Having taught music for over 15 years I have come across a range of problems and issues when leading a keyboard lesson. The most irritating 'problems' are surely those of malfunctioning headphones or wrong settings. The 'I can only hear in one ear' scenario and the 'My keyboard isn't working' (is it actually switched on???) issues are usually quick and easy to solve, but sometimes students actually have valid problems that need help.
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Here I have compiled my Top 6 Keyboard Complaints along with ways you could solve them.
I never know whether to laugh or cry when I hear this one. It usually starts with me asking students to learn a melody with the right hand only. Why? So that they can introduce the left hand part later. But some left handed students insist that they just cannot play a melody with their right hand. Depending on the student I would either:
a) have a conversation about instruments generally. How many use 2 hands? How many have specific left handed versions? Are the hands equally important on some instruments? Why is that? Lead on to persuading them therefore that there is no dominant hand on a keyboard and that this is a great opportunity to improve their right hand skills.
b) allow them to learn the melody on the left hand. When the harmony part is introduced they then need to decide....should they relearn the melody in the right hand or just swap parts? Whilst this may lead to an inaccurate performance of a piece and certainly won't work in all situations, it can help lower ability and SEN students enormously and get them playing. Which is the main point after all, isn't it?
With the rise of computer games and texting you would have thought that finger dexterity would have increased. All those hours using the thumbs and typing on computers should have improved the muscles in the hands. But apparently not! I have found increasingly that students cannot, or find it very difficult too, operate their fingers independently. The 5 finger position seems to be incredibly difficult for some.
I have found the best way to combat this is to just not let them give up and go the easy way. Insist on all 5 fingers being used. Ask students to practise on the table, tapping finger 4, finger 2, finger 5, finger 3 and thumb in turn. Make up different patterns for them to tap.
I have even done Mini Hand Olympics as quick tasks, fun competitions and do-it-now starters. This consists of little games such as finger weight lifting: 'how many rubbers can you lift on finger 4' or finger high jump: measuring which finger you can lift the highest from a flat hand position.
Most students are happy to learn a one-handed melody, but as soon as you suggest adding a harmony or bass part in the second hand, they can become doubtful and resist this more challenging task.
As always, start simple. Add a single finger drone with long note values in the left hand first. Ask students just to focus on playing the drone on the first beat of the bar in time with the melody note. Then move on to a 2 note or rhythmic drone.
Once they are comfortable with this they can move on to a more complex left hand part.
This is a common problem, particularly for students who don't read music. If students are still having difficulty after you have modelled the piece, try the following.
Take some time to explain bar lines if you haven't already and even draw coloured lines to match the melody with its harmony note.
Ask students to work in pairs, with one playing the melody and one playing the harmony, perhaps using a metronome to keep in time. Swap parts so they are familiar with both. This will help the students to learn how it should sound. Then they can move on to doing both parts themselves.
For those of you who have enough keyboards for one per student, this will never be a problem. But for the majority of us who have 1 keyboard between 2 students, this can cause issues. Once students are learning to play with 2 hands, there simply aren't enough octaves to play without crashing into your partner.
Encourage turn taking and constant peer assessment. Set a timer so that for 10 minutes partner A will practice and partner B will assess, then feedback and swap. If this is a common and frequent problem for you, create an official peer assessment diary for your pairs so you have an ongoing record and they have a set and useful task to complete when not practising.
Here is perhaps the most common issue. Just which keys are they supposed to press? You will find lots more detail on how to deal with this issue in my blog post 5 Ways To Teach Piano Keys. I like to reiterate constantly that it is just a repeating pattern (this seems to be language they are familiar with from maths) and that it follows the alphabet.