Occasionally I will get e-mails from parents with young children (3-5), inquiring as to what sorts of activities they can do with their child to help prepare them for piano lessons. Here’s a list of 13 basic ideas (pulled from an e-mail I sent) that even a non-musical parent can incorporate into their day to help their child develop various musical skills in preparation for lessons. I’m sure there are tons of other ideas, so feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Develop a solid internal pulse as a good foundation for rhythm in music:
· Clap or tap to the beat as you listen to music.
· Play “pass the rhythm” – while sitting, clap, tap your legs, tap your head, etc. in varying patterns and have her imitate you and try to keep right on beat so that you can go back and forth with different rhythms without pausing between them. (hopefully that makes sense! Harder to explain that demonstrate J )
· Give her a baton (or some stick that could work as one) and try having her “conduct” to music she listens to – you could even try teaching her actual conducting patterns! Try having her emphasize the downbeat so that she can develop an understanding of the organizational structure of music. (As an aside…I find that this is one of the hardest things for students. I play music and have them try to find the downbeat and identify the time signature. This is very challenging for almost every student. Doing this with clapping or tapping would be an easier way to start than with the baton, though.)
At the piano:
· have her go up and down the piano playing all the groups of two black keys, then all the groups of three black keys
· have her play all the Ds going up and then down or down and then up (I find that D is easier to start with, because it’s the white key in between the two black keys) Once they’re consistently accurate with D, I move on to C, then E, then F, G, A, B.
· learn steps vs. skips on the white keys. (I play a game with two dice that I made – one has “step” and “skip” on alternating sides; the other has “up” or “down” on alternating sides. We place a little game token on a starting key and roll both dice. The game token gets moved according to the dice and we see who can be the first to get to a designated ending key. My young students love this!)
To develop finger strength:
· learn finger numbers and take each finger for a walk (by tapping it by itself on a flat surface)
· do “finger o’s” – press each finger (one at a time) into the thumb and count to 10 and try to not let the knuckles on the finger collapse. (I often will use my fingers to try to pull a student’s “O” apart, testing it to see how strong it is. They love this!)
To develop music reading skills:
· If you can get a dry erase magnetic board and some markers and magnets, you can do a ton of stuff!
· Draw lines representing the staff – place a magnet on a line or space and have her identify it as a line or space note. Then you give the directive and have her place it.
· Place a series of magnets and have her identify up or down or repeating. Then let her arrange them.
· Place a series of magnets and have her identify whether they’re stepping or skipping on the staff.
· Once she’s consistently accurate with this, you can try transferring it to the keyboard – place the magnets in steps going up or down and then tell her to start on a certain note and play the next ones in the direction that the ones on the board indicate. (I usually just start with three magnets and then gradually increase the number as they grasp the concept of reading musical notes.)