Monday, July 20, 2015

Guest Post: "Tiny Ticklers, Teaching Very Young Students" by Doreen Hall

Hello, readers! Today I'd like to welcome our newest guest, Doreen Hall, to the blog. Doreen is going to share some ideas for teaching very young students. I know we can all use more ideas! Thank you for joining us today, Doreen, and welcome!

They are not like my other students, with these kids I have to be ready…for anything. They hide behind doors, and under pianos. They jump around, run around, and even dance around. They look in my purse, ask me how old I am, and how many kids I have. They call me out on everything from a gray hair to a wrinkled sweater. They don’t stay on the bench for very long, they love to flip pages, and draw smiley faces on the music. And let’s not forget all of those “Whys”.
So who are these people? They are my preschool students of course, and I love teaching them! They jump with excitement, and dance with enthusiasm. They are interested in the music, and curious about everything (like when was the last time I dusted my piano). They are unabashedly honest, free spirited and fearless. In other words, they are natural musicians.
I love teaching these little angels but it is not necessarily an easy task. It takes a whole lot of patience, love and the understanding that very young children learn differently than their older counterparts. Little hands and eyes are not ready for everything the pianist needs to learn, but little ears and hearts are like open vessels ready for the music to be poured in.
While in my experience most three and four-year-olds are not ready for traditional piano instruction there are many skills preschoolers are ready to learn. For example:
  • Lesson etiquette; greeting the teacher, taking care of materials, etc.
  • Concentration. 
  • Proper posture (I recommend a foot bench and adjustable seat).
  • Finger numbers (following fingering is a challenge for most preschoolers).
  • The music alphabet (forward and backward).
  • The names of the keys.
  • Treble and Bass clef.
  • How to identify high, medium and low notes, by sound and on the keyboard.
  • The names of basic note values.
  • Stories of Great Composers.
  • How to play along with the teacher duet style and keep a steady beat.
  • How to sing simple melodies.
  • Solfege syllables.
  • How to count and clap basic rhythm.
  • The definition of music.
  • The concept of organized sound.
  • The concept of timbre.
  • Dynamics; loud vs soft sounds.
  • Tempo; fast, medium and slow music.
  • To listen to great music. (You can guide families on this).
  • How to participate in a recital (most little kids are not nervous).
  • Basic Improvisation.
I believe a child can start learning to play the piano as soon as he/she is willing to receive instruction. Granted you may have to take a lot of breaks at the beginning, and it helps to have a parent around to guide the practice at home. The main thing is to make lessons fun and be sure that all of the grown-ups involved in the child’s piano education have realistic expectations of the importance of practicing (Beginning with about 5 minutes a day).

I always keep the music in front of my preschool students to make them aware of the notation. I don't mind the really little ones getting help from a parent, or even following some fingerings and writing in note names if it gets them playing. When I feel the student is ready, I introduce music reading. For most of my student’s this coincides with learning to read words.

When working with preschool students I really like to vary the activities and keep the lesson moving along. I let the kids stand up and even walk around as needed. Many of the above activities can be “off the bench”. For example, the children can stand while singing or walk up and down the keyboard while naming the keys.  

Teaching preschoolers is always an adventure. Each little one is unique. Some are boisterous, some are quiet, and some run smiling into the studio, while others hang steadfastly to Dad’s leg. Each one however, is able learn about music. As long as a child’s first experience with piano study is a positive one, I believe it is a great advantage for children to begin piano study as early in life as possible.

About the Author: Doreen Hall teaches Piano in West Palm Beach Florida. She holds a teaching certificate in Music K through 12 and Early Childhood Education. She has over 30 years of experience teaching students of all ages and abilities. She earned a degree in Music Theory and Composition from SUNY Fredonia. She has Post Graduate credit from Adelphi University in New York, and she has trained with the Suzuki Association of the Americas.
Doreen serves as the pianist at her church and works regularly as an accompanist in the West Palm Beach area. She is an avid composer and arranger, and self publishes her music. She has written her own piano method, and publishes the books online in PDF format at Paloma Piano LLC.
Doreen lives in Sunny Florida with her husband Stewart. She has 5 sons and 2 grandchildren. Most of her interests music related and include Ethnomusicology, Singing, and playing the Violin.

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