(Reading music requires a different set of stickers, click here for a discussion. This article is concerned with the numbered stickers, which get kids started quickly before they try to read music.)
Why do piano number stickers work so well for kids who are first starting out at the piano?
The answer is quite simple: kids need a visual reference point on the keys to get a good start and enjoy their piano experience from the beginning, before they even attempt to read music.
In the same way we number and letter the keys of a computer keyboard or telephone, kids need some guide to get started at the piano.
The old method consists of simply throwing the child into the water, as it were, by starting all piano lessons with the demand that the child decipher what is on the page, and then be able to find the corresponding keys on the piano.
The drawing below represents the problem with which kids are presented, namely, correlate the five horizontal lines (and the spaces between them) to the unique patterns of the piano keyboard below.
Children are expected to instantly understand the rather complex pattern (to a child at their first lesson) of the piano’s black keys, and that is the only visual reference they are given. They are then expected to begin navigating the piano keyboard.
I once taught this way, a long time ago, and encountered the same resistance and frustration that all piano teachers encounter.
I found a way around this frustration only by experimentation. I decided that the old method of starting would not work for the vast majority of kids, and looked for another way.
I soon came up with numbers, which any child understands up to at least twenty or so, and then realized that the kids needed to see the simple numeric order on the piano keyboard in front of them.
So I created stickers numbered from 1 to 12 that started on the central note that all methods begin with, Middle C. I called that key, as does any study of the classical music “intervals,” one (1.)
Here is Mary Had A Little Lamb on a numbered keyboard. (Click here to try it online.)
Mary Had A Little Lamb
|3 2 1 2 | 3 3 3 * | 2 2 2 * | 3 5 5 * |
Here you’ll see a piano keyboard with numbered stickers installed. (For a discussion of using stickers to facilitate reading music, which uses a different set of stickers, click here.)
It is so simple that all every child I have ever tried this with has picked it up in five minutes or so.
With that victory in hand, we can go anywhere, but the key is to give them that first victory on their first lesson, so that sets the tone for all of their piano study: they will succeed.
As to what to do subsequently with the stickers, it’s very simple.
But inevitably the day will come when the child will not resist the removal of the stickers, and will say, “Sure, go ahead, take ’em off, I don’t need ’em.”
Another method is to gradually remove the stickers. I start by removing the even numbered stickers, because the odd numbers are the same as the five lines of the musical staff, and that gives them a little security.
Besides, it’s a good lesson for kids this age to try to interpolate: what is the number between 5 and 7? It’s 6, and if you have stickers number 5 and 7, you can easily find 6 without a sticker, but you’ll have to think a little harder.
And remember, we are at the same time constantly probing and slowly introducing many other concepts, like chords, fingering, rhythm, reading music, finding the pattern of the black keys, etc., but all separately, so each skill is mastered fully before being combined with the others.
Sometimes, if I sense they are ready, I declare “No Sticker Day,” and I remove all the stickers. At first they are horrified.
We then see how well we can do without stickers. Most kids, if they are ready, will need no more stickers, or just a very few to remind and guide them. If they need all the stickers back on and say so, LISTEN to them, replace the stickers and try again later to remove them. It’s not an issue of laziness. It’s an issue of comfort.
Give your child a visual reference on the piano keyboard and they will reward you with playing the piano because they like it.
Make sure their first experiences with the piano are victories.
Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press
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