for the munchkins should not be a climbing-a-ladder to success undertaking with parents measuring out progress as they would obsess over test scores for admission to the most prestigious private pre-school in town.
Putting aside measuring rods, easing a child into a relaxed routine of 15 to 20- minute parceled lessons twice a week, allows the young student exposure to a nurturing teacher who will lift most responsibility for teaching off the parents’ shoulders.
Flashback to Rina’s earliest piano lessons
(An article will appear in the FALL issue of the California Music Teacher Magazine that explores teaching piano to young children using Irina Gorin’s Book One instruction. It will be availabe Online at MTAC.org so You Tube links to pedagogical examples can be easily accessed)