Thursday, September 06, 2007

Learn to Play the Piano on a Shoestring

As a young child, my parents, noticing my long slender fingers and fine motor coordination, hoped that I would learn to play the piano. That dream was never realized because they simply couldn't afford a piano or a music teacher. Times have changed, and I feel no one should have to fore go this worthy desire simply because of lack of funds.

If our children learn to play a musical instrument while young, they will not only have learned self discipline, but will reap its rewards by having learned to create and play beautiful music that will soothe their soul in years to come as well as the souls of others; and even greater- to glorify God through their fingers.

When I began teaching my own children, I did not know a single note on a music staff but was determined to at least give my children a rudimentary knowledge of music even if I couldn't secure a piano and teacher for my children. I am happy to say that today, all three of my daughters play the keyboard beautifully, albeit different levels of competence. My twelve year old plays classical music as a means of private enjoyment. She also entertains house guests when called upon. Currently, she is working on creating her own little compositions but is just your average kid, too-- Mozart's blood is not running through her veins.

How did we accomplish this? Now if you have the funds to secure a piano and teacher, which is probably the ideal situation, then this post is not for you. But not everyone has that opportunity, so I'm talking to those who desire this skill for their children, but for one reason or another, need a creative solution.

Whenever I go about teaching anything to the children, I do my best to make it enjoyable while requiring self-discipline on their part. This combination has always worked well for them. So the first thing I did was research recorder and piano books for a very young child. I wanted them to be enjoyable and self-teaching as much as possible. (I always avoid books and curricula that require a great amount of time on my part.) While visiting the US one year, I discovered some books in a music store that seemed to fit this description. The text was simple, the illustrations were eye-catching and the program was easy enough for a young reader to understand. I bought the first one and we enjoyed it so much, I ordered the next two in the series. These books are only 10 dollars each. I will list them below. These are simply what we found. You can probably find something else just as suitable at your local music store or maybe even better. Buying a piano was out of the question since we move around so much, so we bought a simple full keyboard for about 150 dollars. This has been a wonderful investment.

I began by teaching them to play the recorder because it is a gentle way to learn the basic parts of the music scale and the note positions. I bought an inexpensive plastic one. After a few years of this, we moved on to the keyboard. It took three years for each child to move through three simple, entertaining keyboard books at a leisurely pace. Then I gave them, via the advice of a musical family, Palmer's Teach Yourself to Play Piano. If I had begun instruction with this book, I think their eyes would have glazed over, but it is perfect for the older child and adult.

I let the books do the teaching but am available as a guide. They know that I will test them every 12 weeks by asking them to play a more complicated piece perfectly. I also make sure they are practicing daily. A few days a week is simply not enough time. I also don't want music to consume their life, so I tried not to overburden them with long daily practice sessions. Here is a brief outline of what we have done:

6yrs- Introduce the recorder with Progressive Recorder Method for Young Beginners Bk 1 and CD. Practice five days a week for 15 minutes. We usually accomplish a lesson a week, but mastery of each song is more important than finishing a lesson weekly. Let them perform at the end of the term for an audience. We have a Thanksgiving recital every year and invite a few close friends or family members to listen to our little musicians. We make a little program and serve refreshments afterwards.

7 yrs- continue recorder instruction with Book 2 and CD, 15 minutes daily.

8 yrs- Begin piano/keyboard instruction with Progressive Keyboard Method for Young Beginners Bk 1 and Book 2 with the CDs. Practice 20 minutes five days a week. Expect near perfection for every song played.

9 yrs - Continue piano/keyboard instruction with Book 2 and Book 3. Practice 20 minutes five days a week. Check on your children every few weeks to make sure they understand and are following the book closely. (I recommend blacking out the notes in this book so that the letters did not show)
I made simple flash cards showing the treble scale with a single note on each card. I also made cards with various rests for them to identify. I just looked at the back of the books and copied them from the chart. We drill 10 minutes on Fridays.

10 yrs- Begin Alfred's Teach Yourself to Play Piano and accompanying CD. Practice 30 minutes daily. Continue using flash cards. (You can add the bass staff notes now.)

11yrs- Continue Alfred's book and begin Ricci Adams' free online/downloadable music theory course on Fridays. Practice 30 minutes daily.

12yrs-At this point, I find music scores online that appeal to my child's interests. One daughter likes the theme from Lord of the Rings, another likes particular pieces from Bach. I look for fairly simple renditions. One year, for Dear Daughter's birthday, I printed off several interesting free musical scores that I found via Google online and bound them in a book for her. She loved it and continues to add more to her homemade book. You can also buy music books for the intermediate piano player and let them pick what they would like to learn.

I also let the kids make some important choices now that they have matured in the decision-making process. One daughter wants to continue playing the piano, another wants to play the guitar. I will eventually try to secure a piano teacher to help Dear Daughter improve her technique. My guitar-loving dear daughter will continue to practice piano a few days a week but can concentrate more fully on the guitar now.

This is not the only way to learn music on a shoe string, but it is one way. I just want to inspire you. You can do this!

one step at a time...


  1. Amber(homeschooldiva)6.9.07

    This was so inspiring! I studied violin and piano for 8 years as a child at great expense to my parents. I really want the same for our children and this is how to do it! Thanks for the tips! I will refer people to you on my blog!

  2. I am inspired!

    Another excellent post that has perfect timing, I was musing at home about how I could incorporate some music instruction when I barely understand (although deeply love) music, without the need for expensive tutors. This sounds perfect for me and my family.

    I must just add, that I'm a very visual learner, I often need pictures or images of one kind or another, but I find your way of explaining and writing perfect for someone like matter what the subject matter, I can follow from stage A to stage Z, having fully comprehended how to go about doing whatever it is you are explaining.

    The added bonus being, that nothing has been 'dumbed down' on the contrary there is a beautiful eloquence to your writing.

    Thank you so much for your tips and insights into your Home -School life.

    CJ x

  3. This is wonderful. My girls decided to take ballet and jazz this year instead of formal music lessons. We can't afford for them to all take everything. I took piano for several years and have been able to teach them to read music and play basic songs. My middle daughter took violin for 2 years (her teacher moved this year). We had decided to continue both instruments this year on our own. Your suggestions are fabulous! I'm going to look for those books today. Thanks so much!

  4. I too am inspired. My dd13 began taking piano lessons this year from a young lady from our church. She loves it! But she desires to learn a few things on her own. Your suggestions are perfect for that.

    Each morning my dd practices her lessons from her teacher for 30 minutes, but a few afternoons a week she does her own "thing" with a book she picked up on the Free Table at our local used curriculum fair.

    Thank you for posting about the recorder. We own one but I was unsure how to continue her lessons she had when she was in Christian school 4 years ago.


  5. A wonderful post!

    We treat music as second in importance only to the knowledge and wisdom of God through His Scriptures.

    Everyone should learn to read and play music--however simplistically--just as everyone learns to read and write. A strong statement, but one I feel very strongly about.

  6. You have been awarded the Reflective Blogger Award.

    God Bless.

  7. Music is very important in our home oo as it is hubbys profesuion :-)

    You have won a "Door Prize" from the HOH but I have yet to recieve your addy! When you get a moment could you please email me so we can get your prize shipped off to you?


  8. I also teach our kids piano. Usually until they get to issues with which I can no longer help them. I took piano for a few years but was a poor student, but with diligence, am turning out some good pianists!

    I was thinking about writing a blog entry about this very topic. When I do, I will definitely link to this post as well.


  9. Forgot! When I was in college, I heard a BEAUTIFUL Recorder Choir. What a neat thing your kids could do together since they all know how to play.


  10. Thanks for the tips.

    My daughter has begun the Progressive Recorder Method and is really enjoying it.


  11. Thank you for this! I was really in a quandry about all of this. I played flute and had an amazing music teacher in elementary school. I often wondered what I would do. This is a great way to begin!

  12. Ooh, I'm so glad you all are inspired! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm. You all are great.

    CJ, I'm touched by your encouraging words. Maybe you understand my posts so well because I am a visual learner too. I see it in my mind and lay it out nicely step by step and then write it down in a post. I don't want to ramble or waste your time so I'm not too chatty. There are many blogs that entertain the reader and there are those who write so much better than myself. I'm just trying to keep it simple yet helpful enough for people with various levels of knowledge about the subject I'm addressing. Thanks again for your very kind words.


  13. Dear LindaFaye,
    What timing!!
    I have been wanting to teach my children muusic with the keyboard for quite a while now.
    It seems that anyone that I speak with, thinks that you must have an expensive instrument and expensive lessons! I am undecided on a keyboard. I am looking at ones in the $150.oo range. If you have advice...please email!
    Thank you for providing your outline, so I can gather my own ideas from it! And...
    Thank you for the extra push of encouragement!!

  14. I read this post aloud to my husband. We've been really praying and thinking about what to do with our 6.5 yo DD this year. We'd love to start piano lessons, but we're just thinking through a few things. Right now we can afford the piano, but we're looking down the road to a time when we may have four or more children in lessons at once. Around here that's at least $240 a month on lessons! I'm very interested in teaching the younger ones at home. Thanks so much for this post!!! What a blessing :)

    I also wanted to let you know that the CM blog carnival is in the works this week. Here's an information link:

    Thanks again! Hope to hear from you :)


  15. Linda thanks so much for sharing this. As someone who longs to be musical but has no training this makes teaching music to my kids POSSIBLE! :) Thank you!

  16. I just started my 5-year-old son on and he LOVES it. His cousins are on it too and they exchange comments and videos with each other playing all the time. It's $20 a month which is much more affordable than regular lessons.

  17. Thanks for sharing, Sam. It looks good.