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I've played the piano a while ago (24 years to be exact!), then had to stop for a number of reasons.

Now I'm 37. I want to start playing again, not just for myself, but to get my 5-year old daughter interested in music as well.

I never really had a formal education. I spent an hour a few days ago on a digital, and that wasn't very pleasant :)

The thing is, I am not quite sure how to assess a child's interest in music, and in particular, the piano. Is the best way to send her to piano lessons, get feedback from her instructor, and see whether she enjoys playing?

I want to buy a digital piano for home, invest some time, put some hard work in to "remember" what I used to know, do some "exercises" just to get the rust off my hands, find a good instructor for my daughter and start lessons, just to see whether she has interest and enjoys it.

I'm just not sure whether this is a good plan, so I'm asking for the advice of this community.

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I'm in a similar situation with my one year old son. I know I already have his interest because he's been listening to me everyday for his entire life and I've read that babies listen while in their mothers stomach too. Easiest way to help him sleep is for me to play the guitar so that he can hear it. Hopefully I have planted a seed to his future interest in music and playing instruments. –  MdaG Jan 17 '12 at 10:42

6 Answers 6

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I have to say that a household and environment that fosters a love of music will have a large impact on your daughters interest. Likely only piano lessons with an instructor will assess her interest in that particular instrument, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of other instruments, most just as fulfilling, as well as singing (oft overlooked) and guitar (both classical and popular/folk.) In addition, interest in music in general is (in my opinion) stronger and longer lasting than interest in any specific instrument. In that vein, here're my recommendations:

Definitely try to work some rust off, and get back to playing what you can, but also think about a few other ideas:

  • Have a household listening night just to listen to music, of all genres! It can be while playing a board game, even, but perhaps periodically stop to point out certain aspects of the music. Try to include lots of different types; popular and rock to classical and musical theatre if you can. Try to include everyone!
  • If you become proficient enough at piano or guitar, or your S.O. or other housemate is, have a singalong. Folk tunes and traditionals are fabulous for this purpose, and it brings the family closer together in a big way. Once someone is proficient enough for accompaniment (any chordal instrument), check out the book "Rise Up Singing." Lots of material to choose from.
  • If you can, expose your child to other aspects of culture, including live performances. Even high school and college bands will be great for older kids (say, middle school), but younger kids might need something with a little more "pep." It all depends. I live in NH, and there are quite a lot of summer theatre companies. They put on fantastic shows using professional and college actors, and the classic musicals are a heavy part of their repertoire.

I guess my main point is: be creative when trying to foster her interest in music. Don't go to the easy way out, which is just enroll her in piano lessons with a teacher, and hope it catches on. Too many kids stop once their parents allow them to make the choice, and then regret it ten years down the road. Ideally, these tips, and many others will make her love of music and culture so great she can't resist playing an instrument. Piano is the classic choice, but violin is a great starter instrument as well, as it comes in tiny sizes! Guitar too! Once she gets to the traditional band age, usually 4th or 5th grade, see if she's interested in that. And if the finances allow it, try not to limit her to the first instrument she chooses; it's not necessarily the best fit! (Rent first, buy later).

(I realize after writing this that I sort of drifted from your original question, which was whether to try and gauge her interest on piano yourself, or enroll her directly in lessons. In my opinion, gauge her interest yourself. But try to incorporate the bullet points above at least a little.)

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+1 for Rise Up Singing. –  luser droog Jan 23 '12 at 20:30

I disliked piano (particularly lessons) until grade 11. Something just changed and now I love it.

Some kids will enjoy it right away, but most of the time I hear stories like mine. I was a disciplined kid but most generally aren't, and practising is a drag. A lack of interest may not be a good indicator that you should stop the lessons -- so many people regret it later in life. Of course, the parenting decisions are up to you, but I plan on having my kids take lessons until they can make the decision for themselves.

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I felt the same way about piano when I was a kid. Looking back, I now wish I had stuck with those lessons. –  Reina Abolofia Jan 17 '12 at 6:50

I think it may not be the best vantage to try and "assess" the amount of interest. Look at it this way. Your child's interest in music is not set in stone. It's a living part of her, and if nurtured it can grow.

A bad instructor can bunk her desire to ever touch the instrument. But your own interest and involvement in her lessons are primary. So don't "send" her to the instructor, go with her. Learning music is very hard, and any support from you and a good teacher are very important. It is also highly rewarding, even if the child's job interests take shape elsewhere later on. The only times I've heard people complain about learning music, were when their teachers were violent or boring, but many people that were famous for other things, were also good musicians. For examples look to Raymond Kurzweil and Richard Feynman.

Music ability is like money without the side effects: the more you have, the better off you'll be anywhere.

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You can't assess your kids interest in music, that's something your kid will eventually be able to do on his own at some point in his life.

My parents assumed I have no interest in music simply because I ran away/didn't attend the school choir. Which of course is complete bullshit, because I love music more than anything else really and would have easily picked up playing a wide range of instruments from an early age, say piano, violin, guitar, brass with proper tutor and guidance. It just happens that I don't like singing old and tired songs and usually dislike songs with lyrics (but I actually like to use voice as an instrument)

Your duty as a parent is to introduce him music, by

  • performing music with friends and family
  • taking him to various kinds of music performances and experiencing different kinds of music
  • giving him an opportunity to try out different instruments and type of music AND making sure he has a proper guidance and an instrument that doesn't sound produce sounds like a cheap tetris game (e.g. cheap digital piano)

Even if he doesn't like playing piano at first, that just might be because the tutor is killing all the interest and fun of playing it in the first place.

Never give up on your kid, make sure he's occupied with something meaningfully all the time, be it music or something else.

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All children are extremely responsive to music; it's simply part of who we are. No special interest is required unless devoting yourself to one particular thing. As a music teacher for children I recommend singing first with simple percussion occasionally, because this helps your child internalise pitch, pulse and so on without struggling with the fine motor co-ordination needed for an instrument. If she's responsive to the piano by all means start that now, but she'll really benefit from going to a kiddies' music group to develop her inner hearing through an age appropiate repertoire. I've met a lot of young musicians who have little musical memory, sense of timing or pitch, and who can't play by ear, and it's due to lack of true musicianship training. Any instrument is very hard for them. Once musical skills are embedded, after a couple of years, reading notation and mastering an instrument flow much more easily. Perhaps a good analogy is the difference between stuttering out a sentence in a foreign language, word by word, and speaking a phrase naturally and fluently. So seek out a good children's group and sing simple songs with your daughter.

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I am not sure that the first instrument that a child plays needs to be piano. The problem with playing the piano is that it does rely on very good coordination, and you play it on your own.

I would suggest that a first instrument should be one that you can play with other people as soon as possible. So for a small child, recorder, ukulele etc The fun part of playing a musical instrument is greater if it is with others and playing together teaches team work which is a useful skill to have at any age.

Why not give the child a recorder and see what they do with it?

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