The idea of playing piano by number has been around for a long time. In fact, numbering the keys is just an extension of numbering the fingers.
This was first done systematically by Carl Czerny early in the 19th Century. Czerny, one of the most famous piano teachers of all time, was a pupil of the great Beethoven.
In the 1950’s, there was the Emenee organ, a keyboard which had numbers printed on the keys, and a book of songs “by number” to go with it. There was also the “Magnus Chord Organ” which used roughly the same numbered system.
There were even “play by color” products. The concept was always to find a quick way to get people started playing the keyboard. If you want a piano method that is completely irrelevant to any principle of music theory, use “Pianimals,” in which the notes are associated with various farm and jungle animals.
The reason for this is that reading conventional sheet music is not easy, not for adults, and certainly not for children. Why should starting piano be “easy?”
But talk to most conventional piano teachers and they’ll say that music is serious and difficult, and piano cannot be made easy for beginners.
The truth is that conventional piano students, using only reading music at first, have historically had an 90+% quit rate. More than 9 out of 10 quit within the first year!
Why? The piano teachers blame the kids, but perhaps the piano teachers are to blame.
Do you know any method for anything that has an 90% failure rate and calls itself a success? A golf swing? A sewing pattern? A diet regime? It’s supposed to work!
Here are a few figures from my private piano teaching practice: 90 out of 100 children who start Piano by Number are still playing a year later, almost all having made the transition to conventional sheet music.
And almost all of those children continue, year after year, because they are allowed to learn at their own pace, and started having fun with the piano right away.
Who cares if a child who would normally have quit piano is happily playing songs by number and a few pieces of sheet music a year later? The choice is to have that child quit piano altogether. If a piano method does not work, the method is wrong, it’s as simple as that.
The professionals may tell you otherwise, but common sense tells you this is true: if a piano method does not work, the method is wrong.
I’m glad they’re going slow. But why use numbers to teach beginning piano? What is there about conventional music notation (sheet music) that so confuses almost everyone, and specifically children?
The answer is that numbers are understood by everyone. Numbers are essentially one-dimensional, whereas conventional sheet music incorporates concepts from many dimensions to convey the information necessary to play, say, Jingle Bells.
1. Find the correct piano keys to play (a big task for a child)
2. Be able to use the correct names for these piano keys (hard to remember)
3. Use the correct fingers to play those keys (even harder, especially at first)
4. Play those piano keys at exactly the correct point in time (add this to the above three)
These four elements are overwhelming to all but the most musically gifted children. Is music only for the musically gifted, or should everyone be able to play piano at their own ability level and pace?
Kids are often devastated by “failure” at this ridiculous, conventional system of piano teaching. No wonder they quit.
I’m not saying that the above four elements aren’t necessary, I’m saying that children don’t respond to the conventional system used by piano teachers as a starting point.
We need a better starting point for children and the piano.
Playing Piano by Numbers requires only one thing: play the correct piano key as best you can. Believe me, after watching thousands of kids, this is hard enough to do well. It’s a great place to start for everyone. Just press the numbered keys so that it sounds like the song you know.
Music isn’t just for musicians and piano teachers and stars and artists and record companies, it’s also for children, an essential part of childhood.
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