Beginning Piano Music With Numbers

Little girl playing piano
Reading music is not a good starting platform for kids

Beginning piano with numbers instead of reading music prevents early frustration for kids.

Reading music is so confusing that children often give up.

Most kids are defeated before they have a chance to have any fun at the instrument.

Unless a child has fun with a toy, it’s over.

You need to establish the toy aspect first before you endow respect for the greatest musical instrument on earth.

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If a child has fun with a piano, that is respect. It is at least a good place from which to start.

Let’s examine the difficulties involved for a child who is starting to read music and play the piano at the same time.

Here’s MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB expressed in a simplified version of sheet music:

Mary Had A Little Lamb
Mary Had A Little Lamb in musical notes

We’ve removed most of the symbols that would confuse a child, and have left just the bare bones of musical notation.

While MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB is not a difficult song, imagine a five year-old presented with this information.

The average child will be confused by the notation alone, and that is before the confusion of translating the notation above (in the graphic) onto the keys of the keyboard.

From my experience, the child will be bewildered by the circles and the lines, and the circles connected to lines. When a child sees something too complex, they simply shut down: adults get out their problem-solving tools, but the child doesn’t yet have those tools fully under their control.

Thus you have doubled their confusion by presenting the song in this manner.

Confusion on the page is compounded by confusion on the keys.

The effect I notice in children when music is presented this way is one of disengagement. They immediately decide that this is far harder than they thought.

Once they decide that something is too difficult, the teacher’s job becomes practically impossible.

Here’s MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB presented in Piano By Number format with a numbered keyboard below it:

3 2 1 2      3 3 3    2 2 2    3 3 3

 3 2 1 2     3 3 3 3    2 2 3 2    1

Numbered Keyboard
Numbered Keyboard

Since numbers are readily transparent to children, there is no confusion on the page.

The piano keys are numbered and the numbers on the page are simply stated. Thus there is no confusion of any kind, either on the page or the keys.

Using Piano By Number, the child is immediately making music, albeit simplified.

To the mind of a child. this simplicity is, as Goldilocks said, “Just right.”

It’s easy to take that enthusiasm and add a dozen more songs in a day, because Piano by Number songs are easy to navigate both on the page and the piano keys.

Once you have established the joy of playing music at the piano, you must carefully start to introduce the elements of reading music, but only a bit at a time, and only later in the lessons when the child is comfortable with the keyboard.

To the child, the lesson is all fun, songs, games and numbers. Then, the teacher presents a short segment where they are asked to look at notes for a minute or two. The child absorbs whatever they can naturally. Then, back to the fun of songs.

This approach works with every child.

Piano Is Easy Book By Mail

Some children move beyond numbers in a few months, and the older they are, the quicker they migrate to the common language of notation.

Piano by Number also serves another useful function.

Children are able to play piano music far harder than what they are able to read in sheet music.

So if you restrict them to a diet of what they are able to read, they will starve to death, as it were. You can’t build enthusiasm on a diet of exercise pieces and nameless pieces that mean nothing to the child.

Use numbers to extend their ability to play any music they take an interest in, while at the same time work constantly to bring their music reading skills up to the same level.

This is exactly the reverse of the conventional approach, where you learn to read music first and then, if you survive, you can play anything you want.

But this freedom is what children need to thrive at the piano in the beginning.

Copyright 2011 Walden Pond Press

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