Teaching kids to play piano is very different than teaching them to read music notes at the piano.
Most adults try to teach children with far too much information all at once. In looking at most of the existing piano and music instruction methods for young children I saw that the problem was not so much in bad information or wrong information, just too much information presented in a jumble.
When I teach my youngest students in person, beginning at around 4 years old, I want them to start having something fun to play right away. I also want to get them playing with all 10 fingers right away.
I don’t teach kids to read traditional music notation at the first lesson, nor the second or third. It’s usually presented over a series of lessons beginning after a month or so of lessons, daily practice and having the ability to play 4 or 5 simple songs from memory with proper fingering and hand positioning. By this time, the kids are so happy with the fact that they can all of a sudden play music and make music, we can now start addressing the more conceptual aspects of music theory. Still, I do this in a very gradual approach using games and physical objects that they can pick up and place on physical representations of the music staff.
So the Play Piano For Kids, iPad book, is that first 4 weeks of lessons where we are working to get them to use all 10 fingers, playing with the full arms – not just bending from the first joints of the fingers, and having fun singable songs to play.
Also by using colors as a direct method for interacting with the keyboard, I can bypass the whole literacy issue. Most of my young students are not able to read words and some still have trouble with reversing of letters. But, unless they are color-blind, they can instantly see and play the right notes.
I deliberately try to keep a clean and sparse layout of the visual representation of my “music notes.” By using colored boxes which correspond with the colors I’ve placed on the keys, and the colors I paint on their fingernails, they know to “play the red key 5 times.”
As we move to more complex pieces, I began to innovate again with a more intuitive approach to what to play on the right or left hand. By creating a left hand column with the notes going down the page, and a right hand column that aligns with the left, both hands are playing parts that are physically above them – left on the left and right on the right. Of course this makes if difficult to show the lyrics in a readable way, but that’s usually just for the adults anyway as my students are pre-literate.
As we progress to more complex music, I have hopefully ramped them up with introduction of the staff, clefs and notes on lines and spaces. At a certain point I show them that reading on the grand staff is like turning the 2 columns sideways. Using colored note heads, I can continue gradually introducing the traditional way of reading music. For a week or so I have students turning their head sideways to remember which notes go to which hands! Very funny!
After that it’s a matter of beginning to slowly remove the colors one or two at a time as we also work concurrently using simpler method books. This is where students should be mentally and physically at when they start these other books. As you can see, this could be 4 to 16 weeks later than where most major music publishers have decided to start at level zero!