Freestyle Kid’s Piano
Freestyle kid’s piano is a way of giving kids freedom at the beginning of piano lessons. The usual alternative is to immediately have them read music. The moment your child starts conventional piano lessons, they are put into a confining curriculum of reading music.
They will go from page to page in a standard text series. Finally, theoretically, they reach the last book in the series. The assumption is they are then able to read music. That is, if the kids ever get to the last book, because statistics are against them.
Nine out of ten kids will never make it, and it is not because they are stupid, lazy or unsuited to the piano. Kids may benefit from a stratified, unbending method in reading and math, but the nature of music requires a much more free approach.
- 10 out of 10 kids learn to read.
- 10 out of 10 kids can do simple math.
- 9 out of 10 kids quit piano.
What’s wrong with these numbers? Why do kids fail at piano? Is it that piano is so difficult, or the kids are untalented and lazy? No, it’s the method of teaching. Rigid teaching works in math and reading, not in music. So what strategy will work, and will produce success figures better than 10%?
Freedom Works Best At First
I would call it “freestyle” kid’s piano and here is how it works. As prelude, I use all the old standards textbooks and carry them with me to every lesson in case there is something useful to which we can refer. The essence of freestyle is that I do not walk into the lesson room expecting anything.
I see what the child is doing, how they are feeling, find out what they might like to do. Maybe there is a song they have heard and want to learn. This happens every day. I treat them like a fellow musician, not a robot student-slave. Of course I know what the starting skills of piano are, and reading music, and look for opportunities to introduce them in a fun way. At first, however, I want the child to make music, no matter how simply.
Making Music Is Job Number One
I’d rather have a child play Twinkle, Twinkle with their index finger at their first lesson, by eye and memorized. The alternative is to slog through page 1 of a text that will require 15 minutes of explanations, and then put the child in a semi-coma repeating some absurd exercise that is clearly “fake music.”
Using The Freestyle With Fingering
We then learn a dozen songs this way, by number and eye and ear, and finally I point out that using the index finger alone is slowing them down. Why not use two index fingers? Then, after a while, why not use the third finger, right next to the index?
At this point kids will go wild with trying different fingerings, most likely avoiding the fourth and fifth fingers which are instinctively weak. When the smoke clears, I choose a song like Mary Had A Little Lamb, or Beethoven’s Ninth, in which all the fingers move to the adjacent finger. This is easy to understand.
Play A Fingering Game
Try to introduce fingering as an abstract game, not as part of a song. I play a game called THREESIES which introduces kids to fingering without reference to an actual song. Use the first three fingers, thumb, index and third, on each group of three keys:
Five Fingers In A Row
Most kids get the idea of five fingers in a row. This facility may have taken five lessons. But guess what? Now the child is ready to attempt page 1 of the standard text. Look what it took: five weeks of preparation. What our “freestyle” approach has taught them is that:
- We’re concerned with the first five white keys.
- We use the five fingers in a row.
With those two skills in hand, you may be readier to read music, but it is really still too soon. You need to embark on a separate study of reading music, which all your previous explorations “by number” will support, even make possible.
Before that study of reading music, you need to spend all the time having fun, learning “precursor skills” that will make reading music easier when you get to it. Without reading music, the child needs to first learn about fingering, chords, playing with both hands, and the general geography of the keyboard.
Kids don’t quit piano because they are lazy or stupid, they quit because they are very poorly prepared for a solid diet of reading music.