Hey, who’s the student here?

I am astounded by the generosity of music teachers in the blogging community.

By Susan Paradis http://susanparadis.wordpress.com
By Susan Paradis http://susanparadis.wordpress.com

This is by SUSAN PARADIS, who is based in Texas. Her WordPress blog is http://susanparadis.wordpress.com/. I have gratefully searched her blog and found fabulous games and songs to use as supplementary material to accompany standard music books.

I have used the above song several times, for very young learners, to bring two hands to the piano, co-ordinate left and right hands, use a little bit of fingering; it’s a great confidence booster! It seems to me lots of kids memorise their songs fast, without really reading the notes, so it’s back to square one when we turn the page and have to learn a new song. I try and get them to trust their hand positions and move their fingers while keeping their eyes on the sheet music (“Don’t look down! Your fingers are on the right notes!”). With these young ones I make them play this song backwards too, so that I know that they are really reading the score.

I love teaching. But really it is me who is learning. I have a variety of work now: teaching at other people’s homes, renting a music studio and teaching my own students from there, and working on contract for a music organisation.

This latter is very interesting work, although my relationship with the students is deliberately restricted. This obviously has its down side, but I come across a wide range of students of all ages, social demographics and abilities. Since many come at the same time each week, they become “my” students in that I see them regularly and there is continuity in our work together.

This exposure is a huge and exciting experience.

I recently taught a young boy. I wasn’t his first teacher, but I was told he is going to be one of my regulars for now. He was friendly with a sparkle, but I could barely make eye contact! He sat at the piano and began arbitrarily pressing notes all over the keyboard, and would not sit still and look at me. I opened his book and began with the “Finding Middle C” page. I could not engage him enough to even have a game about “finding the groups of two black keys” on the piano.

“Hey!” I said, in what I hoped was a kind but authoritative voice. “Look at me!”

He stopped and met my eyes with a wounded expression. I thought: This kid is used to being told off.

He started loudly reading the alphabet pictures on the page of his music book.

“A! B! C! D!…”

“Good!” I said. “That’s right! You know your alphabet!”

He started reading the letters of the piano brand, pointing to each letter.

“K – A – W – A – I!”

I thought: He wants to please me. He’s desperately showing me what he can do. But he can’t do what I am asking, which is to focus on this stuff about Middle C.


I took a piece of paper and drew around his right hand. We labelled the thumb and each of the fingers, from 1 to 5. He shouted the numbers out enthusiastically.

“Wah! You can count. That’s so cool! Let’s do your LEFT hand now.”

So we did. Could he relate it to his own fingers?

“Let’s wiggle our Number Two fingers together!” Could he copy me? Some success. It’s actually not that easy to wiggle individual fingers when you’re small. I noticed his left hand was totally bunched up.

Did he know Left from Right?

“Hi Five, right hand!” Yep.

“Hi Five, left hand!” Nope.

“Other one!” Okay, he got it.

“Right! Left! Right! Left!” Okay, we got that now.

I wanted to see him concentrate. Could I hold his attention with anything?

“Let’s play a game! Watch my finger!” I hovered my finger over the keyboard. “When I press the note, you must press exactly the same note, after me. Let’s go!”

I pressed different notes up and down the keyboard, yelling out the name of each note. He dived for the note, pressed and yelled its name out too. He watched like a hawk and got every one. He was happy. He used his right hand only.

“Left hand now,” I said, putting his right hand down and lifting his left hand up.

Nothing. He went silent. He watched my hand, but his left hand pressed random keys.

I supported his left hand with my own. Each time I brought his left hand to where I pressed the key. I named the note clearly, and uncurled his left fingers to press the key after me. We said the name together.

My half hour with him was up. I took him to his mother, and gave her the drawings of his hands. We Hi Fived again, first right, then left. I said his right hand co-ordination is good, his left is less so, and keeping his attention is difficult. I suggested the finger counting for homework.

My next student was waiting.

I hope I see him again. I want to do Wiggly Worms with him.

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