The Backwards Piano Method

The Backwards Piano MethodIn the backwards piano method, the child plays piano first visually, and later learns to read music when they are more familiar with the piano keyboard.

This is the reverse of the accepted, conventional curriculum, which is, “Read first, play later.”

I coined this “backwards” term to describe a large portion of successful piano students who play piano first, and then learn to read music.

The reason these piano students are successful is that they grasp the sense of making music, however humble, and this is enough to keep them going over the hours, weeks and years it takes to learn even some of the skills that are called playing the piano.

Reading music is only one of dozens of skills you’ll need to play “properly.”

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Countless people make the mistake of listening to piano teachers who say, “Oh, no, you must read music first. You’ll never play properly unless you learn to read music first.”

Which is partly true, except for one thing: you’ll never play piano at all if you get mired in the drudgery and confusion of musical notation before you have had a chance to enjoy making simple piano music outside the realm of sheet music. You’ll quit as soon as humanly possible because one crucial thing is missing from this regimen: enjoyment.

Reading music is one of the most complex things a human brain can do, and if you expect to wring anything resembling fun out the beginning stages of learning the piano, you’ll devise a different route for yourself.

By hook or by crook, by number, by color by ear by eye, learn a piece of music at the piano, not from sheet music.

That’s how almost all the successful piano hobbyists I have launched have gotten their start.

Big Book of Songs Book By MailOnce they started playing the piano in any way, albeit with a simple, visual system, they became so fascinated with the keyboard that not being able to read music couldn’t stop them at all.

Years may go by as the student gains confidence at all the physical skills of the piano, but is dependent on the teacher for the “text” of the music, for they are “musically illiterate,” and cannot read music well enough to play an enjoyable piece.

The key is the principle that I have stated many times: anyone can play piano music far more difficult than what they can read from sheet music.

Conversely, to limit oneself to playing only music one can read is to starve the musical soul; this alone is why most children quit, because they subconsciously realize that the exercise pieces they are playing are boring both musically and spiritually. But children have a hard time voicing such emotions, so they quit, since that is the only choice conventional piano teachers leave them.

In every case, at some point these good piano players come to me, usually in their early teens after all the childhood lessons are over, and ask, “Okay, now will you teach me to really read music?”

And that moment is when the students, both adult and children, truly succeed, for learning to read music is actually much easier when you already understand the physical sense of playing the piano. This applies to six year-olds as well as adults.

Every child who reaches this point in the “backwards” method goes on to read music very well, and of course they already play well.

The advantage of this piano method is that your candidate is always enthusiastic, eager and attentive, for they are choosing the “diet,” and you are merely serving the food.

Copyright 2011 Walden Pond Press

Children's Collection

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