This post is all about how to teach your children to play the piano. Or rather How My Children Taught Themselves the Piano. Because that’s pretty much what they did. I just organized and initiated the original learning and my children have taught themselves ever since.
It Started With A Dream
I’d always dreamed my children would be able to play the piano. In our first little house of 761′ my oldest 2 girls (ages 4 and 3) wanted to learn piano or harp but there wasn’t room for instruments or money for lessons. We’d have to wait. A year after we moved to our bigger (1680′) North Carolina house I spent our tax refund on a used digital piano. That way it could be turned way down when babies were napping or toddlers were banging. It was also small enough to fit in the entryway.
The older girls were 7 and 6 and I meant to get them lessons but we were still too poor. Time passed and suddenly they were 11 and 10. One day at church the young women (ages 12-17) were singing in front of the congregation with one of the young women accompanying. As I always dreamed when I saw something like this, I said, “My girls will accompany when they get into young women.” Then I froze and realized Kylie would be 12 in 9 months. Would she be able to accompany her friends? I still hadn’t gotten her any piano lessons. Not one to give up on a dream, I quickly made a plan of action.
And Then A Homeschool Assignment
It was Christmastime when I saw the YW sing in church. When we started back to school in January I had a homeschool assignment ready to teach my children how to play the piano. All I did was print up a chart with a list of songs from our church’s Children Songbook. I picked easy ones, our favorites, and the ones the children were learning that year for their program. I picked one a week to learn and listed all the dates and songs on the chart. Every week they looked at the song of the week and practiced it every day. On Friday they had to perform it for me and the rest of the children. I showed them the notes on the piano and the notes in the songbook using “Every Good Boy Does Fine” and “FACE.” It was up to them to learn how to play.
I remember that first Friday performance and how they all did. Kylie played it all the way through with both hands slowly and perfectly. Madalyn did the same, just a tad slower. Spencer played with both hands also, but whizzed through it, making mistakes all over the place and loudly banging on the right notes after he hit the wrong ones. Alexis only played the right hand notes with one finger but on her left hand, as she was left handed.
Teaching Themselves the Piano
Every week was the same. My kids are used to looking at charts on the wall to see the homeschool assignment for the week, so they had no problem looking at the song of the week and then figuring it out. In May when our school year ended Alexis was still struggling to play with her right hand and seemed terribly uncoordinated. She’d switch between her left and right (but always treble clef notes) and be silly about it and seemed to have no talent. I decided to excuse her from the piano and thought she could be a singer instead.
Meanwhile the oldest 3 kids did amazing at teaching themselves the piano. Some weeks they spent hours learning the song of the week and other weeks only a few minutes if it was an easy song. They also played a lot of songs of their choosing. Their piano skills took off and when Kylie was 12 she was indeed able to accompany her youth group as they sang in church. It was a dream come true. Those 3 also became church organists in high school and professional accompanists in college. All because of a dream and and then a homeschool assignment.
The Rest of the Children
When Alexis was 11 I realized this next set of kids didn’t know how to play the piano and it’s time to do that homeschool assignment again. So I did the same thing, posting a chart on the wall with the songs each week they should learn. Alexis’s piano skills took off! She’s not uncoordinated afterall! She soon started playing really hard songs and accompanying her youth group.
The few kids younger than her also taught themselves that year and became much better. Now that it’s been several years it’s time to do the homeschool assignment again. It seems like I will have a 11, 10 and 8 year old in the group who do the piano assignment. The 6 year old tries and does a good job, but I can tell it’s not the right timing for a piano explosion. Then in a few years I do it again when the next 3 kids are in that age range.
You’ve heard of language explosion? It’s the age around 18-24 months when babies’ language skills take off. They start parroting everything they hear and learning 10-20 new words a day when at 12 months they were only learning 1 every other day. I feel like my kids have a piano explosion stage. It’s around age 10-11 when the piano just clicks and my kids can suddenly start playing any hymn or primary song. It doesn’t come without work though. Just like babies who are parroting, my kids are putting in the hours. They suddenly love the piano and practice a lot. It’s like their brain is wired to want to play the piano. They’re drawn to practice it a lot just like toddlers repeating words over and over. In both cases it’s sure fun to watch.
I do have to say you can’t force any child to learn or be interested in what you want her to be. I was lucky that my children have always loved the piano and wanted to learn. Their dad and I both play, so maybe they have some musical genes in them. But also if I’d forced lessons on them they may have rebelled and chosen a different activity. I think it really helped that we had a piano sitting in our entryway for years before I made it an assignment. They’d always been allowed to play it whenever they wanted. They were allowed to check out all the different presets and functions on their own and figure it out. It wasn’t like I bought a piano and sat them on it and told them they had to learn it. They’d been playing on it for a few years and then I announced a new subject as part of our homeschool and they didn’t bat an eye. Just like I often announce we’re going to do a class on first aid, a class on social skills, or learn sign language this semester. They’ve always respected me as their teacher and go along with it. So they happily learned the song of the week and passed it off on Fridays.
To teach your children to play the piano, here are my suggestions:
- Buy a used one or put some feelers out if anyone is giving away one.
- Let the kids play on it as much as they want to (with a few rules like not during naps if you don’t have a digital one.)
- When you walk by compliment their quick fingers, good back posture, perseverance in figuring out a hard part in a song, the way they’re focusing, etc.
- Ask them if they want a formal lesson either with you or a teacher. If they do, try it out and see how it works for both of you. I have to tell my kids to do their chores, help bring in groceries, and be their school teacher so I didn’t want to be their music teacher too and harp on them to practice. If they wanted to learn piano or any instrument they had to be self-motivated. Occasionally I’ll suggest a child play the piano or flute if they’re sitting around bored and they haven’t played in a long time. I’ll mention how I’d love to hear it, not that they need to practice. If I hear a child struggling I do go offer help, point out some notes, etc.
- Pick a song each week for them to learn for the next 20 weeks or so. We have a book of famous children’s songs so I sometimes assign those: Mary Had a Little Lamb, Yankee Doodle, etc. Also, libraries have piano music so there’s no need to buy any. Get music your child will enjoy. My kids frequently get Disney song books.
- They can initial each day they practice. Or have them perform it for you on Fridays. Encourage them to keep playing old songs as they move on to next week’s songs.
Enjoy Your Children Playing the Piano
Stay positive and be excited that your children are learning to play. Read my post Blessings of the Piano to see how awesome it is to have your children play the piano. And see videos of some of my children playing. If you have any questions or want advice with your particular situation, message me! I’d love to help.