Music

Building Foundations: Essential Skills Covered in Beginner Piano Lessons for Kids

Music is a great teacher. It opens our creative minds and enhances critical thinking. It also helps cultivate discipline and builds communication skills. With all the social, intellectual, and cognitive benefits music education delivers, it’s no wonder parents sign their kids up for music lessons as early as possible. The piano is often their instrument of choice.

This guide helps you understand which piano skills your child’s teacher will instill – these range from coordination – learning to play with both hands, to reading music. 

Before getting into the meat of things, we must make two points clear. First: essential piano skills remain the same, whether taught in a world-renowned conservatory or during one-to-one piano lessons. The order in which they’re taught might vary, depending on the student’s age, aptitude, and interest.

Second: this article’s title is a bit misleading, as we don’t give the age of the kids in question. An eight-year-old will have more staying power than a child half their age, and more intellectual capacity to grasp piano concepts. Even hand size and dexterity matter, particularly when teaching chord structures and modulations.

With that said, remember to tailor these guidelines to each student. Their age and the levels of interest they show in learning piano essentials should inform the learning goals.

The First Five Notes

Modern pianos have 88 keys: 52 white – the natural notes, and 36 black (sharps and flats).  The earliest lessons revolve around the white keys, grouped in seven sequences of eight notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C). Beginners master fingering for the crucial ‘first five’ notes: C-D-E-F-G. It doesn’t matter which octave (grouping), but teachers typically start with Middle C – in the middle of the keyboard.

Some piano teachers affix stickers bearing notes’ letters on their piano keys. Others use the number system, where C = 1, D = 2, and so on. Still others use a colour system; a conversion especially helpful for the youngest learners. For the last two methods, the sheet music is similarly marked.

How the music teacher approaches these early lessons varies. Some students want to put their fingers on the keyboard and make music as soon as possible. Others don’t mind a brief tutorial over coordinating sheet music notation with keys. These early forays in reading music will shape students’ devotion to their lessons.      

Mastering Chords

Once the beginner piano player can read and play basic notation, it’s time to introduce chords. Those are three-key groupings, and sometimes include a black key. They typically involve lots of left-hand work, which may be a challenge for right-handed pupils.

Often, teachers will start their learners on a two-note chord – typically the bottom two members, with their second and third fingers. This makes it easier for students to see the chord’s construction. It also reduces thumb usage, an element that causes much confusion in younger players.

Chords are the backbone of music, so teachers must give students all the time they need to master them. For this essential piano skill, age and aptitude are determining factors for how long to spend learning it.

Two-Handed Piano Playing

This skill calls for players’ hands to engage in separate tasks at the same time. This challenging ability requires piano players to train their brain’s two hemispheres to work in concert. Gamifying lessons make this training more accessible.

For instance, you might quiz your student to play a C-chord while fingering a single note with their right hand. “I bet you can’t play a C-chord and an A at the same time!” is one way to begin the challenge. Other phrases include “I dare you to play (this chord and that note)”, “What would playing … sound like?”, and “Oh, yeah? What about playing … ?”

If your pupil doesn’t tire of the game, you may increase the number of notes their right hand should play. Keep things simple for as long as you need to. Save finger crossovers for later, when your pupil has grasped two-handed fundamentals.  

For very young learners, you could play the chord while they finger the note. You might vary the tempo, making it lively and bouncy, or more relaxed. This allows your students to build speed and internalise the notes’ positions on the keyboard.

This exercise requires you to have sheet music for them to read and play. Or you could simply instruct them to play each note on the scale, starting at Middle C. You might even tell them to play each note a certain number of times – twice, or four times for each chord you play. This exercise is a great way to keep learners’ enthusiasm high, as well as reinforcing your teacher-student bond. 

Rhythm Reading

The essential piano skills covered so far can overwhelm students’ ability and motivation to master them, particularly if introduced too quickly. Beginner piano players must train their brain to make their hands work independent of one another. They strive to master fingering for both hands; a mirror-learning proposition. They must learn how to convert notes from sheet music to corresponding positions on the keys. 

To add rhythm reading to the mix too soon could discourage beginners. Take your time – and let them take all the time they need to master the first three skills before broaching this one. 

Patience, Perseverance, and Creativity

Beginner piano students may grow frustrated with running scales every lesson, no matter their age. For them, ‘building muscle memory’ and ‘brain training’ mean nothing. They want to make music, not drill endlessly in essential skills.

Teachers’ creativity makes all the difference in their students’ desire to learn. Beginner piano players will persevere if their teacher is patient and creative. Indeed, piano lessons for kids teach future Mozarts these virtuous skills while they learn fingering and notation. This is yet another way that music is a great teacher.

Related reading: Are You Planning To Teach Music To Your Toddler? – Find Out How!


Author Bio: Sophia Birk is a lifelong music lover and former solfège student. Knowing first-hand the tedium of repeating drills, she advocates for engaging lessons and hands-on instruction.  

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