Things to Review
Quarter Note, Half Note
Finger Numbers 2, 3
Groups of Two Black Keys
On this page, we have our very first piece of music. The words of this song are wonderful for capturing the imagination of a student: “I like trying new things; Let’s see what today brings.” Before we look closely at the music, let’s take a tour of other important features of the page.
In the artwork in the top left corner of the page, we see a little girl just waking up (7 am, by the clock) who is thinking about new things she will try that day: a piece of pizza, riding a horse, and playing the piano. On her wall is a blue ribbon; and if you look very closely at that ribbon (and your students will) you will see that is says “1st Place, Best Lamb”. (The lamb will show up a little bit later on page 10.) As we look outside her window, we see a barn — this barn will appear many times throughout the book; it can even be seen on the book cover.
To the right of the picture, we find the duet. Notice that the student part is printed above the duet so that you can keep track of the student part without having to look up and down the page.
Just below the duet are some practice suggestions. These three essential steps develop reading, rhythm, and ear training. By focusing on a different element each time the piece is played, the eyes take in more of what is there, which is fundamental to good reading. Counting aloud while playing not only promotes good rhythm and steady tempo, but also helps to open the mind to structure and form, and is an important aid in secure memorization. Singing is the most effective form of ear training; and singing the words helps create a sense of phrase, line, and breath. The words also stir a students imagination, with the potential to elicit more creative performances. Exploring the words with a student gives you an opportunity to help a student understand that music is a form of self expression.
- Play and sing the finger numbers. Notice that the LH pattern is a mirror (inversion) of the RH. This is physically more comfortable and easier for students to coordinate.
- Play and count the rhythm aloud. We feel it is best to chant note values. This will help keep the tempo slow and steady, and rehearse the names of each note value.
- Play and Sing the words. Have the student read the words aloud to you first. Some younger students may not be able to read the words, and you will need to teach them by rote. Make sure the student understands the meaning of the words — maybe discuss “new things” that the student has tried lately. If the student is shy about this, share something new that you have tried lately — make it up if you need to; this is just a technique to help the student.
Immediately underneath the picture is a short description of legato. If the student was successful at playing legato on page 6, you now have an opportunity to attach a word to the skill. The concept is the important thing here — playing smoothly connected. If the vocabulary is difficult, don’t worry about it. There will be an opportunity for revisiting the vocabulary when the student learns the marking for legato (slur) on page 40. You may
skip the explanation of legato altogether if the technique is a struggle for the student. It may take several weeks and a few more pieces for the coordination to develop. Never force it as you run the risk of creating tension in the technique.
Underneath the description of legato there are two questions for the student to answer. Every piece of music in the Lessons book will have questions. The questions will always appear in this location on the page. The questions are to be done first, before playing the piece. The questions help you, the teacher, prepare as successful a first playing of the piece as possible. The questions help introduce any new concept being presented in the piece, and will also review previously learned concepts. Having the student answer the questions first, gets them in the habit of looking all the way through a new piece of music, to see what is there, before playing. This is such an important habit for a lifetime. As you become familiar with the style of questions in Piano Town, feel free to adopt this technique of question asking with all of the music your students learn. Asking good questions is among the most effective of all teaching techniques: it initiates the process of reaching conclusions based on both previous knowledge and available new information. Developing this kind of reasoning strength in your students creates independent learners who will have more success and enjoyment of music.
We begin with a piece on groups of two black keys, starting with fingers 2 and 3 in each hand — the strongest fingers. On the next page, we will add finger 4. In this section of the book, where we play only on black keys, we use only fingers 2, 3, and 4. We purposely avoid using 1 or 5 on the black keys. Fingers 1 and 5 are shorter, and therefore more awkward to position well on the black keys. They are each a special case:
- The 5th finger is the weakest, so we want to gradually develop strength and stability in the center of the hand first (fingers 2, 3, 4) so that the weaker outside of the hand has more support when we begin to use it.
- The thumb is an odd case because of its heaviness, and the fact that it moves at the knuckle in a different way from the other fingers. So again, waiting until the center of the hand begins to acquire some strength and stability helps when using the thumb for the first time.
Make sure that the student understands how to interpret the keyboard map under the title, to avoid confusion when doing home practice. Once the student has found the starting position, do all three practice steps with the student at the lesson. This helps establish the procedure for home practice. We recommend that you do in the lesson exactly what you want done at home. Check to make sure that the student’s eyes look only at the music, rather than up and down from music to keyboard. As you go through
each practice step, sing aloud with the student and use your finger or a pencil to track the notes on the page. This will help guide and cue the student, creating more confidence in exactly how to play and sing correctly.
Some students may be ready to play with the duet right away, while others may need to wait until the next lesson when they have had a chance to practice and become more secure with the playing the piece. It works best to have the student and teacher count aloud the first time playing the duet and student part together. A second performance would be the time to sing the words.