3 top tips for first piano lessons – #2 Away from the keyboard

How and where does your best thinking happen? Are you able to sustain your concentration for quite long periods?

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Or do you find that after a while, you need to get up, move around and have a short break before resuming what you were doing?

Young children in particular tend to learn best through action and active involvement. For the average six-year old, sitting on a piano stool and staring at the page in front of them for 30 minutes, is stretching to the limit what they are capable of. All lessons should have pace and variety and this is particularly important whilst attention spans are still developing

So, in the second part of my top tips for first piano lessons, I am going to explore an activity that initially moves away from the keyboard.


In last week’s post, I discussed how information about a pupil can be gathered through a simple improvisation and storyline idea. Now it’s time to develop some musical skills and I find these are best done without the magnet of a keyboard in front of the pupil!


A simple chant, ‘Jelly on a Plate‘, helps me find out about more about my new pupil’s musical skills. You do have to be prepared to have a giggle at yourself when doing this as it is difficult to be too serious when pretending to be a wobbling jelly!

Jelly on a plate (rest)

Jelly on a plate (rest)

Wib-ble wob-ble, wib-ble wob-ble,

Jelly on a plate (rest)


Step 1
Say the chant to the pupil ‘wobbling’ your body and voice where the crotchet rest occurs.

Step 2
Get the pupil to count how many times you do this. Then, invite him/her to join in with you. Do this several times together.

Step 3
Invite him/her to join in with saying all the words. Go over any bits the pupil is still unsure about.

Step 4
Is s/he eventually confident enough to do this alone?


Step 1
Say the chant together again this time playing a 2 black key cluster on the ‘wobbly’ rest. The cluster can be played with either hand and/or hands together on any set of black keys.

Step 2
You play the rhythm pattern of the words for the chant with pupil just playing the ‘wobble’.

Step 3 – optional
If the pupil has been confident so far, invite him/her to play the rhythm pattern of the words for the whole chant on the black notes at the keyboard with you. By the end of this short segment of the lesson some children will be able to play the chant all by themselves, whilst for others, this stage will be a step too far.


At this stage of learning, the focus on technique should be on developing gross motor movements using the whole arm. Individual finger movement requires a lot more precision and, if introduced too early in the learning process, it can lead to the development of a lot of tension!

Next week, in Part 3, I will conclude this short series by introducing one more activity and discussing how practice is set.

Before then, it’s time to grab another coffee and reflect on the following questions:

  • How often do your pupils move off the piano bench?
  • What are the main benefits of getting away from the piano?


This blog post was written by Dr. Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers.


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