Fours, A Piano Counting Game
Lesson 21: Fours, A Piano Counting Game
The first event of any significance in a child’s first piano lesson must be the act of actually making music. It can’t be an exercise, or a dull and lifeless “pretend” piece. It’s impossible for a human not to respond to appealing music, especially children.
Fours: An Instantly Fun Game
A little background may help understand this deceptively simple game. When I first started teaching in the “transparent” manner, I saw that I had to have a piece of music that any child could play instantly. And no piece that existed would do it, for they are all too complicated for the very first experience at music making.
How do you make the piano instantly available to a child as a toy in the very first lesson? Any child understands the white keys starting with Middle C if I number them to give them a visual order. Next, the child simply walks up the keys, one at a time, like a stairway. Like this, in Piano by Number: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Then as the teacher, I play a bouncy, Chico Marx-like beat (see the video below) that any child would find fun to hear an adult play. It’s really just “oom-pah,” or a simple alternation of the left and right hands similar to what underpins many a folk song and nursery rhyme.
Ask the child to play each white key four times as they go up, to their right. (Younger children may be able to play each key only twice.)
Task 1: Play the white keys ascending to your right, not skipping any white keys.
Task 2: Play the white keys as above, but in groups of four.
The Child and Teacher parts in Piano by Number:
CHILD: 1111 2222 3333 4444 5555 6666 7777 8888
TEACHER: C G C F C F G C (one chord for every four numbers)
The teacher plays chords, as mentioned above, in a happy 2/4 beat.
I begin by saying, “I’ll follow you, so start whenever you like.” Lavish praise on the slightest success! Next, add your part. Your part is what makes it all seem fun, like joyous music making.
This connection is the same as what toys and games do. Kids will want to try other numbers, like “Fives” and “Twelves.” Give in and try it. Come back to “Threes” and Fours” (and “Twos” for the kiddies) for those counts are most useful for further musical experience. Musician’s minds are filled with counts, and numbers and wordless sequences of quasi-mathematical thoughts. Encourage this type of thought. The youngest kids may only be able to play “Twos,” but that’s natural. Some kids can only play “Ones.” If that happens, take it in stride and enjoy the “Ones.”
Counting In Your Head
Instinctively speaking numbers interferes with the child's ability to draw all the tasks together. If the child counts aloud, try getting them to stop speaking the numbers and think them instead, and you will see an instant improvement.
Show, Don’t Tell
You might have to take their index finger and demonstrate the events physically. I note that kids often do better at new tasks if you physically put their hands and fingers in the right place, no matter how awkward. (Be gentle with their little hands, they are not used to big people moving their fingers around.) The feeling in their fingers is worth a thousand words. Show the task more than you tell about it.
Try The Game
Actions are louder than words in this complex little world of children and the piano. As soon as you get them going, they will laugh and start to race with the elation of a speeding skier. But the timing will become irregular, so start again and ask them to play it evenly, like a clock. You may need to play some games being a clock, putting out a regular rhythm by another means, such as clapping your hands.
As long as you approach it as fun, the child will try again and again to play it exactly with you. Kids instinctively understand and realize when you are both playing on the same beat, and the moment that “ensemble” occurs you have connected with the child’s deepest pleasure center.
Skills Learned With Fours Game
The skills learned from this ridiculous little game are:
Counting as an abstract mental act
Expressing that count through the fingers
Counting in a certain tempo and rhythm
Being able to count and move your fingers at the same time
Knowing left from right
Knowing up is to your right at the piano
Keeping track of a sequence of events
Enacting a series of events repeatedly
Enacting a series of repeated events in a changing set of positions
Finding out that the piano can be a lot of fun without reading music
Finding out that music is a good feeling that you want to have
Build One Skill Upon Another
Every one of the skills above is essential to learning the rudiments of the piano. All these skills and many others can and should be introduced and refined long before the child knows that there is such a thing as sheet music. In fact, a child’s chance of succeeding at reading sheet music is astronomically enhanced if the child is exposed to many of these musical elements outside of the confines of musical notation.
Don’t forget that the same skills in the above list are essential to reading music, and until the child is familiar with them it is usually useless to proceed further with reading music. Once these skills have been started using Piano by Number and piano games, it is much easier to slowly introduce more complex tasks such as reading music.
Save The Complexity For Later
Introducing any complications at all in the first lesson will result in play that becomes work, becomes effort and then frustration. Avoid complication, especially in the very first lesson.
Remember what “Fours” is for: it is the simplest manifestation of music that a child can easily express. It is the closest they will be for a while to the zest of rhythm and coordination, because the “song” is so absurdly simple. “Fours” makes children into instant musicians, giving them a preview of the real thrill of making music.
COURSE ONE: TEACHING TOOLS
COURSE TWO: TEACHING BACKGROUND
COURSE THREE: PIANO GAMES