THE PIANO DICE GAME
Most games have a half-life with a child. They are shiny and new at first, and then fade as another one comes into view.
The PIANO DICE GAME is just such a game, and I use it when a child is ready to start playing a favorite piece somewhat seriously. It’s usually a piece that everyone knows, and I call it the “calling card.” This is a song that the child can use to tell everyone, “I can play the piano.” The simplest example is “Jingle Bells.” For an older child it might be the theme to a favorite TV show.
But repeating the song can kill the enthusiasm, especially for youngest beginners, so I devised this game to take the sting out of getting to know a piece, or more than one.
Repetition breeds familiarity, which breeds confidence. Confidence with at least ONE song (the “calling card”) has to be established very soon in the lessons so the child feels proud and wants to continue.
For THE PIANO DICE GAME, you’ll need Post-Its, or a pad of paper, and a pair of dice.
Teach the child several snippets of songs, the first four bars of Jingle Bells, Spider Man, or any other song that they know. It can be nursery songs (London Bridge) or pop songs that you can simply arrange for them. The first task is to learn by memorization the first four bars of each song, just enough to make it recognizable.
Take six songs, or perhaps only three if the child is very young. Assign a number to each song, up to six numbers for each of the six songs, which correspond to the six faces on the dice.
Thus, for example, Jingle Bell is number 1, and if the child rolls the dice, and they come up 1, they have to play Jingle Bells.
The point is to play as many of the six songs, as quickly as possible. This is partly a memory exercise, and helps the child develop the skill of memorizing a short section. It also teaches them the skill of looking at their hands. Tell them to look at their hands and try to remember what it looks like, where the black keys are, etc.
Pass on to the next roll of the dice as quickly as possible, with a tiny exception. If you see a skill that could be easily taught in a few seconds, try it, but don’t labor over it.
For example, if the child plays Mary Had A Little Lamb with their index finger, it might be a perfect time to point out how to use more than one finger. In the heat of the game, it may penetrate their mind, but if it doesn’t, pass it and move on to the next roll of the dice.
But the NEXT time Mary Had A Little Lamb comes up, try the “more than one” finger idea again, quickly, and gently. The Dice Game gives you repeated, short shots at their attention, so use it quickly and pass on to the next roll.
Be very sparing in your stopping and teaching in the middle of the game. You’ll kill the enthusiasm if you over-use it. Better to let the game roll on and play more songs using any fingering. It is a memory and confidence game, not really a fingering game.
But it could easily become a fingering game. Play it as described, and then add the element of fingering to it. “We’re going to play Dice, but now we have to play with certain fingers.” Be very lenient. It’s a game.
You’ll begin to notice that a child in the game mode is happy and attentive, and far easier to teach.
Ideally, the mood of lessons is always that of a game. It is exhausting for the teacher and exhilarating at the same time.
It is the closest an adult will ever come to being a child again.
Here are the steps outlined.
Teach the first four bars of six common songs. They must be memorized.
Assign each song a number and write it the list on a Post-It, which is stuck to a visible place on the piano.
Roll the dice to see which song to play. Let the child roll. The dice will fall under the piano. Bring extra dice. Laugh. It’s a game.
Move quickly from one song to the next.
Don’t dwell on mistakes.
Correct a note or two, then move on, roll again.
If there is a particular song (the “calling card”) that the child should learn, rig the results of the dice roll so that song comes up more often.
After a few weeks, the kids will tire of the game. Leave it alone, and come back to it.
Use this game, and many others, when the fatigue of thinking seems too much for the child.
This game is the prime example of how to disguise repetition at the piano as a game.
Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press