Issue 124: First Steps in piano (or keyboard)

I’ve been trying out different ways of introducing notation to young keyboard/piano students.

This worked surprisingly well in the year 3 Wider Opportunities Keyboard class I started teaching back in September:

I taught “D” as the first note, and each key had a name and a bit of a story.

D was the Dog:

“point to D for Dog who lives in a kennel made out of THE TWO BLACK NOTES”. (The other black notes are no use for a dog kennel, because two dogs next to each other would bark and fight all night). I wrote D as just blobs, or simple crotchet quaver rhythms.

Then I introduced C for cat-who has whiskers and is not allowed in the kennel (why not?). So we now had D and C notated as blobs with and without whiskers.

Then I wrote a single line – (the E line of the stave, but I kept quiet about that for now), with the blobs for D and C below the line, As time went on, E for elephant (also not allowed into the dog kennel – why not?) was threaded onto the line like a bead, and the blob F for Fish above the line.

With this very simple notation it makes it easy for the pupil to compose, right from the start, simply by writing “blobs” for C D E F in the right places. I insist on using thumb for Cat, “pointy” finger 2 for Dog, “middle” finger 3 for the Elephant and finger 4 for Fish. I have been known to write 1 2 3 4 on the backs of the thumb fingers, close to the knuckles with washable pen, or use numbered stickers! (Ask first – you can’t teach a child in tears).

If you DO write numbers on the child’s fingers, make sure you write them close to the knuckles. If you write them close to the nails the child will play with stiff, straight fingers so that they can see the numbers.

Quite soon, you can introduce quaver and crotchet notation, so that you can add rhythm to your music.

As soon as C, D, E and F are secure, you can discuss how to add G – by drawing an extra line to thread the note on. It’s a small step from there to show how these lines are the bottom ones of the full stave, and move to reading and writing “real” music.

I’m a firm believer that writing music is key to being able to read music, so we compose, on paper, soon as they can play one or two notes, on whatever instrument I am teaching.

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