Ratio of Talk To Activity In Piano Lessons
The ratio of talk to activity in kid’s piano lessons has to be kept as low as possible. Children’s piano teachers talk far too much. Children respond far better to action and example. If I want to show a child how to play the first three fingers of their hand (consecutively, up in a row on the white keys), I wait a second to see how they will do it themselves before intervening.
First see what they come up with using a verbal explanation only. As soon as the child seems confused, I gently take their hand and move their fingers like a puppet. It gives the child a physical sense of what I’m asking for in an instant. You have to be firm but gentle. There is no better way to show a child how to use their hand at the piano. Yes, you can discuss fingering in whatever depth you want. But I would make that depth appropriate to a seven year-old’s mind.
Use Language Appropriate To The Child’s Age
I see piano teachers use large words that would never comfortably be in a child’s vocabulary. Whatever you say, take care that it is a crystal clear explanation that matches the individual child’s comprehension level. And whatever you say, make it brief, then show them what you mean. Don’t talk about fingering being necessary to play complex piano music. They don’t need to know they will not be able to play fast passages without it. Explanations of this sort are lost on a child. They live in the now.
Demonstrate, Show Not Tell
What works best is example, not talking. Play songs or portions that easily demonstrate the laws of fingering. For example, Mary Had A Little Lamb is perfect to demonstrate consecutive fingering because all the notes are adjacent. Try it on the online piano below, starting with the third finger of your right hand:
Mary Had A Little Lamb
If you must talk about fingering, first tell them that the hand is like a basketball team with five members. The captain is the thumb and the weakest player is the pinkie. That explanation is understandable and humorous for any child. I often work off the piano, on the ledge above the keys. This is to defuse the anxiety of hitting wrong notes and make the exercise purely physical.
Try Fingering In The Abstract
If a child has a problem playing three notes in a row with proper fingers, I make the child do the same motion on a table or a book or the piano ledge. Then we transfer this to the keys, and explain how it is the same thing. The only difference is that we must be more careful to not hit any other keys. A child approached in this physical manner, at a level that is comfortable to them, cannot fail to begin to grasp how the hand works. It is but a short step from there to begin playing simple songs with confidence. Kids understand fingers far better than words about fingers.