WHY FINGER COLORS?

I started teaching very young children in the early 70's in a way that parallels language. Most 3-year-old children recognize colors, so I opted to use color for coding fingers to keys. I also wanted the children to consistently use the same fingering for each song they learned on order to increase dexterity and train the memory reflex.

I have been asked many times why I didn't just use finger numbers. Even if a child does not yet recognize numbers, it is quite easy to teach them the recognition of numbers 1 through 5. However, finger numbers go in opposite directions from one hand to the other which is confusing.

I try to train both hands equally because I have seen far too many "right handed" pianists. By using colors that go left to right in both hands a young child can use the same sequence of colors to learn to play a song with each hand alone, then both hands in parallel. By using colors I am also able to introduce contrary motion as well as movement around the piano keyboard - increasing more muscle memory

Playing songs on the piano keyboard parallels "speaking" in language. The color coding allows a beginner child to learn to play many songs on the piano - increasing dexterity - when it is too soon to introduce reading. What I always found hilarious was that my older students (including adults) always preferred to begin their piano study the same way as the really young students.

As soon as children are able (or interested) reading is introduced. For some this is virtually simultaneous with the learning to play "regular" "songs with color coding. A beginner is able to learn to play way more than he/she can "read" for quite some time, so waiting for the reading and playing to be on the same level slows down the process of playing - sometimes so considerably that a child loses interest and quits. Remember, in language we are allowed to speak long before we are able to read and speak at the same level.

I learned to read music at age 4, but no one knew I was "reading" until my parents talked a piano teacher into giving me lessons at age 5. I shocked everyone by playing through the first 3 books in 3 weeks even though I had never played anything on the piano before, and all throughout my life I have been considered an exceptional sight reader.

I finally figured out how I had learned to read the music without even knowing those notes on the page and the keys on the piano had names. I just knew that when I saw a certain note in a certain place on the page it indicated a certain key on the piano. So, my method of teaching "reading" of music notation is a bit different from most. If you click on the Notation part of the Anybody Can Play app you are taken to "Silly Songs". Level One introduces only 3 notes put into a different order every time the "silly song" is played. When the next level is added, more notes are added to the existing notes already learned.

Never is the learner asked to name the note, then play it. I consistently told the teachers in my staff to have children look at the note, play the key, then, if you wish, say the name of the note/key. By skipping the "translation" step of looking at a note and naming it before playing the key, the ability to "read" is much faster. It is really hard not to "name" a note when looking at it when dealing with beginner students, but by being careful and folowing the "look, play, then name" procedure my staff and I have produced some really good sight readers!

By the way, I always do have the children learn the names of the keys on the piano early in their learning process. The names are for convenience. I tell them it is much easier to call a child by his/her name, then have to say, "the boy wearing the blue tee shirt next to the little girl with the pink ribbon in her hair!" And, it is much easier to say "D" then saying "the white key in between the set of 2 black keys"!

Colors also make it possible to use many different fun activities with the children with sticker dots, color crayons, tapping games, etc., some of which are as follows.....Some activities for naming the piano keys are also included.














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2-YEAR-OLDS?

Two-year-olds can be prepared for learning to play the piano with the Anybody Can Play PIANO app using several fun activities - two of which are covered here.

First….SING with actions! The songs in the app can easily turn into action songs. Just make up your own suitable actions….clapping, tapping, waving, pointing, moving…..

Since the Anybody Can Play PIANO app parallels language, the first step is hearing the songs. You can sing the songs with the children, or use the app. The app plays the songs, shows the keys being played and shows lyrics so the computer can act as the accompaniment to the songs if desired. The app also gives the option to hear the songs more slowly.

NOTE: Young children tend to make a fist, then point with the finger they are to use. When using the “pointer” finger this works, but doesn’t work too well with other fingers, so start working on Star Hands.

Place hands on lap, floor, table, whatever is handy, palm side down with fingers outstretched. Lift the hand keeping it like a star, then practice dropping down the “piano” finger that has to be used on the keyboard. Let them lift their Star Hand right in front of their faces so they can see that little “piano” finger dropping down! It is amazing how well the hand can get trained doing this.

Second….FINGER COLOR(S). If you have a keyboard - even a toy keyboard - great! If not, use laminated paper keyboards.
With keyboard:
Using a washable marker, color code the pointer finger on the right hand with a red dot. Put red stickers (preferably removable) on 3 or 4 keys on the keyboard. Have the children use their “red” finger and play only the keys with the red dots.

Particularly if you use removable stickers, let a different child put the stickers on the keyboard each day. Beside begin fun, this re-enforces the fact that red touches red.

When the children become totally accurate with the red stickers, add another color as per the “screen pointer hands” in the app - probably the green one - and mark the fingers accordingly. Then they get to play keys with two different fingers! After awhile they will not even need to get their fingers marked.

Keep going so the children become aware of all their finger colors and using the correctly colored finger on the correctly color coded key.

Start with either hand, mix right and left hand colors as you add colors - whatever seems the best for the children in your care. Some fingers are a bit harder to use, but just remind them to use their Star Hand Fingers.

With a laminated paper keyboard:
Have several different laminated “keyboards” with red dots - 2 or 3 per keyboard. (There are two different sized keyboards in the Game Keyboards pdf. download.) Let the children touch the dotted keys with their red finger. Add colors the same way as with a regular or toy keyboard.

The photo shows a child who is making a worksheet with different colors already!

You can even mount these laminated keyboards on the wall so children can walk by and touch the color coded keys with their “proper” finger.

Whatever you do, have fun!


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WHY COLORS? WHY ROTE?

Studies have shown that brain development from applied music is greater the younger a child begins to learn to play an instrument. So, we need to use a teaching method that young children can understand and proceed in a real step by step process.

In my experience most 3 years olds (and younger) recognize many colors. When we color code those little fingers with a washable marker dot they are able to use a correctly color coded finger on a color coded key.

At this point the child is simply matching the colors. In most cases the pattern of the piano keys is not even noticed - just a color to color match. However, the color pattern of the song is being memorized, the first step to developing the memory reflex. The motion of the hand is also being set into muscle memory - the beginning of thousands of motions for the piano. If the song - like the easy Tick Tock - has been sung (Lyrics are included in SHOW ME.) simple rhythm is also being set in place.

Matching colors, repetitive hand motions and rhythm can all be taught doing other activities, but when done with the piano, they are the first steps to learning to play the instrument! A child able to play a song on the piano has a real sense of accomplishment as well. They know when they have played a real song.

When the child is at the level of trying to play the song by memory, key patterning arrives! MIDI keyboards or controllers (25 key OK) may be attached to the tablet or computer to work with the Anybody Can Play Piano app. At the beginning of any song, Busy Buzzy Bumblebee flies over the on-screen keyboard and places color coded dots on all the keys that will be used. The screen remains until the “continue” is touched allowing the user time to color code an attached piano keyboard.

Once a child is at this point, games can be played like…”Why don’t we take off one of the dots on the keys? What color do you think you don’t need?” I have removable round dots in the five proper colors. I haven’t found square dots in the same colors, so I just cut my circles in half for left hand keys. (At this point the arrow and cartoon note assistance on the computer/tablet screen can be hidden if desired, but appears when a mistake is made.)

I have actually had students as young as 3 in the past who wanted to play their own songs - not “my” songs. This can be done as well, but have structure to this activity so the child is not just banging around on the keys and calling it a song. Have them color code a paper keyboard. (I always request that they use only 5 keys in a row so the song will be easier for me to learn.) Then have them “write” their song in colors. This works well and the other children enjoy playing a friend’s song. Usually the child also “writes” words for the song. And, in every case, after writing a song or two they decide to play “my” songs as well as their own because “my” songs show them new things to do with their songs.

The anybodycanplaypiano.com website has many worksheets pertaining to patterning with piano keys. They are not necessary. The app alone is sufficient, but the additional activities reinforce all the learning.


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MEMORIZING

The Anybody Can Play PIANO method uses the learning of language as a model. First we hear language. Then we combine hearing with speaking. Then we add reading. The memorization that takes place in this process is astounding!

With piano lessons, the memory reflex can be further trained. A young child will tend to memorize the beginning songs just because they are so easy to remember! They also like to play the songs they already know, which is a good thing. Encourage them to continue to memorize each song before they go on to the next song. (But don’t stop them from “checking out” any song they wish!) Also encourage them to keep playing all the songs they already know. For those of you who do not play the piano, playing memorized songs is very enjoyable.

If a person continues this habit, the memory reflex gets trained. If this process is dis-continued or done sporadically, the training of the memory reflex ends. What is additionally wonderful about this is: this trained memory reflex is transferable to math, science, literature……

A pianist who sits down at the piano and plays for hours is playing thousands of pages of memorized music!


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TOUCH VS. MINI KEYS VS. STANDARD PIANO KEYS

I have been asked many times about the pros and cons of piano keys that children use….size and weight primarily. The Anybody Can Play PIANO uses an onscreen keyboard with mini sized keys. These require no finger strength to use so are easy for tiny hands to use. Depending on the size of the screen, the keys also vary in size from one device to another.

At this point the object of the teaching is for matching color to color as well as the pattern of fingers used in the song. These little hands are going to grow, so even using the same size keys, they will essentially not be the same size keys as the child grows.

I do recommend using a small MIDI controller or keyboard with the app when the child is able to recognize the pattern on the MIDI that is being shown on the screen. That’s when the dot games come into play…. marking the keys on the MIDI to match the keys on the screen… taking dots off when ready….

When using a MIDI keyboard, the child is pushing down on the key, so is learning the first step for playing on a real piano. Most young students prefer the mini keys when they are only 3-4 years old. However, many play on standard sized keys with no problem.

Children tend to play the piano with straight fingers....or even with their hand in a fist while attempting to stick out the finger that is to be used. To begin the process of a correct hand position we have “Star Fingers” - flat hand, palm side down on a table. At first just tell them keep their hand in the Star Finger position, then drop down the finger that needs to play on a key. They will tend to curve the other fingers in order to do this. Later, to turn those Star Fingers into Piano Fingers, put Star Fingers on the table, then pull in the fingers, pretending there is a teeny tiny balloon under the hand pushing it up. Viola! “Piano Fingers”! Play games tapping piano fingers on the table.

Even playing the game Star Fingers/Piano Fingers it generally takes until age 4-5 before children are conscious of a good hand position on the piano keys. Some fingers are weaker than others, but there are all sorts of game type exercises to help with that issue. I had a 12-year-old Down Syndrome student who could practically smash a tennis ball with her finger tips and keep all her knuckles in position while doing it! Not too many students get that strong!


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READING….WHEN?

Some people have a problem with piano teaching methods that do not start with reading. Anybody Can Play PIANO is a method which parallels language, so reading is not introduced when initially learning to play songs. Being able to play a song on the piano is comparable to speaking.

Having said that, reading can indeed be introduced at the beginning. However, it should be done as a separate activity for a number of reasons. For one thing we need to remain “step by step” and not introduce too many simultaneous steps at a time, particularly since we are also using two different visuals. Also, allowing students to play only what they can read can sometimes severely slow their progress on the keyboard to the point where they lose interest.

I learned to read music at a very young age - so young in fact that no one knew I was figuring it out! I didn’t know at the time that notes had names. I have always looked at a note and instantly known which key on the piano it represents. I never had the “translation” step of “name before key”. Because of this I have always experienced the joy of sight reading well. It is fun to know the names of the keys on the keyboard because all the keys that look alike have the same name! (a good game here!) It is important that students do learn the names of keys and notes, but in the proper order for ease in reading music notation.

Patterning exercises are a good way for introducing musical notation. One which can be used with very young children is matching. Use flashcards and have the children match the cards that are the same. This can be done in many creative ways with only one child or several! Remember, don’t name the notes at this point when using flashcards that feature a note on a staff. It is better to describe the note...Oh, that has the bottom line going right through the notehead!....That note is resting between two lines - we call that a "space". - I guess we call it a "space" because it is the space between the two lines!"

Another patterning game can be done with a portion of a keyboard on paper with some keys marked with stickers, colors….. The children are given an identical paper keyboard without the markings and mark it to match the other paper keyboard. This again can be creatively done with groups or one at a time.


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ADULTS USING Anybody Can Play PIANO app

Most people using the Anybody Can Play PIANO app are going to be very young. However, it can be used with any age.

The problem with adults is that an adult understands the concept of the method very easily. However, adults with no experience playing a keyboard instrument forget that their hands are still “young”. I always said adult hands are “between the ages of 4 and 8”. There is muscle memory that has to be established. It can only be established by carefully learning to play the piano one step at a time.

NOTE: The SHOW ME part of the app plays all the songs in every level. If you actually listen to the songs and become familiar with the sound of them it will greatly shorten the length of time needed to learn to play them.

This is probably really obvious, but use a MIDI keyboard, not the touch screen. Your hands are fully grown - much too large for the computer screen. If you need to mark the keys with colored dots, do it. At the beginning pretend you are 4 or 5 years old. Your hands are!

Be VERY particular about that color coding….not to the point of color coding your fingers (unless you want to!), but making sure you are using the correct finger on every key every time you play a particular song.

Start with the easiest song…the one at the top of the list. Memorize it. The app allows you to turn off the arrows and cartoon notes so you can practice playing a song by memory. If you make a mistake it will show you the correct key(s).

Memorize each song with your right hand as well as the left hand (Level 1). Then try playing it with both hands in parallel (Level 2). If it is really difficult to play in parallel, skip parallel and go on to the next song with just right hand alone and left hand alone.

Take your time and go through this procedure until you have all the songs memorized. This list of songs represents a vertical curriculum. The attempt is made to add something new to every new song. This means you can take all the time you need on a song. You are only learning one song at each level, not 10 or 12 as in some curricula. With a vertical curriculum it is really important to learn each song well. The end result, however, is much faster progression than with a horizontal curriculum with many “same level” songs.

Keep playing the songs. Once you are comfortable with playing songs with your right hand alone and left hand alone, move on to Level 2. Start at the top of the list again and start learning to play the songs with both hands at the same time. Memorize each song playing in parallel. It may be a good idea at this point to play a song right hand alone, then left hand alone, then hands together. Be patient with your hands! They are young.

Once you can play in parallel, then back to the top of the list again and start learning the songs in contrary motion, that is with each hand simultaneously doing something different. Some of the songs may really seem difficult, but just take your time. The icon at the top of the page lets you choose a part, touch the “again and again repeat icon” and work on just a little part at a time. Working a small part at a time will produce the greatest success in the least amount of time.

If the NOTES portion of the app is already uploaded, feel free to work on notes at any time! This is a parallel activity to learning how to play songs, but as your skill in note reading increases you will be able to play written songs in any books you choose. Be sure to start with easy ones!

Have fun! Take your time!


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