COMPARING CONCERT PIANISTS AND BEGINNING CHILD PIANISTS
Even when one has become a piano virtuoso, there was a set of steps, somewhere, that you followed in order to reach that level.
I find it remarkable that as I practice very difficult music, there is a parallel with the way children learn their beginning lessons.
First, real pianists get bored with what they are playing many times. Kids are the same, except that their attention span may be measured in minutes, not months.
So the next time a child looks bored with repeating a passage, do what you would do with yourself. Determine your level for withstanding boredom at that moment, and then move on to
a more enjoyable activity.
Come back to a problem when you’re fresh.
For example, suppose you are trying to teach fingering to children. You will likely notice a threshold which signals that the going has become too rough, and the child needs a break.
Obey the impulse to take a break, but almost immediately, after shifting gears and tone, come back very quickly and try again. Quickly move on to yet something else.
There are certain aspects of beginning piano that children find tedious, and more so the younger the child.
Here are the problem areas:
- Reading Music
You may laugh and say, “Well, fingering, reading music and rhythm are all that music is. What exactly do you teach if you don’t teach that?”
But to a child just starting out at the piano, “Jingle Bells” is Jingle Bells, even if played with the wrong fingers, not reading music, and with no rhythm at all. Just to play the notes, at first, is a huge accomplishment, and you should be careful before going further.
Having plunked out the notes, in the above hypothetical “Jingle Bells” situation, you might embark on a study of fingering, but let me give you a warning first: gain a foothold on fingering in the abstract before you apply it to a specific song.
If you attempt to apply the fingering lesson to Jingle Bells too soon, the child most likely has only enough focus to find the notes, not worry about what finger to use. If they fail to finger Jingle Bells properly, it's your fault, not theirs: you should have waited and gotten a foothold on fingering elsewhere first.
Better to engage in fingering games entirely outside of the song being learned.
Here’s one that I use first.
Take the child’s first three fingers of the right hand. Place them on any three white keys. You might explain that the fingers are like different colored cars, and they must park in the “parking place”” that is the white key.
Assuming you have selected the key numbered 1 (Middle C) the game could go as follows:
“Play the three keys in a row.” You will have to actually push their fingers gently at the right time so they get the idea. They will not understand without you physically moving the fingers so that they feel the motion from the INSIDE of their hand. Abstractions are irrelevant to younger children.
Play 123, 234, 345,456 567, etc.
Now, how does this relate to concert pianists?
Real pianists are confronted with almost insurmountable physical difficulty at all times. You have no idea of the complexity of the physical motions in a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto until you have actually tried.
Thus, pianists learn to break massively complex problems into many small ones, devising strategies as to what to learn first, what can be worked on now, what can be worked on once that has been mastered, and so on. You must have a plan.
Pianists understand that learning at the piano comes in stages, and, take it from me, sometimes progress is measured in increments akin to a grain of sand. Progress does come, but only with tremendous repetition, effort and strategy.
Do you expect this of a six year old? Think about this next time you are about to get impatient with a child at the piano.
Real pianists don’t expect perfection or even comfort for YEARS in a specific piece of music.
With children, it is up to you, the teacher, to make the steps so easy, and cleverly arranged, that failure is all but impossible.
Most of all, you must be aware of which skills are age related, so that you can quickly determine which skill that particular child is ready to learn.
Children learn easily when they are good and ready to, on their own terms.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved
See also WHY KIDS NEED FREEDOM TO LEARN PIANO
See also DISGUISING REPETITION IN KID'S PIANO LESSONS
See also WHY NAGGING YOUR CHILD TO PRACTICE WON'T WORK
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