Piano Lesson Information
- Piano Lesson Basics
- The Piano: An Instrumental Overview
- Learning to Play the Piano
- How Piano Teachers Can (and Can't) Help
- Parental Roles in a Child's Music Education
1. Piano Lesson Basics
1-1. What are piano lessons?
Piano lessons are a series of one-on-one learning sessions between a piano student and a piano teacher that happen periodically over time.
1-2. What are piano lessons for?
1-3. Who can take piano lessons?
Anyone can take piano lessons provided they (or their parents) can find a piano teacher to take them on as a piano student.
1-4. Who can give piano lessons?
An unregulated profession, people with a wide variety of backgrounds, skill profiles, and attitudes take numerous approaches to the role of a piano teacher.
1-5. Where are piano lessons available?
Piano teachers give lessons mainly at music conservatories, commercial studios, and/or their private community-based home studios.
There are also some piano teachers willing to travel to your home, and yet others now offering piano lessons online.
1-6. How can I find a piano teacher?
To find a piano teacher, various regional music teacher organizations have listings online, including, for Edmonton:
- The Alberta Registered Music Teachers’ Association
- The Alberta Piano Teachers’ Association
- The Royal Conservatory of Music
- Conservatory Canada
- The Suzuki Association of the Americas
Look also for advertisements online, on community boards, and in community news letters, and ask around – you may already know someone taking or giving piano lessons.
Conservatories and commercial studios, as well as some private teachers are also on google maps.
1-7. When are piano lessons available throughout the year?
While piano lessons can be offered year round, most teachers take a break at least at Christmas, and often during the summer, though the availability of a particular teacher depends on their specific schedule.
1-8. When can I start piano lessons?
If the teacher has availability for you, you can start any agreed-upon time.
Often piano teachers start their year in September to coincide with the beginning of the school year, though summer could be a more flexible time to first try out lessons.
1-9. How long does a piano lesson take?
Piano lessons are often 30 minutes, 45 minutes or 60 minutes in length, but can be shorter or longer depending on the needs of the student, or how the teacher’s scheduling works.
1-10. How often do piano lessons happen once I have started?
The frequency of piano lessons is typically weekly, but can be twice a week, once every two weeks, or any other custom schedule you can work out with your teacher.
1-11. What time during the day can piano lessons happen?
Piano lessons can happen any time during the day, provided the student and teacher can line up their schedules.
After-school times (about 4pm to 7pm) tend to be the most popular for students, though mornings, daytimes, evenings, and weekends may also be possibilities.
1-12. What materials do I need before signing up for piano lessons?
While each piano teacher will have their specific books and materials you may need to get and bring to the lessons, piano students will definitely need access to a piano they can use away from the lesson.
1-13. Are piano lessons always one-on-one?
Some teachers offer group piano lessons as an alternate route for beginners before they branch off in their own personal way.
Also, some piano teachers have a group lesson component to supplement their one-on-one teaching.
1-14. Are piano lessons the only one-on-one music lessons available?
No, piano is just the one being discussed here. There are one-on-one music lessons for every instrument that takes time to learn, including:
- Bowed Strings: Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass
- Plucked Strings: Guitar, Ukelele, Harp
- Woodwinds: Flute, Recorder, Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon, Saxophone
- Brass: Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba
- Keyboard: Piano, Organ, Harpsichord
There are also both one-on-one and group theory lessons, as well as composition lessons, often as a supplement to practical lessons at the higher levels.
2. The Piano: An Instrumental Overview
2-1. What is a piano?
A piano is a keyboard instrument that allows us to make music with our hands.
Though acoustic versions use strings, pianos are played as pitched percussion instruments.
2-2. How is the piano designed to work?
Each piano key is a lever that, when struck, causes a hammer to hit a string under tension. When the string is hit, it vibrates, sounding a pitch.
When the key is released, a damper stops the sound by preventing further vibration of the string.
One foot pedal can lift and release all the dampers together, while another can adjust the hammers to soften the sounds produced.
2-3. How does the piano's design affect its musical capabilities?
Because each pitch has a dedicated key, the piano can sound many different pitches together, each with its own volume and duration.
However, after a string is hit, the sound slowly decays and cannot be made louder without another strike.
2-4. What does the piano player do to play music on the piano?
The player sits at the piano and uses their body to both strike and release the intended keys at the intended time with the intended force, all while operating the pedals as necessary.
2-5. Is there a minimum hand size required to play music on the piano?
No. While some musical passages may not work as written for smaller hands, there are many musical ways to adapt them if need be.
2-6. What styles of music can be played on the piano?
The piano has a vast array of repertoire that has continually grown in scope since its inception around 1700 in Italy.
Well-known styles include:
- Western Art Music
- Baroque Period (1600 – 1750)
- Classical Period (1750 – 1820)
- Romantic Period (1810 – 1900)
- 20th century
- Popular Music (Pop, Rock, Country, etc.)
- 20th century
- Sacred Music
- Folk Music
- Jazz Music
- Film Scores
- Video Game Music
- Musical Theatre
You can also create your own musical style.
2-7. In which musical settings is the piano used?
A versatile instrument, the piano is routinely performed both as a solo instrument, and as a collaborative instrument in various groups; two people can even play the same piano in a duet.
The piano is also used as a rehearsal intrument for choirs, and for testing out compositional ideas, among other things.
2-8. What instruments sound good with the piano in a group setting?
Due to its sound quality, popular combinations with the piano include:
- Piano and Voice, from a solo voice to a full choir
- Piano and Violin
- Piano and Cello
- Piano and Flute
- Piano, Violin and Cello (Piano Trio)
- Piano, Oboe and Bassoon
- Piano, Double Bass and Drums (Jazz Trio), possibly with
- Clarinet, Saxophone, and/or Trumpet
- Piano and Orchestra
- Piano and another Piano (Piano Duo)
The piano is also occasionally included directly in orchestras, and concert bands, or, more often, in jazz big bands, and pop/rock bands.
2-9. What advantanges does the piano have compared with other instruments?
The initial time it takes to get a good sound out of the piano is very short.
The piano keyboard can provide a useful visual aid to one’s early understanding of music theory.
The playing setup of the piano asks both sides of the body to develop symetrically from the beginning.
2-10. What disadvantages does the piano have compared with other instruments?
The piano is a very technical instrument that may take longer to learn to one’s satisfaction than anticipated.
Also, because the piano is both
- a rhythmic instrument that doesn’t force you to move your limbs, and,
- a pitched instrument that doesn’t force you to tune your ear,
it can be easy to inadvertently neglect these crucial music skills.
3. Learning to Play the Piano
3-1. What skills does playing the piano involve?
While styles of music may differ, the fundamental music skills piano players learn and apply to the piano include:
- Keeping a Beat
- ...building a rhythmic framework, feeling the pulse...
- Rhythmic Coordination
- ...between the left and right sides of the body...
- Spatial Navigation
- ...traversing the keyboard, chord spacings, shapes...
- Technical Skills
- ...fingering, arm weight, posture, pedaling...
- ...music for friends, the public, an examiner...
- ...experimenting with melody, harmony, rhythm...
- ...creating new pieces, new styles, new art...
- ...setting existing pieces for new players, circumstances...
- Understanding Music Notation
- ...interpreting, writing musical symbols...
- Understanding Music Theory
- ...form, phrase structure, harmony, counterpoint...
- Sight Reading
- ...playing what one sees on the page...
- Playing by Ear
- ...knowing what to play based on having heard it...
- Transcribing by Ear
- ...writing down what one hears...
- ...internalizing pieces, patterns, progressions...
- ...leading & following soloists, choirs, congregations...
- Collaborating with others
- ...playing in a group on equal footing...
3-2. How does one learn these skills?
One learns to these skills by practising them regularly.
3-3. What is practising?
Practising is doing something specific with a deliberate focus to improve one’s skill in the intended area.
3-4. How much practising does it take to learn the piano?
While it depends how good one wants to get at the various skills in different styles, learning to play the piano is generally a long-term project. It may even become an ongoing lifetime pursuit.
3-5. Why does learning the piano take time?
The physical component of playing the piano is very much like athletic training: the brain takes time to build in new reliable reflexes.
Meanwhile, it takes time for the mind to internalize each level of musical understanding before it can creatively apply it with ease.
3-6. Does one need to learn all the skills to be a good pianist?
Depending on one's musical goals, some skills may not be as necessary, leaving a piano player more time to specialize in areas of interest.
3-7. Does proficiency in one piano skill lead to proficiency in another?
While each skill may require independent practise, having a wide skill base can help with specializing in a particular skill, and, specializing in a particular skill can help with widening a skill base.
3-8. Outside of becoming a better pianist and musician, are there direct benefits to practising the piano?
With the diverse skill set involved, practising not only piano, but music in general can be considered the ultimate brain game, requiring and developing multiple intelligences including:
- Rhythmic (Kinesthetic)
- Emotional (Intrapersonal)
- Social (Interpersonal)
which can’t help but enrich one’s life in countless ways over a lifetime.
Indeed, education increases quality of life across the board, and music education is certainly no exception.
3-9. Is there a minimum threshold of skill to gain these benefits?
No. The benefits start to develop when the process starts and continue to grow as the process unfolds.
3-10. What are some of the long-term challenges of learning the piano?
Like any long-term project, interest level will ebb and flow. On any given day, week, month, or even year, we may not feel like practising.
Also because music is so personal, we tend to identify strongly with our efforts. As that effort accumulates over time, the stakes can feel very high.
3-11. Do the long-term challenges of learning the piano promote personal growth?
Yes. Working to overcome the long-term challenges of learning the piano can provide an excellent opportunity to develop many transferable life skills such as:
- Focus / Concentration
- Time Management
3-12. Can practising the piano be worthwhile in and of itself?
At its core, piano practice is exercise for body, mind, and soul.
Exercise is vital to our health. A routine of practising the piano can provide a joyful time to be present while stimulating the mind to coordinate the body's efforts.
Indeed, because it integrates so many spheres, at whatever level, pace, or inclination, practising the piano can be deeply satisfying, and just plain fun.
4. How Piano Teachers Can (and Can't) Help
4-1. Is the information on how to learn the piano readily available in today's world?
Yes. Libraries already had books filled with all the information to learn the piano when the internet came along and made that information ever more ubiquitous.
There are even online apps now that can provide real time feedback as to whether or not you hit the right key at the right time.
This is great for piano students because it allows them to take more initiative along their path to learning the piano.
4-2. If not information, what does a piano teacher offer a piano student in the 21st century?
Piano teachers remain a voice of knowledge and expertise.
By sharing the depth of their experience learning how to learn music, piano teachers can evaluate the information and chart a course through it to draw out a student's potential in a way that cannot be done without a second perspective.
4-3. If I take piano lessons, will I still need to practise to learn the piano?
Yes, most definitely.
Piano teachers can improve practising, but not bypass it altogether or do it for you. As such, piano lessons supplement piano practising, they do not replace it.
4-4. How do piano lessons supplement piano practising?
Piano lessons serve as checkpoints for the piano student
- to receive personal constructive feedback on their latest piano practising efforts from the teacher; and,
- to get set for their next segment of piano practising with input from the teacher.
4-5. Can practising happen at a piano lesson?
If needed as part of their input, a piano teacher can lead the student through a practise session in the lessons so they can better experience what to do.
The student can then use the time between lessons to actually try it on their own.
4-6. What happens if practising between lessons doesn't go as planned?
Having a set periodic schedule provides not only a short-term deadline to help keep a student on their track, but also a reset to start fresh if the last week didn’t go as planned.
Whatever the reason – maybe a legitimately busy week, an overly ambitious goal, or a lack of priority – a teacher's outside perspective can help frame things so that the student can reflect more objectively on their effort, and be ready to try again with renewed interest.
4-7. Can a piano teacher force or pressure someone to learn the piano?
No. A person can only feel pressure to learn the piano if they do indeed have a drive to learn the piano, even if it is hidden.
Piano teachers cannot force piano students to do anything, let alone learn the piano, but if pressure is cropping up, they can help a student find their hidden desire beneath it.
4-8. When giving piano lessons, what is the piano teacher's responsibility?
The job of all teachers, piano teachers included, is not, as their title might suggest, so much to 'teach' per se.
Rather, it is to hold the space for students to learn.
4-9. How do piano teachers hold the space for a student’s learning potential?
Piano teachers engage students in whatever ways they can.
Each student is different, and requires figuring out what makes them tick, meeting them where they are, and knowing when to push, and when not to.
Piano teachers must continually adapt and think on their feet to keep up with their students’ needs as they grow and change.
4-10. Where do traditional teaching methods such as explaining, and instructing fit in piano lessons today?
To the extent that teacher-centered learning methods such as explaining, and instructing help facilitate student learning, piano teachers may include them amongst their strategies during the piano lesson.
However a piano teacher certainly need not be bound only to these strategies when engaging a student to learn.
4-11. What other teaching strategies can a piano teacher use?
Student-centered and interactive strategies are other broad categories of teaching strategies at a piano teacher's disposal these days.
These include things such as experimenting, discussing, activities, and games, though creative teachers need not be bound by these categories either if they discover something else that works for a student.
4-12. Must a piano teacher use a set curriculum like a school techer?
When working in a dedicated one-on-one setting, piano teachers need not concern themselves with other students or outside mandates to follow a set curriculum.
This enables them to tailor a curriculum to better fit a student’s needs and goals.
For instance, it is possible to get high school credits for passing certain piano exams, so if a student chooses that as a goal, that would set a curriculum.
4-13. Are there things outside of lessons that a piano teacher does for their students?
In addition to lesson preparation, piano teachers can help build community ties by planning and running recitals as well as looking out for other musical opportunities for their students.
4-14. Do piano teachers play any other roles in the lesson to facilitate learning?
Depending on a student’s needs that day, a piano teacher might play a role more akin to that of
- an athletic coach
- a disarming guide
- an adult role model
- an enthusiastic cheerleader
- a steadfast authority
- a silly foil
- a life counselor
- a collaborative leader
- an honest friend
- a music mentor
to get them ready to move forward again.
4-15. Can the strength of the relationship between a teacher and student influence a student's interest level in learning piano?
Yes. Just like having a good teacher in school, or a good professor in university, a good piano teacher can make a world of difference.
Sometimes even a student with a waning or undecided interest level in music will be willing to go to the lessons and maintain an open mind simply because they trust the piano teacher.
Eventually they may even decide they want to learn more and start putting in more effort, though there is no set time frame for this process.
4-16. Can a piano teacher's effectiveness with the same student increase over time?
While school teachers may change annually, a piano student might have the opportunity to study with the same piano teacher for many years.
Over the longer time frame, a stronger relationship between teacher and student can develop, adding a new depth of perspective, trust, and care that can further spur the student's growth in music and beyond.
4-17. Can a piano teacher ensure results?
No, but this is always the case with any kind of teacher, with any method of teaching, and no matter how good a teacher may be.
While a great teacher will do whatever they can to inspire and motivate a student, ultimately, a student must take responsibility for their education and do the necessary work to reach their own potentials.
4-18. Can a piano teacher keep teaching the same student indefinitely?
No. While learning the piano may continue throughout life, the piano teacher’s job is ultimately to make themself unnecessary.
Luckily, for both teachers and students, this tends not to happen overnight and we get the privilege to go through the learning process together.
5. Parental Roles in a Child's Music Education
5-1. Is music education available in the regular school system?
Some music education may be available in the regular school system. However, in Alberta, music is not treated as a core subject, and while some schools have great music programs, others may not have any at all.
If there is music in elementary school, it is typically in the form of a group class a couple times a week, with possibly a choir.
In junior high and high school, there may also be band and music theatre courses and programs.
5-2. What options do I, as a parent, have for my child’s music education beyond the regular school system?
Some ideas to investigate for additional music education include:
- Early childhood music programs: these aim to give beginners a broad introduction to music in a peer-group setting. Ages 2 to 10.
- One-on-one music lessons: with these, music is taught through the lens of a specific instrument with personal attention from an adult. Ages 3 and up.
- Choirs: these, naturally, are specific to singing – a core music skill – and combine the need for individual practise with group participation. Ages 5 or 6 and up.
- Independent after-school music programs: In Edmonton, for instance, there is the Music Enrichment Program that provides group string lessons for students. Kindergarten and up.
- Music charter schools: In Edmonton, for example, the Suzuki Charter School requires students to take private lessons, and integrates group music lessons into the school day. Kindergarten and up.
5-3. When should I start my child in music?
While children respond to, and benefit from, musical stimulation even before birth, early musical stimulation does not necessarily need to come from formal music training.
Indeed, a musical home can do wonders to set the stage for more formal training later on.
5-4. What can I do to make music a natural part of my child’s home in anticipation of formal training?
The sky is the limit here. A few ideas:
- sing lullabies to them
- sing and act out nursery rhymes with them
- bounce them in rhythm on your knee
- bring an instrument into the home that they can play around on, and see others play
- take some lessons yourself, and let them casually observe you practising
- have quality recorded music play in the background
- bring them to quality music concerts put on for children
5-5. How can I interest my young child in learning music more formally?
Young children like to do what they see everybody else doing. If they see mom or dad, or an older sibling playing an instrument, they will likely want to learn too.
If you don’t yet know how to play, taking some lessons yourself not only has the added benefit familiarizing yourself with the lesson process to be better able to support your child through them later on, but is also gives you a chance to get to know the teacher beforehand.
Early childhood music programs or choirs can also be useful to spark a child’s interest in learning as the social aspect can be a big draw for a lot of children.
5-6. At what age will my child be ready to start one-on-one music lessons?
Some music teachers take individual students on as early as age 3, but that is not necessarily the norm.
At such a young age, the success of the child is almost entirely at the hands of the parent. With a lot of guidance and patience from parents at home, young children may be able to mimic the sound and movements of a competent adult player, some with great success.
While some children may thrive starting that early in one-on-one music lessons, others may not yet be ready. Many children don’t start until age 7 or even later, depending on the instrument. Indeed there is no hurry: for skill development, it is not the years, but the hours that count.
5-7. Which instrument is best for a child to start with?
It depends on the child. Indeed the child may know, and tell you. Listen to them.
The most common starting instruments for children are probably the piano and the violin.
With regards to children, the violin has the advantage of scaling to a child size, while the piano has the advantage of being robust enough to withstand children’s exploratory impulses, and is easy to makie it sound.
5-8. How do I choose a music teacher for my child?
Interview the teacher, and possibly observe them teach if you can. Talk to other parents you know whose kids are already in lessons with them.
Some teachers align themselves with a particular brand of teaching method. If you are considering a method teacher, look into the method to make sure it jives with your values.
5-9. Should I consider gender when choosing a teacher?
Gender is irrelevant to being a good music teacher, or a good music student.
However, in today’s society, most of a young child’s elementary school teachers are likely to be female. The opportunity to benefit from having both genders more equally represented among a child’s early teachers is something to strongly consider.
5-10. How much lesson time will my child need?
For very young children being guided through everything by teacher and parent, 15 minutes can be a long time to concentrate. In this case, two 15-minute lessons a week may work better than one 30-minute lesson.
For elementary school students getting their bearings as individual music students, usually around 30 minutes a week is enough to keep them going.
For students interested in pursuing piano exams, or who are otherwise putting in the time to really build their piano skills, 45 minutes to an hour (or more) per week is highly recommended to complement the increased hours of practising.
5-11. Once my child is enrolled in one-on-one music lessons, how can I support them?
For starters you will need to fill in where the child is not yet able to in regards to the logistics of making lessons happen, such as paying on time, and ensuring attendance.
Beyond that, some teachers have some very strict ideas about the role of the parents, whereas others are more flexible. In either case, do talk with your child’s teacher to see what they suggest.
5-12. My child is very interested in going to music lessons, but I have to keep telling them to practise. What should I do?
One-on-one music lessons are similar to an upper-level university course where you do a lot of work on your own, then consult with an advisor, then do more work on your own, then consult, and so on.
Learning the habits necessary to take responsibility in this setup takes practice in and of itself, and is one of the things music lessons offer a chance to develop.
But when responsibility is still a new concept for a child, telling them to take it without demonstrating how to do so usually does not work very well, even if they are really interested in music.
This is where parents are needed to lead the way as music teachers are not in a position to demonstrate daily habits themselves when they only see the student weekly.
For parents, leading the way might, for instance, mean:
- spending time doing their practising with them;
- setting aside a practise time where everyone practises or studies their thing, be it music, or something else;
- scheduling a set time for them to engage with their instrument, but leaving the specifics of practising between them and the teacher; or,
- taking a hands-off approach and letting them figure out through their own trial and error how to make the work happen;
depending on the age of the child and the relationships between child, parent and teacher.
5-13. My child has lost interest in learning music, what should I do?
The first thing is to try to figure out why your child has lost interest.
Sadly, music itself is not usually the issue, but rather something that your child is currently associating with it.
Common issues may include:
- Child is over-scheduled
- Lesson and/or practise time directly conflicts with something else that is important to child
- Relationship With Parent
- Parent is exacerbating pressure child already feels from within
- Parent is trying to live vicariously through child, preventing child from doing their thing
- Relationship With Teacher
- Teacher is guilting or shaming child for apparent lack of practise
- Teacher is bringing stress from their own muscial insecurities into the lesson and blocking child's potential
- Different Musical Interests
- Child would prefer to learn another instrument
- Child would prefer to learn another musical style
- Societal Influence
- Child's friends think music is childish or otherwise not cool
- Child feels their music skills are not good enough compared with others
Some issues, if given some time, may resolve on their own, while others will need parental intervention.
If it’s an issue with the teacher, talk to the teacher about changing things up – it may be a simple misunderstanding, or an otherwise honest oversight that they'd be happy to correct. If not, change teachers if neeeded.
Whatever the issue, a break might also be in order so that the child has a chance to re-find their desire for learning music separate from the issue.