I love my job. As an ex-primary teacher, I’m motivated most by seeing children having fun, whilst discovering new things. When I left school teaching and began piano teaching 2 years ago, I never imagined I could end up being even more creative than I was in my classroom.
When I became a member of The Curious Piano Teachers last summer, the community and training focused me on improving my practice, challenged my creativity, and really began a snowball of self-evaluation. This led to lessons becoming more varied and child-centred, with more learning taking place away from the piano in practical activities and games. However, the more I have endeavored to make learning purposeful, musical and enjoyable, the less satisfied I have become with traditional tutor books. They seem to be at once limiting and intimidating, with musical value compromised but musical skills (such as time keeping and hearing pitch) assumed to be present from the start. I then discovered Helen’s DoReMi Piano! In this book, the structure and resources are there, but it allows me to be creative both at and away from the piano, and provides me with lots of support through the teacher book. It also follows the principle of ‘sound before symbol’, which I am becoming ever more keen to follow. I should say here, however, that I have no Kodaly training. I understand the basic principles, and would love to know more.
As I suggested earlier, I have been finding quite a few gaps in musical awareness at beginner level, so in January this year I took this matter in hand and set up my first pre-piano beginner group. I contacted three year 1 children from my waiting list and invited them to come along for half an hour a week of fun! (When I say fun, I actually mean aural training, keyboard geography and basic theory, but they don’t realise that!) We sing, play games, listen to music and really do all the things from the very beginning stages of Sing and Play. After Easter, and a lesson arranging Easter egg pictures to represent high and low notes in a song, I decided they were ready to start looking at notation and the first few pieces from the book.
One of my most popular activities with all my young students is walking the ‘floor stave’. (A metre of felt-backed pvc table protector fabric from Dunelm Mill which I cut into five 5cm-wide strips. When using it as a complete stave I use black rope to create the right clef.) I thought this would be a great resource to use for the pre-piano group’s first introduction to notation, except, of course, we would only need two of the lines. As we were working on ‘High low, Black Crow’, I thought I’d use an appropriate picture to represent the sounds on the floor stave, so I created a note head shape with a bird picture in the centre. (I’ve shared these as a resource just I case you’re ever after some quick crow notes!) After listening to the song, counting the high notes and low notes, how many times I sang the word “low” etc, and then singing it themselves, the children then took it in turns to place a crow on the right line to represent the movement of the song. Of course, when I then presented them with the sheet music they were keen to get on the piano as they understood exactly how it worked. I simply had to point out which note to use for high, and for low. (We have also talked about how line-line uses next-door-but-one notes as it ‘skips’ the one who lives in the space, we will talk more about this using the floor stave soon.)
In the lesson following, the children all performed the song confidently on the piano. No two children used the same fingers/hand/position and there was obviously a huge lack of technique, but that’s not what they were learning. Instead, I’m thrilled that they understand how the sound relates to the dots on the page, and that they are being creative in their communication of this. The children also went on to use sticky foam circles on two lines to compose and perform their own pieces in the same way.
We won’t be rushing on to the next piece, as I’m happy (and they’re happy) taking time to explore all the new concepts I am introducing. When we do start to ‘Bounce like a clown’ however, there will be some clown notes appearing….(and I’ve shared those with you too)!
Huge thanks to Helen Russell for her inspiration and skill, and also for allowing me to share this with you.
[Jeni used the original edition of DoReMi Piano which came with a single-teacher studio license. This allowed her to print individual pages of the book for her students. This edition has now been replaced with Sing and Play which also has the option of a single-teacher studio license]