Are We Being Fair? How traditional piano instruction is an obstacle in the way of piano teaching.

Are we being fair to our students by teaching them using the traditional piano method?

Using the traditional method to teach children to play piano has proven to me to be an obstacle in the road of piano education. It is in the least discouraging, and in many cases can be crippling to the piano learning process and sometimes damaging to some children psychologically, and leaving scars in the learner’s self confidence and character.

We all have encountered the student who quit after a few lessons because they felt that they were not able to learn, and after looking closer into why some of my students quit, I decided that I want to completely change the approach I have towards teaching. When I quit teaching using the traditional method and stopped to have any assumptions about any of the new students, students stopped feeling incapable of learning and stopped quitting for that reason.

To demonstrate in more detail, I will first set a few examples of the concepts most usually taught in the first few lessons and the skills which the children are assumed to have which form the basis of instruction.

What typically is introduced during the very short period of a few lessons, the first month, will in most cases be something like:

  • Learning the names of the piano keys and finding them on the piano.

  • Learning the whole note, half note and quarter notes.

  • Learning the bass and treble clefs.

  • Recognizing and reading the notes of the middle C position or the C position, playing simple tunes using these notes on the piano using the correct fingers and using the correct hand and the correct rhythm.

Before going any further, I want to be clear on what exactly I mean by the two words: concept and skill.

A Concept as defined by the dictionary is a principle or idea.

In other words, it is knowing the workings behind the answer of a problem and why you are doing certain things without having to memorize formulas to figure things out.

  • Counting by 1’s

  • Writing down the numbers from 1 - 9

  • Matching numbers with objects

A skill, however, means the ability to do something well.

Referring to the math concepts listed above, you will need at least one or more of the skills below:

  • The skill of speech.

  • The skill of holding the pencil properly in your hand.

  • Spatial sense.

  • The skill to identify patterns.

Going back to teaching piano, and in an attempt to break down what is traditionally taught in the first few lessons into concepts, I came up with the following list. I invite you to go through it and most probably and very easily, you will be able to add more concepts:

  • Understanding the white / black key pattern

  • Knowing the first the first 7 letters in the alphabet

  • Concept of different keys having different names

  • Assigning numbers to fingers

  • Finding the keys on the piano

  • Concept of pitch and relative pitch

  • Concept of assigning shapes of notes to time values

  • Counting rhythm

  • Concept of notes moving up and down the staff will change the note name although it still is keeping the same shape.

  • Concept that going up on the staff is going to the right on the piano.

  • Concept that going up on the staff is going to the left on the piano.

  • One note on the paper means one key to be pressed

  • Concept of maintaining a rhythm.

  • Understanding that each note is written in a different place on the staff.

  • Differentiating between treble and bass clefs

  • The 5 lines on top of the grand staff starting with the treble clef are for the notes to play with your right hand.

  • The 5 lines on the bottom starting with the bass clef are for the notes to play with your left hand.

If we attempt to teach all the above concepts in a very short period of time to a beginner child we are assuming that the children we are trying to teach has at least the skills listed below before beginning any piano lessons:

  • Recognize patterns

  • Memorizing ability