The Piano Lesson…Unplugged

Just as I was about 5 minutes from completing the 45 minute trip to my first Saturday piano lesson this past weekend I made a terrifying discovery – I had left the cord to my keyboard at home! Of course my mind began to race as I only had about 30 minutes before my lesson was to begin. I knew there was a Radio Shack nearby so I went there in hopes that I could buy a plug. I was relieved to learn that they had several different sizes of plugs. While the salesperson and I searched for a plug that would fit, someone came into the store and asked me about taking piano lessons. Needless to say I did give them information about my lessons but was cringing on the inside that their first encounter with me involved me not being prepared for my next lesson! Before I could get too frustrated about this fact, the salesperson informed me that she had tried every plug they had in the store and  none of them fit my keyboard! Oh no! Where was my panic button when I needed it?

I thanked her and quickly made a plan to utilize my iPad during the lesson to teach/review theory concepts. When I arrived at the lesson, I got my music bag out of the car and noticed my full-sized keyboard there in the passenger seat staring at me as if to say, “You are going to take me in, right?”

That’s when it hit me! When students tell me they could not practice because they were away from their piano I tell them they don’t ALWAYS need a piano or keyboard to practice. I tell them to envision the keyboard, hear the song in their head, and practice the movements their fingers must make to play the song. Aha! Now was the time for me to “practice…” – pun intended – “what I’d preached”!

A completely silent piano lesson? I had never done that before. How would my student respond to 30 minutes of silence at the keyboard?

Well, I unloaded the keyboard and put on my jazz face – it was time to improvise! I greeted my student and informed her that we would be having a “Play Like Beethoven Day”.

To refresh her memory of who Beethoven was I hummed a couple of his familiar tunes – “Fur Elise”, and the opening of his 5th Symphony. When I told her that Beethoven was deaf when he composed some of his greatest pieces she was of course surprised. So, if Beethoven could do it surely she could do it for 30 minutes.

That day my student learned that “hearing” the music inside your head is extremely helpful and important for good music playing. She also learned that she could do it. One of the biggest advantages to playing silently was the isolation of the skills necessary to play the piano. Without the “distraction” of sound, she was able to concentrate on what she was doing with her fingers and hands more intently than she had ever done before.

To help determine if she was truly hearing the music, at times I hummed the tune she was playing as I carefully watched her fingers. My student was both surprised and impressed at her own accuracy. It was quite fulfilling to see her correcting her mistakes as she played. Most of the time students neglect proper fingering in order to get to the correct note by any means necessary even at the expense of musicality. This silent situation, however, left my student with nothing to fix except her fingering!

I have to say that this Unplugged Piano Lesson was one of the best musical experiences this student and I have had together so far in our music learning journey, and it was all because of a little IMPROVISATION. Just another life skill learned from piano lessons!

A Piano Activity Kids Can’t Resist

Transitioning between piano lessons can be a bit hectic at times, BUT –

A simple activity can make all the difference! With a small refrigerator or magnetic board and a keyboard graphic you can squeeze in that extra precious 5 minutes that sometimes gets lost in the transition between lessons.

One of my favorite transitional activities is the Magnetic Piano Puzzle I made using a 1 octave keyboard printable from Wendy Stevens at ComposeCreate.com.

Print the keyboard, attach  colorful letter stickers for the key names, then laminate.

Next you will cut out each of the white keys. This will leave you with a set of 2 black keys and a set of 3 black keys in addition to the white keys. Put magnetic tape on the back of each and arrange on the refrigerator.

Your student will then put the puzzle together. My refrigerator faces the studio door so it is the first thing kids see when they come in. Usually the younger ones will rush straight to the puzzle to put it together without me even asking. If they don’t and I am transitioning from another lesson, I ask them to see how fast they can put the puzzle together.

For those just learning the keys, I sometimes just put up the 2 black key puzzle or the 3 black key puzzle for them to assemble.

  

Extend the learning by removing certain keys from the completed puzzle so students can practice quickly recognizing which key is missing.

There are tons of ways to use this puzzle. Can you think of any? Share them in a comment below!