Precursor Skill Piano Games


I define a precursor skill at the piano as a skill necessary to learn first before you attempt a more difficult skill.

For example, reading music has many precursor skills.

To read music you need to know, at least, left from right and up from down.

A child who is unsure of these two concepts will not be ready to read music comfortably until you make the child familiar with these ideas.

Yes, this is irrelevant for an eight year old, but try it with a five or six year old and the result will be entirely different. Don’t assume your student has these skills.

I observe a child at the piano, and the only thing I’m silently looking for are the child’s limitations, for these will tell me which precursor skills we need to fill in before proceeding to the standard curriculum.

Here are games and skills that, the younger the child, you will almost certainly have to refine before moving forward. Every child is different, and has a different set of needs:


Without this skill, the child is lost at the keyboard.

I play a little game that is used whenever the child seems to succeed at something, which is a short flourish played by me (think vaudeville ending) followed by a glissando going up. A glissando is when you run your finger over the white keys, playing every note rapidly as you move up or down.

At the end of the glissando, the child must play the highest key on the piano. After they do, I repeat the glissando and ask the child, “Was that up or down?” If they don’t get it, figure out ways to get them to see that, at the piano, up is right and down is left.

Understanding of this concept is further complicated, for the child, by the fact that, in sheet music, up is NOT to the right, but UP, and down is NOT to the right, but DOWN. Music is full of seemingly conflicting rules that confuse children. Learn how to simplify it without impeding their further progress.

Another game that strengthens the up/down skills: play a three note (triad) chord, and ask them, “Which is the LOWEST note?” It takes a while but kids like the guessing game aspect. Remember, it is impossible to name chords and manipulate them unless you can identify the relative positions of the three notes, bottom, middle and top.


The precursor skill for fingering is awareness of fingers.

You’d be amazed how some children are thoroughly confused by their fingers, while others have instant wiring that makes them “get it” without frustration.

It depends on their stage of brain development, not on their intelligence. You have to find where they are in the growth of the two hemispheres of the brain before you attempt the most basic skills at the piano.

For example, the younger the child, the harder it is for them to get the idea that piano finger patterns, in the beginning, start with the thumb. Children have never been asked to differentiate their fingers to the degree that the piano requires.

This is difficult for a child because the index finger is always dominant, not the thumb. You don’t scoop peanut butter with your thumb, you do it with your index finger.

I play a game where I say, “The thumb is the captain of the hand, and always has to go first, otherwise they get very upset.” Obviously, that is untrue, but for learning fingering in the beginning it is a reliable rule that will be broken later.

I usually let the child dominate with the index finger for a while, but make gentle fun of it, call them the “One fingered pianist,” and commiserate with their deformity by saying, “Poor little kid, born with only one finger on their hand.”

The effect of these silly comments is to start to make the child aware of their fingers, in a non-pressured way. Awareness first, then skills follow.

I find that children always learn the skill you require when they are properly prepared.

The hard part, for the teacher, is that preparation may take years, so be prepared to be more patient than you have ever been.

The good news is that if you make the task small and easy enough, all children throw themselves into the game and end up learning the rudiments of piano.

I’ve never found a child who could not be helped in this way.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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