Back to the Children Music Classroom Post Pandemic

As with about everything else, we are all very tired of topics being written on the Covid-19 pandemic, and are ready to move forward to normalcy. As we cautiously move back to in-person school settings, there are several things that children’s music teachers and other educators say have changed in their classrooms. The CDC has provided its Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools, but in private educational settings  such as early childhood music education, policy is often left up to the school administrators, music studio owners, or even classroom teachers. With parents’ opinions and levels of anxiety about a return to the classroom differing, most educators cannot control parents’ decisions on whether to send their children back into the classroom. What they can control, however, is their own classroom policy to clearly communicate to parents how they intend to move forward. Here are some helpful tips for putting together your own post pandemic classroom policy:

Teachers Tips for Returning to In-person Music Teaching   

  • Publish and Post a Written Policy – Whether parents prefer to take every precaution, or feel that they are unnecessary, most will certainly want to know how your classroom will be managed. Distributing and posting your policy on the matter will give them the information they need to decide, and they will thank you for it.
  • Clearly Define Your Mask Policy – Parents are making decisions on whether their children will continue to wear masks in public settings, and you don’t want to surprise them one way or the other. If you are not requiring masks outright, consider a mask optional policy. While it may muffle singing a bit, it puts the ultimate decision clearly in the hands of the parents.
  • Social Distancing – Children’s music classrooms are a very communal experience, often with activities such as circle time and close contact such as hand holding. Teachers should consider whether they are going to practice social distancing in their classroom, and clearly communicate the rules to both parents and students alike.
  • Vaccination Policy – In many early children’s music classes, especially with infants, the parents are often attending and personally involved. Therefore, a vaccination policy is important to communicate to parents whether you require adults to be vaccinated in your classroom or not.
  • Classroom Hygiene Procedures – Whether it’s Covid, the flu, or even a cold, it’s safe to assume that most all parents do not wish for their child to get sick. Not only does it mean suffering for their child, but also time that might have to be spent away from work, or potential to infect other family members. Clearly explaining your classroom cleaning process for parents, as well as offering sanitizing products around entrances and bathrooms help to offer greater peace of mind.
  • Sick Policy – We are all accustomed now to the question “have you felt sick or had a fever in the last two weeks?” Teachers understand how quickly a sickness can spread around a classroom of children, whether a simple cold or something worse. Clearly state your policy for participation if a child or parent is currently sick. With all of our newfound experience in remote learning technology, some teachers may even offer remote participation as an alternative for sick parents or children.

Children’s music studio owners and teachers understand that clearly communicating with your parents and students is important for the long-term success of your business. Whether its marketing or curricula, keeping parents in the know serves everyone. Clear communication is no different for returning to in-person learning. While you ultimately get to make your own decisions on the policies of your music studio, parents ultimately decide on what they deem in their children’s best interests. In the end, most all parents will appreciate you providing the information to make their own decisions about returning to the music classroom.

How Early Childhood Music Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 2 – Through THE MIND

Children’s piano instructors understand that a strong foundation in music from the earliest ages will help improve student’s progress and understanding of the keyboard later in childhood. We began by exploring how movement and the body influence this early instrumental preparation. As we continue to delve into how various areas of influence in early music education grooms children for the piano, or any musical instrument, we reveal how it prepares the MIND. 

Early Childhood Music Education Prepares the Mind for Piano Lessons

Is there a purpose to learning an instrument or reading music if a child has not first absorbed musical thoughts? For a very long time, expressive body movement was not linked to higher brain function in formal education. Until as recently as 1995, researchers and educators limited the health benefits of movement and exercise solely to the body rather than the brain. Now it is clear that movement is not separate from higher brain function or development, and that expressive movement combines body functioning with affective areas of the brain such as imagination. These neural connections can be seen in language, literacy, and dominance of ear.

  • Learning Musical Language through Songs and Singing – It is easy to understand that children would not be asked to speak a language they have not heard, nor read a language they cannot speak. It stands to reason that there should be no exception for listening to and “speaking the language of music” before learning an instrument. Asking a child to read and sing or play a song on an instrument before they have ever heard it would not give it meaning of familiarity and affinity. This could be one reason why so many young piano students learn to play only “notes” instead of expressing musical ideas. The large repertoire of songs children have sung with friends and family as well as in the early childhood education classroom equips them with a musical language that will eventually allow them to better learn and play an instrument such as piano.
  • Childhood Music Education Provides Foundation in Music Literacy – Through moving and singing children gain a multitude of experience with rhythmic patterns and steady beat, as well as tonal patterns and home tone. Just as a child learning to read looks for familiar patterns in words and sentences, so do they seek rhythmic and tonal patterns in music. This familiarity with musical motifs enable children to better express musical ideas, as their literacy brings harmony to mind and spirit. The ability to better grasp the patterns and language of a musical instrument is also influenced by dominance of ear.
Listening and Singing melodic patterns during a Musikgarten class.
Listening and Singing melodic patterns during a Musikgarten class.
  •  Listening Skills and Dominant of Ear in Learning Piano – Children who have participated in early music education have learned to be led musically by their ears. Piano teachers discover that they have better listening skills and aural preparation, allowing the eye to more easily recognize what the ear already knows. As one of the first senses to develop in the womb, the ear is dominant in early childhood as children learn language and familiar sounds. Discriminatory listening skills develop as they attune to important sounds in the environment, such as a mothers voice. Early childhood education programs promote these aural insights by teaching children to focus tentatively on a sound source while imitating sounds vocally. Understanding slight distinctions in sound is a vital foundation for all learning.

The ear, arguably the most vital sensory channel to most children’s learning, is the linchpin for Listening, speaking/singing, and balanced/coordinated movement. It is no wonder that early childhood music education is so vitally important in learning an instrument such as piano since music links the ear, the voice, and the body.

This commentary is based on the article The Well-Prepared Beginner: Prepared in Body, Mind, Spirit, and Family by Lorna Heyge, Ph. D. Dr. Heyge is a pioneer in childhood music instruction, as well as a piano teacher of many years.

How Early Childhood Music and Movement Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 1 – Through THE BODY

Children’s piano teachers often must “start from scratch” in teaching the child not just the keyboard, but all of the different facets of music. That is why many piano instructors will attest to how a child that has been involved with music education classes from an early age is often better equipped to learn piano, while doing so at a much greater pace. The benefits of introducing music to babies at the earliest stages of life are well known, and some of those same benefits can be applied to learning the piano. There are several reasons for this, which can be roughly broken down into the areas of Body, Mind, Spirit, and even Family/Community.

In the following months we will start to explore how participation in a children’s music curriculum, even at the earliest stages of infancy, help to set a strong foundation for learning any musical instrument later in life. The first facet of this strong musical foundation that will be examined regards the body.  

Dancing with scarves during a Musikgarten toddler class.
In Musikgarten classes movement is central to steady beat, language development, and expression.

How Body Awareness through Music Helps Children Prepare for Piano Lessons

During the first developmental period of birth through age six, children gain control and awareness of their bodies. As their rhythm and motor instrument, a well-coordinated body will provide the gross and fine motor skills a child will need to play the piano. A vital and natural part of this first stage of life, movement enables a child to communicate non-verbally  how they see the world.

Today, however, children are too often sitting – in front of the television, a computer screen, or in a car seat while busy parents run errands. This sedentary situation results in children having less control over their body movement at an early age. Music promotes movement, and purposeful movement through music responses help children with particular skills such as hopping or swinging, while also developing such musical skills as a sense of beat and meter.

  • Music and Movement Teaches Children a Steady Beat – Children experience their own internal pulse, which allows them to naturally recognize and adapt to the pulse of an external source. Infant movements such as rocking or bouncing is often in response to a beat, whether musical or otherwise. Through musical exposure and encouragement, these movements can be cultivated into the understanding of a steady beat.
  • Language & Movement Help Teach Musical Understanding – Impulse control is a vital ability that tells our body when and how to move. Musical games, like Walk and Stop which incorporate movement instructions, help children establish important connections between language and motor skill. Later in childhood, this developing self-control prepares children to enter instrumental lessons that require language-mediated movement.
  • Expressive Movement Supports Self-Awareness – Children delight in singing and dancing. When they are exposed to songs with purposeful movement and phrasing, they develop a sense of meter and how to feel the phrase through both music and movement. This relationship reinforces kinesthetic awareness and perception essential to self-awareness.
  • Simple Instruments Build Coordination and Concentration – Playing simple rhythm instruments, such as shakers, rhythm sticks, bells, or drums, serve as an excellent preparation for finger, hand, and arm coordination needed to play the piano. While whole-body control and coordination are gained through dancing and other locomotor activities, simple instrument playing supports upper-body control and finger dexterity. Learning body control, including quieting the body between beats, helps children’s ability to focus their listening and concentrate on the finger movements required in playing a musical instrument.

Learning body awareness and purposeful movement are important in the development of a child’s motor skills and coordination. Exposure to musical instruction at an early age, whether through purposeful movement or simple instruments, reinforce the steady beat, fine motor skills, and focused listening skills that will help them to approach keyboard instruction with a strong foundation.

This commentary is based on the article The Well-Prepared Beginner: Prepared in Body, Mind, Spirit, and Family by Lorna Heyge, Ph. D. Dr. Heyge is a pioneer in childhood music instruction, as well as a piano teacher of many years.

Marketing for Summer Music Camps and Classes

With the summer quickly approaching and Covid guidelines continuing to relax for in-person instruction, parents returning to work are going to be looking for opportunities for their children while school is out. Although the official first day of Summer is not until June 20th, children’s music studio owners and teachers can get the jump on filling their summer camp and class rosters early with some simple, yet effective marketing approaches they can start on right away:   

Marketing for Summer Music Camp and Class Registration

  • The Low Hanging Fruit of Existing Customers – While the old adage that “it takes five times the expense to gain a new customer than to retain an old one” varies from business to business, the effort and expense that it requires to find a new customer is considerable compared to one you currently retain. The key to taking advantage of the “low hanging fruit” that current students and families present is through consistent and frequent communication.
  • Customer Communication is the Key – Because you have provided services to existing customers in the past, you most likely have their preferred method for being reached. Furthermore, because customers voluntarily purchased from you in the past, they have in effect granted you permission to contact them again. Often called permission marketing, this concept is valuable in how your communication is recognized. It is familiar, and therefore cuts through the bombardment of marketing messages we all receive on a daily basis. Whether its by email, snail mail, text, or phone call, your communication has a much better chance of reaching a customer who recognizes you. 
  • Categorize Your Audience to Customize Messaging – The more a marketing message or offer can be customized to its particular audience, the more likely that audience is going to respond. This is most easily applied to current customers. Your correspondence with them should have a much different, more familiar feel than if you were reaching out to new prospects. Using information that you know about that audience provides a more personalized message. For example, using the name of the music student or their last completed music class lets recipients feel special. A message to a new potential customer may be more about educating them on your music studio or the benefits of early childhood music education. The more you can categorize your target audience into segments, the more you can customize the message or offer.
Musikgarten Summer Marketing
  • Offer Incentives for Music Camp Registrations – With so much already on their plates, and so many program options for parents during the summer, offering an attractive incentive is often what gets them over the finish line to make the purchase. Early bird registration is a good way to increase response early in the process, even if you don’t want to discount your price. Simply using language to show urgency such as “availability is limited and on a first come, first serve basis’” or “registration is beginning to fill up,” increases action. FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a powerful motivation. Incentives can also be used to get new music students through tactics such as referral or buddy programs. Value provided to existing customers for referring a new student, whether it’s through discounted pricing or a free camp T-shirt, will help to gain new registrations. Children love to enjoy music camp along with a friend!  
  • Reach Out in Different Ways – If there was a single, silver bullet that marketers could use to get loads of new customers, the cat would have been out of the bag a long time ago. The key with most marketing campaigns is to “rinse and repeat.” This means presenting the offer to a target audience multiple times so that they recognize and/or remember it. Frequency, or number of times a marketing message is presented to the same audience, is important for retention of the message and offer. In addition to repeating a message through the same marketing channels, another good way to gain more frequency is through cross-marketing, where the same message is presented to the same audience, but through different ways. For example, you may post a referral program on social media, and also send it out through an email blast. In addition to providing more frequency, one method may be more effective in reaching a particular prospect than another.  

Summertime presents great opportunities for children’s music studios to provide kids with a highly enjoyable and entertaining activity while giving parents a much-deserved break. Savvy studio owners and teachers know to start early by offering opportunities to register. Current or past customers are the low hanging fruit to reach out to first, because they are already familiar with your business. Social circles of those audiences can then be expanded through targeted incentives through messaging frequency within the same and across different marketing channels.

Earth Day Helps Teach Music to Children

Thursday, April 22 marks the 51st year that Earth Day has been celebrated around the globe to demonstrate support for environmental protection. As Spring brings warmer temperatures, Earth Day creates a good opportunity to use nature as a backdrop for teaching children’s music classes.

From Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, throughout time humans have been celebrating nature with music. Some of the earliest recorded songs  are a tribute to seasons and weather, not to mention traditional folk and tribal songs that have been sung since the earliest languages. Today, humans continue to celebrate nature through music, and Earth Day presents a good opportunity for teachers of children’s music programs to weave nature into their curriculum:

Ideas for Using Nature to Teach Children Music

  • Teach Music Classes Outdoors – As we receive guidelines for safely returning to the classroom, there are many outdoor options for resuming in-person music instruction. Children, just as the rest of us, are looking for excuses to get outside and play!
  • Listen to the Music of Nature – Whether using actual sounds outdoors or recordings, getting children to quietly listen to sounds of nature will not only give them an appreciation for the environment, but also teach them how to be still and pay better attention. It may be birdsongs, the wind through the leaves, or a babbling brook that will help train them to concentrate on an isolated sound.
  • Imitate Nature, in Both Movement and Music – Children love to imitate things in nature, especially animals. They will get great enjoyment out of hopping and croaking like a frog, or flapping and clucking like a chicken. Teach rhythm and time through a fun activity by asking them to do this while music plays.
Exploring the Meadow in Music Makers: at Home in the World class.
Exploring the Meadow in Music Makers: at Home in the World class.

 What Earth Day Can Teach Children About Music

Everyone can agree that being good stewards of our environment is important for the long-term health and well-being of humankind. With all these fun activities that teach children about how nature and music go hand in hand, consider mentioning that nature is not something that should be taken for granted. Empower music students with simple suggestions on how they may help make a difference in taking care of our environment, such as recycling and throwing trash away properly.

Considering Resuming Childrens In-Person Music Classes?

March 20th marked the first day of Spring, as the sun officially crossed the equator. Figuratively, this has been a long winter for most of us. But with Covid vaccinations accelerating and the CDC releasing new guidelines for operating schools, there are more and more options for children’s music teachers to resume in-person classes. But, some music studio owners may not have the room to safely resume classes within CDC guidelines. However, with warmer weather approaching, there are some alternative places to consider for resuming classes which can also offer a good environment for teaching music:

Virtual Children’s Music Classes

It’s important to first mention that online classes are still an option. Many teachers have been successfully conducting virtual music classes throughout the pandemic, although it comes with its challenges. Although most teachers will agree this is not an ideal environment, some parents and studio owners will decide that they would prefer to wait a bit longer to return to the classroom.

Teach Children Music Outdoors

With warmer, sunnier days ahead, children’s music studio owners may choose to resume in-person classes outdoors as an alternative. As we know, nature teaches us about music in many ways, and in turn, music helps connect children with nature. Nature has inspired many great artist and composers over the years, and Spring is especially vigorous with new life and an orchestra for the senses. However, finding an outdoor space with enough room and quiet can be the tricky part. Here are some ideas for outdoor venues for conducting safe in-person music classes for children.

  • Parks and/or Public Spaces – Public parks and spaces are designed to accommodate many people while providing open space to all. Whether it’s a center city park that has a green lawn, or a covered picnic area in a municipal park, the open air and distance these provide can present a good opportunity for a fun and exciting return to music class. While most will allow, its always a good idea to check your local parks and recreation department to see if any permits are required.
  • Churches or Community Centers – Many local churches will have covered areas for outdoor worship, and are happy to grant permission to conduct a music class. You may even find an opportunity to offer faith-based children’s music classes to their congregation. While community centers are often operated by the same municipality as parks, some have independent management that administers schedules for picnic areas and other spaces. You can usually find out online, or by asking someone who is working at the facility.
  • Backyards – Some studios owners may have their own beautiful backyard space with plenty of room to conduct classes outdoors. Teachers also may consider reaching out to parents to see who would be willing to offer their yards or natural space. Or, it might be fun to rotate classes between different backyards, offering a new environment to explore for each class.

Teaching a Hybrid Children’s Music Class

One challenge for studio owners is that while they may have decided to once again conduct in-person classes, some parents who are engaged with online music classes will remain uncomfortable with the idea. There are many educators who are currently conducting in-person classes along with an online option, which poses its own set of challenges. It’s hard to provide the best advice on whether to offer this option or not, so communicating well with parents is key to understanding what is suitable in a specific situation.

As society continues to incrementally loosen its restrictions and Spring brings more opportunities for warm weather and outdoor music instruction, children’s music education teachers and studio owners have greater options for how to resume to in-person classes for their students. Working within recommended guidelines and close communication with parents is important to ensuring a smooth and safe transition back into the classroom.

The Pathway to Music Literacy in Children

From whatever country they were born, or environment they were born into, all children are born with a natural ability and inclination to sing and dance. Famed children’s music researcher, teacher, author and lecturer Dr. Edwin E. Gordon concluded that until age 9, children are in the developmental stage of their music aptitude and disposition. Throughout this time, parents and teachers have a great impact on how musical a child will be for life.

In this series on the Pathway to Music Literacy, we have explored the various foundations and methodology that make children’s music curriculum successful, touching last on the connection between music and movement. In this final installment, we’ll sum up how nurturing all these basic music skills prepares children for a pathway to independent musicianship and enduring music-making capabilities.

Aural Preparation is Key to Music Development

Just as language begins in children with aural preparation, music also starts as an aural reality for the child. Only after this reality exists is the child able to then read and write language, or understand the written form of music in notation. Just as words are the building blocks of language, tonal and rhythm patterns comprise the vocabulary of musical language. Once children become familiar with these patterns, they love playing aural games that apply both a neutral, chanted syllable, or in the context of a familiar song.

Children singing melodic patterns in a Musikgarten class.
Children singing melodic patterns in a Musikgarten class.

Teaching Children to Write and Read Music

Once children are able to understand and play aural games, they are ready to see those familiar patterns in symbols. Active, participatory notation games show these symbols to the children on a sensory motor level. With repetition comes understanding, and as they begin to be able to discriminate between several familiar patterns, they can be further challenged to find the same patterns in unfamiliar songs. Instead of simply decoding, they are actually reading with comprehension. Notation games of listening and responding to a series of patterns also teach children to take dictation and write out songs they know so well.

Assessing the Pathway to Music for Children

In early childhood music education, accurate assessment is crucial in knowing how to lead children on their pathway to music literacy. Through a series of steps, music teachers can determine specific pre-requisites to determine a child’s readiness. Once those steps have been mastered, children will be able to look at an unfamiliar piece of music and do the following:

  • Identify the familiar patterns within the song
  • By making inferences, they will figure out the unfamiliar patterns
  • Hear the music in their heads

This approach prompts children to begin to think in the language of music, and play it on the keyboard.

Instilling Music Improvisation and Composition in Children

As children learn to manipulate words, phrases, speak, and write complete sentences, they gain a better understanding and eventually become conversant. The same is true in the pathway to music literacy. By first understanding rhythmic and tonal patterns, recognizing these in the form of notation symbols, and then learning to write these patterns, children obtain the ability to start to manipulate and improvise. Once they begin to improvise patterns, they can begin to improvise phrases and eventually parts of a composition.

Through this improvisation, children become musically fluent and can contribute a musical

thought in the appropriate tonality, meter, and style. It is when they gain this intuition of musical patterns that children can truly improvise and compose through Music Literacy.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at The Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Listening and Movement Connection

Our series on how early childhood music programs influence Music Literacy at the Keyboard continues with the importance of body movement with music and listening. We have explored how singing a repertoire of familiar songs, as well as setting a good foundation of keyboard posture, are vital to instrumental education. Now the close relationship between music and movement complements these footings toward success in music literacy.

The Connection Between Music and Movement

Cultures all across the globe have used movement as the body’s expression of rhythm, which shapes the way we use and understand language. Children naturally desire and enjoy movement because it is exhilarating and energizing. A good foundation of understanding body manipulation helps them to play an instrument expressively.

Listening is vital to nearly all learning, not the least music education. And just as controlling body movement is more challenging for children today, so is learning to listen well. Developing a “listening ear” must compete with the increased amount of noise/sound and visual stimulation in a child’s environment.

Listening and movement are closely aligned through the ears two major functions. The first is vestibular, which controls balance, and thus nearly all movement. The second is the auditory, which directs hearing and voluntary listening. Therefore, it is vital to establish the important link between those two functions in early childhood music education.

Music and movement during a Musikgarten group music class.
Music and movement during a Musikgarten group music class.

How Movement Benefits Early Childhood Music Education

Rhythm and beat competency are emphasized in movement activities in early childhood music classes, particularly through tapping and drumming. Clapping, tapping one’s body, or using instruments such as rattles, sticks, bells or drums while singing helps to develop a child’s rhythm and beat. These, along with other group activities such as passing a beanbag in a song circle, brings children joy and social fulfillment. Drumming, in particular, has been a unique attraction for young and old alike in cultures all across the world. The tactile use of hands provides muscular memory while reinforcing the idea that the sound produced is directly related to the quality of the touch.

Dancing to recorded music as a group also provides a good opportunity for children to experience the flow of music while connecting to the larger community of their peers and teachers. In the most successful children’s music curriculum, teachers repeat these movement activities early and often so that the child in time feels free to express themselves through movement.

Early Listening Skills Make Children Better Musicians

Listening is defined as giving attention with the ear with the purpose of hearing. With the constant assault of noise and sound in our environment today, active listening is extremely important in order for children to concentrate. The very best training for listening employs the use of singing, chanting, and body movement to make the aforementioned connection between the auditory and balance/movement functions in the ear. Therefore, children’s music curriculum and teachers will continually engage in listening activities such as singing, reciting, and listening to music. The music teacher also instructs children to develop a listening posture that allows them to hear the music in their heads. This is particularly helpful at the piano, where body posture and hand position and technique are important for learning the keyboard. Through modeling and encouragement, the successful teacher is demonstrating attentive listening both through movement and posture.

Establishing and reinforcing the important connection between movement and listening helps prepare young children for playing any instrument. The union they feel between singing, drumming, and dancing will support the transfer of their understanding to piano. By introducing the keyboard as an extension of the body in this way, children learn to play the instrument musically – feeling the total experience of the instrument.

In our final installment of this series about Music Literacy at the Keyboard, we will see how all of these different foundational music teaching tools set children on the deliberate Pathway to Literacy

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

In Memory of Hermann Heyge

Hermann Karl Friedrich Heyge

November 26, 1935, Ilmenau – February 4, 2021, Weimar

“The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live.” (Socrates)

The Musikgarten family wishes to extend its deepest sympathy to Lorna Heyge on the passing of her beloved husband Hermann Heyge at their home in Weimar, Germany.

Hermann was a precious soul with a funny, quick wit. All who were fortunate to meet Hermann knew him as someone who was always open to a good conversation and willing to go out of his way to make you comfortable.  An engineer by trade, he loved music, was an avid cyclist and always supported Lorna’s work.

Hermann and Lorna riding their tandem bike in June 2020 at Ludwigslust Castle

For the past 10 years, Hermann faced his illness of dementia with dignity and grace. At every stage he participated in as many ways and in everything possible.

If you have a memory of Hermann you would like to share with Lorna, please email to info@musikgarten.org and write Hermann Heyge in the subject line.

We will all fondly remember the “gentle man with the twinkle in his eye”.

Sincerely,

Jeff, Denise, Billy, Felicia, and Leah

Musikgarten

Learning Piano Starts with a Good Foundation

In this third installment from our series on Music Literacy at the Keyboard and children’s music programs, we will explore how setting a good foundation of posture, arm and hand position, and finger technique are vital to instrumental education. Proper posture with any instrument has various benefits for the musician, while improper technique can even compromise the ability to perform. Establishing good habits from the very beginning and reinforced by both children’s music teachers and parents/caretakers alike, helps to prevent the necessity later to correct ingrained habits.  

Start by Teaching Piano Away from the Keyboard

Start by preparing the body to establish good posture and hand and arm position. This helps piano students to concentrate on their bodies instead of the temptation of sounding the keyboard. In our last installment, we established how a foundation of singing familiar songs first helps the child better understand the keyboard once it is introduced afterward. Initiating these things away from the piano ensures the grounding of good posture and positioning, as well as establishing songs and patterns in the body.

Musikgarten Group Piano Class - Notation Games

Tips for Establishing Good Posture at the Piano Keyboard

Hand Position

  • Ask the student to swing their arms back and forth gently while standing.
  • Bend the elbows naturally at the end of the swinging motion.
  • Point out the curved hands and fingers position at the end of the motion.
  • Repeat the motions at a table, ending with the hands positioned to play on the table.
  • Keep in mind that proper hand position is dependent upon good sitting posture and sitting at the right height.

Sitting Posture

  • Sit with an upright back, with shoulders held comfortably back
  • Identify and correctimproper extremes, such as slumping or stiff, raised shoulders, tense back and stomach muscles, or collapsed wrists.

Chair and Keyboard Height

  • Chair height should allow feet to be flat on the floor or on a little stool.
  • Appropriate keyboard height is achieved when the forearm is parallel to the floor and fingers are laying comfortably on the keyboard.
  • Watch for and correct raised elbow or shoulder, and/or wrist bent upwards.

Good posture and positioning is important for beginner piano players. Not only for the ability to approach the keyboard comfortably, but also to prevent potential long-term injuries that would inhibit the ability to play. Parents and teachers should help the student remember that good habits will serve them well for their entire lives.

Approach to Finger Technique for Piano Beginners

Once the body has been prepared with proper posture, children can then move to the keyboard area. Warm up activities, beginning first with one hand and then the next helps to exercise the fingers and thumbs. Following a foundation of Do-mi-sol, three finger pieces followed by five finger pieces (tetra chord) sets the stage for one-note extensions and eventually leads to chords and scale-playing.

Because some children will have a repertoire of familiar songs, they can begin accompanying their own singing right away with open fifths. Since they have a foundation in aural development through singing, they are gradually able to figure out how to play patterns and songs in multiple keys. Melody is learned first on one hand, and then the other. Once children can comfortably play the melody, chordal accompaniments are introduced through the familiar harmony patterns from their song repertoire.

Good posture, hand position, and finger technique are essential to learning piano. By first learning away from the keyboard, children can focus on these elements separately. With a foundation of songs from early childhood music classes, as well as encouragement from teachers and caretakers, the beginning piano player has the best chance of success and lifelong love for the instrument.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.