Teaching Music to Little Ones

One of the greatest joys is teaching music to little ones – the size person that sits on the piano bench and can barely reach the pedals, or whose violin measures an approximate 10.25 inches. I always find that these times gratify my love for adventure, and it is so rewarding to see the progress that such small children can make in a week’s time. There is so much potential in the minds of children. It’s a true joy to answer the phone and hear from the other end, “I would like to have my son/daughter start lessons.” “How old are they?” is usually one of the first questions I ask, and in reply I love to hear “almost 6,” or “just turned 4.” Often parents are unsure of whether or not their child is ready for music lessons at such an early age, and though sometimes it is probably true that some children would do better to wait a few more years, I love to start them young. The opportunities are so much greater when the mind and hands begin to be trained early in life.

But let’s get a little more practical for a while. Teaching anyone can be challenging, as delightful as it is. (Is there anything worth doing in life that isn’t preset with its own challenges?) Starting early isn’t going to eliminate all challenges, but it does exchange many of the actual intellectually-growing challenges for what I think of as practical challenges.

Practical challenges are things that you need to work through to help you reach the goal. The solutions to them are almost never ends in themselves, but that doesn’t reduce the need for solutions.

Some of the most prominent practical challenges I have faced while teaching music to little ones include:

  • Short attention spans
  • Abounding energy
  • Dramatic exhaustion

Though the list could probably go on, you have no-doubt observed that the three things mentioned above could all be connected in some way to the first one – short attention spans. There are also things to consider such as distractions from student siblings, the great outdoors visible from the windows, attractive books on the shelves in the home studio, and more.

It’s always fun to be creative and work through these challenges to keep the student engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish. Thirty minutes can be a long time for one of these little ones to sit or stand still. If you are teaching violin or another arm-held instrument, it can be even more difficult because little arms get tired quickly. Sometimes little things make a big difference in how smoothly the lesson goes, and here are some of my favorite go-to techniques for making the time pass in a productive and fun way.

  • Let them choose the color pen that you use to take notes. It gets them excited about starting the lesson.
  • 15-20 minutes through the lesson, play a game with the child by sending them running across the room, touching something that you specify, and then have them come running back to you. This burns energy, and as long as you are directing where they go, solidifies your authoritative position as teacher.
  • For students who are just “so tired,” let them set their instrument down (or take a break from sitting at the piano) while you take notes. Just a little break like this can go a long way.
  • While you are writing, ask them about their week. Let them talk about their favorite activity or what fun antics their pet has displayed.
  • Tell stories about your music learning journey, or about other things – what funny things have your pets done this week?

With any of these things, keep in mind that you are together for the purpose of learning, and after a minute or two of talking and playing, bring them back to focus gently and firmly. “Go ahead and play page __ now.” These little breaks can be repeated as often as needed, and you will {probably} gradually find that the student is maturing and diversions are not as necessary as they used to be.

Lastly, never forget: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” –Mark 10:14


Check out these hymnbooks for beginning pianists by Dr. Peter Davis. We love these books and how they fit in so beautifully with the Keys for the Kingdom method series. If you are searching for supplemental hymns for your students, look no further!

Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 1 A Graded Hymn Anthology Primary Piano Solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110213. Published by SoundForth (S2.110213).
Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 2 A Graded Hymn Anthology elementary piano solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110221. Published by SoundForth (S2.110221).

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One Response to “Teaching Music to Little Ones”

  1. “Dramatic exhaustion”. I smiled when I read that because of the experiences I’ve had with my student. 🙂 In the past especially (but occasionally even now), she would also act like she didn’t remember the lesson or particular things I was asking her to do. Have you dealt with that before? 🙂

    Thanks for the practical advice!

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