Learning the piano

Learn to play Piano. Learning the piano is a tradition in some families, but nowadays, there are more ways to play the piano than ever before.

What is the Piano?

Pianos originally date back to the early 1450s. The first keyboard instruments were actually organs.

Around the same time harpsichords – also piano predecessors – were introduced where the strings were plucked. In comparison, pianos use hammers to hit the strings, thus creating the sound.

These days pianos come in three types – upright, grand and more recently, digital.

Upright is the most common. This is the tall piano you see is many homes. Grand (or baby grand) pianos are long and flat and, while less popular in homes than the upright, are usually seen in auditoriums and theatres.

Digital pianos are a wonderful invention. They have the full number of piano keys, which are weighted to feel like the action of an acoustic piano, plus soft and sustain pedals.

Digital pianos are a great alternative for parents. They are price competitive and don’t need tuning. Digital pianos are much lighter and easier to shift, they save on space and they are quite acceptable for a student to learn to play on and sit examinations.

Where do you learn the Piano?

The most common teaching method in New Zealand is individual lessons with a private teacher, often at a studio at the teacher’s home. Several primary and secondary schools also offer piano tuition.

What age can your child start learning the Piano?

Many teachers won’t take students under six years of age for piano lessons. This is because the student’s hands need to be able to press the keys easily and spread five fingers over five keys. It is also helpful if they are reading a little, and know their letters and numbers.

The Suzuki method starts children much younger than this and teaches by “ear” & “rote” i.e. listening to a CD of the songs and copying what the teacher shows them. This method includes a lot of games and activities – a great starter for young children.

If you would like your pre-schooler to begin music lessons a bit earlier, consider a general music class such as “Mainly Music” or similar, designed specifically for pre-schoolers; where they play a variety of percussion instruments, sing, dance and play music related games. You will need to wait until after they have started school before they can learn the piano.

It is also important to note that it is never too late to begin learning the piano. Middle-aged adult students may find that finger flexibility takes longer to develop, but they will move ahead quicker in other areas of co-ordination and understanding. You can have great fun learning the piano with your child, playing duets and having family sing-a-longs.

How do you progress over time?

Most students will start off with one of the method book courses and will progress through a series of manuals. If students are progressing well they should be completing short songs and exercises in the first year or two of study.

After method books the students may start working through the “grades”.

The two main examination boards used in New Zealand are Trinity Guildhall and Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).

They both consist of eight grades with an initial or preparatory grade prior to grade one. After grade eight students can study for various diplomas and letters. Examinations are held several times throughout each year.

You need to consult with your teacher as to when is the best time for your child to sit examinations. Students shouldn’t be pushed into fitting into a timetable of one examination each year.

Always keep in mind that examinations are a test of the level attained, they shouldn’t be the entire focus and teaching of every year. However, staying in line with either of the syllabuses will ensure no key elements of development are being left out.

There are also theory examinations – written examinations covering reading and writing of music notation, the overall patterns of how music works, creative exercises leading to composition, song writing and arranging music.

It is important for students to study theory along with whatever instrument they are learning and to keep the theory grade at the same level as the practical (playing) grade.

To be involved in secondary school music as a subject, it is helpful for students to be competent in both theory and practical.

Piano competitions are regularly held in most areas of New Zealand and are another way of progressing.

What equipment do you need to learn the Piano?

In addition to the actual piano itself, it is important to have a stool or chair which is at the correct height, so that the pupil’s hands and forearms are level with the keys. Your teacher will advise on this or provide the necessary books for your reference.

Many of the new tutoring books come with accompaniment CDs so you may also need a CD player that either has a remote or can be reached easily from the piano.

A pencil, rubber and ruler is also required for theory (written) work.

How much does it cost to learn the Piano?

Second-hand pianos start from around $1000 – $1500, though a good one could be up to $3000. A good second-hand piano sold through a retail store should include a 10-year warranty. New pianos start from $3500.

A word of warning; don’t buy a piano without getting a piano tuner/technician or teacher to check it out first.

The other consideration is tuition fees. These vary, but an average fee is around $20 for a half-hour individual lesson. However, you really need to contact piano teachers in your area to find out not only their fees, but also when they are able to take your child. Often there is a waiting list.

How much time does it take to learn the Piano?

Lessons are usually once a week and vary in length from 20 minutes to an hour depending on the age and grade of the student.

But don’t forget that students will need to practice daily. Practice should be about the same length of time as the lesson (perhaps a bit less for beginners, and more for advanced students who can work independently and where the teacher has more of a coaching role).

It is really important that parents make sure that there is time in the student’s study and extracurricular schedule for a practice at least five days a week. Think of it as a daily after-school activity.

There is also a time commitment required by parents to attend some of the lessons and to help with the practice at home This will reduce as students get older, but even teenagers need to know that someone is listening every now and again, enjoying what they play, and just keeping a check on progress.

Great Piano Websites

www.abrsm.org

Royal School of Music website

www.trinitycollege.co.uk

Trinity Guildhall online

The Kiwi Families Team

This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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