Start with numbers, then read music.
If you really want your child to play the piano, you need to find some way of making the beginning enjoyable. If the child is immediately challenged by too much, they may just decide the piano is not for them.
The time honored method is to immediately have the child attempt to read music. This method has a 90% failure rate.
That’s right, 90% of the kids going to that hypothetical piano teacher down the block will quit, many within a month or two.
This is really a very foolish system: teachers lose students, and kids get turned off to piano.
I used to teach this way, and I knew there had to be a better way. I wanted kids to feel the same enthusiasm I felt when I was their age. (The difference is that I was a prodigy who could read music instantly, and consequently had a diet of interesting music.)
I hit upon the idea of numbers instead of notes. I wrote out a page, I think it was Star Wars, and showed it to a little kid who went crazy because he could play Star Wars, his favorite song.
We soon found another dozen songs he could easily play and enjoy, with never a reference to musical notation.
Think about how a child’s mind works. Before your child could read, you read to them. Then you taught them their letters, then they learned words.
The point is you didn’t put Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES in front of them and say, “Start reading, kid.”
Numbers in music performs the same function as games like THIS LITTLE PIGGY, reciting the alphabet with your toddler, counting as high as they can go: it prepares kids for more complex activities by bringing things down to their level.
In piano lessons, this logical nurturing step is totally forgotten, and even derided as “too soft.”
Remember your child’s face when they had just learned the alphabet, and you showed them a page of words, and they were confused? They understood letters, not words, not sentences, not syntax.
Piano lessons make that same mistake: too much, too soon.
When your child asked for a bedtime story, did you toss them a book and say, “Read it yourself?”
Think of how you nurtured your child into reading. You read them books when they didn’t know what a letter was, just to get them excited about stories.
Then you taught them letters and numbers. Then you taught them how to put the letters together into words, then the words together into a sentence. It was a long time before your child could read more than “Jack sees the cat.”
The point is, reading was regarded as a long process, and the child was allowed time to absorb each step of the path to reading by themselves.
They were allowed to take baby steps toward reading.
It’s only logical to do the same with the piano.
Copyright 2012 Walden Pond Press