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I'd like to help my six-year-old son try out starting on a piano. At this point, I'm not prepared to invest the money or scheduled time necessary for formal lessons. So, I'm interested in trying to get him started myself.

The problem is that I have had very little musical training. I took a few months of violin lessons as a teenager, but that's it. I know the rudiments of reading music but am by no means fluent.

Does it sound practical for me to get a book and teach my son by staying a lesson ahead of him? Unlike violin or other continuous-tone instruments, it's not like I have to worry about teaching him to recognize and produce the right tone.

If so, can you recommend a book to work from?

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If it helps, my parents have this story of how I started to play the piano. They bought my brother a toy keyboard, and I promptly picked it up and started playing with it. I played it to the point where I broke the low e, and couldn't play my favorite song any more (They claim it was "Mary had a little lamb", but I /hate/ that one...). Then they bought me a music star computer learning system, which I played with religiously (oldsoftware.com/MusicStar.html). Then they got me a piano teacher, and I never practiced on my own again! :P –  Babu Jul 1 '11 at 2:27
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3 Answers 3

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I'm sure that you would be able to teach your child how to read music and play simple pieces; the nice thing about the piano is that the basics are easy to pick up.

Where you'll run into trouble is technique; a lot of what my teacher drilled into me at a young age is stuff like "keep your wrists up, make sure your fingers are curved, don't tense your wrists, if you keep tapping your foot I'll cut it off" (okay, that last one may have been put more gently). The thing is, the longer you play with poor technique, the harder it is to correct it. And poor technique tends to lead to repetitive stress injuries later on (think decades).

The book that I was started on is Teaching Little Fingers to Play. After that, I used Bastien Piano Basics, and I really don't remember beyond that. If your child does get through those books and wants to continue, I strongly recommend finding him a teacher.

Keep in mind that, like Matthew said, your child probably won't feel like practicing once the novelty wears off, and it starts to take real effort. I'd just point out that if you consider letting him drop it, I've yet to meet a person who quit the piano and did not regret it. Maybe I'm just meeting the wrong people :P.

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Thanks. Teaching Little Fingers looks great. I've ordered that and will see how it goes. –  Isaac Moses Jun 30 '11 at 16:02
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+1 for technique issues. Think about the mistakes somebody might make trying to play the violin without instruction and how hard they would be to unlearn later. Every instrument has those, including piano. –  Monica Cellio Jun 30 '11 at 16:56
    
Does Teaching Little Fingers address technique issues sufficiently for starting out? –  Isaac Moses Jun 30 '11 at 17:39
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To be honest, I don't remember. I really doubt it, though. Beginner's technique can generally be summarized by, "sit up straight", "keep your wrists above the level of the keys" (to do that, you might need to use cushions), and "let your fingers curve". I'm talking about the natural curve, similar to what you see when your hand is relaxed. If you can keep that going, you'll be fine. –  Babu Jun 30 '11 at 17:42
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+1. I didn't touch on technique since it's so basic at the beginning, but it's super important so I probably should have :P –  Matthew Read Jun 30 '11 at 18:12
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When beginning with a six-year-old, all they really need is to learn (as much as they can) the names of notes and their positions, the basics of tempo (mostly "play evenly"), and rudimentary sight reading (a couple types of notes, a few positions on the staff). It's more of a get-used-to-this-new-way-of-making-cool-noise process than anything else.

As such, you can definitely get your son started on that. You can master in a few minutes what will take your son months, unless he is particularly gifted (if he turns out to be, I hope you will invest in formal lessons!).

If you want this to be ongoing, you will need a teacher at some point. You can never go wrong exposing a child to an instrument, but it's up to you decide whether it would be worth it if his progress might just be halted indefinitely in a few months or a year. Most six-year-olds aren't able to muster the discipline to continue something like this on their own, so it could be frustrating if he enjoys it. (Or if he hates it like I did as a child, he might be frustrated later when he wishes he had continued.)

Unfortunately I can't recommend a book; I don't remember the one I used as a child. Edit: I checked at my parents' house — I used Leila Fletcher's Music Lessons Have Begun.

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Thanks for the advice. If he enjoys it enough to practice unsupervised from time to time, I'll strongly consider getting him lessons. I wish that I'd learned an instrument well as a child, but I think that trying to force it on him would be counterproductive. –  Isaac Moses Jun 30 '11 at 15:35
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Keep in mind that there is a difference between forcing it on him and making sure that he spends time practicing. If my mom hadn't made me practice before my lessons, I wouldn't have continued past elementary school. I started in 1st grade; it took me until 7th grade until I started spending time at the piano without being told to go practice (curiously enough, that's when I started sounding good, as well). Maybe it was a case of Stockholm syndrome? –  Babu Jun 30 '11 at 15:57
    
@Babu, good point. I just want to make sure that the entire enterprise is going to be fitting for him and generally enjoyable before I invest money, rigidly scheduled time, or even parental rank-pulling in it (no Tiger Mother am I). –  Isaac Moses Jun 30 '11 at 16:01
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Just a comment on the above. Unless your child is very different from most 6-year-olds, they will NOT practice unsupervised. You will have to force them every time, and there will be many tears. While you don't have to be a "ridiculous parent" forcing 6 hours of practice a day, you do have to have enough backbone to force 10 minutes a day, at least a few days a week. If you do that, you'll give them a gift for life. If you're not willing to do that, you might as well not start - you will be the one that will have to push him, for probably a good 6 years. –  wadesworld Jul 5 '11 at 16:08
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While practice is important, with a child you might find "play" is a better word for this. Also, I've always been more willing to practice exercises when the techniques are necessary for a specific song I want to learn. So, Find a favorite song, Learn the technique to play it, Repeat. –  luser droog Oct 12 '11 at 19:35
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If you want your child to actually have a musical future, I'd refrain from teaching him/her yourself. Technical problems are very hard to correct down the line. The early years are the most important!

So I don't seem totally unhelpful, buy a copy of Barbara Lister Sink's "Freeing the Caged bird" It discusses the basic piano technique in a fairly comprehensive manner.

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