Looking at putting your child in a piano class? But are lost about how to find the right class, what to look for in the class, at what age should your child start learning the piano, what kind of piano to get etc. Or your child is already taking a class and you want to get tips on how to help your child enjoy the class and make the most of it.
Here we have some guidelines and information to help Indian parents with some of these common questions about piano classes.
The piano demystified for some of us
- Piano is a percussion instrument (sound is produced by impact like pressing keys vs. a stringed instrument like the sitar or guitar). It is typically used in western classical music, jazz and also modern Indian music. The theory and techniques are based on western classical music. But you can play many Indian tunes on the piano - even the national anthem Jana Gana Mana.
- Typical regular pianos have 7 octaves (interval between one musical pitch and the other). There are 52 white keys and 36 black keys or a total of 88 keys.
- Most teachers and folks have the modern upright or vertical piano at home. And the grand piano or the baby grand piano that you see at concerts has strings horizontally next to the keys and takes more space compared to the vertical or upright piano that is more compact.
- Many people have keyboards (Yamaha etc.) at home. These are acceptable for learning and practicing at home. But make sure that it has 5 octaves or at least 40 keys. The more keys the better the sound and your child can use for a longer time.
Piano class - difference between a piano class and a keyboard class
- Piano class is taught on a regular piano (you can practice at home on a keyboard but it is taught on a regular piano) and is based on western classical music theory. It is a more serious class with musical theory and notation behind it. Also piano teachers emphasize that a thorough grounding in piano inculcates better techniques, posture for playing, discipline and base for music.
- Keyboard is typically taught on a digital keyboard and apart from learning the notes, there can be more digital music making as well. It can include Indian and other music played by listening and memorizing the keys vs. the notes.
- Piano or Keyboard class?
- In general a thorough grounding in piano is considered better.
- But if your child is badgering you to take a keyboard class, then go ahead and let him have some fun but do realize that it might not be a serious grounding in music.
Why learn piano?
- First of all for the fun and the joy of playing music.
- According to Molly Zacharias, a piano teacher on the faculty of the Bangalore School of Music, a grounding in piano helps foster intellectual discipline and concentration in kids. Also, music can sharpen kids math abilities since the kid needs to track and correlate beats and notes and learn time signature rhythm.
- Molly Zacharias also advises parents not to push their little ones to learning the piano just because folks around are doing it. And to encourage their little ones only if they are interested in learning. We asked her, how can we tell if a child of 6 or 7 is interested or not, and she mentioned, that if your child agrees to take the first class and is interested in continuing, then that is a good sign. If the child is extremely reluctant after the first few classes, then give it a break and come back later if the child shows interest. It is important to be relaxed while learning and enjoy it.
- Piano is also a great base for learning other kinds of music. If you learn piano, then it will be easier for you to learn guitar, violin, harmonium etc. later because it uses many a broader array of notes and pitches. For example, piano uses both treble clef and base clef but violin and guitar use only treble clef. It will be easier to learn other instruments like drums or tabla as well because of exposure to rhythm and timing.
- The piano is also used as a tool for composing music since it can accommodate complex melodic and harmonic interplay required for composing music. So, learning the piano might help your budding Rahman later.
- Piano is a lonely instrument relatively. You cannot jam in a band with friends for example and there can be one piano player in an orchestra or quartet. Also, it requires drill and discipline. So before you really push your child, ensure that your child enjoys it in general and can handle the rigour.
What is the best age to start learning the Piano?
- Of course we hear about the musical prodigy Mozart who composed at the age of 5.
- But typically, most piano teachers recommend that it is easiest that children start learning the piano at the age of 6-7 years. By then, they will be able to grasp concepts better (after mastery of alphabets, numbers, skip counting etc.), will have the attention span to concentrate and the fine motor skills for the hand position and the finger movements required for piano playing. This age is optimal because if they start later, they might not have the flexibility as well.
- Some kids with more exposure to music in the family or exceptional talent could start earlier.
- But with most kids, if they start earlier, they might have to struggle to grasp the concepts and get unnecessarily frustrated in learning. Their pick-up will be faster and attitude towards music and learning will be more positive if they start when they are ripe to learn.
Examinations and certification
- Even in India, students and teachers take exams and get certified by different music boards. The oldest and most popular ones are the Trinity College, London and the Royal College, London (also called the Associated Board). The Trinity College specializes in piano and the Royal College specializes in guitar and the violin as well. Each city has a few different centres for conducting these tests.
- Some new entrants are the Singapore Board and the Australian Board.
Selecting a piano class or a piano teacher
- The teacher should be certified. These days, because of a shortage of piano teachers, even piano grade 5 or grade 6 students are teaching. Make sure that the teacher has passed at least grade 5 in piano instruction.
- Whether you want the teacher to come to your house or send your child to the teacher’s house depends on you. But it is important that the child learns the piano on a proper piano with at least 7 octaves (88 keys).
- It is generally preferred that the teacher takes them for exams and certificates so that the students progress is systematic and they have something to aim for. Of course, the learning and fun along the way is key but exams and certificates can be useful as well.
- The teacher should be interested in teaching kids and good with kids, gently encouraging but firm for teaching them the right stuff in the right way.
- Duration and frequency of the class: It depends on where you live, but typically in the initial stages, the teachers might have classes more often. For example, 30 minutes, 2 times a week in the initial months and 45 minutes - 1 hour once a week, are common class schedules.
- It will help if your child does not have to commute.
- How to find a class? Ask the Parentree community and other parents around you. Check with your child’s school and music teacher. Once you have a shortlist, go talk to the teachers and check with other families whose kids are taking the class.
How to make children practice at home?
- Type of instrument: If you do not have a piano at home, do not fret. Get a keyboard. Make sure the keyboard has at least 5 octaves (at least 40 keys). It is useless to get a 2 octave keyboard that your child will outgrow in no time. The more keys the better the sound and your child can use it for a longer time. These days keyboards can be purchased in most music stores like Furtados. Ask the Parentree community for leads.
- Put the piano / keyboard in a place where it is fun and relaxing for your child and you can hear her play and comment on her playing.
- Practice time! Tips:
- Practice frequency: The frequency is very important. About 20 minutes every day or 5/6 days a week is preferred to 1 hour in a few days.
- Variety is also important. Make them practice different pieces to keep it fresh and fun.
- Make them practice when they are relaxed. There is no point making them stressed while playing music. You might need to be creative and crafty in making things fun.
- The posture is very important and can impact their playing. The back should be straight. The fingers should be curved, relaxed and not stiff. The wrists should be level with the keyboard but only slightly raised (not too raised). The hands should not touch the wooden part near the keys.
- If your child is reluctant, then do give them a break and come back when they are ready. There is no point getting stressed and stressing them. It is music after all and is supposed to be relaxing and fun.
- Why not make it a family affair? Play with your child. It is never too later to start learning yourself. So much more fun and motivating for your child to have her brother or sister, mama or papa learn or play with them.
Other interesting tidbits
- There are alternatives to the traditional way of teaching the piano. One such method is the Suzuki method from Japan. It focuses on listening to music, and training the ear from an early age and then playing from memory. The students are better able to identify tunes and they will not be able to do read music effectively - an important part of learning the piano. This method is not popular in India currently.
- We have heard about jazz piano and jazz pianists. Jazz piano uses the same chords used in traditional western music. The rhythm is more swing (a style of music) and there is a lot of improvisation - making up music on the spot. This takes a lot of skill and talent and knowing the piano well. Typically children do not start learning jazz piano as such in the initial years, they can diversify later. Traditional piano can be a good base for learning jazz piano later.
What other extracurricular classes your child takes? Share some of your experiences and ideas about piano classes or other extracurricular classes (Bharat Natyam, Carnatic vocal, Hindustani classical, ballet, even sports like tennis or swimming with the Parentree community).
Extracurricular activities - why, which, when & how