Why Piano Number Stickers Work
Why do piano number stickers work so well for kids? The answer is simple: kids need a reference point.
Would you take the numbers and letters off a kid's phone, or computer keyboard?
Kids who are first starting out at the piano find stickers to be an immediate source of confidence. Piano key numbers help kids discover the geography of the piano. Kids need a visual reference point on the keys to get a good start. They enjoy their piano experience from the beginning, before they even attempt to read music.
In the same way we number and letter the keys of a computer keyboard or telephone, kids need some guide to get started at the piano. With numbers, it is easy to interest kids because numbers are so familiar.
The old method consists of simply throwing the child into the water. Conventional piano lessons start with the demand that the child decipher what is on the page. Then the child must be able to find the corresponding keys on the piano.
The drawing below represents the problem with which kids are presented. They must correlate the five horizontal lines (and the spaces between them) to the unique patterns of the piano keyboard below.
A Way Around the Initial Frustration
Children are expected to instantly understand the rather complex pattern of the piano’s black keys. That is the only visual reference they are given. They are then expected to begin navigating the piano keyboard. A long time ago I taught this way and encountered the same resistance and frustration that all piano teachers encounter.
There is a way around this frustration only achievable by experimentation. The old method of starting would not work for the vast majority of kids, and I looked for another way. I soon came up with Piano by Number, which any child understands up to at least twenty or so.
I realized that it was helpful to kids to see the simple numeric order on the piano keyboard in front of them. So I created stickers numbered from 1 to 12 that started on the central note that all methods begin with, Middle C. I called that key, as does any study of the classical music “intervals,” one (1.)
Start Kids With Numbers
Here is Mary Had A Little Lamb on a numbered keyboard. Try it on the online piano below:
Mary Had A Little Lamb
| 3 2 1 2 | 3 3 3 * | 2 2 2 * | 3 5 5 * |
Here you’ll see a piano keyboard with numbered stickers installed. (Read a discussion of using stickers to facilitate reading music, which uses a different set of stickers.)
It is so simple that all every child I have ever tried this with has picked it up in five minutes or so.
With that victory in hand, we can go anywhere. The key is to give them that first victory on their first lesson, so that sets the tone for all of their piano study: they will succeed.
As to what to do subsequently with the stickers, it’s very simple.
Taking Off The Stickers
I leave the stickers on the piano as long as the child needs them. I try frequently to start removing them, testing to see if they are ready. If they protest, I retreat and let the stickers stay. But inevitably the day will come when the child will not resist the removal of the stickers, and will say, “Sure, go ahead, take ’em off, I don’t need ’em.”
Another method is to gradually remove the stickers. I start by removing the even numbered stickers, because the odd numbers are the same as the five lines of the musical staff, and that gives them a little security.
Besides, it’s a good lesson for kids this age to try to interpolate. What is the number between 5 and 7? It’s 6, and if you have stickers number 5 and 7, you can easily find 6 without a sticker.
Build Other Beginning Reading Skills
And remember, we are at the same time constantly probing and slowly introducing many other concepts. These include chords, fingering, rhythm, reading music, finding the pattern of the black keys, etc. But all separately, so each skill is mastered fully before being combined with the others.
Sometimes, if I sense they are ready, I declare “No Sticker Day,” and I remove all the stickers. At first they are horrified. We then see how well we can do without stickers. Most kids, if they are ready, will need no more stickers, or just a very few to remind and guide them.
If they need all the stickers back on and say so, LISTEN to them, replace the stickers and try again later to remove them. It’s not an issue of laziness. It’s an issue of comfort. Give your child a visual reference on the piano keyboard and they will reward you with playing the piano because they like it.
Make sure their first experiences with the piano are victories.