Once children start school they are already learning on focussing on activities and starting to become aware of reading and decoding skills, so this is a perfect age to start learning to play the piano!
However some children want to start learning before they begin school. If they show a passionate interest there is no reason why they cannot start at the age of 3 or 4. Indeed some children, with lots of parental support, can start even earlier.
If becomes easy to fill a 30 minute lesson with all kinds of music games that help develop musicianship, early composition and theory, internalising the beat and understanding rhythm as well as starting to learn to read and play music at the piano. Many games include singing, and this is a good time to start to learn to pitch and sing in tune. It is extremely rare to be tone deaf, despite what many of us were told at school (and unfortunately it still happens…) however like learning a language, a sport or many other activities, we need a lot of support and encouragement and good activities and games for most children, or adults, to learn to sing in tune!
It’s often a confidence thing so going on about how you can’t do it isn’t going to help. In fact if you’re one of those people who were told you weren’t musical, learning alongside your child is a fantastic thing to do!
From the age of about 4-8 years, I would almost always use Dogs & Birds teaching method with beginners, and often might use it in conjunction with other methods for children who have had lessons elsewhere, as so often I find they have not learnt to read music or have an understanding of musicianship despite perhaps spending a year or more on standard lessons.
Another point to mention is that at this age, children might struggle to learn to read music using standard methods but Dogs & Birds works with pre-readers, with those who suffer from (often undiagnosed) dyslexia, and other developmental syndromes, and really assists in learning to focus on the school based skills of maths and literacy. I would love it if I could go into schools and teach groups of children to play the keyboard! It would make a massive difference to the rest of their learning!
As always, in order for the student to make progress, there must be adult supervision of regular practising- short and sweet is all that is needed- about 5 minutes a day is fine! For this reason it’s vital the adult can sit in on the lesson, so they see the games and activities they can continue at home, and even if they can read music, seeing the way we talk about pitches, time values, counting and composing, is essential for continuity. And if the adult is a non-musician it’s the perfect opportunity for the adult to learn alongside!
Depending on the child, we may start using theory books as well- we talk about music notation, composers and composing from the start, but formalising learning by working through some really good fun theory books, they can begin working towards taking grade 1 theory.
Another point to be aware of is that at this stage, as a total beginner, I’m happy for children to start off on a keyboard – even a cheap 2.5 octave one is fine at this stage. I appreciate it’s not ideal but I would much rather children had the opportunity to learn on something than not learn at all, and it’s amazing what a bit of birthday and Christmas present money might save up to purchase once they get the hang of things! Once they get onto to book 2 and using other books it’s essential that the keyboard has at least 5 octaves and the keys are weighted, or touch sensitive, so that it’s possible to play louder and quieter. Even this type of keyboard does not need to be very expensive. More importantly, an adjustable stand and suitable seat (NOT a sloped backed dining chair!) will be needed!
In the spotlight…
Freya, age 5.
Freya has been having lessons for about 18 months and is making great strides in her musical development – she has really taken to working with Dogs & Birds, likes making up her own songs and pieces and playing music games. She sings in tune, can sight-sing as well as sight-read using standard music notation as well as using the Dogs & Birds notation. It is very apparent when she has done lots of practice with her mother and father as she makes incredible progress at those times!
I have been playing piano since I was little! I like playing Dogs & Birds because it’s lots of fun.
Students are entered for practical exams with ABRSM, Trinity and LCM and theory exams with ABRSM and Trinity.