Skip to content

What is the best age to start piano lessons?

August 9, 2011

When I tell people I am a piano teacher, one of the most common questions I get is “what is the ideal age for my child to start piano lessons?”  My initial answer is usually “it depends.”  I know, it’s not the most precise answer, but I will tell you why “it depends” and later conclude on my assessment on what I think is truly the best age to begin piano lessons.

How to know when a child is ready to start music lessons

Piano study can begin as early as 3 years old.  However, 3 years old is not the right age to start for every child.  The reason why it depends is because each child develops key motor and learning skills at different ages.  Also, a child’s musical readiness is based on a number of other factors besides just cognitive and motor skills.  Finding the right age to start is very important as it prevents the child from feeling burnt out or prematurely giving up on piano lessons because they feel it is too hard.

As a piano teacher, to help me assess if the child is ready to start lessons, I ask the parent to consider the following factors and questions.  The parent should be able to answer “yes” to all questions.

  • Interest – Does the child express interest in music?  Does he or she have a favorable response to the sound of music, or tried to make music on their own?
  • Fine motor skills and coordination – Can the child move each arm independently from the other?  Can the child lift each finger independently from the others?  Have the small muscles of the hand developed?
  • Attention span – Is the child able to sit still and concentrate on a task for at least ten minutes at a time?
  • Musical readiness – Can the child distinguish between high vs. low, same vs. different, and fast vs. slow?  Can the child clap in a steady beat?
  • Read alphabet – Is child able to read the letters of the alphabet, at least through G (as the musical alphabet is made up of A through G)?
  • Parent involvement – Does the child have a parent that is able to sit at the piano with the child at home to practice?  Is the parent willing to bring the child to lessons once a week and be actively engaged in his or her music learning?

Music readiness test

At the first trial lesson with a new child student, I, as the teacher, perform a “music readiness test” (point #4 listed above) on the child to assess if he or she is ready to start music lessons.  In the music readiness test, I will see if the child can distinguish the differences in these areas:

  • high vs. low
  • same vs. different
  • fast vs. slow
  • steady beat vs. non-steady beat

To do this test, I will start with very obvious differences.  For example, I will play the lowest key on the piano and then the highest key on the piano and ask “is the second sound higher or lower?”  Then I will make the notes closer and closer until I play two notes right next to each other, and see if they can still tell the difference.  It is not uncommon for young students to miss it when it is this close, but it’s okay.  This is just to assess how developed their ear and sense of sound is.  For the steady beat, I will play a simple march in a steady beat and ask the student to clap along in a steady beat.  Then I will suddenly stop playing and ask them to continue clapping in a steady beat on their own.

If a child is able to distinguish most differences in the four areas mentioned above and pass the music readiness test, this may mean they are ready for music lessons.

Developmental milestones of 3 to 6 year olds

According to studies done by individuals at GreatSchools.org, there are general developmental milestones that a child should be able to achieve at each age (from 3 to 6 years old) in the following categories: gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language/thinking development, and social/emotional development.  Analyzing this can help a music teacher assess what skills are typically acquired at each age and at what point enough proficiency is gained to provide for effective music learning.  In particular, I found the following skills highlighted in bold helpful for beginning music students.  This chart shows that by age 6, a child will have developed the ability to move in time to a beat, use fingers independently, learn via language and logic, and be independent.  These are very important skills that can help prepare the students to play the piano.

Click here to download the full size pdf version: Developmental-Milestones-3-to-6-Year-Olds.pdf

Conclusion

Since each child develops their interest in music, attention span, and motor skills at their own pace, it can be difficult to generalize at what age a child develops enough abilities to start learning music.  However, as a general observation, I have found that by the age of 6, children will usually have acquired enough fine motor skills, attention span, and thinking development to begin effective music learning.  Again, this really depends on the child and their pace of cognitive and motor development.  Some children may have these skills by the age of 3, and some not until the age of 9.  If you are a parent, ask yourself the questions I posed earlier and see if you can say yes to all questions.  Also, ensure your child has acquired at least the key developmental skills highlighted in bold in the chart above.  Using these guidelines, both you and music teacher can jointly assess your child’s readiness to start music lessons.

About the author

Theresa Chen runs two music education websites, Opus Music Education and Opus Music Worksheets. If you are interested in finding a music teacher in California, please check out Opus Music Education at http://www.opusmusiceducation.com.  To download free music education worksheets, visit http://www.opusmusicworksheets.com.

Advertisements
One Comment leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 3:21 pm

    i have a 3 years old kid and i’m really glad that i came on your page ,,, really usefull info…
    THX!

Share a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: