How many of you have children at home who play the piano? How many times have you shouted for quiet from the other room while they randomly bang and do what I call “noodle” on the keys? (Noodling in this case should not be confused with hillbilly handfishin’! Google it if we’ve piqued your interest.)
My daughter, Lexi, takes piano lessons – but she spends a lot of time holding down the damper pedal and playing every single key on the piano from top to bottom as loud as she can over and over. She likes to make up “songs” about thunder, and dogs, and occasionally just sits and pokes randomly at the keys. I have an already busy household with two kids, a budgie and a dog… it’s one more layer of noise I could happily do without!
But is it just noise?
Children are naturally drawn to the piano. It’s the most amazing toy – it’s beautiful to look at and it makes wonderfully satisfying sounds. Exploration of the piano is a natural impulse. When Lexi’s friends come over to play they inevitably end up on the piano bench improvising some intensely loud and very “modern” duets or trios. And while I would love to just shut the piano lid and re-direct them to a new activity (okay, I admit I’d actually like to shriek “STOP!”) I let them play.
Noodling is Neuron Building
A widely-used term in education is “learning through play”. In an interesting book by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff called Einstein Never Used Flashcards, they state five important things that identify what play really is:
Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable.
Play must have no extrinsic goals; there is no prescribed learning that must occur.
Play is spontaneous and voluntary.
Play involves active engagement on the part of the player.
Play involves an element of make-believe.
It has been proven that through play, children are building the intelligence and confidence needed to master future learning. Noodling on the piano is laying the groundwork for future structured learning on the piano. Looking at the five points above – unstructured and creative time on the piano accomplishes all five. It may not sound like music to you, but it is important all the same.
Including Noodling In Your Piano Lessons
While you definitely do not want to encourage free exploration on the piano at inappropriate times during their piano lesson, adding some unstructured music-making during their lesson time is a great way encourage your students to play on the piano. You can do this by providing a simple bass line and encouraging them to improvise on top, or by giving them a “story starter” idea for them to then free-style a quick piece about. Anything goes – no rules, no wrong answers.. just simply play.
Allowing your students to find freedom on the keys takes the seriousness out of playing the piano. For young piano students who are eager to please, this is a liberating experience. So much of what they do on the piano is governed by hand positions, finger numbers, notation, rhythm etc. etc. Without allowing for some freedom we risk squelching any internal creativity.
Pass it on!
Make sure to pass on your new-found appreciation for noodling to your piano studio’s parents. Let them know that free time on the piano at home is not only okay… it’s encouraged! For those with digital pianos – suggest a set of headphones. For those with acoustic pianos – suggest a good dose of patience… or a glass of wine.
Shameless “Awww” Moment Alert…
It’s never too young for noodling 🙂 My youngest daughter, Halle, is 9 months old. We often put our gig keyboard on the ground for her to explore. It’s a great visual of what play is all about. And we had a good laugh when she unexpectedly found the demo setting!
If you’re looking to turn that “noodling” into something creative, check out our resource for composing with kids…The Curious Case of Muttzart and Ratmaninoff! Its fun approach encourages experimentation and creativity all the while teaching your students the building blocks needed to create amazing compositions. It’s 12 weeks of composing instruction that will leave your kids giggling! Check it out here.