KIDS, LET'S PLAY PIANO WITH OUR EYES CLOSED
I often ask
kids to play their piece (or a portion) with their eyes closed.
The first thing
one must do to play with your eyes closed is have a picture of
it in your mind, and this game forces the child to make a mental
picture: "where did it go up, where did it go down, oh, yeah,
here's that part I have to slide the thumb under."
Be sure to
tailor the passage to the child, and make it easy enough for
them to get the hang of "making a mental picture." This may
be the first time a child is asked to do such a thing, as I find
many, especially the youngest, have never tried.
make the task to play a very simple pattern with the eyes
closed. This will at least start the mental process of forming
images of the piano keyboard.
The reason for
this game is that there is a huge difference between PLAYING the
piano, and READING MUSIC.
You don't have to
necessarily read a piece of music to be
able to play it at the piano. All that is required is an
understanding of the geography of the piano keyboard, and knowledge of
pianists perform at the
piano with eyes on the keys, not a page of sheet music. Any pianist who
plays with the music in front of them is either practicing,
sight reading, or accompanying, but they are not playing music
that comes from themselves.
You can't be
lost in the thrill of a drive with your eyes glued to the map,
and that's all sheet music is, a map.
understand the music they are actually able to make at the
piano, not your abstract idea of what they OUGHT to be able to
play. Asking them for more than they can actually play
comfortably will instantly frustrate them unless you have
carefully planned how to support them in this uncharted
for this is that all children, regardless of age, are able to
play, by eye and ear, music far more complicated than they may
ever be able to read as sheet music.
What does this
mean? It means that children learn the piano visually best at
first, saving notes for later when they understand many of the host
of complex elements involved.
I have child
students who can play their own version of FLIGHT OF THE
BUMBLEBEE at age 8, when they cannot even begin to decipher the
they understand the music as a series of keys to be played in
certain finger patterns. Children find these patterns interesting:
they do not find the same patterns, expressed as notes, in any
As with video
games, children at the piano become fascinated with this matrix
of information (which has the added attraction of producing
beautiful sounds just as video games produce pleasing
It is from this
self-engendered enthusiasm that child pianists are born, not
from any method or regime or teacher. You have to love it or
visual fascination will keep children moving forward on their
own at the piano. Force, guilt, and pressure will have the
opposite effect if they are not interested in the first place.
If you present
the same information in the form of sheet music, you will get
absolute reluctance. All the fun is stripped from the process
because children have no visual tools to interpret what is on the
page, and then put it onto the piano keyboard.
desire for music at the piano is IMMEDIATE, and you had better
feed that fire at first if you expect enthusiasm in the future.
The only tool
child pianists really have is their wits, and reading music requires
less immediate, more subtle, instinctive mental tools that require YEARS to
discover, build and refine.
common sense and a knack for games is inherent in every child.
That's why the "visual piano method" works on every
child I've ever seen, and serves as a great introduction to the
piano regardless of what the child does later in terms of
reading music. You have to get them started somehow, and this
works better than anything.
When you insist
the child look at the page all the time, you rob them of the one
tool they can rely on: their eyes, which are glued to the page
and cannot see the visual patterns right in front of them on the
solution is to put the musical information visually on the
keyboard first, perhaps introducing the sheet music later, if
something like, "This finger starts here, and then you play
four notes up, to the right, using every finger." Simple
visual language like this excites kids, because it is something
they can grasp right away.
Reading music, on the other hand, is
like asking children to quickly appreciate rustic German poetry in the
original dialect: it isn't going to happen unless, perhaps, you
are a rustic German child.
Add to this
visual process the
element of a familiar song that the child really wants to play,
and you will have a child begging you, "What's the next
part, the part that goes, doodley doodley doo?"
Once you have a
child interested in playing visually, it is easy to spend a
small amount of time beginning or shoring up their music reading
is to help the child PLAY familiar songs at first, under any
means. Then, slowly attempt to start reading music and start
refining that skill.
order of the above "rule" is a disaster for 90% of child piano
If your motto
is, "Play a lot, then work a little," a child will follow
Get them to
PLAY at first, not READ.