The First Piano Lesson


The first piano lesson is the best single chance I have of convincing a child that I am absolutely in love with the piano and they will have nothing but fun with it.

It’s the first chance for them to speak the language of music, and I am determined they will enjoy it and want to do it more.

If you think about it, all you must really accomplish in this first lesson is that they like doing it, and they like you helping them. To accomplish this, it must be fun. Put most simply, you’re here to convince them they want a second piano lesson.

Still, there are skills to be learned, so I have created a list that I use myself. Depending on the age of the child, you will be able to do more or less of the list. If you finish early, start over. They will love this approach. Here we go.

Play something lively that they know. If you can’t play, get a CD of some piano music. Listen to it. If you can, take a moment to sit at the piano and play a few songs until you find one they know. Get them to smile with recognition.

Take their index finger and play Middle C with it. Ask them to do it without you. If they smash down lots of keys say, like a game show host soon to offer valuable prizes, “Oh, no, we have to play the most special note in the world.”

Numbered keyboard
Numbered keyboard

“Only that one special note.” Then take out a set of numbered stickers and immediately start putting them on the keys. Number one goes on Middle C, etc. Ask the child if they want to put on a sticker. Do it quickly so that with in thirty seconds or so, there is a sudden new order to the keys: numbers!

Now ask them to take their index finger and walk up the keys, from number one to twelve. If they play a mistake laugh and say, “Oh, that’s okay, everyone plays wrong notes. Keep going!” If they need you to take their finger and do it for them, do so.

Once they physically get the idea of pressing down keys with their index finger, you are off to the races.

Numbered keyboard
Numbered keyboard

Next ask them to play four times on each white key as you go up. This would be 1111 2222 3333 4444 5555, etc, but don’t insist on a rhythm, just let them try to play four in a row. Younger kids may only be able to play two keys, like 11 22 33 44 55 66, etc. Even if it is only one key (frequent,) praise them and move on.


So far there has been nothing difficult at all, and that’s the way we must keep it. Now play glissandos up and down the piano. Ask which goes up (to the right) and which goes down (to the left.) Let them play glissandos. Yes, it will be noisy. Let it be noisy. Show that noise doesn’t bother you.
Now ask for the top key.

Then ask for the lowest key. Now try playing the keys 1-12 up again, just for review. This is their first skill, and we must make it fun. Sing along and make up words if you have to, but make them smile.

Now ask for the keys 3 3 3. Then ask for 3 3 3 again. Show them that they have just played the beginning of the song Jingle Bells.

Take out the Piano by Number book and show them the song Jingle Bells, and ask them to read the numbers on the page. 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 5 1 2 3. Then let them play Jingle Bells with their index finger or any finger they like.

The point is not fingering but recognition of themselves playing the song. You have to convince them immediately that they can play a song they know, right away. If they falter after a few notes, praise the few they did right, but do not criticize them in any way, ever.

The mood is light and fast. The first lesson cannot have any negativity or critiques. There is no place for it. Criticism is useless.

Play a game of looking at the black keys and finding the pattern. The pattern is alternating groups of two and three black keys. Now remind them that the key with the number one sticker is right next to the two black keys.

Ask them to find more C’s (the note C is always the white key to the left of the two black keys.) You point to two black keys, and they have to find which white key is to the left of it.

Take out the colored stickers from I CAN READ MUSIC and put the red sticker on the key with the number one sticker. Yes, that key now has two stickers. Letting them put the sticker(s) on is a good option and builds the feeling that this is THEIR piano.

Now point out that the key with the red sticker, and the number one, is called “Middle C.” Play a silly game and ask, “Is it called Uncle Fred?” No, they will laugh and try to remember the name.

Remind them. “The key with the red sticker is Middle C.” Make them play the key. Then suddenly ask them, as if you forgot, “Gosh, what was the name of that key, um, Dave, Bob, Uncle Fred, Santa Claus?” They will be delighted to offer the right answer.

Play this game until they get the right answer, even if the game becomes as silly as “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” The point is, they must shake hands with Middle C, and know its name.

Take stock of the situation. Are they exhausted or exhilarated? Depending on how fast you have gone, and how young the child is, you may or may not have completed the above list.

You have to be very careful at this point. An older child will want to go further. A younger child will need the security of perhaps going over all the steps again, put in “new clothes,”of course.

You will have found a couple of these games that they liked a lot. If so, play them and run them into the ground as only a child can with something they are taken with. That is what you are looking for, the point that interests them.

Once you have that, you have the first key into their musical imagination. Take note if it. It is worth its weight in gold.
Let’s assume it’s a younger child and conclude at this point.

Open the book and show them that there are lots of songs they can play by themselves. Go through the selection until they find some other songs they like. Try the beginnings of a few songs.

Put a Post-It marker on the pages they like, and leave a pack of Post-Its for them to flag their favorite songs. Kids love Post-Its!

Get up to leave, and I’ll bet you $100 they are still sitting at the piano, fascinated with some aspect of that we have done, playing a song.

And what have we done? We have introduced a child happily to the piano without referring to any sheet music symbols whatsoever, and only by reference to the keyboard itself. The only reference to a page is in regards to the songbook, which contains easy-to understand numbers.

Don’t assign them anything. Wait a week and come back. See if they go to the piano by themselves. Don’t even think of asking them to practice. You are, by omitting the natural demand to practice, letting them set their own terms with the instrument.

The whole trick is to get them to come to the instrument by themselves, and they cannot do that if you ask them. Let them take the time to do it by themselves.

If they do not play anything that week, don’t even mention it. But one week later, try again with the above list. 90% of children will pick up on the idea of the piano and at least be somewhat fascinated.

Do not give in to the urge to have them work at it. Do the opposite. And if they don’t play, you go play. That’s right, if they take no interest, you take over and see how long they can stay away.

The point of the first piano lesson is to have a kid who wants to have a second piano lesson.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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