Helping kids play piano with good technique can be fun for both the teacher and the student with the help of some creative exercises.
Piano technique suddenly became much more important to me after I was injured. I had played with poor technique for years, but when I started spending a lot of time on the computer developing teaching curricula and blogging I developed carpal tunnel.
Then recital time came around and I wanted to play a duet with a student. The piece required my fingers to do a lot of stretching and after just a few days of practicing, I was totally unable to use my hands. It was terrifying–can you imagine being a mother with young children and not being able to use your hands?
After about a week I was able to use my hands again, and I now know firsthand about the importance of using good form in all we do. Using poor form–whether at the piano or the computer–can cause damage to the small muscles and tendons in the hand and forearm.
As I started learning more about how to play the piano with good technique, I found this video by Dr. John Mortensen, a Professor of Piano at Cedarville University.
Dr. Mortensen’s video is excellent and he does a fantastic job explaining why hand shape is important and how to achieve good hand structure. Click play to watch and learn.
Dr. Mortensen has created a series of videos about piano technique, and I believe that every pianist and every teacher would benefit from watching his technique videos. He is a master at taking complex matters and presenting them in a way that is easy to understand and apply. Click on the link to see Dr. Mortensen’s piano technique series on Youtube.
Fun Games for Helping Kids Develop Good Piano Technique
We all know that, when teaching kids, activities are the best way to engage their interest, so here are a few games for helping kids learn good form at the piano. Good form begins with sitting correctly at the piano, so several of these activities are focused on helping kids learn how to position themselves.
Kids make a fist and straighten their arms (aka a superhero punch). Their fists should just reach the fallboard if the bench is close enough to the piano. If they have to bend their elbows, they are too close and should move the bench farther away. If they have to lean to reach the fallboard, they need to move the piano bench closer.
Seat height is important, and most benches are too low. When the bench is too low, kids will drop their wrists and will be unable to play with a natural hand shape. The best option is to buy an adjustable bench. If you need to save up funds for a new bench, you can use cushions in the meantime to raise the student.
The seat height should be such that the student’s arms are level while they play. You can help the student pay attention to their arms by placing a small “soldier” (a pencil eraser works great) on their arm. If their arm isn’t level, you and the student call out “landslide!” and point out how the solider won’t be able to stand straight on tilted ground. Have the student adjust their bench and then try placing the solider again.
This activity will help students learn to recognize the natural hand shape. You and the student dance around, waving your arms up in the air. When teacher calls out “heavy arms!” the arms drop down to the side of the body. Ask the students to look at the shape of the hand when it hangs naturally by their side. Point out that the fingers are not flat, nor are they over-curled. We want to aim for this hand shape when we play the piano.
This fun exercise is taught by Dr. Mortenson in his video, and helps students understand that their hands are much more powerful when the fingers are in their natural curve.
Instruct the student to naturally curve the fingers on one hand and flatten the fingers on the other hand. Then have the hands “wrestle” by aligning the fingertips and pushing the hands against each other. Your students will be impressed by how much stronger their curved hand is. To learn more about why the curved hand is so much more powerful, be sure to watch the explanation by Dr. Mortensen in the video above.
When students press on the keys to hard, the first joint will “break”. This breaks the natural hand shape and causes the pianist to loose the strength and power of that natural curve. The key point to realize is that the sound is produced when the key is first pressed down, so there’s no need to keep pushing and apply excessive force.
To draw a student’s attention to their broken joints, I have them touch their second finger to their thumb and then push the second finger down hard to purposely “break” the first joint. I point out how the flesh around the joint turns white–and it turns white because they are applying too much pressure. When we point out this color change, students can easily see that this position is strenuous for the finger. We then move over the the piano and practice pressing down the keys without breaking the joint.
Now is the student’s turn to be the teacher! You (the real teacher) sit at the piano with poor form and ask the student to tell you what is wrong and how to fix it. This activity is great because sometimes it’s hard for kids to see their own poor form, but when they step back and take a look at another person, they can easily see how a wrist is out of alignment.
Students always love to take a turn “being teacher” and you can have a lot of fun with this game, especially if you let yourself be a little silly.
Did you enjoy these strategies for teaching piano technique to children? Here’s what you can do next:
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