What baffles me is why I can’t remember learning how to play the piano. Not a new bafflement, in fact it pops up every time I begin sharing what I know about how to play the instrument with someone who has never played it. A Beginner. For over forty years I’ve taught others how to play an instrument I don’t remember learning how to play. According to my mother, my first teacher, I doodled on the piano keys around the age of five and became an official student at age six. I have no recollection of those years. I DO remember my first piano recital, age seven. Orange velvet dress lovingly made my mom, matching hair bow, a Mozart minuet, one of those he wrote when he was younger than I was at the time.
So when a I start working with someone who knows nothing about a piano or music other than being able to identify it by sight, I put myself in their place, which is my piano bench, and basically become the student too so that I can teach what I know. And stay very open-minded and ready for a host of questions.
Quarter note - one count Half note - two counts
Dotted half note - three counts Whole note - four counts
To justify good questions I could offer a brief history of musical notation history, from an Italian monk who is credited by some to devise the four lines/five spaces that we put notes on. But I know the student doesn't care about that. I simply tell them: "It's a language with it's own rules, just like any language you have learned to speak, read or write."
Children don't wonder about how musical notes look. Their brains are always in Learning Mode, accepting new information every day - until they think they know it all. Those in grade school are especially accepting of the language of music. What they most commonly want to know is when they're going to be able to play a song. The most often cited song for girls? Fur Elise. Beethoven would be pleased. Boys generally aren't that specific, they just want to learn whatever they need to so they can play well enough to impress someone, often a grandparent, or the girls at their church. So explaining the process of learning the notes, rhythm, how they look on the page and keyboard to a child is easy; I ask if they remember how they learned to read. (this works especially well when the child is in the early years of learning how to read). One letter at a time, then a word, then a sentence, paragraph, page. You didn't just open Where The Wild Things Are or Little House On The Prairie and start reading. Had to begin with one or two words on a page. Really GIANT size words.
And, I add, just like learning how to read, once you've got it down, those music notes don't change. Learn the language of music and you can play any instrument. Piano, viola, clarinet, trumpet - music looks and is counted the same way. All you have to do is learn how to play that instrument and apply what you know to it. Imagine, you could be in a marching band one day, in a drum line or toting a trombone.
What do you know how to do well that you've taught to someone else?