Friday, August 5, 2011

Kiddies on the Keys-Piano for the extremely young

One of the best parts about being a Kindermusik teacher is that I get to work with very, very young children and their parents, inside a nicely equipped music classroom. And one thing that every single child is drawn to, from the time they can walk, is that great big wood box with black and white keys. And for years, I avoided using it, except maybe occasionally playing a song myself. Even though, at age 2, I'd turn around and find my daughter sitting in someone's studio, plunking keys, there was still some part of me that drew a line that said "they're too young". But part of Kindermusik is exploration, and these kids wanted to explore that big wooden box just as much or more as they wanted to explore the egg shakers, rhythm sticks, or even my big drum. So, taking little steps at a time, I began integrating piano into all my classes. And while I'm not going to suggest that every baby/toddler needs a piano at home, I am going to say that if you have one, avoiding the "No, that's grandma's piano! Don't touch" at age 2-3 may not be the best route to take, especially if you want your child to eventually want to play piano down the road.

Here's a few basic steps for guiding your child's piano/keyboard exploration throughout the years. Most of all, remember-you're not giving a piano lesson. You're having fun. When your child is done, they'll crawl/walk away. Let them.

Start with a label:

When you're dealing with infants and young toddlers, as we do in class, it's not so much what they do as what you, as the parent do. Just as, in a Kindermusik class, we'll sing up high and move the baby up high, you can do the same thing on the piano, playing a few notes up high, and a few down low, and labeling them. The same is true with all those other musical opposites that we explore in class weekly. High/low, fast/slow. As your baby becomes a toddler, he'll probably come to the piano and explore too. And yes, that will be open hand, multi-note at a time banging. But it's exploring and it's musical. Label what's there, and give the child ideas for the future. Melodies will come later.

As toddlers get older, they get more independent. Around age 2, many of my students get shy in class and don't want to come to the piano in the classroom, but still love to watch their parents, and will sometimes even tell their parents what to do. And this is the age where they REALLY start to take it home, based on the reports I get "from the field". By about age 2 1/2, they start to show off, and then they can start to follow instructions, and make their hands jump like a frog, or "climb" up or down in pitch, or play quickly or slowly. You also start to see one finger and single note playing.

Around age 3-5, melodic exploration begins, where a child will play a few notes, and, if they've had enough musical exposure, may even comment that "That's Jingle Bells!" as they recognize fragments. The black keys are wonderful for this, because they give a pentatonic scale with no half-steps, and many of the common folk melodies children learn to sing, like Mary Had a Little Lamb require only those 5 notes. Children at this age also can start transferring rhythm patterns to piano in free exploration, and creating their own melodies. If the child is learning melodies in Kindermusik or other music classes, they will often begin playing these on piano, too.  Finger independence is beginning, and the children are developing motor control and are able to start playing with different articulations and at different volume levels, so you can now say "Can you play quieter, please" and demonstrate it-and have it stick (for the next minute or two, anyway)

Between age 5-7, I start to see preferences developing. In Kindermusik, we introduce three instruments in this age group-glockenspiel, recorder, and dulcimer. Often a child will prefer one or more of these, and if piano is available, it becomes just another instrument for exploration. Some children LOVE piano-and those are the ones who will happily move to piano lessons as soon as they graduate Kindermusik. Others fall in love with recorder, or with dulcimer, and for them, the next logical step is a wind instrument, such as continued recorder instruction, or a string instrument.

But it all starts with letting the child explore. Enjoy the journey.

Ms. Donna

We explore many instruments in Kindermusik classes this week. We are now enrolling for fall, and please see the full schedule at

And, if you've been bitten by the piano bug, the community music school offers classes and lessons for all ages, including parents who always wanted to take piano, but never had the chance, or who took piano and quit and now regret it :).

Taken from "Put a Piano in Your Exploration Box", a conference session at the 2011 Partnership of Kindermusik Educators Atlanta Regional Conference, by Donna DeVore Metler.

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