Some conditions such as Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome come with varying degrees of difficulty with fine motor skills. This results in additional challenges and will be one of the main problems these students will face when trying to learn to play musical instruments. The piano in particular demands a great deal of dexterity, finger strength, good posture, core strength, and many more coordination skills.
Developing these skills will not only help children with enjoying their lesson and progressing in their piano lessons but will also benefit other areas in their development that require these skills, to name a few:
Grasping and moving objects
Using objects such as scissors, forks, spoons, and so on.
Writing and drawing skills
Getting dressed, buttoning their shirts, tying their shoes.
Following are three activities that I found to be helpful and you can do at the piano to help children improve their dexterity and fine motor skills:
1. Hand Gym
Perform a minute or two of what I call “Hand Gym” exercises that will help children more easily move their fingers. Doing these exercises before every lesson will help focus and calm down hyperactive children before the lesson. Not only this but it will also help you as the teacher to figure out the extent or the degree of difficulty your student is having while trying to move and control his/her hand and fingers.
In the following video, you can watch a demonstration of me doing what I call "The Hand Gym" with one of my students who started piano lessons a few months back. As you will see in this video, performing only the first exercise, shows the extent to which the student is disconnected with his own hands and fingers. This will help you understand and explain many of the difficulties your student is facing when he has to read notes and play on the piano simultaneously.
2. Five-finger scales
As simple as they seem, they have greatly helped my students not only with their fine motor skills and finger movement but with honing their ears as well. After doing the Hand Gym above, play the 5 finger scales. Learn a new scale every lesson until all the 5 finger patterns of the white keys are mastered.
3. Always playing with the correct fingers
Being strict and insisting on playing with the correct finger will be frustrating at first, and might even feel meaningless to the student. Children are always going to try to use their strongest fingers and the easier ones to move (fingers 1, 2, and 3 only) and will try not to ignore fingers 4 and 5 as if they don't exist at all.
Using the correct fingers consistently over time will train students to use specific fingers on demand quickly and efficiently and greatly help their finger dexterity and fine motor skill.