Key signatures make a lot of sense to composers, teachers, and experienced pianists. But to young piano students… they are a thief who arrives one day and steals all of the helpful accidentals throughout their piano pieces.
No wonder kids find them frustrating! One day the accidentals are in their music and the next, they’re gone! No warning, no transition, just… poof!
So today, we’re sharing a teaching tip that can help piano students who have been recently introduced to key signatures and are feeling a little frustrated.
Make Key Signatures Friendly With Highlighter Helpers
I love visual teaching tools, and few things are more visual on sheet music than highlighters. When transitioning students to key signatures, using highlighters to locate sharps and flats in their music can make all the difference. Using highlighter helpers when transitioning to key signatures rescues many piano students who are just not ready for the sudden withdrawal of accidentals marked in every measure.
The activity goes a little something like this:
- Assign a colored highlighter to each accidental in your student’s piano piece. For example, if a piece is in D Major, have a blue highlighter represent F# and a red highlighter represent C#. Highlight the sharps in the key signature at the start of the piece accordingly.
- Instruct your student to then search for and highlight in blue every F in her music. Then, have your student search for and highlight in red every C in her music. Repeat with the remaining sharps or flats in the key signature.
- Next, have your student play through the piece, using the colored notes as accidental reminders.
- Over time, gradually reduce the number of highlighted accidentals in your piano student’s music. For example, for a few weeks, have your student only highlight the first C and the first F in each measure of a piano piece. After a few weeks or months, then have your student only highlight the first C and the first F in the piano piece.
- Assess how the highlighter strategy is working and eventually remove highlighter markings altogether.
The key to your students’ success is gradual withdrawal on a predictable schedule. Your students need to know that the highlighter helpers will be removed… and then you need to remove them! You want to be careful to avoid a reliance on highlighted notes, just as you want to be careful with younger piano students who develop a reliance on finger numbers when a number is written below every note or note names when a letter is written above or in every note head.
Worried About Wrecking Your Music With Highlighters?
Marking up music is useful… but can render it “useless” when using the same book for future students (siblings) or for review material. Which is where a membership to Teach Piano Today’s PianoBookClub really shines!
With new, studio-licensed digital sheet music delivered to your inbox each and every month for just $8 US/CDN you can print as many copies of a piano piece as your wish… allowing for working copies, practice copies, performance copies and more. You can learn more about signing up for a PianoBookClub Membership here.
Wait! Don’t Put Your Highlighters Away Just Yet
Let’s be honest… if stickers are a piano teacher’s best friend, then highlighters are a really close second. If you love getting visual with your music, check out several other Highlighter Helper posts we’ve written in the past.