One of the new categories to be added the updated edition of the Piano Framework is how to develop co-ordination at the piano. Ilga Pitkevica, tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course, shares her top tips for teaching co-ordination to our youngest students, right through to the most advanced. The full video is available to watch inside our Members’ Area, in the July/August 2021 Curiosity Box.
1. Be patient
According to Ilga, what is easy for us as adults is not easy for young beginners.
“We have to read the score. We have to read and take notice of every single detail; different notes, different lengths, different patterns, and different clefs. Signs of pedalling, getting louder and softer, etc. Then we have to locate everything that’s written on the score on the keyboard to be able play the piece. We need to make different movements with the right hand and the left hand, with each finger, with different dynamics again. Of course these movements are different in every single piece – they are never repeated.
We have to use two pedals – each foot differently. This is why playing the piano is so good for us. We have to teach our students to gain enough confidence, flexibility to do all these tasks confidently and to do them, of course they need very well-developed freedom and co-ordination. We also cannot really develop velocity and speed without good co-ordination, not only fingers, hands but also the body movements in relation to whatever fast patterns the pieces demand from the pianist.”
2. Let pupils move
“To teach co-ordination at the piano, we need to let our pupils move a lot around the keyboard. They should use all the edges of the keyboard, and we can modify the most elementary exercises so that pupils can enjoy playing them in different registers on the keyboard. Pupils should be able to do this easily and with pleasure. We should always check that pupils do not move on the piano stool to reach the different registers, because this means they are locked in a narrow-handed position which comes as a result of prolonged middle C position playing.”
3. Teach precise articulation from the very first lessons
“The best way of developing coordination is through teaching precise articulation. Co-ordination and articulation are closely linked together. We can start teaching precise articulation from the first lessons, from elementary movements, even when we teach by rote, which involves listening and imagery. We have to be extremely patient when we work on articulation. It’s an extremely important skill because it’s never the same. In every single piece, you will have different challenges to play precise articulation. It is important to make it child-friendly.” Ilga suggests developing lots of wonderful, enjoyable little tapping exercises, maybe on the closed lid of the piano.
4. Use imagery
“Even with the most simple A Dozen A Day exercise, if we have to play non-legato, both hands together in a very synchronised way, we have to explain how to do it, in a very imaginative and child-friendly way. I usually would ask them to jump on both feet, and discuss how it feels – both feet really bounce together. And then of course, both hands must do it the same way and then eventually when pupils can read the score then I would show them why I look in the score – But if we connect it to the image, if we have a story to tell, it makes a lot of difference.
For example, if there is a five-finger exercise that the pupil must play [legato] it’s very beautiful and smooth and goes up and down; we are going up the hill and down the hill in a very leisurely way. But now shall we imagine that you walk up the hill, but from the top you are jumping down? You are these wonderful little leaps; isn’t that fun? Doesn’t it sound different? Yes of course it does. But it’s related somehow to something they can relate to and imagine to. Therefore, it’s easy to do.”
5. Ask ourselves why something is in the score
“Nothing in the score is [there] just by chance; there is a reason. If we think about the little slurs in Mozart’s K.6 Minuet, on the ABRSM 2021-22 Grade 1 syllabus, if they are executed really precisely, they will make those two bars more playful, and more elegant. We can hear how precise articulation makes an immediate difference to the character of the piece.”
6. Articulation is a cumulative skill
“Teaching articulation is really [not] an easy task because each piece is different. So every single time we have to teach all the coordination and articulation movements from scratch. However, there is some good news; articulation is a cumulative skill. If in the Mozart K. 6 Minuet, we teach our pupils to execute articulation absolutely precisely, explaining how the right hand and left hand dance together, and what kind of different kind of different dance steps they have [and] teach our students to listen and to enjoy the beauty of these movements and sound they make and character, we don’t need to do it again. Even in Mozart’s sonatas at, Grades 7 and 8 the issues are the same. If, using these elementary early tunes, we really teach our pupils to appreciate the difference that perfect, really precise articulation can make, they will not see it as a burden when they learn more advanced repertoire. It will be easier because they have done it before, the movements are the same, concept is the same; they will just have more notes to execute.”
7. Have fun and be creative!
A final thought from Ilga: if we do use imagery, and if we are creative in teaching these skills, it makes the rather challenging task of teaching precise articulation and therefore good coordination skills enjoyable, firstly for our pupils and secondly for us. It makes our lessons fun!
You can access the full video with Ilga, including her demonstrations at the keyboard, and a carefully sequenced approach to teaching co-ordination and articulation as part of The Piano Framework, inside our July/August 2021 Curiosity Box, available exclusively to members here.
For more practical piano teaching tips and demonstrations, why not sample a month’s membership for free? Click here for more details, entering the code LOVECURIOUS to claim your free month.
This blog post was compiled by Hannah O’Toole, Community & Marketing Manager of The Curious Piano Teachers, with text paraphrased and edited from a video recorded by Ilga Pitkevica.