Piano pedagogy

December 2, 2010 musicianbelindashave

Where to start..?!  What to include in the first lesson..?  I am posed with such questions sufficiently as to push me  into expressing my thoughts on the matter.

Too numerous to note are the key factors in teaching the piano from scratch.  Which of them deserve comment in so short a precis?  I liken the world of instrumental learning to be built from the three-legged tripod, namely theory, technique and playing.  Let us unravel each a little further.

Theory of music in its most basic terms rests upon note names and values.  A starting point for learning notes: sets of black notes on the piano are in threes and twos, the white notes in between the two is ‘D’; I ask my pupil to find all the ‘D’s on the keyboard, upwards and downwards.  Fairly soon is able to build the knowledge of remaining notes, (one above is ‘E’ and one beneath is ‘C’, etc, then counting all note /letter names up and down respectively until they can be recognised on appearance).  For younger ages a lot of value is found in all manner of guessing games including closing eyes, turning round, finger on a note then name the note.. increasing in speed, and numerous variations of this.

Relating the position of notes on paper to those on the keyboard must soon follow.  Using acronyms as a guide for treble clef spaces and lines gives us a point of reference when reading music.  (The left-handed amongst us may waive tradition by starting with bass clef.)  I make a game of covering up letter names underneath the written notes before revealing to check; varying rates of progress aside pupils are generally encouraged by their increasing success with this, straightforward, fail safe guide.

When tackling note values and lengths of notes, clapping games are many and varied to incorporate one, two, three and four beat notes in alternation, saying and counting.  These are good for developing co-ordination and separating beat from rhythm.  Beginning from this germ knowledge of music theory grows and grows.

Technique is consistently challenging to master and never more so than in the beginning stages: basic piano hand shape is somewhat alien and unnatural to how we generally use our hands.  Principles to remember are relaxation in the arms and shoulders whilst maintaining level wrists, poised knuckles and nice, curved fingers!  I liken it to replicating holding a golf ball within the hand and checking it periodically since it is prone to collapse.. Always to be borne in mind is the importance of movement from big to small muscles not vice versa.  The pupil is now encountering much to remember, including note names and lengths.  But it doesn’t stop there…

The importance of playing some actual music early on out not to ever be overlooked: it contributes to the beginner’s sense of achievement and links all complex processes thus far discussed to MUSIC.. after all the main point?  Playing a piece need not wait until aforementioned features are perfect or even near.  Today I used a simple piece made up of one and two beat notes, on middle C, involving both clefs and hands, with sufficient accompaniment underneath, (appealing to the teacher’s creativity), to fulfil this requirement of playing music.  It involved everything: note and rhythm recognising and reading and adopting and maintaining good hand shape, all encapsulated neatly in playing a piece of music.  Indeed some most appealing duets are created from incredibly simple top parts (two or three notes at most) and embellishment in underneath part, whilst not detracting from the accomplishment of reading and playing music, very necessary to the beginner pianist.

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