National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy – Thursday 10:15


Louise Goss, introduced by Marvin Blickenstaff as “the greatest [teacher] of us all” was welcomed to the stage with a rousing applause and introduced Janet Hart Johnson.

Teaching Demonstration: The Piano Detectives Club: A New Approach to Group Piano for Young Children

Ms. Johnson recounted her early experiences teaching children in groups and the frustration she experienced when the children would act up or lose interest. A mother told her that her precocious son was losing interest and perhaps the class she be more fun. Although furious at the time, Ms. Johnson took that advice with her when she established her Music Clubhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.

Next, Ms. Johnson shared several video clips of a group class, which she has dubbed The Piano Detectives Club. Activities included identifying rhythmic values of notes on a chalkboard and drawing horizontal lines under the notes to represent the number of beats, playing the Hokey Pokey with appropriate body motions, raising hands in response to flashcards to indicate whether they should be played with the right or left hand depending on stem direction, listening to a clapped rhythm and discerning which one it matched on the flashcard, and assigning flashcards with rhythm patterns on them to rows according to the total number of beats on the card.

Ms. Johnson shared that a student who needed an extra activity the previous week had been shown an activity for the following week. She was then employed to help explain the activity to the other students. She was also able to assist the other students when they got stuck or needed help with the activity. Eventually, she was allowed to move on to put together a keyboard puzzle that paved the way into the next group activity.

Each of the white and black keys are a separate piece of this puzzle and the key names are individually placed on the keys. The key names were removed from the puzzle and then each student was given a turn placing a key name on the corresponding key. What a fun hands-on activity with lots of potential for other activity ideas!

What does it mean to keep children interested in music lessons? Does it just happen automatically?

The ideal situation…
* Children excitedly look forward to class each week
* Supportive parents pay more than what is asked
* Students ask if their hand position is up to the teacher’s standards

…or is it?

Another situation…
* A talkative girl who feels compelled to tell the events of her past 24 hours
* A sweaty soccer player who routinely arrives 10 minutes late, directly from his soccer practice
* A conscientious girl, always well-prepared

The latter is the situation Ms. Johnson prefers as she approaches each week with the challenge of inspiring this diverse group of students. She is excited to watch them develop their potential as they progress from week to week and gain a greater sense of confidence in their abilities as musicians.

Another video with a fun activity:

Four students are sitting in a semi-circle. The teacher holds up a card with an interval and the students yell out the correct answer. The first to name it correctly lays down backwards until all the students are laying down. Then they quickly sit back up and continue through several rounds of the game. Next, the students move to a large staff where they can transfer their interval work to a large staff and relate it to their keyboards.

While at the staff, the group transitions into a fun flashcard drill where they identify notes on the staff as the teacher holds them up over her eyes. The whole class has to reach agreement on what the note is before the teacher will look to see if they are correct.

Other activities:

* The floor was covered with circles, each containing 5 staff lines and two notes, spaced apart by different intervals. The student was given several large magnifying glasses and had to place one on top of each of the circles with the specified interval.

* One student was placed at a piano while another one was placed at a silent keyboard with little round markers. The student at the piano could select a card with the name of a scale. The student at the silent keyboard arranged the markers to indicate the notes of the scale. Then, the student at the piano was instructed to play a melody in that position. Next, she was allowed to play a left hand chord shell as many times as she wanted to while she played her melody.

Each student enrolled in the Piano Detective Club received a notebook that tracked their progress and listed the activities introduced or reviewed each week. They logged their practice in these notebooks and received paper links for a chain being used as classroom decoration according to the number of minutes practiced.

Where does all this practice lead? Students who are enthusiastic about what they are learning and sometimes move ahead and learn new songs on their own. At the end of the semester students can select their twenty favorite pieces and add them to their list of performance pieces in their notebook. Students were then given an opportunity to perform pieces from their list for the rest of the group. The observing students were then each asked to share something they heard or observed that the performing student did well.

Next video clip:
Students gathered around a table with their books open to a selected piece and discussed various elements. Then each student was given an opportunity to demonstrate slurs at the piano while the other students watched and listened.

The semester concludes with a recital so that students can showcase their piano skills and enjoy performing a selected piece from the repertoire list in their notebook.

In conclusion: “They love to come. They love to play. And they love to learn.” Ms. Janet Johnson

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