Using Familiar Songs in Piano Lessons
Using familiar songs in piano lessons is the wisest choice when kids are starting piano. Kid's piano books try to interest the child with "exercise pieces" instead of with familiar songs they know and love. For this reason, conventional methods start with "songs" made of entirely original musical material.
These "songs" are designed to show the child how easy it is to keep their five fingers in a row. The result is uniformly boring music, which never excites the child in any aural or musical way. The only reaction the teacher has is to praise you if you succeed in playing it correctly.
This is an exceedingly poor choice of material. Children have much more positive responses when the first songs they play are familiar to them.
Familiar Songs Are More Fun To Play
Their reaction becomes one of amazement and pride as they hear a familiar tune from the piano. Let's take the first song in most conventional piano books. It almost always consists of the first three to five white keys, in a row, going up.
It's the same, more or less, in Bastien, Schaum, Thompson, Alfred and any other conventional piano method you might name. To step back a moment, the strategy behind all these worthy methods is solid, but the material they choose to illustrate is poor:
Here is the strategy of all beginning piano books. First, play all five ascending notes on the white keys starting with Middle C.
1 2 3 4 5
Second, do the same as above but have one note change direction. This teaches the child to pay attention to the direction of the notes (up or down.)
1 2 3 2 3 4 5
In other words, throw in a little monkey wrench, in terms of linear direction, and see if they can catch it. Third, do more or less the same, starting on a note other than good old Middle C.
3 2 1 2 3 4 5
Fourth, do the same but with a skip between notes.
1 3 5 4 3 2 1
Like Learning The Moves In Chess
Previously, all note movements have been the adjacent white key to prevent confusion. You can see the progression of events like a chess game. We're teaching the child to move on the keyboard in terms of the printed page only. It's like a board game with five squares. Within that limited scope, we teach the child how to move around via the five notes on the page. The steps are solidly constructed, but there is one huge problem. Your child will fall asleep before they ever have a chance to get excited about piano.
Using Familiar Songs To Do The Same Moves
As to the four steps of the conventional lesson above, here are better ideas. First, play I'm A Little Teapot to learn the first five adjacent white keys:
1 2 3 4 5 8 6 8 5
Second, play Alouette:
1 2 3 3 2 1 2 3 1 5
Third, play Mary Had a Little Lamb to show how to start on a note other than Middle C:
3 2 1 2 3 3 3 2 2 2 3 3 3
Fourth, play Jingle Bells to learn how to skip over notes:
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 5 1 2 3
Now you have a first lesson that teaches the same concepts as conventional methods. In addition it gives your child four songs they know and like, which they can proudly play. No child is proud of playing the meaningless "cardboard" music in all conventional piano methods. Give them a song everyone knows!