Why does numbering the piano keys work so well for kids who are first starting out at the piano? The answer is quite simple: kids need a visual reference point.
In the same way that we number and letter the keys of a computer keyboard, or a telephone, we need some guide to get us started at the piano.
The old method consists of simply throwing the child into the water, as it were, by starting all piano lessons with the demand that the child decipher what is on the page.
Children are expected to instantly understand the rather complex pattern (to a child at their first lesson) of the piano’s black keys, and that is the only visual reference they are given. They are then expected to begin navigating the piano keyboard.
I once taught this way, a long time ago, and encountered the same resistance and frustration that all piano teachers encounter.
I found a way around this frustration only by experimentation. I decided that the old method of starting would not work for the vast majority of kids, and looked for another way.
I soon came up with numbers, which any child understands up to at least twenty or so, and then realized that the kids needed 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.)
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, but 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.
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 lines of the 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.
And remember, we are at the same time constantly probing and slowly introducing many other concepts, like 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.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved.
See also HOW TO HELP KIDS FIND MIDDLE C
See also STARTING TO PLAY PIANO BY NUMBER
See also WHY KIDS NEED FREEDOM TO LEARN PIANO
See also WHY PIANO STICKERS WORK FOR READING MUSIC