Turn Your Piano Into A Toy
If you turn your piano into a toy, kids will have fun with it just as they do with their other toys. Ever notice how kids learn to play a video game very quickly? It isn’t hard, because they are constantly refining their skills at the game. What draws kids to video games, and other favorite toys?
Kids love the fact that the game is THEIRS. Mom and Dad can’t play Super Mario. There is a world that a child inhabits when they play with a favorite toy. You can safely leave them alone because they are so happily absorbed in their construction and imagination.
The Happy Child With A Toy
How does this apply to the piano and children? It occurred to me that above description of a child playing with a toy is exactly the same as I feel when playing the piano. I recognize that I am a professional with many accomplishments and awards, but still I feel like a child at play. I'm excited to try one thing and another, moving happily and quickly from one new idea to the next.
To me, playing the piano isn’t work, but rather an intellectual and physical amusement. Like a video game, one wants to repeat songs at the piano because it is interesting.
The Piano Compared To Video Games
Unlike the piano, the video game is easy to get the hang of. Were that not true, they would not sell a lot of video games. The piano suffers the disadvantage that it is inherently complex on many levels. But there are aspects of the piano that can be approached quite successfully on a simpler level, and can be appreciated even by the youngest child. This is the level of familiar songs, played with the index finger if necessary. This is the level of counting games and other piano games.
These games give the child experience with the elements of the piano without overburdening them with curriculum. Here are some examples of play versus work, and how you can substitute them and achieve the same results without resistance.
Counting First, Then Rhythm
Instead of rhythm on the page, first teach counting games that kids play on the piano. Instead of note reading, try teaching the child a song by eye. Just show them a bit of a song, and move their fingers to the correct notes, again and again. Make the section you teach very short and familiar. Perhaps the first six notes of the Star Spangled Banner. Children soon get the idea because it is visual, not cerebral, or page-related. Instead of fingering, first play finger games. For example, ask them to close their eyes and then you call out a finger for them to wiggle.
You’d be surprised how many kids have never thought about the mental connection to their fingers. Instead of hand position, start them playing anything that uses the first three fingers of the right hand. Use them like a mini-basketball team. Then place a quarter (a coin) on the back of their hand and get them to play the same three keys with those three fingers. Their hand position will improve about 95% in two seconds.
Visual, Not Abstract
The greatest rule of transparent piano teaching is to show, don’t tell. They will be bored by talk unless it leads immediately to something physical and fun. I can't emphasize this enough: do not lecture. Give the child a brief demonstration of the skill, then immediately make it into a game, humorous, rigorous, whatever the mood will allow.
Remember the voices of the parents in the CHARLIE BROWN series? They were, to the kids, just "Wah wah, wah wah wah wah...." To a child pianist, talk is cheap. What matters is the actual event, the passage, the trick, the game, over and over again until they have had enough. Just like a video game.