Preschool Piano Roadmap
Preschool piano is a lot like a roadmap. You know where you want to go, but you have options as to the order of the stops along the way. The route can be changed. First, understand that if a preschooler hears you or anyone play the piano halfway decently, they will go crazy with enthusiasm. They love the bouncy beat, and the percussive but melodic sound.
When a kid bangs on the piano, they are trying to signal their enthusiasm. The problem is that they cannot bring order to it, and making order out of it is very hard. But, in between the banging, there are certain stops you will make along this roadmap. You choose what order and speed to use.
Up and down is the first skill. At the piano, up/down is synonymous with left/right. Because of this, younger kids have a tenuous hold on this skill, and are usually only dimly aware of left/right, up/down. But the piano is a perfect sound toy on which to learn this difference if you don't already know it.
Individual white keys are the next skill. Try to get the child to see the white keys as a stairway that goes up, and later, down. Use humor, laugh at missed notes, and you will be rewarded with enthusiasm. The game is to play the white keys in a row, not missing any. First up, then down. Try the "Fours" Piano Game to get the idea.
Now try skipping white keys. 1 3, 2 4, 3 5, 4 6, etc. It's probably best to restrict yourself to white keys. But kid's heads go anywhere, so follow along. Mostly, you're training their eyes to look at the keyboard constantly and training them to observe what they do. Kids already have the skill of concentrating on something visual through their ipads and iphones. So now you are training them to watch the piano keys, and it's like video screen.
Skill #4 is something you have to learn, as teacher/parent. First of all, be positive, never criticize, laugh at mistakes, allow the child to be silly. Then come back later and try again. You must remain calmly interested and positive.
If you haven't already done so, number the keys as in the keyboard below:
Put On The Numbered Stickers
Some kids will want to number every key, but try to limit that to numbers above (to the right of) number 1, because below number 1 we will be putting other numbers and letters. Now teach them six or so songs using Piano By Number, and be very patient. Here are some suggestions:
All of these songs are familiar, and if they are not, don't use them. They all are centered around the first five white keys (1 2 3 4 5.)
If the child is old enough, and seems to take to it, introduce fingering. At least alert them to the fact that they have five different fingers. If they resist and insist on the index finger, let them do it. They are not ready. At least try to get them to use two index fingers, so both hands are involved.
Teach the child three basic chords, C F and G. They can use two hands, but they must understand that all chords are constructed of skips between the keys, not adjacent keys. They don't have to play with both hands (melody and chords). Make a separate set of games that involve playing the chords alone until they have some facility finding them.
See if you can combine chords in the left and melody in the right. For example, I playt a game where I say, "Play a C chord in your left and number 5 in your right." This let's them get the idea outside of a song. Now try it on a song, one of the familiar songs (above) that they already know. They don't have to use fingering in the right hand. Most younger kids will balk, as their brains just cannot grasp playing both hands at once. If they resist, pretend it doesn't exist and move on: they are not ready for it. In every instance I have found, kids will play with both hands voluntarily when they feel confident enough with their brains.
The next part is fraught with peril, especially with the younger kids. Start to introduce the elements of reading music for short periods, say a minute or two.
Start with trying to get the child to recognize "Middle C." Have them look at a five-lined musical staff. Which is the highest line? Which is the lowest line? Have the child point out the spaces in between the lines.
Musical Staff with Middle C
Look for Middle C in sheet music. I pass my finger under the notes, and when the child sees Middle C (it has a unique look) they ring a little library bell, a fun game.
Finally, the biggest danger is that you go too fast for the child to have a sense of fun. They may be learning, but they are using games to do it.