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Reaching Your Goal: Musical Foundation or Total Musicianship

What is Musical Foundation I What is Total Musicianship I How to Find a Teacher
What is Musical Foundation II What is Total Musicianship II

Musical Foundation I

I feel this entry level is the most critical stage in piano education and the approach may vary quite a bit for different ages. I have therefore separated ages into three groups for Musical Foundation I. The ultimate goal for everyone remains the same. You will find the Skill Guide at the end of this section.

Younger Learner (ages 3-5) : Children can start at any age as long as they can sit still for at least 15 minutes. It is also helpful if the child can recognize numbers 1 to 5 for fingering and letters 'A' to 'G' for key names. I strongly recommend children of this age level begin music education in a group setting (i.e. Kindermusik). Once they can stay focused and engaged for the duration of the class, then start thinking about private lessons.

Many teachers do not accept students until they reach school age, usually around age 5. There isn't a magic age to begin private lessons. Parents must be realistic about the amount of instruction their children can absorb in 15 minutes. I don't believe that starting private lessons at age 3 or 4 will put your child 'ahead' of your goal or guarantee your child will become a prodigy by age 10. It's what we do as parents to nurture our children during those years that sets the path for our children. Both you and your child have to be ready mentally and physically to make this experience a success.

Younger children also require parent's 100% commitment in time and energy. I think it's important to be sure your child is mature enough to take on a new responsibility. Begin with a 15-minute lesson and then increase the length to 30 minutes. Daily practice should be about 15 minutes, whether once or 2 to 3 times a day.

Elementary Age (6-10): This is the perfect age to introduce any instrument, and with increasing interest in music it could also become a life-long endeavor. Children at this age like to be treated as responsible individuals, are always very enthusiastic about new ideas, and are usually ready to try something unique. By now most children probably have been exposed to some type of musical instrument, either at school or from friends. If they ask to take piano lessons, I would first discuss with your child about their commitment to daily practice before searching for a piano teacher. This will eliminate a lot of stress later.

Even if your child hasn't asked to take piano lessons, you may want to slowly approach the subject by offering them a choice of instruments. I would never force any child to take lessons. Bring them to children's concerts or let them attend a friend's recital. You want to offer as many opportunities as possible to spark any interest they may have in music. When a child is ready to make the commitment, they will excel without putting stress on you and pressure on them.

This is also a crucial age to have the right teacher for your child. The minds of these children are very simple and they put complete trust in people we put them in the care of. They will begin to form habits, good and bad, based on what they are taught. I would make the extra effort to choose the right teacher. Begin with a 30-minute lesson then increase it to 45 minutes or an hour. Daily practice should be at least 30 to 45 minutes and more when lesson length increases.

Middle School Age and Up (11 to Adult): Its never too late to begin piano lessons. Whether you've decided to switch from an existing instrument or taking up an additional instrument, or to learn an instrument for the very first time. There are many fun ways to discover the joy of piano playing.

My recommendation is to begin with a method of study (i.e. Music Tree by Frances Clark). This will ensure a solid foundation in all aspects of your piano study. You should also have a repertoire outside of method books. Whether you are seeking further advancement in piano study or just a lifetime pleasure be sure to look for a teacher who understands your goal. Begin with a 30-minute lesson and eventually increase it to an hour. Daily practice should be at least 30 to 45 minutes and more when lesson length increases.

Skill Guide for Musical Foundation I
Physical Placement:

Posture

Instilling good habits at the piano from day one is undoubtedly one of the most critical parts of learning to play the piano. Good posture is necessary to make a performance come alive. The energy of your fingers comes from your whole body and you must ensure your body is correctly positioned to extend that energy all the way to your fingertips.

  • Sit up tall with your back straight
  • Place both feet firmly on the ground. If your legs can't reach the floor, use a stool for your feet.
  • Completely relax your shoulders
  • Relax your arms, wrists, and hands
Hand and Finger Position

Bad hand and finger positioning is something very difficult to correct later on. Spend as much time as necessary to get this right!

  • Your hands should be relaxed and rounded as if you were holding a tennis ball
  • Your fingers should be relaxed with just the fingertips touching the keys. Your fingers should neither be curled in where finger nails hit the keys nor so flat that the first knuckle is bent in
      return to MF II return to TM I return to TM II

Piano Skills:

Read Music Able to read at least three octaves of music, two octaves higher and one octave lower from Middle C
Technical Skills Level 1
Sight Reading Skills Able to sight read music with hands together:
  • Keys - up to 3 sharps and 1 flat (C, G, D, A, F)
  • Time Signatures - 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4
  • Rhythm - simple, up to 10 bars
Aural Skills Able to tap, sing, and listen to music:
  • Respond to music - recognize 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 beats
  • Sing - repeat notes played on the piano by singing, up to 3 bars with a range of up to 5 notes
  • Understand music - differentiate between rhythmic and melodic changes and able to express different qualities in a performance (i.e. dynamics, gradation of tone, articulation)
Practice Regimen Daily practice should be 15 minutes to an hour, or at least as long as the length of lesson

Music Appreciation:

Music Appreciation Exposure to music history, attend concerts
Composition Simple one-hand composition using proper markings (time values, time signature)
Musical Styles Able to differentiate a waltz from a march
Sense of Music An intuitive understanding of music

Music Theory:

Music Theory Level 1

I highly recommend supplementing your regular repertoire with the The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music(ABRSM) for its rigorous program in Music Theory and Piano Examinations.

Musical Foundation II

By now your child probably has had a few years of piano study. They should continue to practice daily for at least an hour. They may have began to participate in programs outside their private lessons (i.e. auditions, examinations). They should have a repertoire containing pieces from various musical periods and styles, and continue with technical exercises (i.e. Czerny, Hanon). I highly recommend supplementing your regular music educational repertoire with the The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music(ABRSM) for its rigorous program in Music Theory and Piano Examinations.

Skill Guide for Musical Foundation II
Physical Placement:

Posture,
Hand and Finger Position
See Above

Piano Skills:

Read Music Able to read at least four octaves of music, two octaves higher and two octaves lower from Middle C
Technical Skills Level 2
Sight Reading Skills Able to sight read music with hands together:
  • Keys - up to 4 sharps and 3 flats (C, G, D, A, E, F, Bb, Eb)
  • Time Signatures - 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/8, 6/8
  • Rhythm - complex, up to 20 bars
Aural Skills Able to tap, sing, and listen to music:
  • Respond to music - recognize 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 , 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 beats (duple, triple)
  • Memory - repeat melody by singing or playing up to 4 bars
  • Sing - repeat notes played on the piano by singing, up to 3 bars with a range of up to an octave
  • Sight Sing - given up to 3rd above and below tunic triad, sing in pitch up to 5 notes, with intervals up to a 3rd
  • Understand music - differentiate between rhythmic and melodic changes and able to express different qualities in a performance (i.e. dynamics, gradation of tone, articulation, tempo and Major/minor key)
Practice Regimen Daily practice should be 45 minutes to an hour, or at least as long as the length of lesson

Music Appreciation:

Music Appreciation Exposure to music history, attend concerts
Composition Complex one-hand composition using proper markings (time values, time signature) and simple two-hand composition
Musical Styles Able to identify - different rhythmic pieces (i.e. a waltz from a march), character of a piece (i.e. sad, beautiful, repetitive), and style/period of a piece (i.e.Romantic, Baroque).
Sense of Music Good intuitive understanding of music

Music Theory:

Total Musicianship I

You probably have already jumped over many hurdles and performed at endless number of recitals. You've made a serious commitment to daily practice and participate in various music programs. To continue advancement in your music education, you must achieve the following skills to the fullest.

Skill Guide for Total Musicianship I
Physical Placement:

Posture,
Hand and Finger Position
See Above

Piano Skills:

Read Music Able to read at least six octaves of music, three octaves higher and three octaves lower from Middle C
Technical Skills Level 3
Sight Reading Skills Able to sight read music with hands together:
  • Keys - up to 5 sharps and 5 flats (C, G, D, A, E, B, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db)
  • Time Signatures - 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/8, 6/8, .....
  • Rhythm - complex, up to 20 bars
Aural Skills Able to tap, sing, and listen to music:
  • Memory - repeat a complete melody by singing or playing
  • Sight Sing - given up to 5th and 4th above and below tunic triad, sing in pitch up to 6 notes, with intervals up to a 3rd
  • Understand music - express different qualities in a performance (i.e. dynamics, gradation of tone, articulation, tempo and Major/minor key)
Practice Regimen Daily practice should be at least an hour

Music Appreciation:

Music Appreciation Exposure to music history, attend concerts
Composition Complex two-hand composition using different dynamics, articulation, tempo, etc...
Musical Styles Able to identify - different rhythmic pieces (i.e. a waltz from a march), character of a piece (i.e. sad, beautiful, repetitive), style/period of a piece (i.e.Romantic, Baroque), form and texture (i.e. harmonic, arpeggio)
Sense of Music Strong intuitive understanding of music

Music Theory:

Total Musicianship II

The ultimate goal in piano training is to have a true love for music. You just can't live without music - breathing music night and day. You may have begun another instrument and are enjoying it just as much as piano.

Skill Guide for Total Musicianship II

Physical Placement:

Posture,
Hand and Finger Position
See Above

Piano Skills:

Read Music Use the full range of keys
Technical Skills Level 4
Sight Reading Skills Able to sight read music with hands together:
  • Keys - up to 7 sharps and 7 flats (all the keys)
  • Time Signatures - 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/8, 6/8, etc...
  • Rhythm - complex
Aural Skills Able to tap, sing, and listen to music:
  • Memory - repeat a complete melody by singing or playing
  • Sight Sing - given up to 5th and 4th above and below tunic triad, sing in pitch up to 6 notes, with intervals up to a 3rd
  • Understand music - express different qualities in a performance (i.e. dynamics, gradation of tone, articulation, tempo and Major/minor key)
Practice Regimen At least as long as the length of lesson

Music Appreciation:

Music Appreciation Exposure to music history, attend concerts
Composition Complex two-hand composition utilizing different forms and textures
Musical Styles Able to identify - different rhythmic pieces (i.e. a minute from a gigue), style/period of a piece (i.e.Romantic, Baroque), form (i.e. A-B-A) and texture (i.e. harmonic, arpeggio)
Sense of Music Solid intuitive understanding of music

Music Theory:

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