Piano By Number started as piano books for special needs children. There were no books even remotely useful for these kids, and so I created several. That turned into the series that can be used by any child, special or not.
I’ve taught children with every major disability from Down’s to Tourrete’s. I didn’t seek them out; they simply presented themselves to me in the course of my practice.
Every piano teacher I know avoids these students, but for some reason I was attracted to the idea of teaching them.
In fact, the idea of writing Piano Is Easy came to me while teaching a brilliant kid who had Down’s.
He was so enthusiastic about music and piano that I became caught up in the idea of communicating musical ideas to him.
Sheet music was useless, since it took so long to get familiar and proficient with it. His attention span was short, and if he wasn’t interested, you had better find another way.
I needed a more immediate way of getting him to play the songs he wanted on the piano.
And so I struck on the idea of numbering the piano keys, and so Piano By Number was born.
The week after I had numbered a few keys, I came back and he had numbered every key on the piano, some of them with his own system of symbols.
From my experience with him, I learned to concentrate on that with which he had success, not an abstract curriculum that meant nothing to his experience of the piano.
All that mattered was that he enjoyed and progressed, however modestly, at the piano.
So if you were to ask my advice in finding a piano book for special needs children, I’d point out the following:
Reading music is not the best entry language for these children. Find another, simpler way of presenting basic musical ideas. That’s why I use piano by number. But some kids work entirely visually, which means you have to show them each step repeatedly.
Find their comfort zone, and stay within it. A child’s “piano comfort zone” is the area in which they can make simple music with out the stress of piano lessons. It’s up to the teacher to create this area.
Don’t expect to scale the mountain of standard music theory. You are here to help the child find what parts of the piano experience they can use for musical enjoyment.
Having stated all these limitations of special children let me also point out that in my experience the level of musical talent in these children is often very high.
For example, the greatest music theory genius child I know is an eight year-old autistic boy. This child can sight read simple piano music, and then you can say, “Play it starting on this key,” and the child will transpose the sight-reading into any key you want.
I can tell you that many “professional” musicians do not possess this skill.
This skill and many others are at a level far beyond what one might ever expect from “normal” kids. The difficulty is drawing it all into a workable program for the special needs of that individual child. You’ll find organizing all their genius is the hardest job.
A piano teacher who takes on the job of teaching special children must commit to finding a level of skill that the child can enjoy.
You will get nowhere with a special child at the piano unless you are both having a lot of fun.
Copyright 2011 Walden Pond Press