Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Should a three-year-old child learn piano?

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Question
Dear Clare, could you pls advise?

What kind of music should a three-year-old child learn?

My son was born in 2009 and I would like him to learn something, perhaps piano (?) But I don't know if it is too early.

Thank you.

Answer
Hello Lee, and thanks for being patient.

Why do you want your son to learn music?  Do you want him to derive lifelong pleasure from it, enjoy a particular genre or a whole variety of genres, find emotional release and refuge in it?  If so you have to let him learn at his own pace, which for the average three-year-old means music and movement - dancing, singing, imaginative movement.  The babies in my classes are learning to jump and march in time to the beat. They listen to me with closed eyes and tell me what pictures the music paints for them - is it slow/fast, happy/sad/scarey/grumpy, low/high, flowing/spiky? - then they dance to it.  Most of them can't skip yet so learning to skip is an important part of the class, but they learn to hear the difference between running music and skipping music.  We sing and act out nursery rhymes and they learn to recognise nursery rhymes from clapping the rhythm only.  Above all, we have fun.

Of course three years old is far too young to start an instrument.  The best age for starting the piano is about 8 or 9, and for a long time I wouldn't take pupils younger than that.  I have taught five-year-olds and there's no advantage to starting that early since you can't progress at a normal rate - progress has to be at a snail's pace because the child simply doesn't have the physical dexterity to learn faster.  Bear in mind that not only must you use both hands equally and independently, all ten fingers have to be equal, and that takes time and a lot of practise.  

I have to say that if you came to me and said, "My son is nine years old and I want him to learn the piano" I'd turn you down immediately.  My rules for accepting pupils: your son must want to learn himself, which means he has asked you "please may I have lessons?", and he must be of an age to understand that, although the lessons will be fun, he's going to have to work in order to progress, which means daily practice.  You'll need to encourage/remind him to practise and ensure he has uninterrupted quiet to do so, but any attempts to force him into practice are doomed to failure.  You're guaranteeing that as soon as he's old enough to make his wishes known he'll not only give up, he'll never touch music or the instrument again.  

Hope this helps.

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Clare Redfarn

Expertise

All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.

Experience

57 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 42 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 45 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 20 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Organizations
Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

Publications
I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

Education/Credentials
MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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