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I have a 5-year old who has shown some interest in music. We started him with some very basic piano lessons (30 min/week) from an instructor who specializes in teaching children and got him a keyboard (Casio) for Christmas.

We're having him practice for a short, 10-15 minute stretch every day. And I sit down with him and instruct him what to work on (based on teacher's homework instructions). He has a very good attention span and can handle this without fuss (usually).

My sister has a niece who started at 10, is 12 now, and is playing Mozart rather impressively. My sister feels that 5 might be too young, and I've often heard that you shouldn't pressure kids too early with music.

QUESTION: Am I "pressuring" him too much simply by asking him to do this? Is this too young to start with a structured approach to music learning? How do you encourage such a young child to practice without "pressuring"? Can that be done?

I'm not necessarily trying to cultivate a virtuoso -- I would be more than happy if my son ever gets as good as my niece is now. I just feel that early exposure to music is good for the mind and the soul.

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As a side note, if you later feel your son is showing a great interest in playing the piano, you should purchase a real piano. It's highly detrimental to one's playing technique to be practicing on an electric keyboard. – Lotus Notes Jun 7 '11 at 20:52
@LotusNotes I have to (somewhat) disagree - I have a decent Yamaha electric that I bought two years ago for around $700, weighted keys, all the like. I find that it's better than the practice (upright) pianos at my university (mainly because it's always in tune haha). That said, I don't have any piano training; I taught myself, so I don't really have the 'taste for quality'. I do know that I much prefer the Yamaha grand in the music room at my old university, but there are advantages to having a good electric like MIDI output (you can do all sorts of stuff with MIDI these days). – Chris Cirefice May 23 '14 at 15:48
up vote 9 down vote accepted

"Too early" depends very much on the child.

My wife started banging on the family piano when she was five, until her mother finally convinced a teacher to give her lessons (normally the teacher did not give lessons to children under 6). Since she had an active interest that she expressed without prompting from her parents, I'd say that 5 was not too early for her to start.

"Pressuring" depends also on the child. So long as you are going at a pace and establishing a disciplined schedule that does not interfere with your son's enjoyment, then it is safe to say you are not pressuring him. The danger of pressuring a child is that you run the risk of removing their enjoyment. For them to be successful at music (however you choose to define it), they will have to enjoy playing for their entire lives. If they start off by dreading lessons, practice, and the pressure that goes with them, then their enjoyment will be stunted, if not altogether destroyed.

The other component to consider is pace. Generally speaking, a 5-year-old will learn at a different pace than a 10 year old, largely due to the developmental gap in motor skills. So long as you are careful to make sure the pace of the lessons and practice don't exceed their capabilities, you should be okay. If it becomes a struggle to get him to practice every day, consider cutting down on the practice sessions a bit until he's older.

But so long as he enjoys playing, and shows enthusiasm for practice, I wouldn't worry at all that you're going too early, or putting too much pressure on him.

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Pressuring is really a balance I think; I felt some pressure with continuing my instrument, but I am happy that my parents were persistent. Learning to give up at the first hurdle is not a good lesson. – Per Alexandersson Jun 20 '14 at 19:50

Definitely get them to at least try - music is such a valuable talent to encourage!

Don't worry too much about pressure. Conversely, any child will go through phases of disliking (or saying they dislike) a particular hobby. It may be that you will have to keep a certain amount of 'pressure' to get them through this. You don't want to overdo it, but it may be that they would regret giving up an instrument later, so give positive encouragement, and help them push themselves through the odd tough time when they just 'don't want to!'

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Just a thought: just because a child "gives up" an instrument, does not mean they cannot take lessons back up later. If a 5 year old quits, there's no reason the parents can't come back 2-3 years later and suggest they give it another shot. – Beofett Apr 12 '11 at 12:07
@Beofett - very true. – Rory Alsop Apr 12 '11 at 12:10

When we wanted our child to take lessons, we took some time for preparation.

When he was about 3 and a half years old, we told him that he cannot start learning an instrument before the age of 4. Of course it didn't matter at first. But After telling it over and over (carefully dosed, of course) it became one of the best things about his 4th birthday. He could finally start learning how to play.

Then we arranged lessons (30 min/once a week) starting in the week after his birthday. Since then we practice every day for at most 10 minutes at home. (Same time every day without discussion.) Telling him that he does it for his mother. (Which is absolutely appropriate for a child in that age.) And after having done a great lesson. We celebrate him by cheering and applauding shortly. So he feels good about and looks forward to the next day.

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I'm not a parent, but I'm a 21 year old student whose greatest passion is music, especially playing the piano and composing. Although I am no longer in music school, I play two instruments and often spend 2 or 3 hours a day practicing simply for the enjoyment, in addition to my orchestra position and composing hobby. I'm only posting this to give you an answer from the opposite side of the other answers posted.

It takes a certain age or maturity level before some kids can actually appreciate the music they are playing and realize what they get out of it. I started taking piano lessons at the age of 6, and for the next 5 or 6 years I would spend every weekend throwing a tantrum and breaking down in tears about having to do my music theory homework. I despised music lessons more than anything else in the world, and my dad would have to lock me up in a room and finish every single exercise with me before I was allowed to do anything fun for the rest of the weekend.

The truth is, sometimes you have to push your kids to do something they don't necessarily want to do at the time, but they will thank you for it later. Once they get to a level where they feel proficient and can impress their friends and relatives with their musical prowess, it helps greatly with self-esteem and they will start practicing on their own accord without you having to force them. But it might require having to go through some heartaches before that point.

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Depends entirely on the child. I've taught children as young as 6. While children this young have shorter attention spans, they can still gain a lot from music lessons. The most important thing for a child that young is to have a GREAT teacher that can foster their interest and show them that music can be fun and exciting. It's also VERY important that children this young have parents who are a part of their education. Parents need to help motivate their child and help him or her maintain a regular practice schedule.

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