These are the activities enjoyed by a bright young ‘not quite five years old’ beginner student during her first lesson – a step by step journey from the start to the finish of our day one musical adventure together.
On arrival I had Miss E sit at the upright piano. After adjusting the seat height, giving her a footstool and making sure she was comfortable I asked her to choose an attendance sticker. This is a positive start to each lesson and allows time for brief conversation eg “Ah you chose a rainbow sticker – what colour do you like the most?”
Some musical teddy colouring book pictures were the perfect speaking prompt for a little girl who was very reserved and would only whisper during our meeting the day before. I propped the images up on the closed piano lid and she was pleased to be able to tell me the name of the instrument each teddy was playing – drum, violin, guitar, flute, trumpet, xylophone and last but not least, keyboard.
I lifted the heavy piano lid and explained that only the teacher is allowed to open it so students don’t hurt their fingers. With the piano keyboard intentionally covered by felt, I then asked Miss E to tell me what was hiding underneath and she eagerly responded “black and white!” I carefully pulled back the felt to reveal just the white keys and we talked about how they all looked the same. After taking away the cover we studied the groups of black keys and discussed how they will soon help her learn to find and name white keys. With closed fists she played black key clusters of two’s and three’s with the hand of her choice (right). I asked Miss E to lift her arms high stretching up into the air then low down to the ground before showing her high and low on the piano. She played some low keys and said they sounded like thunder. I added “Yes, exactly! And stomping dinosaurs and elephants too!” Then she played some high keys and made sounds like fairies – followed spontaneously by some wonderfully playful improvising with naturally relaxed hands on the middle keys.
We then moved to the other side of the room to the digital piano and CD player where I often do listening activities with students. As a fun introduction I lined up some animal flash cards (Baby Einstein) across the piano and we listened to the corresponding realistic sound effects (from a ‘Soundtracks’ board game CD) with the last sound being a musical instrument playing part of the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill. Miss E guessed correctly – the sound of a piano! She was so keen to join in with her own animal noises that I had her make each sound again, without the CD and while pointing to the cards from left to right.
Still sitting at the digital piano, I handed Miss E a foam mallet and asked her to copy some clapped patterns by tapping on the closed lid. I used the ‘secret message’ rhythms from My First Piano Adventures Writing Book A – the series she will own and continue to work from, among other resources, in the weeks ahead.
One more listening and percussion activity before moving away from the digital piano – this one is always a favourite with students. I ask if they like fast or slow or medium speed music and they usually exclaim “fast!” Then we use claves to tap along to the beat of the Hal Leonard Lesson Book One CD tracks 1, 2 and 3 – samples of slow, medium and fast music. Keeping up with the latter tempo creates smiles and giggles all round and repeating in reverse order is great too. Miss E tapped enthusiastically and evenly – and although seated, moved her whole body in time to the music.
Next it was off to the carpet for floor games. To my delight as soon as Miss E saw the alphabet puzzle she proudly announced knowing all her alphabet and happily proceeded to sing A..B..C…to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle. I asked her to take out the top row of letters and showed her that A to G is the music alphabet. With just a little hesitation she could also call out the first seven letters backwards.
A closed box of resonator bells will always initiate a “What’s in there?” so we enjoyed finding out by experimenting with the chime bars inside – tapping up and down a scale – and then letting Miss E rearrange them on the floor and listen to the different ‘colours’. This activity included showing her how to make a pretty ringing sound with the mallet and not a harsh thud.
Miss E then asked if we were going to play the BIG piano so we did one more carpet activity in anticipation of what was to follow at the grand – a revision of the black key groups she had found and played earlier at the upright. For a taste of written theory to come, Miss E used a whiteboard marker on a laminated practise keyboard and circled the groups of two black keys from low to high and three black keys from high to low.
While she sat correctly at the grand piano, I introduced Miss E to one of the music room plush toy friends – a rabbit puppet in a top hat. I said he didn’t have a name and she suggested ‘Hoppy’. Miss E put Hoppy on her right hand and then on her left.
Next I asked her to hop down from the piano bench and we moved it out of the way so she could stand up and walk along beside the piano keys to play Bunny Hop from ‘Pianimals Book 1’ with her left hand.
After a quick ‘wave your right hand/wave your left hand’ game I gave Miss E her homework – two sheets of white paper for tracing around her right hand and left hands (with parental help) and decorating with anything she chooses – stickers, textas, pencils, paint etc as a keepsake for her display folder and as a reminder of the size of her hands when she started learning piano.
I announced it was almost time to say goodbye but before she left we would play together at one piano. I placed a removable dot on treble A and asked Miss E to continue playing the note while I played piano music (a chord progression) with her – our very first duet and a very relaxing and therapeutic way to end the session
Thanks to Tim Topham for the chord progression https://timtopham.com/ – a popular improvising activity with students of all ages and levels.