THE USE OF HUMOR IN PIANO LESSONS
Let’s look at humor and theatrics, and their use in beginning piano lessons.
The best reason to use humor in teaching music is the “feel good” effect of humor.
If you accept that piano and music in general are difficult subjects, you’ll agree that a certain tension goes along with it. At the piano, one is constantly solving problems. This produces tension.
Thus an atmosphere of congenial study is most conducive to the absorption of musical concepts.
A musical concept presented straight ahead to a child may bore them, but a theatrical demonstration will inevitably be more memorable.
For this reason I create scenarios or games in which a child’s knowledge can be gently gauged and expanded.
Kids love the honesty of a comically stupid teacher who needs their help. A variation on this is to let the child pretend to be the piano teacher, and you become a stupid rube who needs to be shown the ropes.
The first character I remember creating was Gortok, a spaceman who desperately needed to find Middle C in order to fire up his space ship and leave earth for his home planet.
Gortok, of course, barely spoke English, so he demanded a very simple explanation, an explanation that requires a child to have firm knowledge of the fact being probed.
The point is to find a way to make the finding of Middle C memorable.
I always remark to myself, while I’m teaching, that a smiling child is so much easier to teach.
Allowing the child to be the teacher gives them a proud opportunity to share their knowledge, and be respected by even a theatrically challenged piano teacher.
My apologies to anyone named Hubert. I pretend to be Hubert, a boy who has been taught by a bad piano teacher. Hubert says he can play Middle C, and then plays any other note, so the child can correct him and show Hubert the proper location for Middle C.
But there’s a twist. After Hubert is shown Middle C, he asks, “How do I find it if you’re not here?” Now the child is forced to verbalize the location of Middle C, as well as their mental process for finding it. They have to explain it in words, like a teacher, so you are certain they have the concept correctly in mind.
What you’re looking for is this sort of exchange:
Hubert: “How do you find Middle C?”
Child: “It’s the one next to the two white keys.” (You may get other answers, so be prepared to digress into a sub-game if necessary.)
(The child is only half-right. Make them specify exactly where it is.)
Hubert: “Is it a white key? Which side of the two blacks?” (They are now forced to broach the idea of left-right.)
Child: “It’s the one to the left.” (If you get another answer, make a game out of it until they understand where Middle C is, and can explain it to you.)
Hubert: Is it this key?” (He plays a black key.)
Child: “No, you silly, it’s the white one.”
Hubert: “But why?”
Think of Abbott and Costello doing their famous “Who’s On First” routine. Hubert does everything to get it wrong, and extract a useable explanation from the child. In the process the child learns the idea largely because the learning environment is positive, comic and memorable.
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