All of Bach’s children had piano lessons with Papa Bach.
Several turned out to be composers who, in their time, were more famous than their father.
Not only did he teach his family music and harpsichord, but Bach’s teaching method for the keyboard was valuable in that it gives us insight into a great master’s view of children at the piano.
Most of Bach’s great teaching pieces, the most famous of which is the Minuet in G (remember the Diana Ross version?) were written expressly for his children and appear in a volume called Anna Magdalena’s Notebook.
Since his children became famed composers, perhaps Bach had some great ideas on teaching children the piano.
Of course, since musical talent is often inherited, perhaps he was also just starting with good material!
The first thing one notes when looking at Bach’s teaching pieces is that they are all good music. By that I mean that the music itself, regardless of the fact that it was written for a child’s capabilities, is of the highest musical quality.
I mention this only because so many piano methods today consist of utterly boring exercise pieces that kids are forced to play. Bach, in the wisdom of a great master, knew that to interest children the music must be enjoyable and tuneful.
Next, we see that the pieces are cleverly arranged such that the child is immediately using all five fingers of the right hand, spread in a row. Not only that, this five-finger position is used everywhere, so that the child is constantly asked to put their hand and fingers in this position, instilling the habit of good fingering immediately and automatically.
The child’s hand is rarely asked to make advanced finger moves, such as turning the thumb under the index finger. And the complexities of this type of fingering are gradually introduced, starting with the Minuet wherein the index finger occasionally is turned over the thumb.
And once again, Bach is clever in his design of the curriculum, for the further one goes in the Anna Magdalena Songbook, the more complex the fingering problems becomes. But at the beginning of the book, he avoids the more difficult positions until the child has had a chance to gain familiarity with easier positions.
In a line of piano teachers that reaches from Bach to the great Franz Liszt, from the late 18th century to the early 20th, Bach’s works for children are unique in their longevity, quality and understanding of both teaching and children’s psychology.
Like any intelligent piano teacher, Bach understood the value of starting with something very easy to understand and then building slowly to more complex levels.
His children benefited from this easy approach, and your children can too.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press