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I just started a six-year-old. She's cute, but she is probably not ready to start piano lessons, even though her grandma, who is a piano teacher, says she is. She is struggling with basic concepts, with hand size, and with attention span. She can't read (words) yet.

I have taught students this young before, and some of them have been just fine. My son is six, and he's definitely ready and happy to practice and progress.

Should I give her a little time to verify that my initial impression is correct (she's had one lesson), slow down considerably (maybe do the Music Tree primer, which is a great fit for tiny hands), or tell Mom that maybe this girl should try again in a year or two?


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What are the expectations? (Yours, hers, her mother's)
Do you care about progress or is just having musical fun good too without too much concern about home work ?
Does she want to have lessons? Or is her mother pushing?


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I just accepted a 5 year old, because of mom's insistence that the child focus on piano rather than "other things" and mom's love for piano and music. I agreed to teach her for one month before making a decision, since I felt the child was too young. She had been taking lessons for the entire year, except for a 1 month break. She couldn't line her hands up to play a very simple song by finger numbers and "forgot" her finger numbers. Mom also said the child never practiced. I have no idea why I agreed to take her on, but if, after a month, I am dealing with the issues Brinestone is facing, I will suggest another teacher, or that mom wait another year.


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A piano teacher friend of mine has had this problem with a very young child, and has managed to keep the child interested with singing, clapping and dancing (? -movement) games, often which result in just playing a single note on the piano. As Mum sits in with the lessons, she ensures that she gets involved too. She does this on the basis that she doesn't want to alienate the child from playing by pushing too early.

I suspect that she'd rather not have to do this and could spend the 20-30 minutes rather more productively.


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What are the expectations? You could start her in something that is geared towards even younger kids like preschool-age as a more piano-readiness kind of program, something like Wunderkeys, but I wonder if grandma would think it to be a waste.


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I do believe not reading text is a sign that this girl isn't ready to start reading music yet or at least it would probably be a very frustrating process.

In these situations, group music lessons seem more cost effective.

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Give her three months. Consider it a trial period.

Are her hands so small that she can't comfortably play a 5-finger position? I've taught one student like that, and it's a huge challenge.


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Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
In these situations, group music lessons seem more cost effective.

In my experience, group music lessons tend to do more harm than good. By the time I get these transfer wrecks, I actually have to spend more time deprogramming their little brains of numerous bad habits and wrong techniques. It is definitely not cost-effective.

Three of my best students in the past came from such group instructions. One can only imagine how much further in piano they would have gotten had they started piano lessons with competent private instruction. frown


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Sorry for not being clear. I meant general music group lessons. In our area, there is one taught by a DM that is geared towards 4 & 5 year olds.

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I truly wanted to start piano when I was 6, and my mother didn't think I was ready. She said she would "teach" me instead. (She had played through college). Unfortunately, that never happened and I waited WAY too long--age 14-- before insisting that I get lessons. My only thought is that you be super careful in communicating to the grandma and also the child. Be careful not to turn her off to the whole idea, and be careful not to communicate anything about her inherent talent (even if you aren't intending to---kids interpret things so differently).


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Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
I do believe not reading text is a sign that this girl isn't ready to start reading music yet or at least it would probably be a very frustrating process.


Has she had any instruction in reading text? If she hasn't had any exposure or instruction, I wouldn't want to guess about her readiness.


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Originally Posted by Brinestone
I just started a six-year-old. She's cute, but she is probably not ready to start piano lessons, even though her grandma, who is a piano teacher, says she is. She is struggling with basic concepts, with hand size, and with attention span. She can't read (words) yet.

I have taught students this young before, and some of them have been just fine. My son is six, and he's definitely ready and happy to practice and progress.

Should I give her a little time to verify that my initial impression is correct (she's had one lesson), slow down considerably (maybe do the Music Tree primer, which is a great fit for tiny hands), or tell Mom that maybe this girl should try again in a year or two?

How long are her lessons? 30 minutes should be the max. Also, have the parent sit in with you on the lessons. You don't mention what method you're doing with her, but I'd use the My First Piano Adventures, which involve a lot of singing and you can do movement away from the bench as well. They also get a CD to sing along with in the car. Small hands aren't a concern with these books.

Does she know her alphabet? If so, then it won't be a problem, but you may want to read up on early childhood education or sit in on a lesson of a colleague who has a young student like this to see what he/she does.


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Originally Posted by malkin
Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
I do believe not reading text is a sign that this girl isn't ready to start reading music yet or at least it would probably be a very frustrating process.


Has she had any instruction in reading text? If she hasn't had any exposure or instruction, I wouldn't want to guess about her readiness.


malkin, by the time children are age 6, they have been naturally exposed to print everyday that many of them will be reading a bit on their own without any explicit instruction. Natural exposure to musical notation on the other hand is not that common. My child started reading on her own at age 2. By her 3rd birthday, she was reading real books (e.g., Freckle Juice). Soon after, she started violin lessons but even for her, it took a whole year before she started reading notes fluently. She is a very strong sight-reader now but she wasn't ready till 4, two full years after she started reading on her own.

Each child develops differently but I have seen and heard so many children not reading music well years after they started lessons and a lot of them started when they weren't reading yet. I too started before I was reading at age 4 and I never learned to read notes well.

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Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
Each child develops differently but I have seen and heard so many children not reading music well years after they started lessons and a lot of them started when they weren't reading yet. I too started before I was reading at age 4 and I never learned to read notes well.

There are many reasons why a student can't read music well. Starting at age 4 is usually NOT the problem. A more probable problem is the lack of development (or exposure?) in the areas of interval recognition and keyboard topography. And sight reading!

If the problem persists for many years, the root cause of the problem is advancing too quickly. Sight reading skills should not fall behind the repertoire by more than 2 levels. So many piano teachers focus on repertoire, repertoire, and MORE repertoire--all they teach is repertoire. Sight reading is ignored completely!! One of my transfer wrecks is working on "level 10," but her sight reading is closer to level 3. I'm just about to give up on her sight reading and let her fail that portion of the test.


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Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
Originally Posted by malkin
Originally Posted by littlebirdblue
I do believe not reading text is a sign that this girl isn't ready to start reading music yet or at least it would probably be a very frustrating process.


Has she had any instruction in reading text? If she hasn't had any exposure or instruction, I wouldn't want to guess about her readiness.


malkin, by the time children are age 6, they have been naturally exposed to print everyday that many of them will be reading a bit on their own without any explicit instruction. Natural exposure to musical notation on the other hand is not that common. My child started reading on her own at age 2. By her 3rd birthday, she was reading real books (e.g., Freckle Juice). Soon after, she started violin lessons but even for her, it took a whole year before she started reading notes fluently. She is a very strong sight-reader now but she wasn't ready till 4, two full years after she started reading on her own.

Each child develops differently but I have seen and heard so many children not reading music well years after they started lessons and a lot of them started when they weren't reading yet. I too started before I was reading at age 4 and I never learned to read notes well.



littlebirdblue, were you trying to sound patronizing?


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Give her three months. Consider it a trial period.

Are her hands so small that she can't comfortably play a 5-finger position? I've taught one student like that, and it's a huge challenge.



Yes. I mean, she can reach a fifth, but her pinkies are not really strong enough to push down the keys.


As for method, I typically use Music Pathways, and I LOVE it, but it does start with kids playing fifths with each hand. Most kids love starting this way because they are making what sounds like real music right from the get-go, while I'm teaching the basics of rhythm, switching back and forth between hands, the layout of the keyboard, etc. I started all three of my sons at or even before six, but they were ready, strong enough, reading text, and happy to learn by then. I taught a very young student (almost four that time) once before who was also more or less ready in every way except hand size. Seriously, she sat and listened the whole 30 minutes, which was mind-blowing to me for her age. She could read. She understood the concepts and the basics of note reading. But her hands were just too small, so I switched to the Music Tree primer, which starts off only using fingers 2 and 3 and eventually adds 4. But after six months, she'd progressed through that and needed to use her whole hand, and she just couldn't physically do it. I told her mom that I recommended waiting a little while for her hands to grow but strongly encouraged her to try piano again when that time came because her daughter was doing amazingly well.

I think I will have a conversation with the mom today. She does listen in on lessons but doesn't play an instrument, so I'm not sure she knows what to expect. I will let her know that I can switch to Music Tree for a while but that it may be more cost effective to simply wait a while and start when the little girl's hands have grown a little (and her brain is more ready, but maybe I won't bring up that part).


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
[quote=littlebirdblue]So many piano teachers focus on repertoire, repertoire, and MORE repertoire--all they teach is repertoire. Sight reading is ignored completely!! One of my transfer wrecks is working on "level 10," but her sight reading is closer to level 3. I'm just about to give up on her sight reading and let her fail that portion of the test.


I have seen this over and over. I don't think it's all on the teachers. Some parents put subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle pressure for to move onto harder pieces.

Most parents of young children would not want to pay for longer lessons and it's hard to squeeze in everything in 30 minutes. When you have recitals 4+ times a year (because your studio/school cannot stay competitive if you offer less), you are on a tight schedule to polish repertoire pieces. On top of that, you've got competitions, festivals, etc.

There are so many things that can go wrong that make students poor sight-readers. At least, parents can control starting age/developmental readiness.

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Hi Brinestone, with the little ones, we need to use arm weight. They can get a lovely tone from the pinky if the full weight of the arm is behind it.
The arm can drop, bounce, swing etc. onto and off of the key.
Gross motor skills are usually more developed than fine motor at this age too so arm-powered playing can become confident relatively quickly.
Arm weight is a good idea for older students too smile


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That's a good reminder. Thanks, hreichgott!


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Originally Posted by Brinestone
I just started a six-year-old. She's cute, but she is probably not ready to start piano lessons, even though her grandma, who is a piano teacher, says she is. She is struggling with basic concepts, with hand size, and with attention span. She can't read (words) yet.

I have taught students this young before, and some of them have been just fine. My son is six, and he's definitely ready and happy to practice and progress.

Should I give her a little time to verify that my initial impression is correct (she's had one lesson), slow down considerably (maybe do the Music Tree primer, which is a great fit for tiny hands), or tell Mom that maybe this girl should try again in a year or two?

Get the grandma to come to lessons. Explore together what is going on.

Sounds to me like Grandma doesn't know much.

Remember, to be a "piano teacher" all you have to do is to say you are and then get people stupid enough to pay you. You can know nothing.

That's the world we live in.

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