Life in this music studio is never dull for this teacher. Life in my particular job means the brain never stops thinking, planning, organizing, problem-solving, or making lists – even in sleeping dreams. One of my most recent tasks has been to develop strategic approaches in piano for private lessons to 4-6 year olds. This particular group of kids have proven to be focused, fun, organized, and very intelligent. I have always enjoyed the young students in lessons – and find it a worthwhile challenge to plan activities for this particular age group. The main difference I am feeling at this point in lessons is the sheer number of young ones. :) A year ago, I had 3 kids ages 6 & under. Right now, I have 12… 9 of which are at a local Montessori private school.
I wanted to take some time to list the various game adaptations we use to tackle some abstract and challenging music concepts…
*Finger numbers = foam cards with numbers, beanbags, teacher bell – sometimes a fly swatter or dice
*Note values = Hi Ho Cherry O game with cube blocks (notes drawn on them) – clap the note, counting aloud, and name it. We also love to play Red Light Green Light with note values – I hold up a picture of a note, and the student takes that many steps. If they make a mistake, they must go back to the beginning. Creating, drawing, and notating rhythms. We also use stackable cubes to demonstrate note value length. They LOVE when we have rests.
*White keys = Candyland with pictures of piano white keys with one or two X’s. Each square on the Candyland board has a letter of the musical alphabet. The “special” spaces are music symbols. I got this idea from a fellow piano teacher YEARS ago.
*More white keys = stuffed animals… Alligator, Bunny, Cat, Dog, Elephant, Frog, Goose (endless ideas)
*Music staff = Candyland again, but with music staff cards (again, got this idea from a fellow teacher)
*Music staff = fabric tablecloth, using the stuffed animals mentioned above – I drew the music staff on the tablecloth. Students can move around on it, work on directions, lines/spaces, intervals, chords, note identification, landmarks, and so much more!
In each lesson, I greet the student. They put an owl sticker (owls are our theme for the year) on the attendance chart outside the room. We talk about their week while I look over their assignment book, lesson books, and gather any correspondence from the parents. We tackle a page or two of theory/notespeller books, play a game introducing or reviewing a concept – go to the piano to hear their songs, learn the new songs, possibly play another game reinforcing that new concept via a different approach (the more approaches, the better), put a sticker on the assignment book page, and say “Great job!” Of course, this varies, and students add their individual flair to each of the lessons – but having a consistent routine has worked great for everyone.
When I arrive at the school, the teachers inform me of any cancellations, or students who need to have a different time. I make the quick changes to the schedule and we are ready to go.
I am honored to be teaching lessons at this school, and don’t take the opportunity or responsibility lightly. We have fun in each lesson, but the kids also work. They are expected to practice on a piano throughout the week, they complete their tonic tutor music games assignments online, and they know that bringing all their books means more learning – and more fun.
Each week, I tend to bring FAR more than is needed for the day’s lessons & work, but one must always be prepared. :) At least, that’s what I tell my friends and family when I travel with enough packed for 10x the trip length. Some of my favorite items are Beethoven Bear & Mozart Mouse, the stuffed animals from the Music for Little Mozarts set. The kids have come to expect that Beethoven Bear & Mozart Mouse will be sitting on the piano waiting for them. Beethoven Bear sits on the very lowest low keys, and Mozart Mouse on the very highest high keys.
In the very first lesson, we often will cover the following concepts… how to sit at the piano, how to bow at the end of a performance, finger numbers, basic note values (quarter note = 1) (half note = 1-2) (dotted half note = 1-2-3) (whole note = 1-2-3-4), black key groups of 2 & 3, high/low/middle, loud/medium/soft, fast/medium/slow, and various moods (VERY popular) – happy, sad, excited, sneaky, shy, etc.
By the 2nd lesson, we have jumped into the method books – sometimes skipping or rushing through the first few pages since the kids know SO much already. They learn their first “book” song by the 2nd lesson using independent fingers. By the 3rd lesson, they have begun incorporating various note value lengths into the songs, and are often composing/creating pieces based on the new concepts they have learned. By the 4th lesson, we start introducing the white key note names using a brilliant system first introduced to me via a worksheet by another teacher. We use the dog & people houses (dog for 2 black keys & people for 3 black keys). Inside the dog house lives the DOG. Sitting in front of the dog house is the curious CAT. They both EAT on the other side of the dog house. When you approach the people house, you enter through the FRONT door, grab some GRAPES on the first table, eat an APPLE before leaving, and go out the BACK door – this cycle repeats 7 & 1/2 times on the piano – and students have learned to play every white key by name up or down the piano 7 times by their 5th lesson. Music staff begins around the 7th or 8th lesson – and the grand staff by the 10th lesson. Students play with two hands around the 15th lesson, and have finished their books usually between lessons 15 & 20. Every student is different, and though this may be a general guide, it is FAR from perfect, exact, or complete. Depending on many factors, students can move at a much slower or faster pace – and their teacher is proud of them for that pace, whatever it may be! :)
I have learned one major lesson from teaching at this great Montessori school… very young kids can learn piano just as quickly, if not quicker, as the older kids – older kids are often over-committed and have very busy homework and school schedules. The biggest influences on a student’s progress are… *proper instrument for regular practice, *great support & encouragement/interest from family at home, *proper materials for learning, *fun lesson environment, *musical influence at home away from the piano. Communication with the teacher is key too, and can make or break a student’s music lesson experiences. I am thankful to have so many great families in my life taking lessons – who are super supportive of their kids, have the proper instruments on which to practice, take an interest in the lessons & practice times & performance opportunities, offer a home with exposure to many different musical genres and styles, who trust me to make decisions on music materials & books, and who understand that lessons should NOT ever just be work… we must include a certain degree of fun.
Some of the reasons I love doing what I do… music is fun, it is all around us, and it touches lives. If it ever stops being one of those, I will stop doing what I do… until then, happy learning as you grow as musicians, and learn to create & duplicate music that brings joy to others’ lives. :) See you in piano, and don’t forget to have FUN! :D