Letting The Agenda Go

Photo by Wel Han Frank Lin

Today, I had the most delightful lesson with the most adorable 6-year-old boy. He’s my only “little” this year – actually, my only one in two years now. I remember in former years feeling so pressured to cover so much material in the first lesson because I wanted to be able to send the student home playing the first pieces in the lesson book. And, in order to get to the first pieces in the lesson book, I had to cover the first several pages, teaching how to sit at the piano, how to hold the hands properly, which end of the piano had high sounds and which had low, what a quarter note and a quarter rest were, etc. Then we had to learn how to follow the directions on the page and what all of those words said. I always felt like I was spewing information, not really teaching them to be excited about making music.

Today, I let the agenda go.

We started by reading Mole Music, as recommended by Andrea at Teach Piano Today. I loaned him the book to take home. Next week, I’ll use her printables to help him apply the story to his own study of music.

Then, we explored the piano. We opened up the top of my console piano, and I let him stand on the piano bench and peer in. We watched the hammers dance. We learned the names of hammers, strings, dampers, and keys. We explored what the pedals could do.

We talked about high bird sounds and low bullfrog sounds and made up a name for the middle keys. They are the Panda keys. Doesn’t make any sense, but does it really have to?

We traced around his hands and learned that “King Thumb is No. 1.”  Then we played the worm game. The fingers are worms, and when I call out the worm numbers, they come out of their hole and rest on the keyboard cover. But, birds like to eat worms, so they have to jump back into their hole quickly before my hands (the birds) can grab them. Many giggles. He had a little trouble with fingers 3 and 4. No matter. We focused on fingers 1, 2, and 5. When his fine motor control is a little better, 3 and 4 will come easily enough.

In a few short minutes, he learned how to clap quarters and quarter rests, saying “one” for the quarters and “sh” for the rests. In no time, he could do 4 measures all by himself. Then, we made up our own song using our four-measure rhythm which I had written out on a sheet of paper. He wanted to play clusters of keys on the quarters. No matter. They were on time. His hand position was not correct. There will be time to address that later.

Forty-five minutes went by before we knew it, and I had never cracked one of his books, Yet, not a minute of that lesson was wasted, and not a minute was dry. He went home with permission to create his own music. If my measure of success was to send him home playing a piece in his book, I failed.

I don’t think that is my measure of success any more.

4 thoughts on “Letting The Agenda Go”

  1. Wonderful post! I like the phrase King Thumb is Number 1. It made me think of a few analogies. Because 1 is "King" he gets to be different and take it easy on his side tip instead of standing on his tip like the other keys. If "King 1" does his job (plays on side tip in slide position) the rest of the "kingdom" (fingers) will function better. He gets an inside view to make sure the other fingers aren't collapsing at the knuckles.

  2. Great post, Laura. One of the most liberating things I ever did was observe our pedagogy teacher start a group of 3 young beginners, and carry them through the entire first year of lessons. She didn't give them a book until 4-6 weeks into the year. There is so much to cover, even for older students, and the actual reading of music is the least important. Well done, and I am so stealing 'King Thumb is Number One'. Love it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *