If you look at piano from a child’s point of view, you will see something quite different from what parents and teachers see.
Let me go back a little bit.
Many parents wonder, “Will my child have to unlearn piano by number when they go on to read music?”
It’s a good question, but it has a very simple answer, which I apologize for posing in the form of a question: did you have to unlearn using training wheels on your bicycle?
No, you didn’t, because the training wheels were just a way for you to feel comfortable with the bicycle, and the moment you were able to ride without their support, all memory of those training wheels faded away.
It’s exactly like that with a child’s piano book that contains Piano by Number. All the children we’ve taught make a smooth transition to reading music and have only a dim memory of Piano by Number.
But the point is that these children played piano long enough in the beginning, thanks to Piano by Number, to be able to grow slowly and enjoy the benefits of simply making music at the piano before they were inundated with the task of learning to read music.
There is, of course, a huge difference between riding a bicycle and playing a piano, and, yes, playing piano is infinitely more difficult.
But logic dictates that the harder a subject is, the more generous and careful the initial approach to the student must be, especially when those students are very young and just gaining the motor and perceptive skills necessary to start to play the piano
All that matters is that the child enjoys starting to play the piano, by whatever method, and is also slowly taught how to read music while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of simply PLAYING music at the piano.
It is important for the parent or teacher to never, ever, allow the child to feel like a failure at playing. What is important is how the child feels about the piano lessons, not how the teacher evaluates the child’s progress in their piano book.
An important point to emphasize is that you can only lose the battle of the piano once: once your child feels defeated, they won’t want to play, and if they do, they will do so grudgingly. That’s simply human nature.
So how is a teacher or parent to proceed?
Better to lower the bar slightly, sometimes dramatically, and proceed slowly rather than demand too much too soon and deflate the child’s enthusiasm.
It takes a creative teacher to do this, and almost all teachers prefer, instead, to follow the steps, page to page, in the standard child’s piano book, a process which bores children, even those who are the most diligent and cooperative.
There are several reasons why piano teachers take this “page to page“ approach.
First and foremost, it is easier for the teacher to proceed using this “page to page” method. There is no child’s piano book ever made that can compare, for a child, to a teacher patiently engaging the child on their own level.
If the teacher follows a text alone, there is no room for error: the child either learns what’s on the page in the piano book or is made to feel like a failure to some degree and risks the teacher’s disapproval.
But what about the child’s point of view of that same piano lesson that goes from “page to page?”
In the child’s mind, perhaps, they are asking, while this hypothetical conventional piano lesson is proceeding, “Why is this so boring? I thought music was this fun stuff that sounded good….”
After all, that is a child’s perception of music as we present it to them before piano lessons: music is fun and we sway and dance and sing to it as toddlers.
But now you want this same child to suddenly make music by reading it off of a page in a conventional child’s piano book. And the result is that predictable 90% failure rate for which conventional piano lessons are famous.
We all know children are impatient, and may only dimly understand the concept of deferred gratification. But conventional lessons take the concept of deferred gratification to an unacceptable degree, a degree that totally ignores the psychology of children.
Another way of stating it is that it is ridiculous to assume that very young children should be introduced to the piano as if the end desired is to have them play at Carnegie Hall. The regimen this misconception imposes upon children beginning piano lessons is all but unbearable for the kids.
You should be glad to see your child happily experimenting with this most grand of musical instruments, and leave the thoughts of Carnegie Hall and the standards of conventional piano teachers behind: all that matters is that your child enjoys the piano and wants to do it more.
The proof of this is in the statistics: it is generally accepted that 90% of children starting piano will quit. But they don’t quit for the reason you might assume.
Most people assume kids quit because conventional lessons are too difficult, and that is partly true; the piano is hard for most kids unless you bend over backwards to make them take baby steps toward playing, all the while not diminishing any natural enthusiasm for music they may have.
But the real reason children quit is the imbalance between fun and learning in the conventional piano lesson, with the emphasis on learning straight from the child’s piano book.
But what if the emphasis were reversed? What if a child’s piano lesson consisted of mostly fun, rather than drudgery, and the work was interspersed with games and explorations of sound, rhythm and chords?
The result of this approach is that the child relaxes, and starts to try to get the idea of the rather difficult concepts being presented. But the teacher must be creative, every minute of the lesson, rather than relying on the books to fill up that half hour. No teacher will ever willingly tell you this.
Don’t you, as parents, remember your lessons as a child?
Almost all parents report to us that they hated their childhood lessons, but still want to learn to play, and want their children to learn, too.
The first step to success, in my view, is to give your child a tool that they can use by themselves, a system so simple that they can move forward on their own steam, exploring the piano as a musical toy without teachers, parents or anyone but themselves if they wish.
And there’s only one piano method that allows children to use the piano by themselves at first, specifically, and that is Piano by Number.
The reason for this is that numbers are, for all practical purposes, the first method that a child uses to order their world.
Remember “This Little Piggy?” a basic counting game? Were you teaching your child to count to five, or that they had five digits? In either case, consciously or not, you were teaching them numbers, and you were both having fun doing it!
Counting verbally usually comes before letter perception in terms of child development. Numbers are very deeply ingrained in children’s minds, it’s just part of how we grow up.
Copyright © 2000 by Walden Pond Press
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