Piano lessons for beginners are very often overwhelming due to the myriad skills that playing the piano requires. There might not be another activity that requires so many different aspects of the mind and body at once: we need precise control of time and rhythm, to apply a thorough knowledge of harmony on the fly, to realize complex counterpoint by listening to and playing multiple voices simultaneously, to perform athletic feats by controlling the subtlest muscular movements, and to do it all with emotional intensity.
Beginning piano lessons should focus above all on making complex tasks simple. In general, if a task is too complex, we can break it down into its components. With piano playing, students can practice each element of making music separately: rhythm, harmony, playing each hand separately before combining them, and reading music.
However, many methods make the mistake of simplifying things to the point of falsehood. Very many piano students assume the treble clef indicates the right hand and the bass clef the left hand, or that sharps and flats are the black keys, or that a quarter note is a beat. (See Beginning Piano Lessons for other common beginners’ mistakes.) It may be simpler at first to stretch the truth and over-generalize, but it only creates lasting confusion later on. As always in piano practice, it’s much harder to correct a learned mistake than it is to learn correctly from the beginning.
The proper focus for beginners’ piano lessons is for students to play little pieces of music rather than get lost in an endless maze of music-theoretical details. Anyone who’s ever learned a foreign language knows that you can’t do so effectively just by learning grammar rules and vocabulary; the best approach is learning by doing, and understanding grammar comes after-the-fact. Learning to play piano is similar in that you can’t start with music theory, you need to learn it as you go.
However, there are significant drawbacks to this traditional approach. Piano students very often reach intermediate and even advanced stages of playing the notes, yet their understanding of harmony remains only rudimentary, they don’t know all their scales inside and out, and their ears are left untrained. In short, students get really good at doing what they were taught to do in the earlier stages of learning the piano – learning and memorizing notes they read – but they fail to advance equally in other critical aspects of musicianship. This severely limits their musical understanding and ultimately how far they advance.
key-notes’s philosophy is to integrate ear training and piano theory into the very beginning stages of learning the piano, so subtly that students hardly know they’re learning them. The key is to understand that music theory isn’t something apart from music, it is music. We need to understand the music we’re playing in order to play it with true meaning.
Moreover, it’s essential for music to come from the “right place” in our minds: our hands needed to be guided by our ears, not the other way around. The proper mind-body connection needs to be in place from the very beginning of piano study, lest students become more and more out of balance musically.
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