Ask a Piano Teacher: A Parent’s Guide to Piano Lessons

So, your child comes to you and asks, no BEGS, to take piano lessons. “Of course!” You say. You’ve heard so much about the benefits of playing the piano, and perhaps you’ve experienced the joy of playing music. But, where do you start? How do you find a teacher? How much does it cost? Ah! There are so many questions!

Well, no worries. I’m here to help.

For the past 15 years (minus a few), I have taught piano lessons. In 2002, I graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Applied Piano and have since enjoyed sharing my love of the piano with students of all ages. I maintain a studio of about 15 students in addition to my work as a minister and songwriter. Right out of college, I also worked for a local (since-closed) piano retailer, selling pianos.

Here are some frequently asked questions I’m often asked. Ooooo….this’ll be fun!

How do I find a teacher?

Many communities will have some sort of musical organization which should offer a public list of music teachers. In Rochester, MN, we have the Rochester Keyboard Club and the Rochester Music Guild. Some teachers will have their own dedicated websites, so a Google search can prove helpful. You will want to meet with the teacher, or have a trial lesson to determine if the teacher/student combo is a good initial match.

How much do piano lessons cost?

The cost for lessons (tuition) can vary greatly. A parent can expect to pay anywhere from $15 – $50 per lesson depending on the training, skill, and location of a teacher. A teacher in a dedicated rented studio space will charge more than a teacher who teaches in their home. A teacher with advanced degrees and years of experience will warrant a higher fee.

Remember to factor in the cost of learning materials which, for the average year, will be anywhere from $30-$60.

Is the teacher willing to come to my home?

The vast majority of teachers won’t be willing to come to your home. It dramatically limits their number of students as driving takes up a lot of valuable teaching time. There may be instances where it makes sense as in a very large family or a group of families in a neighborhood, but otherwise, you’ll need to drive to the teacher’s home or studio.

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If we aren’t willing to invest in an acoustic piano will a digital piano suffice?

Bottom line advice from a former piano saleswoman and pianist: If you don’t already own an acoustic piano (one that doesn’t require electricity), then purchase the best new, or used acoustic piano you can afford. There are so, so many wonderful used pianos on the market, especially the private market. In fact, I have browsed online and found really great pianos that people are giving away. There may be an initial investment up front to get them tuned and ready to go, but beyond that, a yearly tuning, at best, is all you should need.

If you still want to go the digital route, please do so with caution. They are not the same as an acoustic piano but are better than no piano at all. A good digital piano will likely cost more than a good used upright piano. Plus, in six years your digital piano will have lost considerable value, while your acoustic will have likely maintained its value.

What does learning to play the piano do for brain development?

Many studies (here, here and here, for example) have shown the positive benefits of music learning, and specifically playing piano, on the developing brain. Not only that but the ability to play the piano has a lasting impact. You may have heard there is a correlation between higher math scores and those who learn how to play the piano, but the benefits extend cross-discipline as learning to play the piano develops  a broad range of cognitive skills. 

At what age should a child start lessons?

A well-rounded age-range in which to begin piano lessons is between 5-7 years. However, any time outside of that range is perfectly acceptable, depending on the child. More important than a number are certain milestones that indicate piano learning readiness, such as:

  • Is your child able to engage in a task for 20-30 minutes?
  • Does your child show an interest in piano learning?
  • Has your child begun to show an interest in learning to read, or have they begun to read?

If the answer to those question is “yes,” then your student is more-than-likely ready for piano lessons!

I offer a caution that earlier is not necessarily better. Of course, engagement with music should be encouraged from an early age, but traditional piano lessons may not be beneficial for younger children (3-4 years).

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What is the time commitment per week?

Outside of the piano lesson itself, I encourage early learners to practice 15-20 minutes per day at least five days a week. Practice maximizes a parent’s financial investment. It’s in practice where your child will develop all those wonderful cognitive benefits. In essence, one has to actually play the piano in order to play the piano. As a child gets older, the time commitment depends on the priorities in their schedule. An advanced student may practice 1-3 hours a day while an intermediate student may practice 45-60+ minutes per day.

What do I do when my kid feels like quitting?

If your child wants to quit, please speak with his/her teacher. The teacher needs to be aware that the student is having a negative experience and should be given the opportunity to discover the root of the problem. Often, the student may be overwhelmed with a busy schedule, they may not be connecting with the music they are playing, they may not be connecting with the teacher or, to be honest, the piano might not be for them. Piano learning isn’t for everyone, and there may be a point where your child is ready to move on. As a last resort – if the teacher is not willing to accommodate the needs of your student, then you may need a new teacher.

What if my child is only in it for the drums?

Many, if not all, school band programs require drum students take 2 years of piano lessons. I believe it is perfectly acceptable for a student to take piano lessons simply because they want to play drums. In the process, they may learn they really love the piano. The piano is, in fact, a percussive instrument.

Ready? Set? Go!

I’m certain your student will benefit greatly from learning how to play the piano. Your home will be filled with beautiful sounds – even those first tentative songs are sweet to a mother’s ears – and your child will learn a skill that will last them a lifetime. Connect with a teacher and start the journey!

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