Monday, June 22, 2009

Teaching White Key Names

I'm getting ready for my pre-piano class at the end of July, and thought I'd share my tricks for teaching the names of white keys. These games are always a big hit!

Hey Diddle, Diddle! D's in the Middle!

Start with D. It's the easiest to find because it's in the middle of the two-black key group. I have the students practice this by using a fist to gently play the two black keys while saying "Hey Diddle Diddle," then using an index finger to play the D while saying "D's in the middle!" Repeat with all the two black key groups up and down the piano.

Shoot-Out At the White-Key Corral
Next, we learn that C is just below it and E is just above it. Now, it's time to have a shoot-out at the white key corral! We pretend to have water shooters by pointing our fingers like a gun. Starting at the low end of the piano, we "shoot out" all the Ds by playing them, alternating left and right hand. Then we come back down the piano shooting out all of the Cs, then back up, on the Es. I tell them to make sure none of them gets away without a good squirting. It's usually best to move the bench away from the piano and let them stand.

The assignment for the first week is to shoot out D, C, and E, in that order. I send a note home to parents (if they weren't watching in the lesson, which is what I prefer) to explain that I do not want the students to shoot out keys in alphabetical order. Many of my parents, like most of us from that generation, learned middle C first, and then learned to find other white keys in relation to C. I want the students to be able to find a key without having to count up from any other key. They need to learn where each one is in relation to the black key group that it is near so that they can find it directly. Once the parent understands the goal, it makes their work at home more efficient.

F and B, Outside the Three
In the second lesson, we add F and B. Using the index fingers of each hand, we play the F, then B while saying "F and B," then we play the three-black key group with a gentle fist while saying "Outside the Three." Now, it's shoot-out time, using F, B, E, C, and D. The assignment at home is to play the "F and B, Outside the Three" game up and down the piano, and then to practice the shoot out in the order given above (or any non-alphabetical order).

Our State Is On The Piano!
The next week, it's time to learn G and A. My trick for this may not work for you, but since I live in GA, I tell them that we can find our state's abbreviation in the middle of the black keys! And so, we play GA all the way up the keyboard. One of my students came up with another cute idea that might work for non-Georgians: she says there's a baby cradled in the 3-black-key group, and the baby says "Ga! Ga!"

Of course, now it's time to shoot out all of the keys on the piano. The home assignment is to find GA all over the piano, and to shoot out all the keys. I assign an order for the shoot-out, usually working through fifths - D, A, E, B, F, C, G

Don't Stop Now!
One of my mistakes as a younger teacher was to think that once the student had been through this three-week process, my work in teaching white keys was done. I now know that it's a rare student who doesn't need to have this reinforced over several more weeks. In my studio, we talk a lot about "forever knowledge" as being something that you know as well as you know your birthdate or phone number. We don't stop reviewing until white key names are in "forever knowledge." So, in subsequent weeks, I like to play another game.

White-Key Relay
The student stands on the far side of the studio, away from the piano. I'll call out "Lowest E on the piano, " or "An F in the middle," or "Highest G on the piano" - you get the idea. Then the student runs to the piano, plays the key, and runs back as fast as possible. They love it! As they get faster, I make it harder by asking them to play two keys, usually involving a downward step. I especially emphasize the step between A and G. This helps them to become more comfortable with moving backwards through the alphabet. After two keys are easy, we move on to three. After a few weeks of this, the student knows the white keys forever and never has to count up from C.


Rebecca said...

That's a fun reinforcment game. My students would love that one!

Rebecca @

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the ideas. I like the F, B outside the three! I'm going to use that today for my intro to piano class. They usually get the D pretty easy and I have heard of the hey diddle diddle. Plus you can say D is in the middle of the dogs black ears. :)

mainstreetmusicking said...

My four year old piano student loves hey diddle diddle! I also use the 'oreo cookie' to find the D- the two black keys are the cookie pieces and the cream filling is the note D!

Anonymous said...

Wow, great idea! I especially like "F and B outside the three". Thank you!