Hyperactivity and Kid’s Piano

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Hyperactive kids are very difficult to teach piano, especially using the standard methods. In fact, you will find very few piano teachers willing to take on such a challenge. They almost always refuse to teach such kids.

But some piano teachers like the challenge of teaching a kid who bounces off the walls with energy.

The biggest task is to stay at least ten steps ahead of such a child, or you will be left in the dust.

Some parents warn me that their child is on medication, or is in therapy, and is very hyperactive. Some are called ADHD. I have taught them all and had fun at the same time. You just have to listen to the kid.

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First I observe to what degree they are hyperactive. Are they just fidgety or are they bouncing off the walls?

I had one ADHD kid with a wonderful mom who put the piano in the basement, with about three soft sofas and lots of big fluffy pillows. The kid would bounce off the sofas onto the floor, luckily carpeted.

Your first observation should be their attention span. If it is 12 seconds, you will have to devise games that are 12 seconds long, strung together into a half hour lesson. It can be done.

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Many piano teachers interpret hyperactivity as “bad behavior” but it is not. A hyperactive kid does not know where to put their tremendous energy, and the piano is a perfect tool for them.

Try the following activities, each 12 seconds long, each followed by a “game.” (Not a musical game, but a game like throwing a ball, or something that expends the child’s physical energy.)

Play a single line of a song:

Numbered Keyboard

Mary Had A Little Lamb

3 2 1 2   3 3 3   2 2 2   3 3 3

Have the child play the above, then quickly start playing ball for a few seconds, keeping a fake “score.” Then back to another song or musical game. As long as there is a non-musical game in between, they will do this activity endlessly.

Another game is seeing if the child remembers what they have just played: do the Mary Had A Little Lamb game and then come back to it later and demand what notes they remember. Give a hint if they falter.

This repetition game builds their memory, which is very necessary since their minds move so fast that they might not even remember what happened 12 seconds ago.

THE REPETITION GAME

Hyperactive and ADHD kids hate to repeat things which seem pointless, so you need to create scenarios which allow their imaginations to go to work:

  • Pretend they are on a television show. They must play for you, the camera
  • Pretend they are in the circus and must enter from backstage to play a song for the ringmaster, you.
  • Pretend they are a scientist and the numbers on the piano actually enter numbers into a secret computer.
  • Pretend they are on the space station and must enter the numbers to upload cookies to the space station.
  • Don’t call it a piano. Call it a Vorplexatronic Floogelator and command them to enter the code 5 3 1 3 5 8 10 9 8 3 #4 5 immediately. (It’s the Star Spangled Banner.)

In between each “pretend game” should be a physical game, throwing a ball, throwing a pillow, running around the room. Find what the child likes. That’s their reward for working at the piano.

I had one kid who rolled a baseball into a shoe every time he got something right. That was his reward!

The conclusion is that hyperactive kids can learn piano, but you have to bend over backwards to create an atmosphere that they do not find stuffy. They have to have action, fun and games.

My experience that these kids are smart, maybe even smarter than most kids, but the wiring of their brain is different, faster, and you, the teacher, have to accomodate it.

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ADHD Piano Games

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I’ve invented ADHD piano games for kids with this condition. I find them very smart but unable to control their excitement.

One particular child’s Mom sought me out because she thought piano might help his ADHD.

He was on medication, I think, and went for Occupational Therapy. Other than that, he seemed very much the regular American kid, six years old.

What I noticed about him was that he was bright, witty, but utterly unable to focus unless he was interested in the subject.

About Power Rangers, or Nintendo, he would go into 20 minute, elaborate, articulate explanations of each character and episode. He could concentrate on that, because he loved it. He was clearly very intelligent.

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I soon realized that my problem was going to be making the piano as interesting as Power Rangers. Good luck. Power Rangers was on TV every day.

I realized that normal curriculum was going to get us nowhere, so I began to explore other ways.

First I taught him a little music so we could use it in the games we would play. I numbered the keys, since it was obvious we weren’t going to be reading music.

His favorite songs was Star Wars, so we started with that.

Numbered Keyboard
Numbered Keyboard

STAR WARS

1   5     4 3 2    8 5    4 3 2    8 5    434 2

He mastered this song easily, because he loved it and knew it. As soon as he saw he had succeeded, he jumped up and down on the sofa. Instinctively, I threw him a nearby ball.

Extreme piano games were born.

Now the game became, “You play a song or task, and I throw the ball to you while you jump up and down on the sofa.”

It was up to me to draw this all into a real piano curriculum. Using games, it wasn’t hard.

The hardest part was devising absurd games that would amuse him as reward for his musical success.

Here are some of the games that amused him as he learned piano:

  • Throwing a baseball into shoe.
  • Using a pillow as a baseball bat and running around the room.
  • Jumping up and down on the sofa.
  • Blindfolded baseball with a pillow bat.

All the easy piano tasks were simple for him if he knew a weird game was coming.

Thus he learned fingering, chords, playing with both hands.

Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press

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