First Steps In Introducing Your Toddler To The Piano
By Janice Tuck
If you have a toddler around who is just itching to get started in playing the piano, here are some ways that work. These ideas require no previous experience in playing and no reference to using note names.
Through my experience with working with toddlers, I have found that they are usually not able to cope with sitting at the piano for long periods of time. They tend to show tones of curiosity in the anticipation of playing and then it disappears quickly when it's time for a turn. It is quite normal at this age to have less than two minutes playing the piano, before you move on to something else. If your toddler doesn't play for long, it is not an indication that they are not enjoying the activity or music, it's just being a toddler!
Here are two playing ideas and tips for the first sessions together with your child.
You may not need all the activities that I have written down in the exact order, so feel free to use the ones that suit you best in any order that suits your children and change and adapt the ideas as you need.
Idea 1. Little Bear, Big Bear and Mummy Bear.
Toddlers just can't wait to play and sometimes they need to just get it out of their system. This idea lets a toddler do that, but in a controlled way so that they understand some boundaries about playing the instrument.
Step 1: Sit on the piano seat closely together as if you are about to read a book together, and just have a little tinkle, positively reinforcing all of the sounds that your child makes. Loads of children are naturally worried to hear themselves make a sound on the piano at first until they know its alright. If your child gets too heavy, just show them how to play a note gently and just say "gently" as you show him/her.
Step 2: Once you know that your child is playing gently, you may enjoy making up a little story. You could call all the high top notes "Little Bear" all the bottom notes "Big Bear" and all the middle notes "Mummy Bear". (Calling all the top notes "High Notes", all the bottom notes "Low notes" and all the middle ones"Middle Notes" also works well.)
Step 3: Sometimes, children may want to do it all by themselves. Sometimes they will make a gesture to move off the seat or will tell you. Just move aside and either stand or sit away a little bit, but still be close so that you can positively reinforce gentle playing. If you want to keep your child playing for longer, just sing along a favorite song as they play. Something like "5 Little Ducks" or "Baa Baa" should work well and just sing along to whatever notes are coming out.
This idea is just a starting point, but toddlers can keep busy doing this for many sessions and doing it over and over again really builds their confidence at sitting and making sounds at the piano.
Idea 2. The Wheels on the Bus
This song lends itself to being a great first song on the piano and children usually already know the words and actions, which makes it easier for them to play.
Here are some easy steps to follow to help you get a toddler to play it.
Step 1. Do the actions to the music. You probably already know how the song starts. It's like this:
Verse 1 The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, The wheels on the bus go round and round all day long
Verse 2 The horn on the bus goes Beep Beep Beep, Beep Beep Beep, Beep Beep Beep, The horn on the bus goes Beep Beep Beep all day long
I've included only two verses because these are the most important ones use in order to play the piece. Verse 2 is the is best suited to use in order to help children to play it. The children play on the beeps.
You could practice playing at the right time by singing the verses and clapping your hands or use an instrument like a maraca or drum to play on the beeps. This helps children achieve the rhythm and timing without the distraction all those keys on the piano.
Step 2. Getting your fingers ready. The fingers you need to use for the song are your pointer finger and middle finger of your right hand and you play them at the same time. When you play my recorded version, you'll hear the beeps played on the piano. This confirms to a toddler when to play and gets them used to hearing the sound.
Practice first together with your toddler on the floor playing with the correct fingers at the appropriate time and without any sound. Toddlers get overwhelmed if they go up to the piano too quickly and make a mistake.
Step 3.Finding the notes and playing along on the piano. You'll see groups of 2 black notes together and then groups of 3 black notes together. For this song, you'll need to play the two black notes closest to the center of the piano.Help your child find the notes and sing along and play together.
Janice Tuck is a mother, music educator and co founder of the Fun Music Company. She and her husband Kevin are committed in providing the best in fun educational resources and information for parents and teachers who want to make learning music fun for their children. To obtain a free play along audio recording of the piano materials mentioned in this article, just visit her music resources website.