We know that all children are different. They have different skills and abilities. I would say that there are three categories for determining when your child can start lessons: skills, emotional maturity and natural musical abilities.
At 6 years old, a child begins reading skills, and they have a good attention span. It is a nice age to start. Younger children (3-5) who enjoy clapping, singing and moving to music can also get started learning the names of the white keys. The basic counts to quarter and half notes are introduced as well.
There are wonderful programs such as Musik Garden, Music Together and WunderKeys for young children. Many coloring books are available for the younger musician to color piano keys, music signs and symbols. I recommend WunderKeys Books and Bastien's Piano Basics: Primer Level.
Another point of view is to start at 3-4 years old when they know their ABC's and can count to ten. At an early age it is possible to keep a steady beat. I suggest that you have someone else teach your child. So, learning the alphabet letters A- G and being able to recognize numbers 1-5 is a pre-requisite for the little ones. Plus, sitting still for 10-15 minutes while focusing on having fun at the piano is very necessary.
Addition is important because music is divided into measures. Kids need to know simple math because each kind of note receives a specific number of counts. Recognizing if the notes are the same or different is important. Plus, hearing if sounds are high or low is good to know.
Music For Little Mozarts is a wonderful pre-K piano method. This method incorporates aspects suited toward many learning styles: kinesthetic (movement), rote teaching, singing Sol-Fa and folk songs as well as a lot of coloring to concretely and visually associate and learn abstract musical symbols and concepts.
In terms of maturity, I would suggest the age of four or five as a good age to start with the piano. Kindergarten kids are very ready for games of any kind, and they begin to have the skills necessary to put several hand movements together into a group of movements.
At this age piano teachers are able to teach them chords (three piano keys played with the left hand). If their hands are real small, they will learn to play 2 note chords (two piano keys, using thumb and pinky).
I have found that children gravitate to what is most comfortable for them. First graders seem magically wired to try the piano and are extremely pleased to play piano! All the physical perceptions necessary are in place; numbers are no problem, playing with two hands is no problem.
First graders are ready to conquer the right hand of sheet music, and engage in a study of chords. At this age kids are emotionally ready to play the game called "happy and sad" wherein the teacher plays chords and has the child try to guess the chords. Are they emotional or dramatic in quality (Major), happy or sad (minor)? Kids love this game of ear training.
Here are a few tips to get started.
1. Teach the notes, the numbers, get the kids to decipher the commands and play the correct keys as best they can, with whatever finger comes to their mind. Associate fingers with animals, if you like.
2. Introduce the idea of five fingers, slowly, as a game. This way they're not playing with just their index finger but with all fingers. Have them press the 2 black keys and then the 3 black keys.
3. Play rhythm games and sing and clap out loud to reinforce rhythm playing on the piano. Try simple rhythm games like "fours" that give children the idea of regularity, of pattern, of repetition.
4. Keep coming back to ideas, again and again. Repetition is good! Are the tones high or low?
Show positive reinforcement and recognition of progress with lots of praise!
Finally, there is no exact age for a child to start taking formal music lessons. As a parent, it is your role to determine if your child is ready based on your observations. Does he show interest in the piano? Does he know the difference between banging and playing gently? The ultimate answer will be child-led.
In the Asian culture, the piano is considered the core instrument that one learns in order to first understand the essentials of music. In order to successfully know how to play piano, Asians must know how to read both the treble and bass clefs. That means understanding the intricacies of a whole other language at the ripe age of 3, which in turn, allows most Asian children to comprehend how to efficiently use their left and right brain hemispheres at an earlier age. Do you ever wonder why Asian children are so gifted mathematically and spatially? That's your answer. Asians will also enroll their children in musical classes to serve the community.
A head start makes for a more complete and successful music education!