I taught a transfer student recently who was an absolute delight. She also happened to arrive with a piano book full of pieces with every single note either numbered or named. Every. Single. Note. This is going to be a project. If you’ve taught for several years, I’m betting you’ve seen students with one (or more!) of the following:
1. Finger Number Fanatics
These students can play anything fairly well…. just so long as there are finger numbers written above all (or most) of their music. They can switch hand positions, navigate accidentals… but ask them to name a note on their page (or take away finger numbers) and they’re completely lost. While some older piano method books encourage this in the beginning, other method book series encourage intervalic note-reading rather than finger number dependence. The latter generally produces more long-term success.
Finger Number Fanatics need a big dose of keyboard awareness. Check out this post for more information on how to help!
2. Note Name Neurotics
I’ve seen entire Sonatinas come into my studio with letters drawn carefully above every single note. This is somewhat preferable to being a Finger Number Fanatic… but it’s still a nightmare when it comes to playing with fluidity (and especially when it comes to sight reading!). These students have a good understanding of note-to-key correspondence, but they haven’t yet learned how to think of the piano in terms of relationships between keys.
Note Name Neurotics need lots of practice identifying intervals and chord shapes. Being able to follow a melody line’s shape instead of focusing on each individual note is key. Weaning these students of their note-name dependency takes time. Start by omitting the letter names above the notes that have a clear and easily-seen relationship with the note before or after (ie steps and skips). Gradually work away from steps and skips to thirds, fifths and then other intervals. Eventually your student will be comfortable with just a few note-reminders on their page… which are perfectly harmless.
3. Position-based Basket Case
Have you ever tried to find a year’s worth of repertoire that ONLY uses Middle C position?! When I first started teaching, a child came to me who was only happy if her thumbs were touching on Middle C. She was completely uncomfortable having her hands in any other position on the piano. While this was an extreme case, other students can really get locked into playing in C position, or G position… or any position for that matter. As soon as their repertoire requires “out-of-position” playing they freeze. Their 2 finger is no longer “D”… or “A”… and they are completely lost.
These students need to learn to see the piano in a new way… a way in which they understand the relationships between the white keys and black keys and can use them to landmark. Check out this post for some great tips on how to make this happen.
Luckily… They’re all Fixable!
Students become dependent on these three crutches for many reasons. Some students will insist on writing in finger numbers or note names or playing only in C position… despite the best efforts of their teacher. Some teachers resort to these strategies because they just don’t know what else to do to help that particular student process. In any case, all 3 are fixable! With a bit of fine tuning and a lot of patience, your piano student can break free from these crutches and enjoy an unhampered freedom on the piano with reams of sight-reading ability!
Starting Right is Key
Starting piano kids off right is key in avoiding these common crutches. Young piano students who start off with good keyboard awareness will become confident pianists with no need for any sort of temporary remedy. Our WunderKeys Piano for Preschoolers program accomplishes just this! Your young piano students will gain a quality start on the piano that will set them up for a lifetime of success on the piano. Check out this free-to-offer program and reach a whole new age group!