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"Please advise me what you think is the earliest age at which a child may begin to study the piano."
No age is too early to begin piano lessons. I say the earlier the better! It's a green light to begin if the child is musical and eager to learn, and if the teacher is stimulating and imaginative enough.
But one must realize:
That expression at the piano during the preschool years is purely physical - the joy of swing, movement and sound; therefore all stiffness and conscious striving must be guarded against. After all, they're just kids and their tiny hands are not fully developed. Plus, their attention span is limited.
That music existed before notes - therefore the child must, for a time, be unhampered by the printed page. Rote or ear-playing should be the rule until the piano is thoroughly explored, and the approach to it is confident and easy. Note reading should of course be taught, but not simultaneously with the playing of "pieces," however short. The length of this rote period, depends, naturally upon the child's ability.
That all music played should be short, often less than a four measure phrase, for even that much may be too complicated technically for the preschool child. Such motives as the following may be played all over the keyboard and in many keys.
Bass notes: left hand plays C and right hand plays F (two times)
Treble notes: left hand plays Bb, Ab, Gb and right hand plays Bb
The idea in each case is complete, yet simple enough to be expressed happily and musically. Any teacher can "make up" dozens of these short, amusing figures for the beginner.
There is so much excellent material for beginners available to teachers and parents. Here's a list of a few that I use and am familiar with. These are helpful for kindergarten and early elementary kids.
Beginner Books: Primer Level
10 Easy Lessons Piano Young Beginner
A Charlie Brown Christmas: Beginning Piano Solos
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"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King