Piano by number for children's piano lessons



Walden Pond Press publishes the PIANO BY NUMBER series

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Start piano at home with your child

Start with numbers, then read music

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ebook: "Start your child playing piano by number

Tiny fingers, big dreamsFirst I should introduce myself as the author of this ebook, John Aschenbrenner, and I'm a piano and music teacher specializing in getting kids happily started playing the piano. And "starting" is the trick.


How do you get kids started playing piano in the best possible way? I'm assuming that perhaps you've purchased PIANO IS EASY or THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT and are preparing to set up your piano so your child can play by piano by numbers.

Full, easy to read setup instructions are found in each book, both print and download versions.

This ebook is a companion volume to PIANO IS EASY and THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT, providing a single location for the wealth of material regarding children and getting them started playing the piano by using numbers instead of conventional sheet music. 

Play piano by numbers: an historical overview:

The idea of playing piano by numbers has been around for a long time. In fact, numbering the keys is just an extension of numbering the fingers, which was first done by Carl Czerny early in the 19th Century.

In the 1950's, there was the Emenee organ, a keyboard which had numbers printed on the keys, and a book of songs "by number" to go with it. There were even "play by color" products. The concept was always to find a quick way to get people started playing the keyboard.

The reason for this is that reading conventional sheet music is not easy, not for adults, and certainly not for children. Why should starting piano be "easy?" Talk to most conventional teachers and they'll say that music is serious and difficult, and piano cannot be made easy for beginners. 

The truth is that piano students have historically had an 80+% quit rate. 8 out of 10 quit within the first year! Why? The teachers blame the kids, but perhaps the teachers are to blame.


Do you know any method for anything that has an 80% failure rate and calls itself a success? A golf swing? A sewing pattern? A diet regime? It's supposed to work!


Here are a few figures from my private teaching practice: 90 out of 100 children who start piano by numbers are still playing a year later, almost all having made the transition to conventional sheet music. And almost all of those continue, year after year, because they are allowed to learn at their own pace, and started having fun with the piano right away.


Who cares if a child who would normally have quit piano is happily playing songs by number and a few pieces of sheet music a year later? The choice is to have that child quit music altogether.


If a piano method does not work, the method is wrong, it's as simple as that. The professionals tell you otherwise, but common sense tells you this is true: if a piano method does not work, the method is wrong,


But why use numbers to teach beginning piano? What is there about conventional music notation (sheet music) that so confuses almost everyone, and specifically children? The answer is that numbers are understood by everyone. Numbers are essentially one-dimensional, whereas conventional sheet music incorporates concepts from many dimensions to convey the information necessary to play, say, Jingle Bells.


Conventional sheet music and conventional music teachers demand that a child comprehend at least four things in order to "succeed." 

  • Find the correct piano keys to play (a big task for a child)

  • Be able to use the correct names for these piano keys (hard to remember)

  • Use the correct fingers to play those keys (even harder, especially at first)

  • Play those piano keys at exactly the correct point in time (add this to the above three)


These four elements are overwhelming to all but the most musically gifted children. Is music only for the musically gifted, or should everyone be able to play piano at their own ability? Kids are often devastated by failure at this ridiculous, conventional system. No wonder they quit.


I'm not saying that the above four elements aren't necessary, I'm saying that almost all children don't respond to this conventional system as a starting point.


We need a better starting point for children and the piano.


Playing piano "by number" requires only one thing: play the correct piano key as best you can. Believe me, after watching thousands of kids, this is hard enough to do well. It's a great place to start for everyone. Just press the numbered keys so that it sounds like the song you know.


Music isn't just for musicians and teachers and stars and artists and record companies, it's also for children, an essential part of childhood.


But why piano by number?


The basis of musical construction is mathematical.  No one asks kids to start math class in the first grade solving algebraic formulae. We let them start adding and subtracting for YEARS until we ask more. Piano by numbers gives children the same "gentle start." It's only logical to start at their level.


Numbers are an essential part of music. When we "number" the piano keys with stickers we do no more than denote the classical "intervals." The numbers that kids learn with this system are the same as the numerical assignments given to the relation between piano keys by classical music. When a child plays the piano key #1 and the key #5, they are playing the same combination of keys known as a "fifth" in classical music.


Everything learned playing piano "by number" will be of value when making the transition to conventional sheet music. Playing "by number" is a reinforcement of classical technique, a "prequel" that conventional teachers have unwittingly left out, to the unintentional detriment of their students.


It's important for children to get started easily, and successfully. I'm not advocating lowering the bar for everything and forever, only for the first year that a child starts music study. The benefits are enormous.  


Preview the elements involved in playing piano by number


Here's a sample page from both PIANO IS EASY and THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT.


Click here to view PIANO IS EASY


Your child will play a single line of numbers, from left to right like a book. There are no other symbols to decipher. There are no chords and no accompaniment. The child is not expected to play with both hands unless this is what comes to them naturally. The object is to have the child make the piano produce the tones of a song they can recognize. Recognition is the key: just watch the smile on their face as they realize they are actually playing a song they know. It's an instant increase in self-esteem, and I have the pleasure of seeing it every day


I've put the stickers on the piano, now what do I do?


You should put the stickers on the piano with your child. Kids emulate what you do. If you play piano and are involved, they will want to do the same. I can't emphasize this enough. Even if you only try playing at the beginning, the sight of you trying piano is enough to let them know that they should try it, too. Make the launch as fun as possible.


Open the book to the songs and try one yourself so you know what it's like. YOU are the teacher. You need to see what the children are attempting to do. Playing piano by number is so easy for adults that you'll get the idea in a few seconds.


It doesn't matter which finger or hand you use. If you or your child use one finger, most likely the index finger, that's fine. The point is to start playing. It's better to play with one finger than be confused by a flurry of commands and not play at all.


Here's a very important tip: lavish praise on your child. Tell them they are great for playing Jingle Bells. Tell them you want to hear another song. Tell them you want still another, if they seem still excited. Be amazed. It is amazing. Sit with them and listen to them. Be involved. 


Stay directly involved until your child seems to be firmly launched, playing song after song on their own. Then back away and let them do it by themselves. If they need help, there's nothing so complicated that you can't help them figure it out. Piano by number is that easy, and satisfying to a child.


My object in private teaching is to make a child into a "tinkerer."  A tinkerer is a child who:


1.       Plays the piano a little bit every time they go past one

2.       Likes to try out new songs

3.       Doesn't worry about anyone else's opinion of their playing

4.       Tries to play songs they hear on TV or elsewhere

5.       Is confident and curious about the piano

6.       Thinks piano is easy

7.       Makes up their own songs


A piano weighs perhaps at least an average of 500-700 pounds. Are there any other 700 pound pieces of furniture your child has exclusive control of in your home? My point is that just playing Jingle Bells on a 700-pound monster is enough to raise the self-esteem of the most humble child.


Never express disapproval.


I take this part slow!The only mistake your child can make is to not play the piano. Praise, praise, and then when they are bored, go play the piano yourself. They'll keep coming back, and so will you.


The phrase, "Piano Is Easy!" was in fact the expression of one of my students. I asked a child, after about a month,  "Well, Dave, how's it going? Still like piano?"


Dave, about seven years old, said, "Piano is easy!" with a smile that indicated anybody knows that silly piano stuff. I had the title for the book, right there. Thanks, Dave.


By the way, Dave now reads music, plays simple Bach pieces and sight-reads any easy piece of conventional sheet music I put in front of him. Yes, it took two years. But Dave plays (not practices) the piano without being told, because it's a fun activity.


Dave was allowed to discover that piano is fun, even for people who can't read conventional sheet music at first. In my estimation, Dave had a 100% chance of being one of those "quitters" if I hadn't started him with numbers, and then used numbers carefully to prepare his transition to sheet music. I always tried to find HIS level, and help him move up at his own speed.


How do you teach a child at first?


To be honest, for a kids piano lesson I make a game of everything. Kids are always scared and intimidated by the idea of "piano lessons." (In the interest of accuracy, I make only house calls. I am that rarest of teachers who travels to the child's house and teaches them where they feel most comfortable, at home.)


You have to demystify piano lessons as quickly as possible, and get the fun started. After the kids memorize the location of Middle C, I start playing familiar songs right away.

All you have to do is say, "Dave, play the piano keys that are numbered, just like in the book."


The kids play familiar songs like Jingle Bells right away. In fact, I've never had a kid who couldn't play Jingle Bells in the first two minutes of their first lesson. And then five more songs. And then ten and then twenty.


Whew! Time for piano games!One important point: I break any tension with jokes and fun and playing silly songs myself as soon as I see the child begin to wander, and kids will wander. Thinking about music is hard work, so break it up with fun. As soon as a child has a small taste of fun (a silly song) they're ready for a little more work.


Fun, work, fun, work. Watch their faces and you'll see exactly which one is right for the moment. The kids will show you what to do! Keep leading them back to the task, for short periods, and they will follow, because music has its own inherent fun. Kids and music, work and fun, in simple combination, are a natural partnership.


The transition from numbers to conventional sheet music


The new illustrated children's piano activity book, I CAN READ MUSIC contains all the games, tricks and music I use to get a child started reading conventional sheet music. We make a game of it, and after you put stickers on your piano, you're ready to start! Kids find this method really easy. You'll pick it up right away. Five year olds, properly prepared with numbers, catch on right away. 


Click here to read more and view sample pages from our fun new piano activity book, I CAN READ MUSIC! 


Using other books to prepare the transition


PIANO IS EASY and THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT are intended as an ideal starting point for children's music study. Almost all children can and should make a transition from numbers to playing conventional sheet music. For example, there are gifted kids I teach who have Attention Deficit Disorder, and I allow them to play by number as long as it takes me to get them feeling secure about deciphering sheet music.  I try every lesson to move forward with reading music, and if the child isn't ready for the transition, we stop and go have fun with games and counting and numbers. This patient bait and switch method, in my estimation, always works, with any child.


Numbers are like training wheels on your kid's bike. When they're comfortable with taking them off, you'll be the first to know about it.


Perhaps only the eye of a professional will be able to determine the exact moment for this transition from numbers to conventional sheet music. I also recognize that almost all parents don't have the luxury of a teacher coming to their home once a week. But the principles are the same. 


How will you know when your child is ready? As a general rule, later is always better than sooner.


Give your child the chance to explore the piano at their own pace. If the kids seem to lose interest, you should renew your interest. If they see you keep trying to play piano, they will keep trying, too.    


I know how to play all twelve chords!In fact, one element I look for in finding candidates for this transition to conventional sheet music is arrogance: I want a child to say, "This number stuff is too EASY!" That's when kids are ready for conventional sheet music.

Remember that by this time (every child differs, a week, a month to a year) any child will be able to play dozens of songs by number from memory, and dozens more with the book in front of them.


Introducing chords to children


There is another element that I always introduce before I make the transition to sheet music: chords. Chords are groups of three piano keys. Kids love chords and take to them readily. The only foolproof way I know to teach chords outside of my private teaching is to use a book like TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP, which has a video tutor that makes the concept of chords clear to anyone.


TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP is not intended for children. Chords are too complex a subject to expect a child to comprehend them on their own. Many parents use TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP as a text to make themselves able to teach their children chords. There is no better teacher than a parent.


TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP has a companion volume, THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER, which has 130 songs by number with chords and is a fun book for kids who have learned chords and want to play more songs by number.


In addition, there are many songs in THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER that don't require "sharps and flats" (the black keys of the piano) making THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER a great choice for parents looking for more songs "by number" for the kids who have started using PIANO IS EASY or THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT.    


The advantage of having schooled a child using all three texts, PIANO IS EASY (or THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT) TEACH YOURSELF PIANO, and THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER is that when the transition to conventional sheet music is made the child will surely know:


1.       How to play dozens of familiar songs

2.       How to play eight of the twelve chords

3.       How to play flats and sharps, the black keys of the piano.


A child who has had a positive initial experience with piano, and who already knows their way around the piano, is a much better candidate for conventional music teaching than a child who is simply thrown into complex conventional piano lessons and expected to succeed. 


How far can piano by numbers take my child?


The followup texts, TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP and THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER, are intended to lay as firm a foundation as possible for the transition to conventional sheet music. To make the transition to sheet music I use our new piano activity book I CAN READ MUSIC.


Every concept learned in the piano by number books is used in reading conventional sheet music:


  • Melody (numbers on the white keys)  PIANO IS EASY

  • Accompaniment and playing with both hands (chords) TEACH YOURSELF PIANO

  • Sharps and flats (black keys) THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER 


Piano by numbers, if introduced by a parent or understanding teacher, offers the best possible starting platform. There's no confusion, discipline or force involved.


Do I have to use more than PIANO IS EASY to get started?


Absolutely not. We've created an entire system in case exploring piano by number meets the long term needs of our students. 


The average child benefits by being able to start playing piano in a positive atmosphere, starting with perhaps PIANO IS EASY or THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT, and then proceeding to I CAN READ MUSIC. Here are some of the benefits of starting a child playing piano by numbers:


  • Start learning piano at home where a child feels comfortable

  • Use a system which is immediately understandable: numbers

  • Build confidence with simple, barely perceptible, gradual steps


Piano is fun!If all your child gains in starting piano by number is a positive attitude towards piano, everyone is a winner. The goal is to see your child start playing piano in a positive atmosphere, and then perhaps go on to private lessons.


I'm not advocating playing piano by number for more than the initial experience. In my private practice, I use numbers to start the child, and then, as we get started with conventional sheet music, numbers are used as a way of defusing the tension kids feel in learning the more complex art of reading conventional sheet music.  


Practical advice for parents: do's and don'ts


Do encourage your child


Don't criticize their playing


Do sit and listen to them play


Don't demand that they "practice." 


Do ask them to "play" the piano


Don't set a time limit, such as "Practice half an hour." If a child doesn't do it under their own steam, it's pointless to force them. Five minutes a day is all that a child needs, if it's fun.


Do play piano yourself. I teach in homes everyday where the youngest ones are eager to try piano because Mom does it, Dad likes it, and the older kids play as well.


Don't take playing piano so seriously. If you think it's fun, your kids will, too.


Do this if your child seems to not want to try it: go over to the piano and start trying it yourself. You'd be surprised how quickly your child decides that they want to do it, too.


Don't even think of Carnegie Hall. Don't apply any pressure whatsoever. If you push kids too hard, they turn off right away, and it's hard, if not impossible, to get them back.


Do think about a private teacher for your child if they show interest. But not for a while. Let the child explore the piano on their own.


Don't expect your child to understand things like using the correct fingers or playing in rhythm. All you want at first is to have your child enjoy sitting at that great big piano for a few minutes a day. There will be lots of time to pursue further interest if and when your child decides they want to take lessons. And when they start those lessons, they'll already have a relationship with the instrument. It's much easier to interest a child in conventional music study when they think they already can play!


Do make games out of everything connected to music:

"You play a song, then Mom will play a song."

"Let's see who can play Jingle Bells the fastest without any mistakes."

"Let's each play our favorite song."

"Let's play the song backwards!" (Kids love this one!)


"I'm going to try a song using both hands."

"I'm going to play three songs, and you play three songs."

"Does this song sound happy or sad?"

"I'm going to use lots of different fingers on this song."


"Let's play name that tune."

"Let's play musical chairs."


Don't be impatient. Don't expect anything, and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Expect lots of conventional accomplishment and your child will lose interest as soon as they see they cannot please you. Make it easy to please you.


Mom and Dad say you have to practice


"I just play piano by myself, 'cause I like to."One case comes to mind, regarding forcing kids to practice. I had a student, six, who was a great, zesty boy, clumsy and sensitive and athletic and curious. I used all my usual methods to get him started. He became a tinkerer, making up little songs, always playing a few minutes every day or so. He was progressing well enough toward learning the first five notes of the conventional sheet music staff. I never gave him assignments, or homework, but I always brought him new conventional sheet music which he had the option of exploring that week. He always tried the pieces I left him.


After five months he was intrigued by a silly beginner's song called "My Wigwam" and played it at home, according to his Mom's account, 500 times a day. His Dad hated this song. I tried to get the parents to see that it was important for the child to memorize and own a song that he liked. I advised them to grin and bear it, be thankful you have a child who goes to the piano under his own steam, with no one nagging him to practice.


But Dad instituted a new program, demanded assignments and started forcing the child to practice half an hour a day, with Dad watching sternly, which was very uncomfortable for this child who thought it was fun to play the piano by himself.


After two weeks, I watched the child give up and want to quit. I told the child that he didn't have to play piano if he didn't want to, that it should be fun, and that maybe he would start again some day. This was a child who had waited by the living room window for me to arrive for our crazy, fun lessons for five months.


After a month the parents decided that he wasn't practicing enough, piano "Just wasn't for him."    


How do I choose a piano teacher? 


Very carefully. Look for the following list. Some elements below are obviously hard to find, but you won't find them unless you look for them.


Look for a teacher that has a fun, warm manner. Don't choose that great teacher down the block that everyone says is great but has a distant, professional manner. You can come back to that teacher when your child shows promise and is older. Start with someone friendly, professional and skilled with children.


Look for someone with the patience of a kindergarten teacher.


You need someone who is willing to go slowly, who doesn't emphasize accomplishment as much as very patient skill building. The truth is that music and piano study is hard, and it takes a brilliant, patient teacher to inspire kids. Look for a teacher who also teaches music theory to kids, not just piano, and has a reputation for making music theory fun. Kids like to know how music works from the inside, but it takes unbelievable patience on the part of the teacher.


Try to find a teacher who will come to your home. This is not easy or inexpensive, but for a beginning child, it is often the difference between getting started and quitting. A child is most comfortable at home. You can see and evaluate the teacher's manner and "method."


From the child's point of view, you've never seen a child as uncomfortable as a beginner sitting in a stranger's music studio, unless the teacher really has a handle on putting kids at ease with games and fun.


If you can't find a house call piano teacher, ask to sit outside the teacher's studio room until the child feels comfortable. It's hard enough to comprehend music, much less do so with a stranger in a strange house. Make your child as comfortable as possible.


Here's my most important point. Listen to your child. If they say again and again that they don't like lessons, that it's too hard, get another teacher and start over. Kids don't lie about this: if they say piano is too hard very often, the method is wrong. Get another, more sympathetic teacher. Every child is unique, and too many teachers forget this in their passion to teach their "method."


I'd rather have a child love the piano and happily play six simple songs than hate piano as they play some complex piece like a robot performing pointless  drudgery.


There's time enough to work on the hard stuff after a child is inspired to do so.


In conclusion:


A child who has a positive start on the piano at home is more likely to make the transition to private lessons outside the home.


In former times, before radio and television, the piano was the entertainment center for the family. The whole family at least tried to play an instrument.


I believe beginning to play piano by numbers helps move a family toward that perhaps unattainable but noble ideal. There can be only a good result from more people discovering the pleasures of the piano and music, no matter how humble their current abilities.


It's better to start playing piano with a simple system than to be confused with a flurry of conventional commands and thus quit trying altogether.


What I try to do as a teacher is to communicate the excitement I felt for the piano as a child to each and every child as an individual.


By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved

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Piano Lessons: A Child's Point of View

Visit the WALDEN POND PRESS ARCHIVES and read articles about children and piano




1. 107 page illustrated THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KIT Book with 44 songs, Play Along Audio CD, and removable stickers   

2. 120 page illustrated PIANO IS EASY Book with 50 songs, Play Along Audio CD, and removable stickers 

3. 50 page I CAN READ MUSIC Book 

4. 132 page TEACH YOURSELF PIANO STEP BY STEP Book, 56 minute DVD Video and removable stickers 

5. 141 page THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER Book with 130 songs, and removable stickers 

6. 88 page EASY CLASSICAL PIANO BY NUMBER Book with 10 songs, and removable stickers, and 29 minute Play Along Audio CD 


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