Children’s Piano Motor Skills


After you teach a long time, you begin to see patterns in children’s motor skills, as defined by age and maturity.

This has practical implications. For example, suppose you are attempting to teach a six or even eight year old to play a song with both hands.

Some kids do this readily, some do not. But if they cannot, there is a simple explanation.

You might be mystified by little Johnny’s inability to play with both hands, and say to yourself, “Other kids his age can do it, even younger kids. Why can’t he?”

Specifically, on this one issue, you need to know that each hand is controlled by a separate half of the brain, and the ability of a child to distinguish between the two hands is unique in each child. It is to some degree age dependent. Younger kids have more trouble controlling both hands at once.

Thus, when confronted by a child that has difficulty with both hands, I immediately stop teaching them any pieces with two hands, and concentrate instead on playing enjoyable games in which the two hands must work together. Since the root cause of their difficulty is lack of coordination between the brain hemispheres, it makes sense to hone the root skill, the distinction between the hands, first, and then later approach a formal song that requires that skill.

Making a child play with both hands before they understand it is a recipe for frustration that is easily preventable.

The point being that it is useless to force a child to learn skills for which their brains are not ready. You have to be observant enough to see what the root problem is, for that child alone, and find a way to surmount the difficulty by gently finding the cause and remedying it.

Here’s a simple test to see what shape a child’s brain hemispheres are in, and how well they talk to each other.

Ask a child to play the following, chord in the left hand, numbers (melody) in the right hand:

Left Hand: C F C
Right Hand: 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

If their left hand holds down the chord easily, without mimicking the rhythm of the right hand (the numbers) then their hemispheres have begun to act independently. If their left hand automatically mimics what the right hand is doing, they need remedial training in connecting the two sides, using fun games.

Don’t use formal pieces to teach this, or they may feel they are failing. A game has a fun, throw-away quality to it and less stress attached than learning a formal song. Later, when they have built this skill, try the song again.

A more usual example is fingering.

Some kids take a long time to master fingering, and need wide latitude in getting it under control.

Here’s a test.

Teach a child a song, using a simple fingering. Try the first four bars of Mary Had A Little Lamb, where the fingers are all in a row:

3212 333 222 333

Give it a good effort and see what the results are, whatever they may be.

Then, allow the child to play the song with their index finger. They will instantly not only see the underlying pattern of notes better, but will also play the song perfectly.

If they play the song perfectly without fingering, then their brain is telling you that they do not quite get fingering yet. Go slowly with this knowledge in mind.

Also, inform the child of their accomplishment. They know how to play the song, and are just having trouble with a very hard subject like fingering. They will feel better about themselves, and try even harder to “get” fingering.

The point here is that most piano teachers would be frustrated by the child’s inability to navigate fingering, and would communicate that frustration subconsciously to the child.

Defuse your frustration by finding the cause of the child’s difficulty.

The cause is almost always age and skill related, and with that in mind, you can devise a plan for this particular child.

Forget what the “method” says the child should know by now, at this stage in the lessons. Forget what other teachers do, forget everything except solving the puzzle of THIS child and THIS skill.

Make sure a child is ready and capable of learning something before you attempt to teach it to them.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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