The theme to the TV show Rugrats is the perfect child demonstration of the concept of skipping a piano key.
Children are most at home with adjacent piano keys at first. This is natural, like the way a toddler laboriously lumbers up each step of a stairway.
You don’t notice toddlers skipping stairs at first.
It is the same with piano keys. Once a child is able to move comfortably from one adjacent white key to the next, they are ready to skip over keys, like the game leapfrog.
Make a game of skipping over keys. In Piano by Number that would be playing the keys 1 and then 3, or 2 and then 4.
I call it Skippy, where the child has to find all the skipped intervals they can on the piano, using only white keys.
Once they are doing that, it is a simple matter to show them that if they play the two notes at the same time, it is called a chord.
Have them play every chord they can find, with two fingers. I suggest the 2nd and 3rd fingers because they are the strongest. Insist on this fingering so they get used to that pair of fingers as a unique tool. It is their instinctive choice of fingers, anyway.
The next step involves the black keys, as an aid to finding chords infallibly at the piano. Anything that promotes awareness of the groupings of the black keys is a victory.
Start by showing that chords are named by the lowest key. That is, the name of the lowest key (furthest to the left) is the name of the chord.
Two skills are required for a child to do this: they must distinguish left from right and groups of two black keys from groups of three black keys.
At this point perhaps you are beginning to see how multi-skilled even the simplest actions are at the piano, especially to a child who is only now acquiring those very motor skills.
To distinguish left from right, I use a glissando. I use it as part of a little game that we play every time they complete a task. When they complete a small task, I make mock celebration out of it, and play a sort of vaudeville ending riff (F G C chords.)
At the end of this vaudeville, I add a quick glissando upwards, which I train them to respond to by hitting the very top white key on the piano, like a musical period on the end of a sentence. They love this. You can teach many things with it, like timing and planning.
But the real point of the Vaudeville Ending Game is to give children a natural sense of direction at the piano. The prime piano skill for kids is up/down, and that is difficult to grasp sometimes on a topsy-turvy instrument like the piano, where up is right and down is left.
I vary the game, and sometimes playing a glissando going down, in which case they have to scramble for the lowest key on the piano.
Regardless of which type of glissando I play, the comic question is always posed, “Which direction was that, up or down?”
You have to play this game and ask this question a thousand times until they suddenly get it, and then one more skill is under their belt. Every other skill at the piano depends on this.
Once they know left from right, you can say, “A C chord is just to the left of the two black keys.” If they can observe the group of two black keys, another giant task in itself, they can then find C chords all over the piano.
I find it easiest to put a C sticker on the first C below Middle C, and another on Middle C. The reason for this reassurance strategy is simple: I don’t want them to fumble finding chords, because the flow of music will collapse and they won’t enjoy it.
Anything that keeps the music going is a victory; anything that stops the music has to be fixed when appropriate. That’s why stickers make sense and produce results. Besides, you can always remove the stickers suddenly and see how they do without them, involving an entirely separate group of memory games.
Strangely enough, about 50% of the kids who start out with stickers will ask for them to be removed when they feel ready.
Follow the child’s lead and keep the music going.
The more a child feels they are reproducing a recognizable piece of music, the more they will want to try it further.
It’s far easier to teach a child who is interested and has been engaged on their level.
Once you engage a child’s real attention, they are ready to be transported patiently to somewhere higher.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved
See also ROOT POSITION CHORDS
See also FIRST INVERSION CHORDS