5 Top Tips To Help Your Child Play The Piano

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Want Your Child to Learn To Play Piano? – 5 Keys to success

Music is a very powerful force that can stir deep emotions, bring great joy and encourage social interaction. Many parents would like their children to learn how to play an instrument and piano is one of the most popular instruments often chosen.

One question that many parents ask is how do you encourage your child to play piano without being too pushy and spoiling the enjoyment of learning? Should you expect your child to strive to achieve concert pianist level or be happy for them to knock out a few tunes for their friends or at family functions?

It can be confusing for parents who hear conflicting opinions on whether ability to play piano is mainly nature or nurture and whether children need to be coerced to play or whether they should be left to decide on whether or not they want to learn and if so, how much practice they should do.

If your objective is to empower your children to enjoy the joys of playing music, express their creativity and have fun, the answer is remarkably simple ……

 

The 5 keys to success in your child to master playing the piano

  1. Chose an effective piano tuition method
  2. Maximise motivation
  3. Maximise aspiration
  4. Maximise fun
  5. Encourage regular practice

Step 1 – Chose an effective piano tuition method

When choosing a tuition method, unless you wish your child to follow formal classical training, then a far more effective method of learning to play the piano is one of the rapid results methods which avoid spending time on formalities such as posture, scale and learning to read standard notation and focus solely on achieving the ability to play a song which gives enjoyment to the performer and listeners, within the shortest time possible. Arguably, the most effective rapid results method is www.decplaypiano.com which has proven that rather than requiring any special abilities or genetic predisposition for musical ability, virtually anyone can learn piano within an amazingly short period of time (usually within 1 hour to play song to a reasonable level), if the correct tuition method is used and key features are included to maintain the student’s motivation.

Standard notation is great for classical music and complex arrangements of popular music but it is not the most efficient way to teach a beginner as it is teaching an abstract concept – i.e. dots on lines which first has to be learnt before you understand which key to press on the keyboard. This is the single biggest obstacle to beginners getting to the stage where they can play a song and is a major factor in the huge drop out rate (over 90%) of students who give up piano lessons within a year and before they can play a song to a reasonable level. By replacing the abstract of dots on a stave, with descriptions already understood by the student e.g. numbers, the rate of progress of learning to read the instructions and press the correct keys is dramatically improved and methods such as DecPlayPiano.com have consistently shown that the average person can learn to play piano within 1 hour, if the obstacles inherent in traditional tuition methods are removed.

Step 2 – Maximise motivation

Maintaining motivation is a fundamental ingredients to successful progression in learning to play the piano. A flexible approach is necessary as each child has different needs and desires.

The old adage … you can bring a horse to water … but you can’t make it drink has a lot of relevancy from the point of view that many children ‘go through the motions’ in piano lessons and only practice the minimum amount to avoid being ‘told off’ by their teacher or parents, which means that their rate of learning is a fraction of what it could be if they were highly motivated.

Allowing the student to choose the music they want to learn is key to ensuring they maintain their motivation to learn, whether this is pop music, themes from their favourite TV programme or films etc… Young children often love nursery rhymes, so starting off a young person with Bach or Mozart might not be the best choice – similarly, trying to teach a typical teenager Three Blind Mice, might not be the best way to maintain motivation!

Step 3 – Maximise aspiration

Showing inspirational piano videos e.g. www.decplaypiano.com/inspiring-piano-videos can also help to energise the student and fuel their desire to learn. Taking your child to see lve music performances is a fantastic way to give them a taste of what joy can be given to others through music performance and give them some role models to aspire to emulate. This doesn’t have to be expensive concerts with top artists – even informal song-a-long type events, watching street entertainers, folk / community music events or impromptu performances can be an incredibly powerful positive influence on children.

Step 4 – Maximise fun

Making lessons ‘fun’ can massively improve the rate of learning. There are many examples of fun piano videos on YouTube and examples can be viewed at www.decplaypiano.com/fun-piano-videos which can show that playing piano does not have to be too serious and boring and can be one of the most amazing experiences you can have which simultaneously develops your creativity, dexterity, mental agility and more importantly …. gives huge enjoyment to others and is great fun!

Step 5 – Encourage regular practice

If you have followed the 4 steps mentioned above, your child should already be motivated to want to practice and should look forward to playing piano as a ‘fun’ activity. As a parent, it is very important to help your child maintain focus and create healthy habits, such as practicing at least 15 minutes per day. You can help by reminding them daily, giving encouragement, attention and praise to acknowledge their improvements and achievements. Creating a calm and relaxed environment in which they can practice will help. Learning piano can also be a great social activity and peer learning can achieve fantastic results. If your child has friends who also have an interest in learning piano, they can have great fun by teaching each other what they have learnt, playing duets, creating group ensembles / bands and co-writing their own tunes.

Summary

In summary, the first and most important step in helping your child to learn to play the piano, is choosing an effective tuition method. If you get this right, all the other aspects will follow. If your child does not view the method as fun or if the method prevents them playing their favourite music, it is unlikely to be very effective and in some instances may even put your child off playing an instrument at all.

Relative or Absolute (Perfect) Pitch?

When you learn to play by ear, most people learn to hear the music in either ‘relative’ pitch, although a few people are able to hear the music in ‘absolute’ pitch (sometimes known as ‘perfect’ pitch).

Relative pitch is where you can identify the melody (and usually the chords also) relative to the musical ‘key’ or scale being used, without being able to identify what the actual ‘key’ or scale is. For example – if you listened to a recording of the opening melody of Three Blind Mice, you could express the melody in relative terms as:-
Mee Ray Doh – Me Ray Doh – Soh Fah Fah Mee – Soh Fah Fah Mee or in numbers:-

321, 321, 5443, 5443.
By being able to identify the melody in relative terms, you would be able to walk up to a piano, select a key to play in eg C and play the melody so that other people would recognise the tune. Whatever key you choose to play the tune in, may or may not the same as the key in which the original recording was played.
In contrast, if you were able to identify the tune with absolute pitch, you would be able to identify the original key and the actual notes, rather than just the relative notes eg if the original key was C – the notes of the melody for Three Blind Mice would be E D C – E D C – G F F E – G F F E

Or if the key was G – the notes would be B A G – B A G – D C C B – D C C B

 

Practice Makes Perfect!

Some people believe that the skill to identify music with absolute pitch (perfect pitch) is a skill which requires certain genetic qualities or ‘natural abilities’ whilst others believe that like relative pitch, it is a skill that can be learnt. Ether way, most agree that both skills require practice to improve accuracy and ease at which you can play by ear.

 

Piano lessons tips and advice

Piano lessons motivation

The single most important factor to consider when learning to play the piano is maximising motivation to practice. The 2 key aspects to motivating someone to learn to play piano are:-

  • a belief that they can achieve the desired outcome
  • having fun during the process.

The easiest way to ensure that practising piano is fun, is to choose a piece of music that you want to learn. It is much more fun to learn a song that you love than it is to learn a song that you have never heard before (as is often the case when children learn classical music).

Different piano music styles

There is sometimes an element of snobbery in piano music whereby some teachers consider classical music to be superior to other forms of popular music, folk, jazz etc

From my point of view as someone who has been trained classically and has also played for many years in pop bands, the skill of playing music is totally unrelated to the the type of music being played .

For example playing a blues piano piece with a very simple three chord structure can be more complicated than a classical pieces if the player ad-libs complex rhythms and runs. To write down syncopated blues piano style would be very complicated however teaching somebody some simple rules and patterns, around which they could improvise, leads to a very advanced and impressive style of playing, much quicker than by traditional teaching methods. This is evidenced in several styles of music for example traditional Irish music, which usually does not involve reading any traditional notational at all, yet often incorporates very complex and advanced playing styles.

Surely the most important outcome from playing the piano, is that a player has fun and the audience enjoy the music. In my view it is not important how technically a difficult a piece is, more ‘how good it sounds’. For example in my view it would not be ‘better music’ if the player was blindfolded with one hand behind their back – although this would be technically more difficult than if the same player was not blindfolded and use both hands. Similarly I do not think it is important to place emphasis on how somebody holds their hand in relation to the keyboard, or focus on bad posture etc .. as everyone can have their own style, just as singers and dancers can have a non-traditional style which is appreciated by the audience. It is far important to be comfortable in whatever posture you wish to adopt. Placing an emphasis on technical skills and posture can kill one of the two key elements in progressing your skills ie having fun.

Three tips to maximise motivation and piano lessons success

In summary – some key tips to maximising motivation and therefore the rate of progress of learning piano are: –

  1. let the students choose the music to be played without any restriction on the style of music
  2. teach some quick wins such as patterns of chords which give the pupil a feeling of achievement at an early stage
  3. utilise the students existing skills for example teach them how to play based upon knowledge they already have, such as numbers colours and patterns instead of jumping straight into classical notation which is totally new to them and meaningless to them, until they have spent a considerable amount of time becoming familiar with it. Notation is the biggest barrier to learning piano and in some cultures is not required whatsoever (such as traditional Irish music and several other types of folk music).

Playing by Ear

Reading Notation vs Playing by Ear

How do the different method of playing piano compare ie reading notation and playing by ear? As someone who can both read notation and play by ear, I find the 2 methods opposite approaches to the same end goal – like any different approach – one method will suit different people better than another – with both being equally valid. I learnt to read notation and play classical music from the age of 6 to 14 and then joined a band and learnt to play by ear.

I think standard notation is great if you want to play classical music or jazz. If you want to play popular music – the way I learnt, was to focus solely on the chord structures and the melody line – which is far easier than trying to work out each individual note. Once you start doing this – compare what you think with the actual chords (there are lots of free sites online that tell you the chords – e.g. for guitar etc..) and you hone your accuracy skills. The melody becomes easy when you consider that there are usually only 7 different notes used in pop (the same as the do, re mi scale). If you think in relative terms, rather than absolute terms e.g. number the notes and chords are 1, 4,5 (in C this would be C F G) and in the key of G they would be G C D. This way it becomes easy to work out songs in your head instantly and use a few simple patterns and rules, to create your bass riffs and style to jam around the chords and create a professional sounding result.

Playing By Ear

I find that playing by ear is much more enjoyable than reading ‘dots’ and is relatively easy when you discover the simple patterns and patterns within patterns that the vast majority of popular (and a lot of classical music) is comprised of. Typically, songs may often use less than 5 different chords and the melody often sticks to the standard 7 note scale – so realising this makes it pretty easy to work out what the chords, melody and harmonies are. Many chordal and melodic patterns can be understood as a ‘whole sequence’ in a split second – just as when listening to speech – we recognise phrases instantly, instead of only hearing each individual letter or syllable, then mentally calculate what words these form and then work out the meaning of the sentences. For me – it is the pattern recognition that makes plating by ear so quick and with a few simple rules, enables you to add bass lines, fills, and accompaniment, around a framework of a few chords.

Reading Notation

By comparison – for me, reading the dots is the opposite approach – where each individual note, timing and pitch is dictated to you, to be followed as closely as possible to the arrangement written down. The chordal patterns are not easily identifiable and the music is taught in a didactic approach which does not encourage improvisation with the objective to produce a faithful reproduction of the written arrangement. This method works well for new music which you have not heard before, group ensembles where specific musicians are required to play specific arrangements, or pieces with very technical and complex musical passages, which do not follow obvious ‘patterns’ or chordal structures.
In my experience, reading notation is more suited to classical music – where playing by ear is more suited to popular music. By using the process that I use to play by ear – I have created a the DecPlay ‘relative’ pitch methods of teaching music using numbers that take the best bits of playing by ear and the best bits of notation which dramatically reduces the time taken to learnt to play (typically to less than 1 hour) for complete beginners.
Learning to play by ear bring a whole new understanding to music. It is a fantastic feeling to hear a new piece of music and immediately recognise the chords and melody and the constituent parts that the song is built from. It is even more fulfilling to be able to walk over to a piano and start to play this song for the first time – adding in your own interpretation and style.