Introducing the new pianist to the keyboard
March 16, 2018
Every note should be identified by its spatial relation to black keys.
Only the black keys are non-uniform coming instead in alternating clumps of two and three keys. White keys without black keys offer no way to single out one white note from the rest.
For example, C is always the white note just to the left of the ‘clump’ of two black notes. F is similar to C but rests just to the left of the clump of three black keys. Similarly for the other white keys and all the black keys.
“Counting Up From C.”
It is tempting to first teach “C” (or “A”)* and then have the student move one note at a time to the right (or left) and proclaim the next letter of the alphabet. Many students will naturally select this procedure. But this is not advised. Each white key should have an ‘absolute’ position relative to black notes and not just a ‘relative’ position in relation to the other white notes.
If, for example, in order to find the G key, the student finds C (which may end up being the only letter of a key that is remembered by its absolute position relative to the black notes), and then “counts keys” (D, E, F, G), a certain fraction of a second, shorter or longer, is used up, and the G remains unidentifiable in and of itself. Even brief delays, multiplied over months and years of playing, can add up to a considerable loss of time, without absolute certainty ever occurring: the G will always be gotten to from the C.
C is always the white key to the left of the clump of two black keys.
D is always the white key in between the two black keys in the clump of two black keys.
E is always the white key to the right of the clump of two black keys.
F is always the white key to the left of the clump of three black keys.
G is either the white key to the left of the middle of the clump of three black notes, or the white key on the middle left of the clump of three black notes.
A is either the white key to the right of the middle of the clump of three black notes, or the white key on the middle right of the clump of three black notes.
B is always the white key to the right of the clump of three black keys.
Using this means of location, it is no longer important in what order the beginning student is introduced to the keys. It could be C first, then G, then E, then A, etc.. Or any other order. In fact, it is better to choose an order that is not sequential in the alphabet, to avoid tempting the student into ‘counting’ up (or down) from a reference key.
* starting with C creates the natural query: “why C; why note A”. He may not articulate this out loud. Hopefully he will though, but this only creates, prematurely, the need to say something about music theory, or to use the traditional dodge of saying: as we go along over the next months and years, the answer to your question will become more and more clear.