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What method to use for very young students (Read 11251 times)

Offline kcowley

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What method to use for very young students
« on: February 01, 2004, 01:18:54 AM »
I am a brand new teacher and am starting with my two neices ages almost 4 and almost 5.  Does anyone have any suggestions on which methods to use for such little students?  Bastien Primer?  Alfred Prep Course?  Alfred Little Mozart?  Which is the best?  And do they need every single book offered in each series?  Please help!

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #1 on: February 01, 2004, 02:05:53 AM »
It depends on the children. I have a couple of 4 year olds and a  3 year old (!). None is a prodigy. None of them in my opinion are ready for formal lessons. They have a lot to handle: co-ordination, concentration, attention span. Lessons consist of teaching simple (yet impressive) tunes by rote. Lots of ear training – no instruction in reading as yet. This must come – but much later. Games are more important than methods in this age group (and I don’t use methods anyway).

The 3 year old is allowed to do whatever she wants at the piano. She is basically exploiting sounds. Sometimes I sit with her and make an accompanyiment to her improvisations aiming at establishing some form of pulse to see if she will follow.

The four year olds are more together. So I tell them to play only on the black notes (it always sounds nice no matter what you play). After a few weeks they started doing some really interesting stuff. Parents are supplied with CD compilations of the music I want them to hear. A lot of their practise is listening to music. Two months ago month I started teaching them proper pieces (no reading – by rote). They are now playing “Marshmallow sundae” (Bergerac), Twinkle twinkle little star (actually the theme from Mozart’s Ah je vos dirais Maman variations) and a simplified arrangement of the Pink Panther tune. And another very important thing: they have lessons daily. If you want to get away with one 30 minute lesson a week you may as well forget it. I also use a lot of duets at the 4 – 6 year old age group. (Diabelli Op. 149 is brilliant, also Pamela Wedgewood – have you heard of her?)

Since this is all new to you, it is important that you start with the correct philosophy. Most important is: relax! Find the pace they are able to learn. If you have to stick with a tune for weeks on end, that’s ok. Children of this age group love repetitions anyway. Very important as well: no criticism (this will come later ;D) and heaps of applause and encouragement.

I suggest you get acquainted with the following materials. They will be very helpful:

Michiko Yurko – Music Mind Games – Warner Bros. Publishing.
Rhoda Rabin – At the beginning – Teaching piano to the very young child – Schirmer books
Shinichi Susuki – Nurtured by love – Warner Bros.
(By the way, I am not a Susuki teacher, but I admire their philosophy).

Finally, try to have a look at Candida’s Tobin incredible material. Her website is:

http://www.tobinmusic.co.uk/btconnect/index.html

I hope this helps,
Best wishes,
Bernhard
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline Pam_Dunlap

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #2 on: March 03, 2004, 04:54:50 PM »
Quote
It depends on the children. I have a couple of 4 year olds and a  3 year old (!). None is a prodigy. None of them in my opinion are ready for formal lessons. They have a lot to handle: co-ordination, concentration, attention span. Lessons consist of teaching simple (yet impressive) tunes by rote. Lots of ear training – no instruction in reading as yet. This must come – but much later. Games are more important than methods in this age group (and I don’t use methods anyway).

The 3 year old is allowed to do whatever she wants at the piano. She is basically exploiting sounds. Sometimes I sit with her and make an accompanyiment to her improvisations aiming at establishing some form of pulse to see if she will follow.

The four year olds are more together. So I tell them to play only on the black notes (it always sounds nice no matter what you play). After a few weeks they started doing some really interesting stuff. Parents are supplied with CD compilations of the music I want them to hear. A lot of their practise is listening to music. Two months ago month I started teaching them proper pieces (no reading – by rote). They are now playing “Marshmallow sundae” (Bergerac), Twinkle twinkle little star (actually the theme from Mozart’s Ah je vos dirais Maman variations) and a simplified arrangement of the Pink Panther tune. And another very important thing: they have lessons daily. If you want to get away with one 30 minute lesson a week you may as well forget it. I also use a lot of duets at the 4 – 6 year old age group. (Diabelli Op. 149 is brilliant, also Pamela Wedgewood – have you heard of her?)

Since this is all new to you, it is important that you start with the correct philosophy. Most important is: relax! Find the pace they are able to learn. If you have to stick with a tune for weeks on end, that’s ok. Children of this age group love repetitions anyway. Very important as well: no criticism (this will come later ;D) and heaps of applause and encouragement.

I suggest you get acquainted with the following materials. They will be very helpful:

Michiko Yurko – Music Mind Games – Warner Bros. Publishing.
Rhoda Rabin – At the beginning – Teaching piano to the very young child – Schirmer books
Shinichi Susuki – Nurtured by love – Warner Bros.
(By the way, I am not a Susuki teacher, but I admire their philosophy).

Finally, try to have a look at Candida’s Tobin incredible material. Her website is:

http://www.tobinmusic.co.uk/btconnect/index.html

I hope this helps,
Best wishes,
Bernhard


Dear Bernhard,

You have (once again) shared some wonderfully innovative teaching techniques of your own, plus recommendations for others' good ideas.  I have a copy of Yurko's book "Music Mind Games" which is really great for young children. After having read your post, I explored the Tobin website - you're right - it's incredible!!!

I have learned SO much in the short time I've been involved in this forum. Again, thank-you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom!

Pam
"To be or not to be" Shakespeare
"To do is to be" Plato
"Do be do be do" Sinatra

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #3 on: March 04, 2004, 03:34:48 AM »
You are welcome. :)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline pianoannie

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #4 on: March 14, 2004, 12:13:41 AM »
Bernhard,
 With your 3 and 4 y.o. students, how do deal with their tiny weak fingers?  Do you work on correct curved fingers at all?  I've heard of various "beginner" hand shapes, including playing on black keys with a closed fist, or braced finger (thumb supporting knuckle of 3rd finger).
 I've never taught children this young, but I've had a few requests lately.  I would love to start some preschool music/piano readiness classes, and I plan to order "At the Beginning" as you recommended above.  Regarding "Music Mind Games", I've heard that you need to be willing to spend a lot of money for the games and doo-dads that go with it, or spend a lot of time making your own.  Is the book helpful at all without those other items?
Thanks, pianoannie

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #5 on: March 14, 2004, 03:51:34 AM »
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 With your 3 and 4 y.o. students, how do deal with their tiny weak fingers?  Do you work on correct curved fingers at all?  I've heard of various "beginner" hand shapes, including playing on black keys with a closed fist, or braced finger (thumb supporting knuckle of 3rd finger).


You would be surprised how strong their fingers are!

I do not work on fingers at all. I do not even bother with posture. The fact is that at this age they have a wonderful nice posture, and natural co-ordination takes over in not time at all. Most posture problems occur later as a result of social interaction at school.

Teaching at such a young age must follow the child’s impulses. So my attitude is to let them do whatever they want at the piano. It is all right to play with fists, arms, even feets! I do not regard it as a matter of having “fun” (although this is of course important), but as a matter of “exploration”. (And what could be more fun than exploration?)

If you let them explore the piano, after a while they will exhaust what they are able to do at the piano. They will then ask for ideas. This is the moment when they are ready for learning.  So the important principle for this age group is to not rush things. If they have not asked for it, they are not ready for it, they are not interested in it, and therefore they will not listen to you. They will actually resent you for trying to stop their exploration. Mind you, I am talking about 3 –4 year olds, not 10 –12 years old.

So let me give you an example: Three year-old uses her fists to play. She is having a great time. What I would like to do is to have her play the black notes, so that I can play a duet with her. She is not at all interested in this, since she does not want to share the piano with me. As I try to make an accompaniment to her fist playing she pushes me away quite angrily. That is fine. I let her continue with her exploring which goes on for a couple of months. Meanwhile she sees me playing with older students, and she sees me playing as well. After a couple of months she is finished with her fist exploration. How do I know? Because now she is using her fingers (clumsily) and she is trying to imitate what she sees the other students (and me) doing. In short, she has become dissatisfied with her achievement so far. At this point  - typically – she will ask for more instruction – and even if she does not ask, she will accept it. So as the teacher you must be truly sensitive to this momentous turning points. On the other hand you can simply try to teach new stuff from time to time. If she is not ready she will not do it. In this age group imposing will not do much good.

Once she goes on to “finger stage” I will teach by rote very simple tunes she knows by ear already (like nursery rhymes). Perhaps the most frequent “mistake” is to contort fingers like passing the 3rd over the 4th. Even this sort of thing I do not correct. Historically such fingers were quite common in the Baroque period – in fact no one used thumbs! J. S. Bach is reputed to have been the first one to use thumbs. I will let her get on with it, because my view of technique is that fingers are the least important link in the chain. A natural co-ordination for the playing apparatus is far more important and in my experience pre-school children all have this natural co-ordination if you will just let it develop.

The philosophy here is that a child of this age will not be ready for new learnings until she has exhausted all the possibilities of the current learning and is dissatisfied with it. The best way to accelerate this process is to expose the child to another child of the same age but more advanced in the piano. Children of this age will not care how well you , the teacher can play. But they will care about what other children of the same age can do (hence the great motivational power of student’s recitals).

When they start learning their first proper pieces (using all fingers, right and left hand), to start with I let them use whatever fingers, positions they want. Then I show them an “easier” way. Correct fingering and hand position are “correct” exactly because they further facility. It should be easier and more natural to use the correct technique than the incorrect one. So there should be no problem for a child to switch from an incorrect to a correct technique. If there is a problem, then it is worth investigating if the technique you are trying to impose to a child is indeed correct, or if it is just a relic, a tradition that you were taught to be correct. (For instance, Hanon is completely incorrect – sorry, Hanon fans). This requires for instance trying to do the passage in the same way the child is doing it. Trying to understand why they do it this way, and not your way. Unless you cannot understand this, you will not be able to modify it. And who knows, may be they are doing it in a better way! In any case, if you do it their way, and they n you do it your way, and your way is much easier, then they should experience the same ease, and therefore doing it your way (the correct way) should pose no problems at all.

Chilren of 6 – 7 years-old are another matter altogether. Exposure to school may have already resulted in all sorts of body armour and defective co-ordinations (caused by the process of socialization and the desire to “fit in”) that will need to be addressed. But at 3 – 4 you can pretty much trust their natural co-ordination.

At this point I want to make two digressions. They are long disgressions but they give you a glimpse of what is the background to what I have just said.

1.      Think about walking. No one teaches children to walk. No one worries about the perfect toe position, or the perfect foot placement. We just let the children get on with it. They want to get on with it because they see everyone around them doing it. We also know that the “technique” for walking is really about the motor co-ordination of all the parts of the walking mechanism (feet, calves, legs, hips, swinging arms, upper body posture, etc.). We do not fret over the minutiae of all these movements. We trust that we are all wired for it, and that it will develop naturally. The only need for interference is if the child has either a physical problem (e.g. badly formed bones/hips – which will require medical intervention) or an environmental problem (have you ever heard of Kaspar Hauser, a 19th century guy that was chained to the floor of an attic since his childhood, and as a consequence could not walk properly?) in which case re-education is necessary. But these are very rare cases. I doubt you ever encounter them. The common cases are that children will learn to walk by trying it over and over again, and in the process they will develop the perfect co-ordination. Likewise, with piano playing, as they try over and over, they will develop naturally all the necessary co-ordination provided they have enough examples around her just like they have enough examples of walking. That is why at this age group intensive constant exposure to piano playing is so important – far more important than lessons (in the usual sense).

I will give you an alternative example. Walking of course is easy because everyone does it. But what about swimming? Swimming is far less common as an everyday experience than walking. Yet everything said so far applies. Children from fishing communities can swim as easily as they can walk for the simple reason that they have been exposed as much to swimming as they have been to walking.

The conclusion is simple. Do you want to teach a three year-old to play the piano? You must supply constant exposure to piano playing. In fact, these days you can see 3-4 year old confidently using computers, just because they are now so much a permanent fixture in the home landscape. It follows that you will get nowhere with a scheme of 30 minutes lessons weekly. The best scheme for this age group is to have them hang around the piano room, so they go there for five minutes whenever they want, and so that they see you giving lessons to other children. How the hell are you going to do that? Well, in my own case the 3-4 years old are family (one is my daughter, the other is my niece and the third one is a friend of both who is often at the house).

If they are formal students who are not intimate friends/family, then you will have to enlist the help of the parents (they must be willing, if they are not you better not take on the child). The classical method to do that is of course the Susuki system: You teach the parents, the parents teach the child. I must say however that in my experience most parents are not willing to do it.

2.      The best pedagogical method is historical. Have you ever heard the sentence “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”? Think about the human foetus. In its ontogenical development it recapitulates the whole evolutionary history (phylogeny): it starts as amoeba (a single cell), proceeds to a multicelular organism, then it becomes a fish (with gills even) to finally become human. What is the relevance of this for teaching /learning? The relevance is that when children learn they recapitulate the whole history of learning. Think about maths. What was the first thing humans learned about maths? To count and then to add. Subtraction came much later, and caused a lot of problems. Therefore you can expect a child to have facility in counting and adding but to experience problems in subtraction, since this is what happened historically. Likewise, multiplying is an easy concept, while the reverse, division (or fractions) took a long time for mathematicians to figure out how to do it. Therefore a child will follow the same historical development in her personal development. In maths, reverse operations always represented big turning points that caused a lot of problems, but once they were solved they expanded knowledge enormously. Hence addition was not a problem, but its reverse subtraction was. The solution gave us relative numbers and the possibility of credit cards and negative bank balances. Multiplication was easy, but division was a big problem (irrational numbers finished with Greek maths who was unable to incorporate them into their system), that once solved gave us real numbers. Exponentiation (powers) was a natural extension of multiplication, but its reverse (roots) was terribly problematic (ever heard of the impossibility of the square root of a negative number?) but once solved, it gave us logarithms and most importantly the theory of complex (imaginary) numbers, where square roots of negative numbers are perfectly possible.

The point here is: if you are going to teach maths successfully you must follow history because the difficulties people found historically are the difficulties people will find personally.

Yet in the 60s some smart alec decided that the way to teach maths was to do it logically and start with set theory. Do you remember that? Now set theory was a solution to a very complicated problem of 20th century maths. By teaching maths starting with set theory you destroy the historical sequence. You present a solution to a problem that no one cares for – or understands. Result: in one generation educators succeeded in destroying completely the teaching of maths. Here in the UK the situation is so bad (no one wants to do, or knows how to do maths), that the government is considering paying students who are willing to take graduate courses in it.

What does this have to do with the piano? Everything. But it is easier to show it in maths than on the piano. Both theory and technique teaching should follow the historical method. You will not understand a minor scale unless you understand modes – since modes preceded it historically. You will not understand a melodic minor scale, unless you understand that historically melody preceded harmony. Any musical structure that you have right now is the solution to a problem, and you will not appreciate the solution unless you understand the problem. Counterpoint is the answer to a problem posed by its predecessor: plainsong. The classical style is a solution to the problems posed by counterpoint. The romantic style is a solution to problems posed by the Classical style, and so on. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to learn repertory in a historical order.

And of course folk music precedes it all, so little children should start with folk music and nursery rhymes. And once these become unsatisfactory (problem) you must supply them with the solution.  It is their awareness of the problem coupled with their appreciation of the solution that makes learning fast, possible and permanent.

And all this applies to technique as well. I suggest that you get familiarised with things like historical fingerings. And historical pedagogies, since every child will follow the historical pattern. Hanon suggested exclusive use of the fingers lifting them high. Every child will start by trying to use fingers only. thumbs started being used only in the 18th century, so you can expect children not to use their thumbs straightaway.

Only when they become aware that there is a problem, that is, what they are doing is not working, will they be ready for the solution (co-ordinated use of the whole playing apparatus).

So, if you want to teach technique you must familiarise yourself with the ideas of these historical pedagogues (in order), each proposing a solution to a problem created by the preceding one:

C.P.E. Bach – Hanon – Czerny – Deppe – Breitkopf – Matthay – Fielden – Whiteside – Fink/Sandor/Grindea

This gives you pretty much the historical development of technique, but most importantly that is the pattern that a child will follow in his/her personal development. A lot of students get personally stuck on any of these levels, so as far as I understand , my role as a teacher is to assist a student in overcoming personal limitations by pointing out the next historical/personal step.

Best wishes,
Bernhard
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #6 on: March 14, 2004, 03:52:11 AM »

Quote
Regarding "Music Mind Games", I've heard that you need to be willing to spend a lot of money for the games and doo-dads that go with it, or spend a lot of time making your own.  Is the book helpful at all without those other items?


I suggest you ignore the games, and buy the book (which is reasonably priced). The book describes all the games, and what you need to make your own props.

Yes, it may take a lot of time to make all the props for all the games in the book, but you do not need to do it, since you can use the book as a reference for ideas. You may not use all of the games, just a few of them. You may wish to modify the games and create your own (I know Misnmusic does that). You may not even use any of the games in it at all, but just follow the general approach/philosophy which is a wonderful philosophy for teachers (but as I said in another post, a terrible philosophy for students).

Best wishes,
Bernhard


The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

minsmusic

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #7 on: March 14, 2004, 09:55:57 AM »
Hey Bernhard,
I haven't taught students as young as 3 and 4.  I have had requests, but I've said, "ah, wait till they go to school!!! ;D  - I have to admit, this is because I was clueless when it came to such littlies.  (I was originally high school trained)

So, can I recap?  You would spend about ten minutes at a time with the child? Do you sit next to the child, or do you leave it to it's own devices?  If so, do you explain to the frowning parents, that you're just waiting until the child has finished exploring?  How is this different from the child doing the exact same thing at home? (I get if from the teacer's stand point, I just need some food for thought  explaining to the parents why it's not a waste of their money)
As for them 'observing'; how close?  Close enough to watch the other student's hands?


Two other entirely different thoughts:  Bernhard, to me you sound like you're a .... brace yourself ... FUN teacher!  Yes, what you describe, I would interpret as FUN.  

The other thought?  Do you know the word succinct?  ;)

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #8 on: March 14, 2004, 06:58:48 PM »
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 Do you know the word succinct?  ;)



Yes. ;)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline pianoannie

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #9 on: March 14, 2004, 10:35:05 PM »
Quote


Yes. ;)


too funny!

Thanks for another thought-provoking reply.  Like minsmusic, I found myself wondering how (or if) a teacher charges for a time of exploring the keys without structure or instruction.
And I'm not really following you on the topic of hand shape/finger curve.  Yes most children learn to walk with proper technique, but, left to their own devices, most children (even adults) would play the piano with flat fingers and/or collapsed knuckles.  Kind of like learning to play golf, or ski, or doing gymnastics--not too many people figure out the right stance, posture, technique, etc, without a LOT of guidance.  Am I misunderstanding your comments about natural coordination?

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #10 on: March 15, 2004, 12:33:33 AM »
Quote
Hey Bernhard,
I haven't taught students as young as 3 and 4.  I have had requests, but I've said, "ah, wait till they go to school!!! ;D  - I have to admit, this is because I was clueless when it came to such littlies.  (I was originally high school trained)



Yes, I am very reluctant to take on this young age, mostly because of parent’s attitudes (see below). It is also the most exhausting group if you do not have the correct attitude/philosophy, which is basically an attitude /philosophy of slyness. You have to teach without appearing to do so. You have to give up the role of “director” and let the child direct where the teaching is going, but at the same time (and here comes the slyness) you must have a watertight plan and know exactly where you are going, so that it appears as the child is directing the whole enterprise, but they end up where you want them to be. And yes, you will not get anywhere with this age group without (whispering) fun.

There are some important considerations as well before I accept a child so young, so an interview and audition is mandatory. To give you an example, someone insisted in having her four-year old daughter starting lessons because she was already playing tunes by ear on the piano, and had even started to decipher notation. Mother had done a bit of piano in her teenage years and was helping along but they felt that she needed proper lessons. I waited with some trepidation to see the little Mozart. They arrived and we talk over two hours about this and that while I awaited for the child to go to the piano. But she would not. The parents asked her to. I asked her to. We played for her. My daughter (who is now 5) played. There was nothing that would convince her to go to the piano. In such a case lessons are a waste of time and money. I send them home and told them to continue doing what they were doing, since this is what I would be doing anyway, and try again in six months time.

I believe she might have been a bit scared of me (a strange person) and not yet "socially" ready. With this age group, empathy is the most important consideration: the child must love you. So if you deicde that you are going to take on a child like this one it is worth to spend time with him/her outside the context of piano lessons (I am going to her birthday party next month to juggle and do magic - this may completley change her attitude towards me).

In any case “formal lessons” where you instruct and the student follows the instructions cannot start (whatever the age) if the student is not able/prepared to follow instructions. You would be surprised how many adults fall into this category (“I want to do it my way”). People some times get shocked when I tell them that I expect them to obey me to the letter and to follow instructions to the best of their ability. But what is the alternative? Come to a lesson and not follow the teacher’s instruction? Disobedience as a matter of principle?

Anyway, things I look for when taking such young children:

1.      Can they tell left from right?

2.      What is their co-ordination like (can they tie their shoelaces? Can they hold a pen /brush and paint? Can they ride a bycicle – even with learning wheels?)

3.      Do they enjoy music? Do they listen to it often?

4.      Do the parents like music? Are they prepared to provide a musical environment?

5.      Are the parents prepared to give a lot of support at home? Are they prepared to sit at the lessons and observe/learn what I do?

6.      Are they commited to the project of teaching music to their child? The worst possible attitude in my view is “We will carry on with piano lessons while s/he is enjoying/having fun”. The truth is that any child will stop enjoying it at one point or another, and they will want to give up. Just like a parent would not have this attitude towards school, they should not have it towards music lessons. All of us have ups and downs in all of lifes pursuits, and just like we learn to stick with it through the bad patches so should the child. But being a child s/he will/cannot. So it is up to the parents to be firm.

Quote
So, can I recap?  You would spend about ten minutes at a time with the child? Do you sit next to the child, or do you leave it to it's own devices?


The natural interest/concentration of the child determines the time. At this age group if they stick with something for a couple of minutes it is already excellent. However sometimes children may surprise you by being focussed and concentrated for a long time. If this happens I take advantage of it (since I do not know when such an opportunity will appear again). Again and I cannot emphasise this enough, the teacher must have a master plan and consistently stick to it. Improvising the teaching at this stage is completely out of question. At the same time this plan must adapt to the child’s demands and needs.

When teaching a piece I sit right behind the child (in the same bench) sometimes s/he might even be on my lap! But usually s/he sits in between my legs. If the child is exploring the piano, then I leve him/her to his/her devices, although I am around, sometimes out of sight, sometimes sitting at either side (if I am creating an accompaniment or a melodic line to what the child is doing).

Quote
“  If so, do you explain to the frowning parents, that you're just waiting until the child has finished exploring?”


If they are frowning or are harbouring any doubts about this way of teaching (which amounts to casting doubts on my honesty) this is not an auspicious beginning and I will not take the child.

I demand complete trust. I do however understand that this may be very new to many parents, so I go out of my way to explain what I will be doing and why and what they can expect well before we enter into an agreement. But once I have accepted a child (of any age) as a student I am the final authority. And just like I will honour my side of the agreement, I expect the parents to honour their side of the agreement.

Quote
How is this different from the child doing the exact same thing at home ?


It is not. The main difference is the presence of the teacher. Since pianoannie asked the same question. I will be succinct here  ;) and answer it in my reply to her (see below)

Finally, sometimes it is better not to have instrument lessons, but music lessons (which I do not offer, by the way). Here in the UK they have something called "musical monkeys" which is a bit like a nursery with lots of toys and play and having music as an background material. It is a group activity, so it is not as overwhelming as a one-to-one lesson and it has a lot of singing and percussion playing. I would call it "pre-music" education. They start with children as young as 2, and the aim is to provide a nice musical "experience" rather than the teaching of an instrument. I will often suggest to parents that their children may be better of attending this, than proper piano lessons.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.



The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #11 on: March 15, 2004, 12:46:10 AM »
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I found myself wondering how (or if) a teacher charges for a time of exploring the keys without structure or instruction.


Er… you charge for your time first of all.

Second, although it may look that the child is exploring the keys without structure or instruction, this is far from the truth. The structure and the instruction are there, personified by the teacher. But they are in a state of alert expectation, waiting for the child to be ready to receive it.

It is the potential intervention of the teacher that makes the difference between a child doing this with the teacher around, and doing it at home. The teacher is waiting an opportunity that will be used the moment it makes itself manifest.

The parents will not be able to recognise, let alone use such windows of opportunity. A parent that does not recognise this simple fact (and believe me, there are lots that do not) is the one not ready for piano lessons!

Also, the teacher being around will dramatically shorten the period of exploration.

Let me give you an analogy: Will a monkey typing randomly at a computer ever come up with the Bible? Probability theory tells us that it might, but it may take an infinite long time. However, what if you put a theologian watching over the monkey’shoulder, and everytime he hits a proper letter, the theologian keeps that letter and deletes the inappropriate ones? Then in no time at all you may end up with a Bible typed by a monkey!

The theologian has a very clear idea of the result he wants (a Bible), so he can immediately see amongst the many random notes the monky types the ones that are useful and should be preserved, and the ones that should be discarded.

Likewise the teacher must have a very clear idea of what s/he wants, and slect amongst the student's explorations the useful ones and discard the inapropriate ones.

So, yes, the child could do a lot of exploring at home, but with a teacher around to keep the good and get rid of the bad, such exploration will actually lead somewhere fast.

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And I'm not really following you on the topic of hand shape/finger curve.  Yes most children learn to walk with proper technique, but, left to their own devices, most children (even adults) would play the piano with flat fingers and/or collapsed knuckles.  Kind of like learning to play golf, or ski, or doing gymnastics--not too many people figure out the right stance, posture, technique, etc, without a LOT of guidance.  Am I misunderstanding your comments about natural coordination?


I am talking about pre-school children (although these days they go to nursery/school earlier and earlier). After one/two years of school, natural co-ordination is so disrupted as to be almost impossible to trust in it. Adults of course are so far gone in terms of bad physical habits as to make the whole enterprise of learning the piano almost impossible without serious bodywork.

What I am saying here – controversial as it may seem – is that you do not have to worry with preschool children. Left to their own devices, they will develop (in very little time) the best co-ordinations finger positions, perfectly fitted to their own playing apparatus. It may be difficult to believe, but it is true. However the moment they enter school things will start going downhill. And you will need to be extra alert to correct and guide at this point.

At this age most if not all learning is done by imitation. Verbal instructions will have little or no effect. The teacher then puts him/herself forward as a model for the child to imitate, and further models are the teacher’s other students. Best of all are other children of the same age group that are a bit more advanced on their piano studies.

Finally, I definitely do not worry about fingers and hands. Since the piano is pretty much intonation free (I mean by that the fact that all you have to do is press a key to get a perfect sound out of it), it is actually much easier to play at the start than all the other instruments. The piano will have a much larger tolerance to bad posture/alignments and so on, than for instance the recorder or the violin where if anything is wrong in physical terms, the sound will be terrible. I spend an incredible amount of time teaching to hold the recorder, something I never have to do with the piano.

The general idea is that unless the child is doing something terribly wrong, I will not meddle with it. For instance, without exception all children of this age group have perfect posture. So no need to do anything about it. Unless they start developing bad posture in which case I may intervene.

Most importantly, all this pertains to the “exploration phase” once we start learning real music things change.

Now a practical way to go about it.

The child wants to play, say, twinkle twinkle little star. How do I go about it? First we listen to it (CD). We sing it. We clap to it. Aim: to memorise the “sound” of the piece, so that the child knows “by ear” where the music goes next and that she made a mistake. (Parents are instructed to let the child listen to it a lot at home)

Next I play, s/he watches. This is usually very short – they are impatient to play themselves and push me away. I am lucky if I can get through two or three bars. I let them do this, since they will not be able to do it, get frustrated and be more willing to let me offer guidance.

Next. I play (one hand at a time), but this time the child puts her hand on top of mine. This way she can feel her fingers moving as my fingers move (it is difficult to describe this, but I trust you will get it). They start by trying to do their own movements, but I show them how much better it is if they just relax and let my fingers underneath move their fingers. Because my hand is in a good position, their hands will adopt that configuration.

Next. I position their hands on the keyboard and this time my hand goes on top. We may work on as little as just two notes. The child is instructed to just keep her hands there to support my hand (this automatically makes them arch the knuckles properly – and they are not really supporting it, our hands are just in contact). Then I use my fingers to press their fingers on the correct notes. At this point they learn that they must release the key so that it can be depressed again (a common pattern this one). Now they get really excited, for they feel they are actually playing, even though it is me. We repeat many times.

Final step I take my hand out and let them press the keys by themselves. At this point you must watch like a hawk, for you do not want any bad habit to creep in. If necessary go back to the previous steps. Sometimes you can just touch lightly the fingers they are supposed to use (as a reminder).

If at any stage they show signs of boredom, we do something else. Focus and attention must be built slowly. But there is a master plan and I stick to it: next time the child wants to go to the piano, we will pick up exactly where we left. I never ever move on to the next section until the one we are working on is learned. I do work at more than one piece at the same time (usually 3 – 5 pieces) and we may switch from one to the other, but within a piece we keep total consistency. In the beginning at least half of the pieces will be duets.

Unfortunately there are so many ways in which a child can deviate from some ideal we might have that I cannot possibly cover it all here. I can only give a general idea.

My approach is always the same though: If what I am doing is not working, I will do something else. Also I do not have a rigid notion of what fingers should be like and so on. There is quite a lot of slack in piano technique. (Much more than in any other instrument). And who knows? Sometimes the child may come up with some new way that could even improve my own playing.

I always think about Pablo Casals who as recently as the 20th century completely revolutionised cello technique going against all the previous centuries ideas. Or Dick Fosberry, the high jumper who jumped backwards for the first time in the Mexico Olympics, 1968. Everyone laughed at his absurd technique. The sports commentators watching the event immediately dubbed it “the Fosberry flop”. And they all laughed their heads off. That is, until they saw the results. Fosberry had cleared the bar by almost a foot over the world record. The next Olympics everyone was jumping backwards.

So what do I know? Piano technique has changed enormously from the times of CPE Bach (just read his “Essay on the true playing of keyboard instruments”) to modern times, so who is to say that this or that way of playing is completely wrong? At the end of the day it is the results that count.

I wonder what Hanon with all his fixed ideas about lifting fingers high and not moving anything but fingers would make up of modern piano technique (as precognised by Seymour Fink or Gyorgy Sandor).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

minsmusic

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #12 on: March 15, 2004, 02:07:01 PM »
Okay, you've prepared me and inspired me.  Next time someone says, 'will you teach my 3/4 year old' I'll say, "let's sit down for a discussion", instead of my usual response.  


These CD compilations ... I think this is a great idea, one that I'd like to implement myself.  What do you include Bernhard?  (and will we have to start paying for this wonderful advice one day?)

Offline bernhard

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #13 on: March 15, 2004, 11:58:37 PM »
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These CD compilations ... I think this is a great idea, one that I'd like to implement myself.  What do you include Bernhard?  


I use three kinds of compilations:

1.      For intermediate/advanced students I give them a CD with the pieces they are playing played by as many different pianists as possible/available. I also include a wav file of a midi played by the computer so they have a sample of “unmusical” playing.

2.      For beginners who have little experience of music I give them CDs with different pieces/styles raging in grade from 1 – 8 (if I cannot find pieces n the lower grades I will record them myself). The pieces are very eccletical, but they are also my personal taste. I make no excuses for it – I do not want to teach stuff I don’t like. The only exception is if the student has a firm determination to learn a piece. But since most of them are indifferent, they might as well play stuff I like. As they progress they get a sample of the piano works of the most important composers: J.S.Bach – Scarlatti – Mozart - Mendelssohn – Schubert – Chopin – Haydn – Schumann – Beethoven – Debussy – Prokofiev – None of the pieces in these are advanced – again they range from grades 1 – 8 or slightly above grade 8.

3.      Pieces for parents and toddlers. These are compilations of very small children (some in the womb!), so that they listen to classical music from the very beginning. In this group there are three categories: a) gentle music for sleep (both orchestral and piano) b) Music for play (again both orchestral and piano – lots of Mozart) c) Music for intellectual development (lots of JS Bach).

If you never read it, I suggest you have a look on “The Mozart Effect” by Don Campbell.

You can have a preview here:

http://www.parenting-baby.com/Parenting-Baby-Music-Research/Music-Research.html

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(and will we have to start paying for this wonderful advice one day?)


Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today! ;D


Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

minsmusic

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #14 on: March 16, 2004, 03:18:40 AM »
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Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today! ;D




:-*   (payment enough?)

Thanks for sharing all your 'secrets' with us.  
Yes, I've done some research on 'The Mozart Effect' and I own a book similar in content.  Thanks for the site.  I'll click on it now!

minsmusic

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #15 on: March 16, 2004, 03:22:04 AM »
lol! Yes, this is the site "I've done some research" on.  It's good, isn't it?  

Offline gosch

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Re: What method to use for very young students
«Reply #16 on: March 22, 2004, 11:35:14 AM »
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C.P.E. Bach – Hanon – Czerny – Deppe – Breitkopf – Matthay – Fielden – Whiteside – Fink/Sandor/Grindea

This gives you pretty much the historical development of technique...




And to update this list of technical-pedagogues and -progress, one must not fail to add Heinrich Neuhaus and Alan Fraser !
Alan Frasers is one of the most recent books (published in 2003) about the subject, as well as one of the best.