Most of us start teaching the way our teachers taught us. Good or bad, it’s all we knew about teaching so we did it that way. With this post I thought I’d push beyond those boundaries, and explore the stronger and weaker points about the piano methods that we use every day. Then I’ll give you ideas of how to make the experience you offer your students even better. Comments are always welcome.
With everything in life, there’s always a trade off. You can have that good thing, but you’ll have to compromise on this other thing. I like the idea of pre-reading pieces, because they allow students to focus on fewer things. I always say, “If juggling three balls is hard, start with just one.” With pre-reading pieces, the challenge of note reading is removed. All students need to do is press keys down to a steady beat and watch to see if the notes are going up or down. Great! The downside, however, is that available methods always have students playing on the black keys. Why not place them in C position right from the beginning? They would be learning the names of the keys from the first lesson.
Pro: Fewer elements to manage
Con: Focus on black keys, rather than focusing on white keys and helping students to learn key names right from the beginning
Consider writing a few songs in the pre-reading format, but with hands in C position. It is the best of both worlds. You provide kids with an opportunity to juggle less balls, increasing their success rate, and you teach them where C position is right off the bat!
C Position/G Position
Some teachers, myself included, like to jump right into note reading. Band/orchestra students begin this way all the time, with great success. The challenge that piano students are confronted with, however, is that they must immediately learn 10 notes in two clefs, and then add 7 more notes 8-10 weeks later. Band/orchestra students only need to learn one clef, and around 10-12 notes total for the school year. The upside to this approach is that students begin learning note names from the very beginning, and jump that hurdle sooner – hopefully.
Pro: Kids can master note reading sooner (if parents help drill)
Con: Most method books introduce elements too quickly, overwhelming the student.
Consider supplementing your piano course. Begin with songs that focus on only the right hand. When they are feeling confident with their note names, add a few songs for just the bass clef. When you see G Position on the way, begin drilling. Ask mom and dad to help out. Provide a prize for student efforts in this area. Use Beethoven Bucks
to reward kids on the way to their goal.
Some method books take a Middle C Position approach. They begin with Middle C and a few surrounding notes and expand outward in both directions, and into both clefs.
Pro: Notes are limited in the beginning, rather than presenting kids with 10 notes and two clefs as C Position/G Position books do.
Con: I have only limited experience with this approach, though I would tend to want to see how fast the method expands to more notes and rhythms before I would choose it.
If things are moving too fast for your student, consider supplementing your piano course. Write a few songs that keep them on the first five notes until they really know them. It will quickly build confidence in your young student, and maybe even build in them a lifelong desire for playing music and learning!