“Don’t call it practicing, call it play.”
That’s my answer to the frequent question, “My kids aren’t practicing for their piano lessons. How do we get them to practice?”
If you make the piano into a game, you might get the child to try playing piano on their own, not under your orders.
For example, your child undoubtedly has a favorite toy or game.
You don’t have to say, “Go play your game,” because the child always wants to do that activity which brings them such personal reward.
Try making the piano into a toy: you play with it, you play together with them. If you make it work, they will run screaming from the room.
To learn the piano even moderately well (even as an adult) you’ll need not only persistence, hard work and a lot of intelligence, but also one other quality: love.
That’s right, your kids will have to love piano lessons in order to weather all that repetition, confusion and effort, not to mention all the time involved.
What could possibly make so many people work so hard to master this great instrument? The answer is, because they love the instrument.
And this is also the answer to the original question, “How do we get our child to practice the piano?”
You get them to play because it’s so much fun that they do it themselves. There is no “practicing.” You don’t have to tell them to practice.
These kids play the piano as if it were a toy, a treasured toy they like to spend time with, until they’re done with it, and then off to another happy activity.
Now, for children, this is very easy to accomplish. How do we get kids to love piano lessons and play by themselves?
Simply lower the bar initially to the degree that the child cannot fail, can only succeed.
Make initial piano lessons so much fun for kids that they want to explore the world of music through the piano. Do this as long as the child needs it until they demonstrate comfort playing and reading simple music.
As an example, at first let them play with their index finger, as their instincts tell them and piano teachers see again and again.
It teaches the child no bad habits because the “one finger system” will be gradually improved upon.
How? By using simple finger and note games. See the article on Fingering.
Basically, a fingering curriculum might be to let the child play with one index finger initially, preferably the right index finger.
It doesn’t matter if the child is left or right handed, start with the right index finger.
Then let them play with the index fingers of both hands. Then introduce the right thumb. Then use the right thumb and index together as a team. Then introduce the right middle finger as the third member of the team.
And all this finger stuff and games is before they ever see a note of music!
Always let them go back to a simpler system (one finger) if they demonstrate repeated discomfort with a more complex finger position (more than one finger.)
Discomfort is a child’s way of saying, “You’re going too fast.”
It’s far more important that the child feels proud and happy than you, the teacher, feel your method has been understood and mastered.
Kids don’t care about your “method,” or any method, or piano lessons or practicing. They care about how they feel about themselves and how they feel about the piano. It’s simple human nature
After a little rest (simplicity,) they are ready for another try at reading music, but never press beyond the point of “mostly fun with a little work.”
Better to back off while it’s still fun, and try again another day when they’re fresh: it’s hard work to learn the piano and you’re better off if you and your teacher are not in a hurry.
With a child it’s not difficult to get them started without anxiety, but it requires a teacher of almost Biblical patience.
Give your student a system that is transparently simple, like piano by number, and let them play by themselves. Hopefully your only problem will be getting enough songs for them to consume and explore.
Kids get very good quickly with piano by number, and then, at the time they become comfortable, of course, is the perfect moment to introduce reading music, for they are already comfortable with the instrument and able to play familiar songs reasonably well, in a way that makes them feel proud.
You’ll need a good teacher, a very, very patient, almost saintly creature who is funny, articulate, and always has a secret curriculum in mind, reading music.
Allow the kids time to demonstrate to you that they are ready for piano lessons, ready to pass beyond the world of preparatory piano games and attempt to start to read music.
This “time” could be a week, could be a year, and is entirely dependent on the particular child.
Almost the only mistake you can make is to go too fast.
All children start learning the piano in different ways, and a good teacher unlocks the way of teaching that gets them started and makes them love it from the very first minute.
This “magic way,” is different for each child, can be humor, it can be math, it can be them imitating what you play, it can be sound games, it can be number games, it can be “Name That Tune,” it can be playing with your nose, but don’t let them leave that piano with anything in mind but, “Wow, that was FUN!”
Delay reading music until the child is comfortable playing simple, familiar songs by number.
And when you begin to read music, make each attempt initially no longer than a minute or so.
That’s right, a minute at a time. The concepts have to be broken down into such simple units that only a minute is required to make a child understand each idea.
Later, those ideas are drawn together, allowing the child to easily find the notes on the page on the piano.
You can use the concepts in our book I CAN READ MUSIC, and as a practical matter, never go to the next idea until you are absolutely certain the child can unfailingly master each simple idea (such as lines and spaces, what is a note, where is middle C, etc.)
I’ve said it before: the worst habit you can learn at the piano is to not enjoy it and not want to play.
That’s the habit that will make you want to quit.
Copyright 2000 Walden Pond Press