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Teaching a four-year-old, online!
#3037985 10/21/20 10:43 AM
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Hi all, this is my first post. Most of my students are adults (20s to retirees). Recently a friend asked if I would start their four-year-old daughter. I explained my limited experience with children (I've never had a student that young!) but they insisted that they wanted to give it a try if I was up for it. The lessons are all online, by the way, thanks to COVID. I have adapted pretty well to online teaching; Zoom has been a great tool since I worked out the bumps and got a better microphone setup.

For this student, we are using the Alfred Primer series of books, and we started lessons three weeks ago. I've been trying to mix things up, not spend too much time on any one concept, and the mother is always with the student to lend a hand.

The online format is challenging for one so young! I am sure a lot of it has to do with my inexperience with this age group. Translating concepts through a computer screen is suddenly very frustrating. (Not an issue with the adult students) I'm here to ask for any guidance you may have as a teacher of wee ones. Any clues will be a big help. The student does not read words at all, so the written instructions on the pages of the book are meaningless. We've ended up numbering our fingers and playing groups of 2 and 3 black keys. I don't know how I should attempt to progress from here as I'm just improvising, basically! I was hoping that Alfred offered an online video series to work in conjunction with the Primer book but there's nothing that I have found. Thanks in advance for your guidance!

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Re: Teaching a four-year-old, online!
Gal Friday #3038005 10/21/20 11:34 AM
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I predict a few possible, potentially flippant responses:
- age 4 is too young to start piano
- online is too hard to start piano
- just teach in person, don't let COVID dominate your life
- don't mix personal and business relationships

As a thoughtful answer, have you considered the following:
- Teach the mom your friend primarily and have her teach her daughter. Not that you "don't teach" her daughter but she is in the position to provide hands-on, real-time, non-lagged guidance, and you are not. Split the time between things and explanations with mom and interacting with the little girl (and don't go into explanations with her but turn it into a game).
- Has it been discussed with friend/mom what they are looking to get out of lessons? Exposure, leisure, music appreciation...do they understand that it is a long journey down the road of "playing piano"?
- To develop skill in playing piano, you will eventually need to be spending sufficient time on one concept (and they will need to be spending sufficient and quality time practicing). That doesn't necessarily need to be the goal *right now*.
- Are you planning to "teach her to read [actual music notes and rhythms]" or get by on reading prep activities until her language reading is more developed?
- Being that this is a friend, how close a friend, and depending on your relationship, the local expectations of pandemic handling, etc., are there possibilities for meeting in person?
- Some young children are not able to sit at the piano and follow instructions (whether from a physical person or a screen-person). Someone who wants to "teach piano" would consider them too young, but someone who takes a view of "teaching music" might be able to work with a child not staying on the bench. Where along the spectrum are you?

Re: Teaching a four-year-old, online!
Gal Friday #3038019 10/21/20 12:09 PM
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Some students are ready to start piano at 4 while others are not. If a child can sit still and the attention span is there age is not an issue. People who are in Suzuki would tell you as soon as a child learns to speak, he/she can start music lessons. Talent is nurtured like the way we acquire our native language at a young age.

Younger kids tend to get into fun and games. At some point you need to start introducing playing techniques like scales in different keys, staccato & legato playing.

Get the child familiar with the names of the notes. Instead of using a "C-major scale" as a proper term, call it Do-Re-Mi in order. Explain everything in simpler terms and get the child to listen to how a song is played by ear and put off the fancy Italian terms like staccato & legato until later. Even tempo can be explained as simply playing a faster or slower version.

Some teachers actually post short videos of themselves playing on YouTube to supplement the lessons. You want your videos to be accessible only to your students you put the video setting as "Unlisted" and pass the links around by Email.

Re: Teaching a four-year-old, online!
Gal Friday #3038052 10/21/20 01:38 PM
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I would go for a curriculum designed for pre-readers.

Look at my first piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall faber. They have a lesson book and a writing book, level a, level b, and level C that equate to their regular primer series when completed.

Also, lots of marching and clapping, and standing when they play.

Have the student echo what you do, and ask them to explain things to you period you would be surprised how a young child's mind interprets an adult.


sorry about the spelling and caps, I'm talk texting on a cell phone.


Learning as I teach.
Re: Teaching a four-year-old, online!
Gal Friday #3038118 10/21/20 06:42 PM
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I work as a speech-language pathologist in a public school preschool program. Our district has opened schools and given families the option to participate in class or online. I am working online with several 3, 4, and 5 year old students, all of whom qualify for special education. Obviously, it isn't ideal.

PM me if you want to chat more.


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Re: Teaching a four-year-old, online!
Gal Friday #3038159 10/21/20 11:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Gal Friday
Alfred Primer

Are you talking about Alfred Premier? The red book?

That book goes a little fast for kids THAT young. You might have better luck with Hal Leonard or My First Piano Adventures.

When I first used My First Piano Adventures, I was shocked by how slow the pacing was. But the authors are right to go slow, slow, very slow. Kids at that age need to do fifteen different activities to teach ONE concept multiple times, over the course of three months. It's a spiral concept of teaching. LOTS of re-teaching.


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Re: Teaching a four-year-old, online!
AZNpiano #3038371 10/22/20 03:34 PM
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Wow, thank you all for taking the time to offer your thoughts. It'll take me some time to digest these ideas and I've already found your comments to be helpful. I was mistaken - the book we are using is the Alfred Basic Series, level 1A. I will look into the books you have mentioned - I think a VERY SLOW and repetitive approach would be good in this case. The family are close friends of ours, with no specific expectations other than exposure to music and piano specifically. There is no option for in person lessons. We had another lesson yesterday, i did some quarter note exercises with her, clapping and marching, counting 1-2-3-4 aloud, and then added some quarter rests. It was fun and mixed things up a bit from hands-on-the-piano. Thanks again all, for your help!


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