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Maybe all it took was one Charlie Brown special – with that foot-tapping Vince Guaraldi jazz piano in the background – and your child was itching to play those 88s. Or maybe it's the way his favorite teacher, Mrs. Smith, pounds out fun little ditties. No matter who struck a chord with your child, the piano bench just might be the best seat in the house for him. Here are the high and low notes of learning to play the piano.
Why is the piano a good choice for my child?
- Piano provides instant gratification. With the first strike of his finger, your child can create a finely tuned sound. Other instruments – like brass, woodwind, or string instruments – require careful finger position, breath control, or mouth movements, so it takes longer to produce a pleasing note.
- It's an excellent way to learn the basics. Learning piano provides a good foundation in basic musical skills. The piano's range is greater than all the other instruments in the orchestra (the organ has the widest range), and musical concepts are more concrete. For instance, pitch recognition, learning to tell high notes from low notes, is simpler – high notes are on the right side of the keyboard, and low notes are on the left side.
What is the downside to playing the piano?
- Pianos are big instruments. Ranging in size from 5' to 9' long, grand pianos require a lot of playing room. If space is limited, consider a vertical piano. Most vertical pianos require about 5' by 2' of floor space and range in height from 36" to 51". A general rule of thumb: The taller the piano – the longer the strings – the better the tone (and the higher the price). A digital (electronic) keyboard is generally smaller and less expensive than a vertical piano, but many teachers prefer to start children on an acoustical – grand or vertical – piano. It's a good idea to find out what the teacher allows before you purchase or rent an instrument.
What is a good age to start?
Many children are ready to start traditional piano lessons at 6 years old, some at 5. (Children can start Suzuki lessons as young as 3.) Although eye-hand coordination is important, this is a skill that can be learned. Physical size isn't an issue, as it might be with other instruments. (With a trumpet, for instance, a child needs to be big enough to hold it and to finger the valves.) Also, by this age children have developed some reading skills; many teachers believe children should have some basic reading skills before starting lessons. And often children's attention spans are long enough to concentrate in class and practice for ten to 30 minutes at a time.
What will it cost?
The range of prices is as wide as the range of notes. A new mid-size vertical piano can start in the $2,000 to $3,000 price range. New grand pianos can start at $7,000 to $10,000. Digital (electronic) keyboards can run less than $1,000. Many stores offer rent-to-own plans, where rental payments are applied to the purchase price should you decide to buy. Rentals can start at $30 to $45 per month. You might also consider a used piano. But before you even start looking, talk with your child's music teacher. She'll be able to direct you to reputable dealers. And should you decide to buy a used piano, she can suggest a good piano technician to look it over.