Why delay reading music?
To allow the child to get used to the piano without the burden of reading music at the same time.
It’s like asking, “Why delay learning algebra?” for your three year old.
You delay learning algebra until the child has other mathematical skills already in place, upon which algebra is based.
Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division precede algebraic concepts.
Reading even the simplest of musical notation requires several mental skills that your child, depending on their age, may or may not have in place.
1. You must have a firm grasp on the abstract idea (and execution) of left and right, including left and right hands.
2. You must be able to order symbols and events, sometimes horizontally (sequentially) and sometimes vertically (simultaneously.)
3. You must understand more than a dozen types of symbols, many only slightly different from one another. This must be memorized.
4. You must look at a page of symbols and make countless decisions about them. Are they different, are they the same? Are they going up, are they going down?
Add to this the necessity of using a particular finger on a certain note. Fingers are also named and numbered, and you have to remember that.
Add to this the need to name the notes you play. There is a musical alphabet (A through G,) that inexplicably fits only a portion of what the child understands, and starts on the letter C, to add to the confusion!
The above list is only the right hand, and is hardly an exhaustive list. Essentially, I don’t want to scare you, as a new teacher, before you even begin.
Hopefully, you can see the folly of starting piano lessons assuming that the child will be able to negotiate all the above skills on the list, right away, without losing heart and hope that they can ever do it, much less have fun with it.
Since the list is so long, the conventional teacher begins right away drilling, drilling the material into their young charge’s brains.
Some survive this, a very few, and of those few, almost none enjoy it.
And why should they?
It’s like playing baseball with a pretend ball. You can go through all the motions and it will never be as exciting as the real game.
What is the real game? Making music, however crudely, however childishly.
The mistake teachers make is to fail to distinguish between making music and reading music. They are not the same, not by a long shot.
To read music is not necessarily to make it, for making music is a joyous, wordless, rather inexplicably spiritual pursuit.
Reading music is the province of the librarian, whereas being a pianist is more like being an actor who interprets a script.
How can you get your child to start playing music at the piano?
First, choose simple songs that they know. Unless the song is recognizable to the child, it is useless as a teaching tool to generate enthusiasm.
Next, let them play as many familiar songs as possible, using whatever instinctive fingering they choose. Don’t bother them with fingering before they have decided that piano is fun and they want to do it.
Explore rhythm as an entirely separate issue. You can try exploring rhythm in a song they know, such as Jingle Bells. Have them sing the song with the correct spaces, and then have them try it at the piano. Don’t labor over this issue. There is so much to learn before you get to rhythm.
A pianist is required to handle up to eight times the information that a flutist or cellist must. In that sense, a pianist must learn to be an information manager more than any other instrumentalist.
When your child is fired up about the piano, and can play many songs by ear and number, they are a more likely candidate for success, and may be more likely to continue, taking a more serious interest in the piano and music in general.
Copyright 2008 by Walden Pond Press
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