It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I have a student who requires more than a convincing argument to believe that something I’m making them do is important. For example, fingering. I find this aspect of playing to be particularly challenging for students who learn to read the notes quickly. They seem to think that as long as they get to the right note at the right time, it doesn’t matter what finger(s) they use. Well, that may be true when they’re playing pieces at level one, but several years down the road, I assure them they will pretty much die musically if they haven’t developed the habit of using good, consistent fingering. That’s when I sometimes get the look – as if to say, “uh-huh…I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”
When I asked her recently, one of my students who has struggled with this for at least a year affirmed the above statement. She didn’t, in fact, think that fingering was important – contrary to what I’ve been telling her every week. So, it was time to come up with a creative and memorable (i.e. sticky) way to convince her that this reluctance would be her undoing in several years if she didn’t put in the effort to fix it now. We discussed it briefly and she was anxiously anticipating what I would come up with to convince her.
After considerable thought and prayer, I finally settled on an object lesson of sorts that I thought would do the trick. Enter: Dot-to-dot drawing sheets!
I printed off two of each of the following free dot-to-dot worksheets:
Since this student comes with her brother, I gave each of them a pencil and clipboard with the smiling flower dot-to-dot affixed. I instructed them to complete it as quickly as they could and that the winner would receive a complication coin (part of our An Italian Intrigue practice incentive theme this year!). The only hitch was that on my fingering-challenged student’s worksheet, I erased (via a computer program) all of the numbers.
Her brother finished a split second before her, but she didn’t seem to notice the lack of numbers and it didn’t faze her too much. On the second one however, it was a different story altogether! When I gave the signal to begin her brother was rapidly connecting dots while she sat in confusion connecting a few random dots, then erasing, then trying to figure out where to draw next. Eventually she got them all connected, but it didn’t look like a seahorse, and it took her almost a whole minute longer than her brother.
As I handed him his second coin, I explained that doing a dot-to-dot without the numbers is like trying to play a piece of music without using the correct fingers. At an early level you may be able to get by okay and play the piece how the composer intended it to be played, but at higher levels, it will take much longer to learn a piece and you may or may not be able to perform it as the composer intended it to be played. Using the correct fingering can make all the difference in the continuity, accuracy, and musicality of a piece.
When I finished the brief analogy my student was smiling (in spite of the fact that she lost out on two coins!). Only time will tell if it works, but I think she finally gets the importance of fingering now. She asked if she could keep the dot-to-dot coloring sheets and take them home with her. Of course I readily agreed. And added that she should display them prominently on the keyboard rack of her piano so that she is reminded to use good fingering every time she practices.
[Update: There were a lot of requests for the numberless version of the connect-the-dots pictures I used with my students, so I've uploaded my file and made it available for easy download and printing. It's just a simple Word doc with both the numbered and numberless version of each picture embedded. Click here to download and use with your students!]