Nurture your little one's creative expression at the piano.

Techniques for Teaching 2-Year-Olds to Play Piano

by Carly Seifert

Learning piano at a young age offers many benefits. It builds confidence and develops creative expression, and studying a musical instrument increases spatial awareness and helps children score higher in reading and math tests than their nonmusical counterparts. Resist the urge to go Tiger Mom on your child by creating a mini-Mozart of your 2-year-old. Just set the stage for a lifelong love of piano, and she'll be just fine. She won't be playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" yet, but in a couple of years she just might. And you never know: Some kids display remarkable musical ability before elementary school.

1. Finding the Right Fit

Since 2 years of age is a younger-than-typical age to begin piano lessons, it's important to evaluate whether or not your child is truly ready to begin piano instruction. If she can recognize numbers one through five, letters A through G and focus on one activity for 10 minutes, then she may be ready for piano lessons. If she hasn't yet reached these milestones, then a parent-tot music class might be a better fit. You can continue to prepare your child for lessons and also let her bang around on the piano. This builds her anticipation for future lessons.

2. Lessons and Teachers

If you're planning to enter lessons with an outside teacher right away, you'll want to find a teacher who's highly recommended -- and skilled in working with toddlers. Some teachers may teach in a group piano setting for their young students, and others may teach privately. Regardless of the setting, the teacher should be warm, friendly and use a play-based approach for a 2-year-old piano student. As the Mom, evaluate her to see if she's a good fit. She shouldn't expect your little one to sit on the bench for the whole lesson, or your squirmy toddler will probably check out before accomplishing much. A successful piano lesson for a young beginner will include games and physical activities in addition to keyboard time.

3. Concepts

If you possess some musical knowledge -- and oodles of patience -- and you'd like to work with your toddler before beginning lessons with an outside teacher -- or better yet -- in conjunction with her teacher, you can work on some concepts at home. You can teach her rhythm at the piano and also using rhythm instruments like castanets or tambourines. Pop in a CD of nursery rhymes, set a steady count, and tap along with the rhythm instruments. Begin developing her musical ear by asking her to close her eyes. Let her listen to you play a favorite tune on the piano. Ask her questions. Were the notes low or high on the piano? Was it forte (loud) or piano (soft)? Fast or slow? Help her discover the patterns of black keys on the piano and teach her the numbers of her fingers, although don't expect her to use much besides her index finger as she plays.

4. At the Piano

Two-year-olds can be taught simple, basic songs on the piano, typically using one finger. At this age, you may spend many weeks on the black keys before moving onto the white keys. Use a D-centered approach to teaching keyboard geography, since the D keys on the piano keyboard are the easiest for little eyes to spot. The fine motor skills of little ones are still being developed, so don't expect much technically correct playing. Playful exercises away from the piano like squeezing stress balls or doing art projects help strengthen her finger muscles. Though you may be tempted to run and hide -- or at least pop in ear plugs -- as your 2-year old practices, she'll need your constant supervision and help as she works at the piano. You'll need to make sure she is seated correctly at the bench, count out loud for her to help keep a steady pace and point to the notes on the page since she doesn't yet comprehend reading musical pages left to right.

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