Finding A Child’s Piano Comfort Zone

Finding A Child's Piano Comfort Zone

Unless you can find a child’s piano comfort zone, you are in for a difficult time as a piano teacher. Pushing your curriculum may create behavior problems. Or you can go with the flow and find out what the child is ready and willing to learn.

Using such a method, sometimes you will be manipulated by junior child manipulators, who just don’t feel like working that day. But if you’re savvy, you’ll be even more of a master manipulator, biding your time and luring the child into a mood conducive to exploration.

I have discovered that you never gain anything with a child by ignoring their current state of mind. Whatever the state of mind your six year old is in, you are going to have to teach around it.

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Acting like a child is capable of something other than following their current mood is a waste of valuable piano lesson time.

Thus I have a mental file of skills that each child has acquired, or is about to acquire. So when the child is in a crazy mood, I reach into their “file” and make up games based on their mood and the skill on which I think they can make progress. I tell them nothing about my agenda and appear to be following the whimsy of the moment.

If the child is just starting fingering, it means we are going to have a “crazy fingering” lesson. Such a lesson might involve using comedy to try out the worst possible fingerings, and the best, all in an effort to get the child more aware of their fingers, and the separate identities that fingers at the piano have.

These games sometimes devolve into playing a note with the nose, as in Mozart’s famous “Five C’s “ wager. Kids love this story.


It is said that Mozart was fond of games and humor, and often played practical jokes.

One day he was at a party, and bet a friend a large sum that he could play five C’s on the piano, simultaneously. Since each hand can effectively span only two C’s, a prudent man would bet that five simultaneous C’s are impossible.

So Mozart sat down, played two C’s with each hand, and then calmly leaned down and played the fifth C with his nose.

The point is that there are a lot of ways to make the piano enjoyable, even for someone who is the greatest pianist in the world.

Today I had an extremely hyperactive child who can end up literally chewing the furniture.

He can play brilliantly, or not at all, and it isn’t up to me.

But today he was crazy in a new way: he transposed everything in sight. Transposition is the art of playing a song starting on a different piano key, a process which can lead to mind-numbing calculations and brain freeze, even for professionals.

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I quickly started a game of, “Here, play this song, but start on this note.” Using his excellent ear, he tinkered around and figured it out every time.

But more importantly, this game led to a discussion of whole steps and half steps, a game he took to instantly, and absorbed so fully that I was able to teach him several scales, a feat rarely accomplished without pain.

By following the child’s mood, he learned far more than I had a right to expect.

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