Engage Kids With The Piano
Engage kids with the piano. What does that mean? I'll tell you first what it doesn't mean:
- If your child just goes through the motions, they are not engaged.
- When your child hates to play on their own, they are not engaged.
- Unless your child is curious about the piano, they are not engaged.
In a first piano lesson, I don't care if the child gets through page 1 of the Bastien (a popular piano method) first book. I care that they sat at a piano and had a good time.
Books Are Irrelevant
I may not even open a book.
- Make sure they had fun pushing down the keys
- Remember to find a song they like
- I care that they may have noticed a pattern or two.
Every second of every lesson, I am watching the kid's face. I want to know what is easy, what perplexes them, what interests them, what bores them. Curriculum doesn't matter: I'm a doctor with a patient on the table and my mission is to make that kid love piano.
There's time for curriculum: fingering, chords, both hands. We'll get to all that naturally. Right now I want to see what the child makes of the piano by themselves, with a little guidance. The first task is always making music. One index finger is all that's needed, and a song the child is dying to play.
I number the keyboard so there is no difficulty in finding the right keys to push. I usually avoid black keys at first. Unless of course, the song requires them, in which case, they're just introduced themselves to flats and sharps, voluntarily. The Star Spangled Banner, for example, requires a black key, or Happy Birthday.
Skills Before Reading
So before a child ever reads a note of music, they should:
- Play a song they love by memory or number.
- Play at least three chords, C F and G.
- Try to play with both hands. Success is irrelevant.
As time goes on, the songs get more complex. Fingering, at the beginning an option, becomes essential to navigate a even a moderately difficult piece. Depending on the child's brain development determined by age, difficult fingering may or may not be possible.
Simplify As Far As Necessary
I once had a seven year old who insisted on playing the JAMES BOND THEME, a rather complex piece that needs fingering to play quickly enough. I saw that he was having trouble playing the chords (left hand) together with the fingering of the right hand. Instead of insisting he do the whole thing, I instantly sensed what his brain needed.
"Play the melody with both hands. Forget the chords." This simplification allowed him to easily play at least the melody of the song, to his great satisfaction. This simplification allowed him to become engaged with the piano, and with the song. If I had asked for chords as well, he would have been lost. Later, of course, he learned the chords. When he was ready.