Key Lables: Yes or No?

Sunday, July 8, 2018 by Daniel Ales | Practice Tips & Tricks

In the world of piano teaching, the concept of labeling piano keys for students is very controversial. Some say there is no problem with it, and others say it is a crutch. Some say it’s okay as long as you don’t label all of them but only key keys, and yet others use a completely alternate form of helping students remember the geography of the keyboard. So all that to say that no matter the method I believe it is every teachers goal to help their students succeed at the piano and below are two suggestions of how parents/students can set up their keyboard at home to make practicing a little easier in those first few months, because the truth is, if you play piano long enough, eventually you will remember the key names without the use of any aids and that is the ultimate goal.

Suggestion #1: Mark Middle C

I know some teachers shy away from stickers, and for the most part, so do I. But I have found that at least one sticker on the piano is a LIFE SAVER. I am already losing hair, and this keeps me from pulling the rest of it out. Get a bright shiny sticker, (I prefer ones in the shape of stars) and place it on Middle C. If you, mom/dad, don’t know where this key is, it is the forth C counting from the far left or low side of the piano. Your child should know by their 2nd or 3rd lesson with me that the music alphabet consists of only seven (7) letters. A,B,C,D,E,F,G. These are the names of the White Keys. The lowest key on a typical 88 key keyboard is ‘A’ stepping up or to the right on the white keys takes you up the alphabet and after you find G, the next white key to the right  is ‘A’ again and the alphabet starts over. Using this method, you can find the forth C from the bottom and this will be Middle C.

A B C1 D E F G A B C2 D E F G A B C3 D E F G A B C4 D E F G A B C5 D E F G A B C6 D E F G A B C7 D E F G A B C8

The reason I like this little sticker, is because when students begin to read notes on the staff, and in my studio that happens within the first few lessons, Middle C is the note that typically separates the Treble Clef (right hand) from the Bass Clef (left hand). And in my studio we start with middle C and then work out from there, slowly adding notes until students are comfortable reading just about anything on the staff.

Suggestion #2: Write on the Keys

I know this might be a scary suggestion to a lot of parents, especially if the piano you have has been in the family for a while and you can not imagine putting a mark on it. But I have done this to dozens of pianos, and it has never harmed a one. I am not suggestion taking a Sharpie and defacing the keys. All you have to do is take a pencil and lightly write the note name on the white keys. The great thing about a graphite pencil is that the oils from the skin of the fingers will quickly wipe away any pencil markings that you put on there. And if the child is old enough, have them write down only the names of the keys that they are using in the song that they are practicing. The names will wipe off by the end of practice and then they will have to write them down again the next time they practice the song. In this way, it reinforces the note names in the child’s brain.

Kids Need Time

Saturday, July 7, 2018 by Daniel Ales | Parental Advice

“It takes approximately 10,000 hours of study and practice at a particular task to become a master of it.” - Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell

There is an old saying I picked up in high school from one of my friends and I have learned to accept it as true. I always found it weird that given everything I knew about this guy at the time that he could spout off such wisdom, but I came to realize later that he picked it up from his father, (which made way more since). The saying went like this:

”In life you have two options. You can either be a Jack of All and Master of None, or don’t be Jack, and Master some.”

When I first heard this saying, it didn’t make much of an impact on me until a few years later when I was studying the Book of Proverbs and I came across this verse:

“Do you see that man masterful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” - Proverbs 22:29

And then this life lesson hit even closer to home when I was studying personal finances and I learned about a unique law called “The Law of Oppurtunity Cost”. This law is a very simple concept, in the area of finance, it states: If you spend a dollar in one place, you in turn CAN NOT spend that same dollar in another place. I found this to be kind of mind blowingly obvious and wondered why I never thought about it. And after I mulled it over, I realized that the same law could be applied to our personal time, because as we know, TIME IS MONEY:

“If you spend a minute doing one task, you in turn CAN NOT spend that same minute doing another task.” 

All this to say, I know we want our children involved with everything they might be interested in. It seems right and reasonable to involve them in every activity that we can possibly fit in their/our schedule. We want our children to be “WELL ROUNDED” (I hate that term). But I have to ask, is this shallow? Are we depriving our children of the understanding of what it means to put all your effort into a task and get as much as you can out of it? How can find out if you truly have a passion for something unless you take the time needed to seek out the answer? And how can you take the time needed to seek it out, if all your time is split between so many other tasks? 

I am not suggesting to NOT involve your kids in fun extracurricular activities. I, as the piano teacher, need parents to do that with their kids. I am simply suggesting that you limit your children’s activities, to allow them adequate time to discover who they really are in the tasks they endeavor to partake.