My son Jamie is about to turn 6 next month, and I have been using The Music Tree book, Time to Begin, to teach him to play the piano. This is the first book in The Music Tree series. We started last summer and we are progressing through the first book in a leisurely fashion. I decided to start him early because he has always been very interested in music and seems to have an ear for it. I have only basic musical knowledge and I find the program easy to do with him .
There are two Time To Begin books. One is a songbook and one is an activity book. There is also a music CD available with the songs being played, which theoretically the student could learn to play a duet of sorts by playing along with the CD. I don’t have that and I’m not sure how useful it would be to us. For us it is best that Jamie looks at the book and he tries to figure out how to play the song shown. I read the explanations from the book to him and ask him questions like “Which hand do you start this song with, right or left?” (Because the notes where the stem points up are played with the right hand, and stems down are played with the left hand) When he first started, I tried demonstrating how a song was played and he would simply memorize it and not try to read the music. He also has a real knack for finding the correct notes just by trial and error if he knows how a song should sound.
To help him with a new song I ask him to look at the keyboard shown on the page, with arrows pointing to certain keys and labeled “R” and “L” for right and left. Then I ask him to find those same keys on the piano. If the song starts low and goes high, I ask him whether it starts low or high and then ask him to show me on the piano which of the specified keys are the lowest, etc. He sometimes needs to count how many groups of notes there were on a page, so he would know *how* low or high he needs to start so he can play the whole song going either up or down the piano without running out of keys. For the Time To Begin book it seems to be necessary to have a keyboard or piano with at least 5 full octaves in order to play the songs. One of the hardest concepts for Jamie so far, was to figure out where to start when a song started in the middle, went up one octave, back to the first octave, and then down one octave.
Right now I have Jamie learn about two new songs per week and then spend the week practicing them every day. But he probably could go a little faster. Sometimes a new concept is hard for him to understand, and when that happens I give him a break for a week or two, by going back and having him play songs he has already learned. If necessary, I help him to review previously taught concepts when he goes back to the “old” songs. But the nice thing about Music Tree is that the student learns some basic music reading concepts which are much simpler to understand than note reading is for the beginner. The gradual block building of concepts in Music Tree is excellent. The activity book does a great job of reinforcing the concepts necessary to read the music in the songbook.
One of the things I didn’t understand when we started, was why they have the student play only the black keys for a while, before starting the white keys. I understood very quickly that the black keys were easier to distinguish, appearing in alternating groups of two or three notes. Specific white keys, on the other hand, are much more difficult for the beginning student to distinguish. Once Jamie mastered finding the black keys shown in each song, he was able to learn the names of the white keys. Since he was accustomed to finding the proper black keys it was easy to show him how 3 white keys were just below each 2 black keys, and these are always C,D,E. And the 4 white keys below each group of 3 black keys are F,G,A,B. He can now look at the music and identify the first and second note and find the corresponding white key on the piano. He can also move up and down the octaves of the piano with relative ease, finding the proper keys quickly. I am very proud of his accomplishments.
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