I haven’t met a child yet that is not interested in music. If you place an instrument in front of a kid, he or she is probably going to experiment with it and create sounds, so, I believe it is important to exploit this natural creativity in a manner that encourages children to be musical. Víctor loves music. Since he was little, he had very specific requests for the songs that I played in the car; and he’s loved sitting down in front of the piano for 20 minutes or more singing (or screaming) indecipherable tunes since he was 2. He also loves drumming as hard as he can, every morning, at 7am, and I am sure our neighbors love that!
Anyway, this kiddo turned 4 years old last July, and, after years of toddler music lessons he was ready for something more “professional,” so I started looking. I went to a couple of classes in different types of music centers and talked to a few teachers, but my intuition (yes, I use my intuition, as everybody should) told me none of them would be right. A lot of teachers focus on technicalities and I know Víctor wouldn’t care for that. I can’t imagine him being engaged with a class that emphasizes teaching where the C or D notes are in the piano.
In the middle of this search my brother Ricardo, a very, very smart and wise man, who happens to play piano like a professional, came to visit LA, and told me about a free book on the Internet that not only helps pianists to improve at a faster pace, but also helps parents choose the right piano teacher for their children. The book is called “Fundamentals of Piano Practice” and you can find it here. The specific chapter about teachers is here (you can read extracts of the book at the bottom of this post).
Víctor is younger, so some of the advice on the book doesn’t apply, but at least it gave me the knowledge to start looking for the right teacher. I knew, after reading the book, that I wanted Víctor to have a teacher that specializes in beginners and small children, and that focuses on memorization (even though reading should not be dismissed). Also, right now, Víctor learns better in group settings, so I wanted him to be learning with other children and I wanted to be involved.
After searching for a while, I found the answer in a special teaching method called Play a Story. This method is based on improvisation and letting students explore the piano and play as they please, while teaching music concepts as they go. In the first lesson, Víctor learned the difference between high and low notes on the piano, and had to imagine how to play some notes in the way an animal would sound. How does the elephant sound? How does an ant sound? … You get the idea, don’t you? You can imagine how easy it was to get Victor to practice the 5 minutes a day he is required to. Actually, with that homework, he could have played hours if I had a long enough list of animals. Also, we had to listen to some music on the web, and paint a picture based on it. Lovely! If you are interested in finding teachers around your area, you can go here. To learn more about this method, go here.
For now, at this age, this method is working. Víctor seems to be engaged and ready to go to his class. Also, he is learning basic concepts. I will keep you updated as the year goes by, but, in the meantime, I have to say that I am really excited about his teacher and this method.
Here are some of the extracts I found most interesting from the book “Fundamentals of Piano Practice.”
“Musical training is most rewarding for the very young. Most babies exposed frequently to perfectly tuned pianos will automatically develop perfect pitch — this is nothing extra-ordinary.”
“… total music education (scales, time signatures, ear training [including perfect pitch], dictation, theory, etc.) should be an integral part of learning to play the piano because each different thing you learn helps all the others. In the final analysis, a total music education is the only way to learn piano.”
“Children should be tested for their readiness to take piano lessons at ages between 3 and 5. The first lessons for beginners, especially young children under 7 years old, should be brief, 10 to 15 minutes at most.”
“Do not feed them music just because it is classical or it was written by Bach. Play what you and the youngsters enjoy.”
“Youngsters develop in spurts, both physically and mentally, and they can only learn what they are mature enough to learn.”
“For at least the first 2 years of lessons (longer for youngsters) teachers must insist that the parents participate in the teaching/learning process.”
“Most importantly, it is the parents’ job to evaluate the teacher and to make proper decisions on switching teachers at the appropriate time.”
“Teaching babies and adults is different. Adults must be taught; in young children, you only have to awaken the concept in their brains, and then provide a supportive environment as their brains take off in that direction.”
“The Suzuki violin method emphasizes playing from memory at the expense of reading, especially for youngsters, and this is the best approach for piano also.”
“It is easier to practice reading after you can play reasonably well, just as we learn to speak before we learn to read.”