On which side of the piano do you teach? You have to sit to one side or the other, and something about the left side of the student seems to be best for me.
It sounds like a silly question, but I have noticed that different piano teachers adopt a different style in terms of where they sit during a piano lesson.
I prefer to be as close as possible to the student, in case I need to take their hand, or point to a finger.
It’s my philosophy that mistakes should be gently pointed out at the moment they are made. There are exceptions, such as when a child is doing well with one minor mistake, for which I do not stop. But if they are stumbling badly, we stop and I start to break the problem down into manageable bits.
All of this takes proximity, although several of my favorite teachers sat at a distance. This, however, was in very advanced lessons.
Beginning child pianists need closer attention, sheep-dog style.
Thus I sit right next to them. I prefer the left side, so that I can play an accompaniment if needed. Many kids have to work out a song one hand at a time, and it’s fun to have a little accompaniment to their musical efforts.
I find that, in this close position, it is easy to play along with them, sometimes having them look at my hand and then try to imitate it.
This position also makes the child feel like you are in it with them, rather than standing at a clinical distance and judging their efforts.
Of course, there are living rooms in which it is impossible to sit on the child’s left side due to other furniture and space considerations.
I don’t mind sitting on the right side, but since most children are right hand dominant, sitting on the left side allows the child to concentrate on their right hand, building skills and habits that both hands will need.
I allow children to play with the dominant hand, and favor it indefinitely, because it builds confidence with their strongest tool, their right hand. It’s better to have them build the skill in the right hand and then try to translate that skill to the weaker hand.
Playing with both hands is a hurdle that younger children find difficult.
To help them over this hump, you should allow them to learn pieces with the right hand alone. Then, when the right hand is almost automatic, introduce a small element of the left hand, perhaps one note at the beginning of a bar, or one chord at the beginning of the song.
If you dilute the frequency and complexity of the left hand until they have mastered the right hand, you will find that children start to accept the left hand as a sort of “helper” that does less, and adds a little simplified detail. Children are very afraid of failure, and since adding the left hand is confusing in two-sided brain terms, they shy away from it. Accept this fact, and work with it.
I try to keep the music flowing, with as few stops and talking as possible, so sitting on the left allows me to keep playing and demonstrating. We’re here to make music together, and if it is ragged and tentative, so be it, but we make music continuously.
In addition, kids need to see your hand at the piano as an example.
Monkey see, monkey do, with apologies to the monkeys.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press