Piano by number for children's piano lessons

 

 

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Dear Ideal Lives Readers,

I promised that I would let you know about a simple solution for helping your child or student with special needs express themselves through music. Today I want to make good on that promise.

When I was a music therapist, I taught several young students with severe and profound developmental disabilities to play the piano using a matching system and witnessed tremendous joy in the simplest folk songs. 

One young man in particular really took to the system  and despite severe cognitive delays learned several songs and was able to constantly amaze his caregivers.

For me, though, the best part was watching his face as he played. You just can't put into words the pride and satisfaction I saw on his face. 

I would love for each of you to be able to have that experience, so I was excited when I found out about John Aschenbrenner's simple system. 

I hope that you will check it out and if it's right for someone you know -- be brave and take the plunge!

All my best,

Picture of Lisa's signature

Lisa Simmons, Director 

Picture of piano star

SPECIAL EDUCATION and PIANO BY NUMBER

We asked John Aschenbrenner, a leading children's music educator and Emmy Award winning composer who created PIANO IS EASY, (ISBN # 0-9718936-1-6) about his experience with children with disabilities, and the advantages of using piano "by number" books for these special kids.

"I've taught lots of kids of all descriptions, but children with disabilities are the greatest beneficiaries of piano by number. The reason for this is that many of these kids may not be able to read sheet music. Thus piano by number is their only chance to enjoy playing music on the piano.

"The result varies, of course, with the particular disability, and the gravity of the disability is the major factor in how well the child is able to play piano by number. But that's only from our, the adult, point of view. From the child's point of view, piano by number is easy and fun. It's a refreshing victory for many of these kids who have trouble with learning.

"But, since each condition limits ability so specifically, we should discuss the result according to each specific condition. Some of these conditions I have had direct experience with; others I refer to using emails and letters of people who have communicated to me the success they've had using piano by number with their special kids.

"I want to stress that I'm not a doctor: I'm a piano teacher who was asked by parents of certain special kids, many of them home-schooled, to teach them piano. I observed these kids closely, and would in fact say that it was my experience with them that led me to develop PIANO IS EASY."

 

Here's a list of the special kids we discuss here:

DOWN'S SYNDROME

TOURETTE'S SYNDROME

AUTISM

ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER

Picture of piano star

DOWN'S SYNDROME

"The kids I taught were all enthusiastic, but limited in their apparent perceptions and attention span. They loved the fact that they can play simple songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle" right away, with little or no confusion. Numbers are that simple. I usually hammer home an easy song like "Jingle Bells" right away, to give them confidence, coming back again and again until they feel comfortable. All of these kids responded enthusiastically to playing simple songs; there was no child who could not play at least a portion of a song like "Jingle Bells," much to their delight. Piano is not just for Paderewski or Billy Joel!

"They also enjoyed simple rhythm games, and the art of guessing whether a chord is 'happy' or 'sad.'" Regarding rhythm, I had two boys with Down's who were excellent at rhythm. One of them even played drums and various percussion instruments with such deadly accuracy, that I wondered if they could actually be percussionists. They had the most developed sense of rhythm that I've seen in ANY child, normal or special.

"The Down's kids were also very good at guessing whether a chord is sad or happy, a task that many normal kids have far more trouble with. My theory for this, and I'm not a doctor, is that Down's kids are very open to the emotion that is so forthright in any chord. They seem able to easily identify the chord's emotional qualities and in doing so seem in touch, for a moment, with their own constantly shifting feelings.

"For Down's kids, piano by number is a natural activity. They want so much to learn things, but are so easily defeated by failure. That's why piano by number is so good for them. They win at an activity right away, and somewhere inside they are proud of themselves."

TOURETTE'S SYNDROME 

"In my experience, Tourette's kids are so brilliant that I can hardly call it a disorder, except for the obvious, but entirely understandable behavior problems. I'll say it again: these kids are brilliant. They have unbelievable intellectual stamina, concentration and attention span. But at a certain point they've had enough of one particular activity, and are exhausted by their own strenuous efforts. They seem to have no idea how to pace themselves, but flame through problems, solving them with alarming ease, and then flop back, exhausted.

"For example, one boy, about 12, was so smart that he learned to read sheet music with me in about 15 minutes. Just understood everything I was saying, and did it perfectly! How? His brain seemed wired for music! Piano by numbers was so simple for him that at his first lesson he learned all 12 major chords, a feat that takes top level normal kids months!

AUTISM

"I have no first-hand experience with autism, but I'd like to include a recent email from a lady who teaches children with autism:"

"I tutor children with autism, and ordered your book PIANO IS EASY. The book really works for the kids because they are good at numbers. It's great to watch them respond to the sounds, and try to play them on the piano. Thank you for producing these nice piano books. The kids all are happy when we start a session with PIANO IS EASY. I include it now with almost every lesson plan. After trying these books, I'm convinced that anyone can play piano, in their own way." K.S.

Mr. Aschenbrenner responds, "Well, there's another testimonial to the fact that kids, any kids, understand numbers readily. That's why I use numbers to get them started. I'd rather have a child happily playing by number than quit completely in frustration due to conventional methods. I'm not against the conventional methods, I just want kids to have the chance to start a little more slowly. The benefits are enormous. 

ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER

"Most of the ADHD kids I teach are home-schooled, and are a lovely bunch of kids. I expected more distracted kids, but found instead that ADHD kids really wanted to learn, but needed very careful and slow attention to prosper. For example, I'm always saying that a teacher should never express disapproval, a saying originally coined for normal kids. But it goes double for ADHD kids. Keep trying again and again, and these kids will surprise you. They also have great retention, that is, once you teach these children a concept, they have got it down, and they don't forget it. They are so proud of mastering something that they etch it in their brain, one of their trophies!

"My impression is that ADHD kids liked the simplicity of numbers, and only really wanted a chance to succeed and excel at something. And numbers is that "something" for a lot of these kids. The most important element for them seemed to be each small victory in understanding things in their own way; if I had to encapsulate my experience, it would be to say, 'Find a way to get them to understand it on their own terms, not yours.

"ADHD kids often made the jump to reading sheet music. Many never really got beyond numbers and playing chords. But that is more than most normal kids ever do.

"The bottom line for me with kids and disabilities, and piano "by numbers," is that it is the only piano or music method which allows these kids to enter the field of play on an even level, and play music that is simple but satisfying. Normal methods are impossibly difficult, physically and mentally. Piano is for everyone, absolutely everyone.

"Aside from the musical  benefits, piano by number is a fabulous number game for kids of all ages and descriptions. Many is the child that learns or solidifies the relationships between numbers from a piano keyboard: 3 is lower than 4, 2 is higher than 1. The piano demonstrates these simple mathematical facts to kids of all descriptions better than any device I know."

Copyright 2002 Walden Pond Press

TEACHING GAMES 

FOURS: A game any child can play on the piano! 

(You'll find this game in GAMES FOR THE PIANO)

Fours is the most basic rhythm game that I play with kids. I always use it on the first lesson, and on all subsequent lessons until the child seems too old for it. It's a fun but very childish game that teaches rhythm and piano geography without using printed notes or numbers of any kind.

It's important for kids to actually play the piano without the encumbrance of graphic notation (notes or numbers) of any kind.  For example, you'll notice that kids in general can go to the piano and play three songs:

Chopsticks, Heart and Soul, Knuckles (that funny piece played on the black keys with the knuckles of the right hand!)

Fours is a piano game constructed in exactly the same mold. The child plays numbers and I play the chords. If the symbols below don't line up in your browser, remember that there are always four notes for every chord.    

The child begins on Middle C, also known as the number one: "1" The teacher plays the letters, or chords.

1111    2222    3333    4444    5555    6666    7777    8888

 C         G         C          F          C         F          G          C      

I play a kind of funny Chico Marx oom-pah accompaniment using the chord pattern (C G C F C F G C, etc.) Kids find this very easy and refreshing. We play up the piano keys, moving to the right, with the natural goal being for the child to reach the highest key on the piano. I'm pretty strict, that is, if the child breaks the rhythm or misses a key, we start over. Strangely enough, kids love to go back to the beginning and start over as much as they love going all the way to highest key.

  • Fun variant: Ask them to count up the white keys until they reach the highest white key (starting from Middle C, which to them is #1) and tell you what the number of that white key is (it's 29.) This has no musical value except that it makes the child an explorer of the instrument.

The object of these games is to make the child a keen and enthusiastic observer of their instrument, something impossible to do when the child is locked into reading only sheet music from a book. Kids need to improvise, however humbly, and essentially all of my games are designed to make fun music outside of sheet music, numbers or conventional.   

Fours teaches a child that

1. sheet music is not always necessary to have fun with music

2. they have to count while they play

3. music is divided into numbered units

4. piano is a fun thing they can do right away

More teaching games next month!

See also PRESCHOOL PIANO PACKAGE

By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved

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Red musical note: start your child reading music today!

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THE COMPLETE PACKAGE

Click here to view PIANO IS EASYClick here to view I CAN READ MUSICClick here to view THE BIG BOOK OF SONGS BY NUMBER

Click here to view THE CHRISTMAS CAROL KITClick here to view TEACH YOURSELF PIANOClick here to view EASY CLASSICAL PIANO

Click here to view TEACH YOURSELF PIANO DVD

Picture of Brahms playing piano.THE COMPLETE BOOK PACKAGE: ALL 6 BASIC  BOOKS  

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THE COMPLETE BOOK PACKAGE: 

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 

6 BOOKS, DVD AND 3 PLAY ALONG AUDIO CDS 

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