It’s the very first piano lesson. The piano stand is bare – not a bit of paper is in sight.
Together with my pupil we will make some music, exploring the different sounds the piano makes.
We are going to ‘play’ on and with the piano.
This week I have been at the Music and Drama Education Expo at Olympia, London along with many other teachers. To be honest this week I was going to tell you all about it but then I did a pop-up slot on the Piano Teachers’ Course stand and my plans changed! My topic was 3 top tips for first piano lessons and it occurred to me that you would all find this far more useful than hearing all about a show you weren’t at!
So today here is the first of my top tips – the others will follow over the next two weeks.
I am going to lead the way and set the example by creating some sounds on the piano linking them to something that is relevant at that time, in that place. This might be the fact that it is pouring with rain or the sun could be shining, maybe the pupil has a particularly eye-catching item of clothing, has come in their wellies or is just as quiet as a mouse!
As teachers we need to tune ourselves into that pupil and create something that reflects where s/he is in that moment.
Whatever the story my ‘music’ will have some or all of the following features:
- It will move up and down the piano, using the whole range
- A large range of dynamics will be evident
- The sustaining pedal will be used for added colour
- Rhythmically it will be ‘free’ time!
- Melodically it might use black or white note clusters, individual notes or short patterns/motives
- It will engage the imagination of the pupil
After I have started it all off it’s the pupil’s turn. I’m going to encourage him/her to join in by asking a series of questions. For example:
- ‘Which part of the story would you like to play on the piano?’
- ‘Which part of the piano is going to be best for that; the high notes or the low notes?‘
- ‘How might you make that sound more like a mouse, a lion, a bear, a cat?’
- ‘What would happen if you played that louder/quieter/faster/slower/higher/lower?’ etc.
As we play together I watch and listen, gathering as much information about how the pupil responds as I can.
- Does s/he have a sense for the pulse of the music?
- Does s/he respond to what I play – e.g. play quietly when I play quietly?
- How comfortable or uncomfortable does s/he appear to be at the piano?
For me this is very much a fact-finding mission and, without the pupil feeling any sense of abandonment, I see how much I can withdraw from the situation.
PACE AND VARIETY
Before long though it is time to move onto a new activity. Young children’s attention and energy tends to dip after a while but can be easily restored by just changing activities.
So join me next week when I look at what can happen away from the piano bench.
But before then grab a coffee, and sit down with a piece of paper jotting down as many of the things that you can think of that you do with your young beginners in their first lessons.