Recently (1997), Dr. Frances
Raucher and Dr. Shaw of the University of Wisconsin and University of Irvine, Ca, have definitively concluded that piano lessons
raise overall IQ in children 5-8 years 3 to 4 points More though, increased spatial mathematical reasoning skills by 34%.
Young beginners score 34% higher than the control group on tests designed to measure spatial-temporal reasoning skills --
those required for mathematics, chess, science, engineering. Computer training in contrast scored no higher than the control
group. Conclusion? Piano competency generates the neural connections used for abstract reasoning and understanding mathematical
Most of us want
our children to learn to read as part of the piano teaching experience. Here's what it takes.When a student learns their notes, it's helpful to sit in the same position on the chair. This is
of "key" importance. Learning your notes is more than a memory exercise, it's muscle memory too. It's
about where G is, so to speak, as well as recognizing note on the page. Playing the same fingers on each note of the scale
at first trains us to associate place on keyboard, with letters of notes. Using well known songs assists our
student to physically remember where the notes are finger-wise, and associate them with the written note on the
page, then hear --- gaining a positive feeling of security because they are familiar with the song. Beginning note reading
is matched with particular fingers.
Some of us are familiar with the idea of a developmental stage or milestone.
We have heard that crawling is a necessary stage we need to go through oddly enough before we can walk. In much the same way,
a beginning piano student needs to go through an adequate time period where fingers and finger numbers are matched in a predictable way to note letters. After this time period where a recognition
is established intellectually and physically with the notes....then it is time to throw more complexity into the mix and the
result will be added understanding rather than confusion!
The most useful method I have found for this purpose is the "Middle C" method-- both thumbs resting on middle
C. As a comparison, some methods introduce more than one position within days of each other. These methods create confusion
and frustration. If you think that you might be experiencing this... give me a call.
The Two Belief Systems: To Read or Not to Read
There are two belief systems when it comes to the value of reading and playing an
instrument. This is played out in extremes by comparing the Suzuki Method, with the standard Classical Training that most
of know and grew up with.
Suzuki came along and innovated the process
of imitation. Its just easier to play immitating your teacher's fingering and hand positions when it comes to playing that
new song! At the beginning this has amazing results. Children and adults find it easier for a teacher to visually show them
how to play. It's a lot quicker than sitting there figuring out notes on a staff, seeing the piece one note at
a time while understanding where each note is physically on the keyboard. That process is calledlearning
to read ! (wink!) Some children and adults have an amazing ability to imitate - and their teachers
rightfully encourage this. Yes, it is a great form of learning with any instrument and definitely needs be incorporated
into music lessons. Do we really need to read a scale's notes to play it? The other shoe to drop of course is that imitation
alone is not sufficient for us to become thoroughly independent and able to play the piano. Our memory is not as dependable
as some of us would like to think. By learning to read, we open ourselves up to more musical knowledge, repertoire,and greater
skill at the piano. Most people who have the misfortune of only learning imitation usually wind up with 2 or 3 songs
at the end of their piano study...
Those who are introduced slowly
and surely to reading come out of lessons with a skill for the rest of their life, entertaining themselves and others, and
with a life long potential to explore further musical knowledge.
When teaching piano to children, my first step is rapport. The goal
is for the student to feel that MrE is a cool and a with-it guy that is interested in lots of things...besides the piano.
I take a Holistic approach. I really want to know where their minds are. Sure the goal is for their mind to be centered
on learning piano. Yet, in order to get there, one has to know what else is going on in the young person's life. If
young Sally just came back from dance and soccer, and is going to do a sleep tonight, I want to know about it...because
if so, the lesson plan is going to change.
Asking "How are you?" at the beginning of each lesson helps
my students communicate and let me know what is going on in their lives. Sometimes it is quite surprising what comes up. The
purpose is to have a really successful piano experience and a relationship with my students encouraging them to love
the instrument,spend the time necessary to practice, and raise the value of playing on their list of
priorities. The results are quite surprising to parents. "I never have to ask him to practice -- he just sits down
and does it" or, "I can't get them off the piano" are phrases that I hear from parents quite frequently. So
creating the relationship, praise and encouragement with my students is number one. This is working on the inside-out for
my students to really feel good about their progress and their piano accomplishments. Children being who they are and teens,
often need more than a relationship and encouragement. For example, when teaching my son words, at first, he did not
want to read...later a different story. My rewards with him included many extrinsic rewards...Stickers, toys, money...these
things are part of an external reward system. I often ask myself during a lesson if I were the parent of this
child what would I do to show them that playing the piano is of great importance? Students really get to know that their playing
piano is very important to me. Without a parent's all important interest though, all efforts that I might make are diminished
in value. Sometimes parents expect me to take care of it all...The good news is parents can do so much to enhance their child's
natural interest in music. In short order, we can be successful at completing the triangle power loop between student,
parent, and teacher.
In Home Lessons
In-Home lesson are a great way to conserve your time and energy taking the kids to lessons for more important things. This also creates a positive piano experience. Imagine
the difference when the piano teacher comes to you...
is always available to give lessons at his very well equipped in- home studio, with playstation, games and
Rapport and Laughter with my Students
How serious is the average 5 year old? Not very.The number one goal of any teacher should
be and needs to be rapport. Every student is different.One of the great joys of teaching is to find out how each young person relates, then reach to that
level where they can say to themselves "Hey, I get this! "How is this done???Well, building confidence for starters. Truly,
a lot of parents have had a neighborhood piano teacher who seemed overly concerned with accuracy and holding hands in a certain
shape and even using a ruler as a knuckle rapper! I ask you...how much confidence can be built using a yardstick? So my goals are different: Building confidence and enthusiasm is everything in this teacher's mind. The learning will happen when the confidence precedes Praise to the sky, stickers, and sense of humor, are an important
part of my teaching tool box. Fun is an integral part of my teaching style...no matter what age my student might
be!....and I am serious about this! My adult students know this the best of all. Just can't believe how much fun we have
The Importance of the Recital...
Recitals bring together
a group of students who have been working by themselves for 6 months. It is great fun to be part of a group with a common
mission: to become good at music and piano. When students hear others play, they see that they are not really alone, that
there are musical goals that others are accomplishing, and it serves them to set their sites higher on the piano performance
ladder. Their efforts are valued by other students and parents! That is why it is a powerful experience and significant and
you want to make every effort to be there!! Each recital interestingly enough, has a personality of its own. It is the celebration
of my student's efforts and have found it to be very exhilarating..if it doesn't go on too long!!! :)
The Importance of Fingering....
It has come to my attention that some students have been taught using hand positions and have become stuck
in that mode. Certain books that are very popular introduce middle C and C below middle C position at once. This is too
much material. These books are written to make money for their authors and not with students best interest in mind. This is written as a public
service so that parents and teachers might avoid this method. You are welcome to call me about the name of these books so
that you can identify if you are going in the right direction.
Hand positions are used at the beginning to create a touch anchor that feels
right. When the touch anchor is established, from there it can be expanded. This sense of what feels right, develops
with guidance, into proper fingering at the piano. The beginning piano teacher guides this touch sense -- this 6th sense of
fingering. "Hand positions" are taught to give the easiest understanding of position, location and fingering at
the keys..Later, students need to feel comfortable with any finger on any note..regardless
of positions. If your student is stuck thinking about hand positions, call me -- we'll talk.
Why Note Reading is So Hard to Learn
Most of us believe that learning notes is a mind exercise. We
get the flashcards from the music store thinking this will solve everything right?. Quickly we find that maybe it doesn't
work for some reason....that's because it is 50% of the job - the other part is the muscle memory that goes along with
the mind exercises. Hint: Make sure your student says the note, then plays the note
when drilling with cards. Better than cards, I use the Wright Way Notefinderbecause it's quick and easy to drill notes. A minute a day is so much time using
this tool. Students should be seated in the same location --- belly button aligned to the center of "Middle D"
, and fingers in Middle C position. Associating the same finger with the same note helps alot to reinforce the short
and long term memory of the note location/note name. This creates a secure foundation to note reading/piano playing for a
young beginning student.
Piano Lesson Quotes from MisterEvan:
1. "Middle C is the same on the page for both hands...stem goes up for one and
down for the other!
2. "It took me thirty years to figure out that fingers of the C scale going up, are the
same exact finger numbers going down!"
3. "The C scale fingering is: 123 HOP 12345"
4. "pinky goes on g"
5. "It takes 3 chords to play 90% of music."
6. "Heart and Soul is a great way
to learn 4 of your chords"
7. "There are 7 letters on the keyboard....ABCDEFG...that's all!."
Frustration Level in a Child when
Learning the Piano
Frustration is Communication.
It tells a piano teacher when something is not working and correction must be made-- instantly! That telltale sign...quiet,
slight head bend, a slight watery eyeball, these communications are very very important. Sometimes you get lucky.. the other
day, I asked my student about her eyes. She told me she had allergies. I breathed a sigh of relief. If a teacher catches frustration
early, huge changes can be made in the attitudes of students toward piano. The famous teacher Suzuki, said music making needs
to be approached with JOY. Does Frustration equal Joy? Without a doubt, 90% of piano dropouts are caused
by inexperienced teachers that are not attuned to the warning signs of frustration and the need to make adjustments at the
lesson. When you hear someone say about piano lessons.."I wish I had continued"...that is a product of a teacher
who needed to know much more about paving the road for their piano student. A teacher trained in performance never hurts...A
teacher who plays beautifully will add inspiration to your child's lessons. You want to have meaning and inspiration
in your lessons...otherwise piano practice can be drudgery. Is your student reaching for the sound-beautiful? Frustration
does not equal Joy. On the other hand, if your student is one of the 10--20 % that has a high frustration threshold, be sure
that your teacher is paving the road with pieces that they can be successful in. Little by little, building success
with positive happy feedback, they will go just as far and learn confidence, persistence and self esteem in their accomplishments!
What would it be like to have shared song with a neighbor in the community? Well, just 50 years ago
piano bars were the mainstay in a variety of public places and we did just that. The general public sang these songs
together, danced these songs together. Now it would seem that most young people have little idea of American
Music. All the songs once known, are lost. For example, I ask my students whether they know Oh Susanna, and they say... "No".
That something missing
is part of the fabric that holds our uniquely American culture together. When there was common song
there was...well there just was more in common.
was the instrument that represented that togetherness as a culture. People would sit around the piano bar
an request songs. Usually the musician was someone of real ability and talent...Our culture had a real respect for performance
and good music. I think what we might be asking ourselves is... "How
can we bring some of this back?" Perhaps these questions shed some light, from
a pianistic point of view, on some of the challenges we face today as a society and culture.