When you’re a beginner pianist, it can seem like there is a lot to learn - there is a lot to learn! But, as with anything, you will gradually build up a good knowledge of the instrument and at the start it’s really important to focus on learning how to practise well. Here are some questions I frequently get asked:
What age should my child start learning?
I take children from age four for piano lessons. Some teachers prefer to wait until they are a little older, around seven, but I think that in that three years leading up to that age children can gain so much from the experience of piano lessons. I never sit at the piano for a straight 30 minutes - my lessons are made up of games, silly cards (used to change the direction of the lesson and keep the child’s attention), reading notes, writing notes, singing, clapping, marching, and lots of actual playing too! So you could say that my piano lessons are more general music lessons, but centred around the piano.
Am I too old to start learning as an adult?
You are never too old to learn a new skill, be it playing an instrument, learning a language, or anything else. I find that my adult beginners get a lot out of lessons fairly quickly because they are focused and driven, having made the decision to learn by themselves with no parental involvement or pressure. As an adult, so long as you want to learn, you are qualified to take piano lessons, no matter how old you are.
What position should my hand be in to play?
Always play with rounded fingers with a space under your palm (imagine you have a little creature under there which you don’t want to squash). Fingers should start parallel to the keys and your wrists should be level and relaxed, never pointing upwards. Elbows should be next to your sides, not in the air, and certainly not flapping around as you play.
How do I remember all the note names and how they’re written?
There are rhymes we can learn to help us remember the note names and how they’re written on the stave. Practise reading the notes, get any piece of sheet music and test yourself, ask a friend or family member to test you, try writing some notes, and try not to feel disappointed if you struggle at first. There are a lot of notes to learn, but everyone manages it eventually!
I’m not getting it, what can I do?
Regular practise sessions will pay dividends and this is the only way you will see an improvement. Try to identify which aspect it is you are struggling with and ask your teacher to look at that part with you in more detail.
What kind of piano/keyboard do I need to practise on?
You definitely need something with keys to practise on, and the type of instrument you buy depends on your budget. In my opinion, your best option is to have an acoustic piano (yes, I’m traditional and I love a ‘real’ piano), second best in my opinion is a digital piano with weighted keys and your third option is to have a keyboard with non-weighted keys. It feels very different playing a keyboard to a ‘real’ piano. In order to give music the sensitivity and feeling it deserves, you need to be able to play with different pressure at different times, something only achievable with an acoustic or digital piano (not a keyboard). However, a keyboard will enable students to practise reading and playing the notes which is a good start. Please note, they will struggle to master the piano if practising on a keyboard long term.
How often and for how long should I practise?
Make sure you practise five times a week for half an hour (adults) or for twice your age in minutes if you are a child. Children can’t concentrate for long periods by themselves so eight minutes at age four is plenty. Note, that although it is preferable to do your practise session in one sitting, if that isn’t feasible due to work or school commitments, then breaking up your session into shorter parts spread over the day is perfectly fine. You can do ten minutes before work, ten minutes after and ten minutes after dinner, for example. The same goes for children, try five minutes before school and five minutes before dinner.
How do I motivate my child to practise?
Finding the right time of day to practise is very important. Children are all different and although some may find it easy to practise in the evening, some may be too tired and thus find it impossible to concentrate. Use lots of praise and try to get as involved as they are comfortable with. Sit with them, not always possible I know, and learn together. Have them ‘teach’ you, they’ll love to show you how to hold you hand properly and how to play a scale. Use the practise sheets or diaries the teacher gives your child, they are meant to be fun but also motivate children to achieve the goals set for them. Try a sticker chart with little ones, but you might find that the teachers disapproval at them not getting their five ticks for the week on their practise diary might just do it!
I keep struggling with one difficult part of a piece, how should I tackle it?
If you struggle with a particular part of a piece of music, keep practising that part in isolation until it improves. Don’t be tempted to continue playing having played a section incorrectly, you will just form bad habits which will be difficult to rectify later down the line. Learning the piano is all about muscle memory so practising that one tricky bit lots of times will solve the problem. If you or your child find the repetition boring, you can try playing it differently each time: play staccato, legato, loud, soft, slowly or quickly. Try building up the section note by note too.
Do I need to learn scales?
If you want to improve your speed, accuracy and agility then yes! Scales are great to help you learn which black notes to play in particular key signatures, they will help you find your way around the piano and get your fingers used to moving quickly and accurately. Actually I’ve found that most people enjoy playing scales. I think people enjoy feeling the patterns in the scales and find the process of learning and mastering scales quite satisfying.
Will I need to sing?
I ask my children to sing. I find that the younger ones sing more enthusiastically than the slightly older children, as they haven’t learned to feel awkward in that kind of situation yet. If adults want to take music exams then they do need to sing in lessons to be able to practise for the aural components of examinations. You don’t need to ‘be able to sing’ to take a music exam, so don’t feel that you need to be a good singer to have piano lessons.
If you'd like to find out more about piano lessons with Jenna, please get in touch by clicking the button below, or head over to the Fanfare Music Facebook page for tips and ideas for enjoying the piano and music in general.