Early on in my piano teaching career, I had the brilliant idea that ALL students could learn the piano, regardless of motivation, ability or background. I just needed to find the right music, or the most exciting games and activities, and they would be hooked. After teaching hundreds of students, I have realized my own (and student’s) limitations, and there are situations when a student should NOT be taking piano lessons. Below are a few reasons to NOT take piano lessons:
1. The student does not want piano lessons
This might seem pretty obvious, but there have been several times when a parent has signed their child up for lessons against their wishes. No matter how enticing I try to make the lesson (with iPad apps, games, improvising, playing any tunes of their choice), it’s a losing battle from the start. One parent announced at the first lesson in front of her son that he did not want lessons, and she did not expect much progress from him, but wanted him to take lessons anyway. From the start, there was this mutual understanding that both parent and son did not expect anything from piano, and it set up a framework that was destined for failure. I was so relieved when they finally ended lessons after about 6 months. Another student wanted to take drum lessons, not piano lessons, but was not allowed because the parent thought that they had to learn the piano first to gain a solid musical understanding. Again, that didn’t really make sense because they resented learning the piano, and it was a waste of time because the student made no effort to try.
2. The student is too young
Many parents are eager to give their child the best start in life, and that often means signing them up for private piano lessons as another activity. I’ve had parents sign up their child for lessons as young as 3 years old. As a music teacher, I believe it is important for young children, even babies, to experience music. However, the private piano lesson format is generally not appropriate for very young children. I’ve had some success starting children as young as 4 years old in private lessons, but they were able to follow instruction well, recognized letters A to G, and numbers 1 to 5, and their parents were very involved in the lesson and home practice. The lessons involved a lot of movement, activities off-the-bench, listening to music, rote playing and limited reading. Most young children do very well in group music classes specifically geared to young children, where they are guided by a teacher to sing and move to music, listen, learn about rhythm, play at the keyboard, all with the help of a caregiver. Children are encouraged to move around, and experience a variety of different activities each session. Music for Young Children is specifically geared to young children learning the piano, while Music Together is a music and movement program for newborns to 7 years.
3. The student is already over-scheduled
How do you know if someone is over-scheduled? They have activities scheduled daily, and have no availability for rescheduling. They often come in tired and hungry, and usually announce upon arrival that they did not practice during the week. It’s understandable for students to have busy weeks with projects and assignments, but if it’s week-after-week, then it’s usually a sign that they are too busy for the commitment of piano lessons. Some parents lump piano lessons into other activities such as gymnastics, swimming, martial arts, but the difference is that piano lessons require daily practice at the piano. In Philip Johnston’s “The Practice Revolution“, he notes that a 30 minute instrumental lesson makes up for only 0.3% of a student’s time in a week! If the student is unable to make daily practice a priority, then there will be little to no progress in their learning. This lack of progress means skills are not learned, so there is nothing to build on during the lesson, and as a result, learning the piano becomes a stagnant chore and they will quit soon after.
4. The student doesn’t have a piano
Beginners are often hesitant to invest in an acoustic piano because of the initial cost. However, there are many different options, from renting a keyboard (full size and weighted!), to renting/borrowing a space with a piano (I had no piano when I started lessons, so I practiced on a piano at a nearby church for a few months). Although acoustic pianos tend to be expensive in the beginning, they retain their value well, and can be resold for close to their original price if maintained well. Students need an instrument to play on during the week or their progress will come to the same conclusion as point #3. A couple students I have taught in the past have had toys instead of keyboards. How do you know if your keyboard is a toy? Real instruments don’t light up, have 88 black and white keys, and the keys are full size. Below is a photo of a toy keyboard and a real keyboard for comparison:
As you can see in the bottom photo, my finger is nearly the entire height of the key on the toy piano, while the key is much taller than my finger on an actual piano key.
It’s like using a toy phone made for children versus a real phone that can make calls, check your email, etc. It just does not compare, and you are doing yourself a huge disservice and wasting your time on the toy.
Before signing up for private piano lessons, make sure this is something you want to do, be prepared to invest in a proper instrument, and have time in your schedule for practice.