I've taught piano to kids of all descriptions, but children with disabilities are the greatest beneficiaries of piano by number, even though they may be the hardest children to teach the piano.
The reason for this is that many of these kids may not ever be able to read sheet music. Thus piano by number may be 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.
But that's only from our, the adult, perspective.
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.
And piano by number is a good tool to teach such a child the piano.
But, since each condition affects ability so specifically, we should discuss the result according to each specific condition.
As background, I'm a piano teacher who was asked by parents of certain special kids, many of them home-schooled, to teach their child piano. I observed these kids closely, and over the years, taught more and more special kids.
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:
ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER
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.
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 rhythmic accuracy, that I wondered if he could actually be a percussionist. 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 a good way to teach a Down's child piano. They win at an activity right away, and somewhere inside they are proud of themselves.
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. To teach a Tourette's child the piano is to experience a student who can learn in anything musical in a fast blaze of glory.
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!
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.
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.
More recently, I have had an autistic student, a boy about eight, and he is the most amazing phenomenon in a child I have ever seen. I never noticed anything about this child that seemed autistic, if there is such a thing, for he had abilities in several musical areas that exceed the average adult.
This autistic child could read simple music, but he had another skill: he could transpose music to any other key, no matter how many black keys there were to confuse the process. This he did, I think, by calculating the number of keys in between each note, and then applying that rationale to any other starting note. He also had the beginnings of perfect pitch, a very rare skill wherein a child can name the notes merely by hearing them
As with every child, his musical precociousness was balanced with childish traits, and it could be very hard to introduce new things to him if he was absorbed in the old, which he, very profitably, often was.
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
FOURS: A game any child can play on the piano!
(You'll find this game in an onliine version in GAMES FOR THE PIANO)
"Fours” is the most basic rhythm game that I teach a child at the piano. 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 these games are designed to make fun music outside of sheet music, numbers or conventional. You can't teach a child piano using only sheet music: the child will just shut off. But that is easily preventable.
“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
See also: PRESCHOOL PIANO PACKAGE: A selection of books for the youngest kids
See also: CHILDREN'S MULTI BOOK PACKAGE: Includes books for older AND younger children
See also: ADULT PIANO PACKAGE: A selection of books for adult beginners