Right hand or left hand? It doesn’t matter when you’re four

Dayna is my beautiful, cherubic four-year-old student. I first met her when she was three, when I taught her two older sisters. She used to roll around on the floor nearby with books and colouring pencils, occasionally sneaking up on us and plonking a note or two. After a while she started bugging her mum, “Mummy, I want to learn too!”

Dayna’s two sisters had one and a half hours of lessons between them, and originally we decided to adjust the time so that Dayna could learn something fun for the last ten minutes.

To start with, I visited Susan Paradis’ website – she was an invaluable resource when I first started teaching piano. Really, the generosity of the online community knows no bounds. I chose her Wiggly Worm pdf for Dayna.

Dayna greeted me at the door the following week! She was so keen to start! We played games numbering our fingers and playing low and high sounds, then we looked at Wiggly Worms. We went through it and I left it with her for the week.

Wiggly Worms by Susan Paradis

The following week, Dayna played it clearly, with determination and pride (“Ta Da!”) This followed by squeals of delight, and a bit of jumping around.

Right! I started her on a Bastien Primer A book. Dayna was a voracious learner and her ten minutes blew out to 30 minutes from the second lesson. Now all three girls had half an hour each. Dayna couldn’t tell me which was her right or left hand. At first, I tried to draw a right or left hand by each short song, later I asked her, “When you draw, which hand do you hold your pencil?” She put up her right hand, and I started to draw a pencil on all the R.H. pieces.

Each week I asked, “Did you have a chance to practise, Dayna?” She would nod vigorously, and open the book. I guessed she was practising by herself without any guidance, because she would play right hand songs with her left hand and vice versa. She would be a bit nonplussed when I gently switched her hands around, although it didn’t stop her playing all her songs correctly.

Incidently, from what I can see, young children who have the benefit of a parent overseeing their practice generally learn their pieces more quickly and with less errors than their unsupervised peers. But I also think that the child who learns independently is building precious skills and character traits for life. The delight of independent discovery is potent, if the penny drops! That’s the gamble I suppose. Hopefully I can help a little bit there.

Anyway, I was thinking about Dayna one day and thought, “Joanna, you need to lighten up on this girl! She’s only four and you’re teaching her like her seven-year-old sister. Cut her lesson down to 15 minutes! And really, in a song like this, who CARES if she is using her right or left hand? She’s practising all by herself, she psyched and she’s only four! It’s all good!

Big notes

So last week I said, “Dayna! I want to hear everything you practised! Play it for me, just the way you’ve been doing it all week.”

Dayna played about six or seven songs, mostly with her left hand, although by the time she got to Mary’s Lamb (which sounds very much like Mary Had A Little Lamb) she decided to do that with her right hand. The songs sounded great and Dayna was happy. I did mention to her mum that she likes using her left hand to play, even though the family claims she’s a Righty.

I made her lesson a bit shorter, and picked out some Music Express sheet music for her with big pictures which she could colour in and bring them to the next lesson. Yay!

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