Teaching Piano To My 5 Year Old

My son Jamie is about to turn 6 next month, and I have been using The Music Tree book, Time to Begin, to teach him to play the piano.  This is the first book in The Music Tree series.  We started last summer and we are progressing through the first book in a leisurely fashion.  I decided to start him early because he has always been very interested in music and seems to have an ear for it.  I have only basic musical knowledge and I find the program easy to do with him .

There are two Time To Begin books. One is a songbook and one is an activity book. There is also a music CD available with the songs being played, which theoretically the student could learn to play a duet of sorts by playing along with the CD. I don’t have that and I’m not sure how useful it would be to us. For us it is best that Jamie looks at the book and he tries to figure out how to play the song shown. I read the explanations from the book to him and ask him questions like “Which hand do you start this song with, right or left?” (Because the notes where the stem points up are played with the right hand, and stems down are played with the left hand) When he first started, I tried  demonstrating how a song was played and he would simply memorize it and not try to read the music. He also has a real knack for finding the correct notes just by trial and error if he knows how a song should sound.

To help him with a new song I ask him to look at the keyboard shown on the page, with arrows pointing to certain keys and labeled “R” and “L” for right and left. Then I ask him to find those same keys on the piano. If the song starts low and goes high, I ask him whether it starts low or high and then ask him to show me on the piano which of the specified keys are the lowest, etc. He sometimes needs to count how many groups of notes there were on a page, so he would know *how* low or high he needs to start so he can play the whole song going either up or down the piano without running out of keys. For the Time To Begin book it seems to be necessary to have a keyboard or piano with at least 5 full octaves in order to play the songs.  One of the hardest concepts for Jamie so far, was to figure out where to start when a song started in the middle, went up one octave, back to the first octave, and then down one octave.

Right now I have Jamie learn about two new songs per week and then spend the week practicing them every day. But he probably could go a little faster. Sometimes a new concept is hard for him to understand, and when that happens I give him a break for a week or two, by going back and having him play songs he has already learned.  If necessary, I help him to review previously taught concepts when he goes back to the “old” songs.  But the nice thing about Music Tree is that the student learns some basic music reading concepts which are much simpler to understand than note reading is for the beginner. The gradual block building of concepts in Music Tree is excellent.  The activity book does a great job of reinforcing the concepts necessary to read the music in the songbook.

One of the things I didn’t understand when we started, was why they have the student play only the black keys for a while, before starting the white keys. I understood very quickly that the black keys were easier to distinguish, appearing in alternating groups of two or three notes. Specific white keys, on the other hand, are much more difficult for the beginning student to distinguish. Once Jamie mastered finding the black keys shown in each song, he was able to learn the names of the white keys. Since he was accustomed to finding the proper black keys it was easy to show him how 3 white keys were just below each 2 black keys, and these are always C,D,E. And the 4 white keys below each group of 3 black keys are F,G,A,B. He can now look at the music and identify the first and second note and find the corresponding white key on the piano. He can also move up and down the octaves of the piano with relative ease, finding the proper keys quickly.  I am very proud of his accomplishments.

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  1. Sheila said,

    March 6, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Hi, while looking up ingredients in Splenda, I noticed you taught piano at home to your child. I have some basic music background. We as a group , myself and 7 children take a split group lesson from a piano teacher once a week. Most of the work is coming from me. If I don’t work with my kids, they loose what the teacher has told them. With this in mind.. do you think I would be able to teach them myself. I do homeschool them also. Can you give me some suggestions?

  2. jstevens said,

    March 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

    My only background is as a childhood piano dropout. However, I have found the Music Tree piano curriculum very easy to teach so far, by means of learning along with my son. I’m not sure what level your children are with their lessons, but I can tell you a little about what we are doing. My son is now nearly 7 and he is just finishing unit 1 of the second book. I always use the Music Tree activity book along with their piano book, to teach music theory. The book he is in right now focuses primarily on teaching note reading of the landmarks base F, middle C, and treble G, as well as intervals. In both the piano book and the activity book you will find activities for teaching rhythm. Yesterday our activity was swinging to the rhythm of “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” I found that swinging wasn’t working for us, so we clapped the rhythm with our hands, one clap for each beat. They also suggested walking while saying the rhythm, one step for each beat. I think this would work for most children, but my son, who has Asperger Syndrome, was just not quite getting it. You have to be flexible and creative, but I think that you, as a mother of 7, probably have that ability. If you have been observing their group lessons, and obviously you are working with them, you might find it easy to transition into teaching them yourself. I’m am fortunate enough to have several talented pianists in the family to consult, should we reach a level that I find difficult to teach on my own.

    One of the other resources that I like is Rhythms on Parade by Hap Palmer. Lots of fun songs that you can use for a group to teach basic musical concepts like rhythm. My goal is for my son to make progress, but for the lessons not to become a dreaded chore.

    I hope this is helpful.

  3. Sheila said,

    March 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you, I think I will check out the program. I would like to find piano lessons that have video CDs. Do you know any good ones out there?

  4. jstevens said,

    March 8, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    No, I am not aware of video CD’s for piano lessons. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

  5. Donna said,

    November 22, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Simply Music has a DVD piano course. I know several people who swear by it. It’s a little backwards from most piano methods, because it starts out with playing by ear, improvising, and using chording before you ever start note reading. Since my daughter is fascinated with notation and writing, it seemed like a poor fit for her, but I know a lot of people like it.

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