“Young musical prodigies are just exceptionally gifted children”
I’m sure the majority of us have thought this statement to be true while others believe that it’s their parents that push them to practice all day, every day to become the great child musicians that they are today. Whatever the case may be, one thing that most child prodigies have in common is that they started music lessons between age 3 & 4, which is very rare, especially here in the Bahamas.
Actually, in the Bahamas, most music teachers reject students younger than age 5 for several reasons:
- Their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are underdeveloped for being able to play an instrument
- They have short attention spans
- They can’t group musical concepts together because it seems too complex at that stage
- Many more reasons
However, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to teach children between the ages of 3 & 5 how to play a musical instrument, such as piano, as long as the lessons are tailored to their level of cognitive and physical development. Additionally, ages 3-5 are the best years to cultivate proper musicianship and love for music because this is where their brains are the most malleable.
Age 3- The dancing sponge
At this age, some fine and gross motor skills have developed such as walking in a straight line, balance on a beam, skip or gallop, walk backward, catch a ball, wash and dry their hands and, with assistance, turn pages of a book. Also, at this stage, they can express emotions such as “I’m happy,” “I’m sad,” “I’m mad.” They may even show empathy to others and try to comfort them. This means that they may be able to express how a certain song may make them feel and understand how the song makes another person feels.
Teaching rhythm is also important at this stage. Have you ever watched a 3-year-old dance? It’s hilarious. A lot of the time, they’re hopping around the place off time but if they are able to hop and walk in a straight line, they are able to tell the difference between a beat and a rhythm.
They can also be introduced to the black keys first and then the white keys on a keyboard/piano. Allow them to feel around the piano and play the piano (I know it will sound annoying but it’s important that they can use their fine motor skills and develop their hand-eye coordination by being allowed to press and/or hit the piano). This helps them to grow confidence in playing and feel comfortable playing in front of people. Additionally, they will hear different pitches so the concept of high and low notes can be taught.
The ideal lesson will then be 30 minutes long (to not overload their short attention spans) and it must be several times a week because repetition is the only way students at this age will remember their lessons.
Age 4- The Independent musician
This is the age at which many young musical prodigies such as Emily Bear, Evan from Little Big Shots and Anke (photoed left), just to name a few, have all started their music lessons. Usually, this is the age where they tend to want to be more independent. They have better control over their fine and gross motor skills where they will be able to dribble a soccer ball, string beads, complete puzzles, color inside the lines, dress themselves and brush their own teeth with a little supervision.
Additionally, they are most talkative at this age and they will ask a lot of questions, including questions that are hard to answer. Having slight control over their emotions, they can feel jealousy, excitement, anger, and fear and they are also able to establish friendships.
In terms of their cognitive development, they understand the concept of numbers, knows most shapes, colors and the alphabet. This then enables the ability to use their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination playing the piano by placing colors on the piano and allow them to associate the colors on the piano with ‘notes’ on a manuscript (usually the ‘notes’ have the same color as the keys on the piano to connect the two to pitch). This allows engagement of their senses and makes learning a song on the piano fun (rather than just looking at black and white keys, which is rather boring)!
At this age, their hands are still small so it may be difficult to spread their hands across the keys. Then some may still have difficulty forming a proper hand sign for the number 3 and wiggle each of their fingers separately. They can then be taught to use their index finger to play each note. Eventually, the goal at this stage is to get them to play using both hands. Teaching note names and their time values is also possible as well as they would understand what a beat is and how to count.
The ideal lesson is still 30 mins to accommodate their attention spans and it must be several times a week as repetition is reinforcement.
Age 5- I’m a big kid now!
This is the stage of a child’s development at which they are able to exhibit more self-control and sit in a class for an extended period and listen to the teacher while still learning to regulate their emotions. Their fine and gross motor skills are now being fine-tuned as they are able to zip up their clothes, tie shoelaces and have better balance and coordination, so much so, that they are able to handle knives and forks with more ease. Additionally, their ability to wiggle each finger individually increases (and if not, just some simple exercises will enable them to do so eventually), thus allowing them to play each individual key on the piano separately.
This age is where you can now get them engaged by giving a number to each finger on each hand (pinky being finger number 5 and thumb being finger number 1) and place them on the keyboard with each white key getting a finger starting from middle C. Then, get them to play a familiar song by calling out the number. To take this a step further, you can also write these numbers on the staff and allow them to ‘read’ the numbers of the staff to play the keys on the keyboard. This does several things:
- Teach the student that it is possible to play a familiar song on the piano, which then builds confidence
- Gets their fingers adjusted to pressing down on the keys while their hands are stretched across the five keys.
- Teach them better hand-eye coordination
- introduce the concept of ‘reading’ music by looking at the numbers and associating them with their fingers and the keys they are positioned on.
The Ideal lesson can be stretched to 45 mins to an hour at this stage as they are able to sit for longer periods.
So Based Upon This, Can My Child Be a Young Musical Prodigy?
This entirely depends upon the interest of the child, the willingness of their parents to allow their children to take music lessons at such a young age (and ensure that the child has a short but meaningful practice as a routine) and the ability of their teacher to shape their talent and believe in their students. The three of these combined will produce a strong foundation for a well-rounded musician, if not by their preteens, at least by their college years if they stick with it. It is important to note, however, that parents must not place unrealistic expectations on their kids, or try to push them beyond their abilities. A lot of the time, becoming a great musician takes patience and practice.
Of course, these methods that I have mentioned above will vary based upon each student’s needs and cognitive, as well as, motor skill development, which may then lead to trial and error sessions. In fact, when I first started, I had no idea how to relate to a 3 or 4-year-old because their cognitive capacities are vastly different from the older kids that I taught but I sought advice through parents of my students, my very own parents and I did research on cognitive development at their ages.
To teach your young musical prodigy today, message Tyra’s Tutoring to book an appointment and reserve your session.