There is an undeniably special relationship between a piano teacher and student. My piano teacher was like a second Mum to me and we still keep in contact now, over 20 years after I finished formal lessons with her. So it was with great excitement that I took my 5 year old daughter, Elvie, to her very first piano lesson.
I had already taught Elvie her finger numbers and she had spent a little bit of time over the last few years mucking around our piano. Truth be told she was not especially keen to begin piano lessons – the motivation was coming from me. I’ve read all the research. I know that beginning music lessons early (before a child is 7) is great for brain development. More than that, I know the positive effect music had on my own childhood and powerful way it helped shape my life, so was naturally keen give her the opportunity to experience music too.
‘But how does the teacher fit all those pieces in her house, Mummy?’ I was asked the week before lessons were to start.
‘What do you mean, sweetheart?’
‘For all the children?’
‘Oh no’, I explained, realising that her only other experience of lessons was her group swimming lessons, ‘You will be the only one in your lesson. Just you and the piano teacher.’
‘Oh!’ wide eyes met my glance as the penny dropped and Elvie realised that piano lessons were indeed going to be something special!
Wow! First piece in her first piano lesson, Grandfather’s Clock and Elvie is playing both hands together, on the two black notes, as a duet with her teacher. Instant music making. Instant success. She improvises in My Own Song during that lesson, as well as with me at home during the week. We develop a fondness for creating sound storms as we play together. It’s such fun to see how she responds as I play the accompaniment at varying speeds, playing staccatissimo or very legato, pianissimo or outrageously loud.
My normally shy 5 year old is insisting on performing for anyone who visits our home. She whispers to me that the adults are required to adjourn to the front room, then she pops on the accompaniment CD and proceeds to clap and play through all of the exercises and pieces. Hands together moving up and down the page on the black notes!!! I am blown away as I remember my first piano lessons which focused on white notes in the middle C position.
Having heard Elissa Milne rave about the Notespeller for years, I was intrigued to finally see it in action. Elvie loves drawing and writing, so the Notespeller is perfect for her. Let’s have Lunch really captured her imagination — a simple enough exercise but she was delighted and thoroughly entertained to discover that it was Bear and Badger who would be joining Spike and Party Cat for lunch.
During her lesson, the piano teacher asks Elvie if she knows the musical alphabet backwards. She says yes: GFEDCBA. I usually stay quiet in lessons but am prompt-ed to ask how she knows this. She says ‘from friends at the piano’. I then realise that she means the CD from the My First Piano Adventure book, which she has been listening to (and obviously learning from) for the past year before piano lessons started. Great recordings, gorgeous fullcolour images clearly appeal to 5 year olds.
Elvie decides she does not want to play for me anymore. She flounces, huffs, and yells ‘you don’t know anything about piano, Mummy’. This, despite her knowing that I am the editor of the Piano Teacher Magazine, published the Getting to… series and am participating in the 40 Piece Challenge this year, so she hears me playing daily. Sigh. I wheel out my Irish accent and she is happy to play for my alter-ego, Theresa (once again I find myself resorting to multiple personality parenting!)
Elvie’s new favourite piece is Balloon Ride — which features those magical words ‘hold down the right pedal (sustain pedal) throughout’. Gorgeous, musically interesting accompaniment — I’m beginning to understand just why so many people are really passionate about this method. I wander past the piano and say things like ‘I wonder how Party Cat would sound with the sustain pedal?’ This acts to encourage another flurry of practice and exploration and she tries ALL her pieces with the sustain pedal.
I purchased a set of flash cards, just like the ones that are used in the piano lessons each week. Elvie plays through the rhythm cards on her glockenspiel as well as on the piano. When her little friend, Abby came to visit this week I saw them both sitting at the piano with Elvie showing Abby how to read the notation by explaining the flash cards. Hilarious!
I’m so proud of my little cherub! Elvie has completed Book A this week and has started on Book B. I must confess that I was quite rigid about establishing an 8am practice time each school morning. After a few weeks she really began to get into the swing of things and now I usually hear the piano start at 8am — even without prompting from me.
Now that she is reading music on the stave she is exploring a lot more on her own. Imagine how proud I was to find her transposing from black notes to white notes!!! ‘Look Mummy, I can play My Best Friend here, too!’ One day this week I heard unfamiliar pieces. Curious, I joined Elvie at the piano. She had picked up the My First Piano Adventure book and proceeded to play her way through 52 pages!!!