Unit 1 – The Piano Keyboard

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Unit 1.1 – Technique

Purpose – Good posture and hand position

  • Encourage the student to always look amazing when they’re playing the piano.
  • Teach the student how to position their bench correctly so they are the correct distance from the keyboard.
  • Teach the student how to position their bench correctly so they are the correct height.
  • Teach the student how to keep their forearms level and free and their wrists flexible.
  • Teach the student that we use our fingertips when playing the keys.

Activities

I’m sure every piano teacher has their own tricks and games to make good posture and arm position fun and memorable. Here are some ideas.

I get the student to buy into technique by explaining that they always need to look amazing when they’re playing the piano. We want anyone watching to go WOW! Even before they’ve played a note! They find this very exciting!

Find out if the student can swim. Imagine your arms are floating on the water. Place your hands in your lap. Imagine the water whooshing in and your arms floating up with the water. Perhaps your arms are lying on a polystyrene swim float. They can float up and down, left and right, but they are free and relaxed. Oh but the float isn’t long enough for your hands so your fingers are hanging off the edge, fingers pointing down.

Encourage loose wrists by rotating them and waving them around. Ensure the fingers hanging down in a relaxed curve. Which part of the finger will tickle the water first? The fingertips. You may need to clarify which part of the finger is the tip! Let’s play the keys on the piano by dipping your fingertips. The middle finger will hit first so let’s use that. As your finger pushes the key, relax your arm and hand so that the finger bends into a comfortable curve and the finger tip is the only part touching the keys. Not too far though.

Many students will push so hard that when they hit the bottom of the key bed they keep pushing and the finger joint will collapse or lock straight. Encourage them to use their eyes and check their fingers are curved.

In the first pieces of the book we will only be using the middle finger. For now the other fingers just need to hang loosely next to the middle finger. Ensure the student hasn’t tucked them away or stuck them in the air. Remind them that although we’re not using them now, they need to watch so they know what to do when it’s their turn. If the other fingers are sticking up they may be holding tension in their fingers. Perhaps they are focusing on moving their fingers independently when they should be using their whole arm at this point.

Alternatives for younger students

This section can be delayed for younger students who may be keen to start with the exploration of keyboard geography (Unit 1.2).

Unit 1.2 – The Piano Keyboard (p.2)

Purpose – Keyboard Geography

  • It is important that the student is familiar with the geography of their piano or keyboard. The positioning of the black keys in groups of 2 and 3 enables the student to find their starting positions for the early pieces. Later they will use them to find the absolute note names C, D, E etc

Preparation Activities

Sit with the student in front of the keyboard. Ask them what they see. There are white keys and black keys. How many white keys? How many black keys?

Encourage the student to play each key while they count. If they have completed Unit 1.1 on technique then you can remind them to use beautiful fingertips.

Can they find three black keys together? How many groups of three black keys are there? Can they find two black keys together? How many groups of two black keys are there?

Ask them to bounce up the piano on the 3s and back down again on the 2s.

Look at how the black keys are grouped together. They look like hills. Small hills and big hills. In between the hills are valleys. “Valleys” may be a new word for some students and might need explaining. Some students may prefer to refer to them as gaps. It doesn’t really matter.

With the book

Show them the page. They have already answered all of the questions.
What does their keyboard at home look like? Has it got the same, more or less keys?

Homework

  • Colour in each group of three black keys, and then each group of two black keys.
  • Answer the questions using their own keyboard.
  • Bounce up the keyboard on the 3s and down on the 2s.

Unit 1.3 – Stand Up Sit Down

Purpose – Hearing different pitches

  • Start training the student’s ear to hear differences in pitch

Activities

Move away from the keyboard and tell the student they’re going to play a game. Tell them it is very tricky and they probably won’t be able to do it.
Sing “Stand Up” on so-do’ (E up to A) and then “Sit Down” on so-do (E down to A)
Repeat, sometimes repeating the same instruction twice or more in a row.

Look impressed. Ask them how on earth they managed to get it right. How did they know what to do? They will probably answer that you told them what to do. Sometimes a student may notice immediately that you altered the pitch of your voice. Then you can be properly impressed!

Roll your eyes and say oops! OK, I won’t do that this time. Repeat the game, singing “doo doo” instead of the words, but move your arms up and down with the pitch. Again be amazed they could still do it. They will explain you moved your arms.

This time sit on your hands and just “doo doo”. Some students will now struggle. If they do, quickly go back to the arm movements until they are more confident. If they can still do it, they might be able to tell you that you changed the sound of your voice. Some might say high or low, or even use the word pitch.

This game should be repeated each lesson until you determine it is no longer enjoyable or beneficial. (Source: Jolly Music Handbook for Beginners by Cyrilla Rowsell and David Vinden)

If a student has real problems with this, then they might have trouble hearing high and low. Alternatively they might be confusing high and low with loud and soft, or just have the terminology the wrong way round. Some games on the piano may help here. Show how sounds can be loud or soft, even on the same pitch. Talk about different animals or different people using higher or lower voices.

Unit 1.4 – Improvisation (p.3)

Purpose – Exploring sounds

  • Excite the student about the sound potential of the piano
  • Introduce the concept of improvisation
  • Give permission to “play”
  • Ensure they have something musical to do at home after their first lesson.

Preparation activities

Ask the student if they’ve ever been to a disco. Did they dance? Do they learn how to dance or make it up as they go along? Do they do exactly the same moves each time? They are improvising.

We can improvise on the piano. It’s great! We just make it up as we go along. Let’s improvise now!

Encourage the student to make some noises at each end of the keyboard, in the middle, loud, soft, long, short.. anything! When they make an interesting noise, ask them what it reminds them of. If they had to draw a picture of the sound, or tell a story, what would it be?

If the student is reluctant to play, you can demonstrate and see what they think of your sounds. Then suggest they do their own version of your sound.

With the book

Show them the page in the book where there are four boxes. What pictures could we draw in those boxes to illustrate our music? You could write some key words in the boxes to help the student at home. Some students might make a story board. A dragon, a princess, the dragon climbing the stairs.

Homework

  • To complete the four pictures and practise improvising

Extension

For this activity we are not using terminology such as pitch, tempo or dynamics. However, some students may already use those words, so if they do, make sure you praise them.

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Next Unit 2 – Lines and Spaces

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