By Angie Mack Reilly
Featured photos by Alicia Lee Wade
I have been teaching piano in Ozaukee County for about 18 years now. Day in and day out. There are literally thousands of children and families that I have interacted with and gotten to know over the years.
I can't tell you how many times I have heard parents say that they used to take private piano lessons as a child but that their teacher was "mean" or "too cranky". Sadly, they gave up on piano, never to pick it up again.
So I have made every effort to avoid that awful piano teacher stereotype.
First off, I want every student of mine to have fun!
At the core of my teaching is that I want to foster a lifetime love for music in each of my students, regardless of their age or background. I like to incorporate their ideas, learn about the music that they listen to, and figure out their unique learning style.
It's called a "child-centered approach".
I try to laugh with my students at every lesson and I often re-assure them when they say they didn’t practice. For example, I say,
“Well……at least you are honest! I understand that families get busy some weeks. Just remember that you don’t need mom or dad to remind you to play. Think of it as playing with a toy. Get on your piano or keyboard and make some cool sounds. Then spend a few minutes working on our songs in the book so that you can be a great piano player and make your brain smarter! Have fun with it! Music is fun!”
WHAT IS A GOOD AGE TO START PIANO?
Of course, ANY age is a good time to start! (My oldest student was 83!) If the child shows interest is a great time to start. Another great time to start is when the child is around 5 or 6. Not only will they learn new coordination skills, but they will help perfect their sense of pitch so that they can also be better singers. Learning an instrument helps immensely with the brain development in a young child.
I usually say that, to start piano, a child should know their right and left hand, numbers 1 through 5 and letters A through G.
They should also have the fine motor skills to push down the keys. In addition, they should be able to sit at the piano for 5 or 10 minutes at minimum. With young children, I will give them a quick stretching break if they need to get up. 30 minutes can be a long time for some children to sit. I try to be sensitive as to how they are feeling. I want them to feel comfortable....with me, the room, their chair, etc....
If I ever sense that a child is distressed, discouraged, frustrated with or not wanting to work on a particular song, we will move onto something else. Sometimes I get students who are very perfectionistic and hard on themselves if they make mistakes. I have to reassure them that mistakes are a part of the learning process and that mistakes happen even with the very best of us.
WHAT IS A GOOD AGE TO START PIANO THEORY?
Learning piano theory is different than learning to read traditional music. Piano theory (also known as music theory) is the language or basics of music. It’s about learning how notes and chords relate to each other. It’s similar to simple math formulas but is much easier! Right now, I am teaching one of my 6 year old student’s piano theory because she is able to comprehend it. (Children are capable of so much more musically than we realize if given the proper learning environment.)
I would say that 5th grade and up is a great time to learn piano theory.
I call it the “short cut” version of learning how to play. Many middle-school-aged children want to be able to play their favorite pop songs and this is a great way to do it. Basically, they play the chords and rhythms on the piano to their favorite songs and sing along accompanying themselves. Playing like this is very empowering for a pre-teen and teen. It is a fantastic way to boost their confidence and to give them a skill that most of their peers don’t have.
PIANO FOR ADULTS
I would especially like to encourage adults to not be shy about taking up piano. Redeem that awful experience as a child and take lessons with me! I teach every student differently including my adult students. I have “short-cut” methods for adults because I know that we don’t have time to “beat around the bush”.
Like I said, my oldest piano student was a man named Ralph Zaun. He was a World War II pilot, the President of the Grafton State Bank, a Harvard Graduate and a political leader and entrepreneur.
At the age of 83, he strongly believed that the key to growing older is to keep learning new skills.
And he also taught me! He shared with me his favorite tunes from the 30’s and 40’s….back when music was so full of romance. He has since passed. I miss him!
Playing the piano is actually a lot easier than you would think…..especially how I teach it. I want you to begin playing as soon as possible so that you can earn the benefit of soothing yourself musically.
Have any QUESTIONS?? Send me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org ! I would love to answer any questions you might have…..