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#2051202 - 03/20/13 06:09 AM hand position for beginners - Methode Rose
ten left thumbs Offline
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Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
This was inspired by the 'irksome' thread. Apologies, long post.

All the method books, and all books for beginners I have seen in English language start beginners out in a 'thumbs on C' position. This includes MFPA and Helen Marlais, who in fairness move quickly to put a thumb or either hand on B or D.

What bothers me about this? First off, every single one of my beginners has trouble sharing C between 2 thumbs. It bothers them.

Second, from a reading point of view, for starting out reading, I want them to get to grips first with lines and spaces. Middle C is a leger line (which is a complication they could do without) and treble D and bass B are outwith the 5-line stave, and they get really confused about this being a 'space'.

Now, I can teach it, they can cope, all is fine, but I do ask myself if it really needs to be this difficult.

Some time ago I bought myself a copy of Methode Rose which is used by Suzuki teachers for reading. My copy is in French (the choice was French or Japanese). For various reasons I would not use this book for English-speaking youngsters. The interesting point is starting hand position is RH thumb on treble C and LH 5 on bass C. The advantages of this as a hand position that I can see are:


  • Hands are two octaves apart. As soon as they start playing, the instrument gives a more pianistic tone, as a greater pitch-range is being used.

    Beginner is more comfortable as hands feel a natural distance apart.

    Beginner not yet asked to cope with ledger lines, or the illogical spacing of treble and bass staves.

    Both C's to be learned are space notes, D's are line notes, etc


I can't think of any disadvantages to the principle of starting out with hands separated by two octaves. However my problem is that all beginner material available to me assumes 'thumbs on C' and is more advanced by the time it introduces the higher and lower notes.

So my questions (to anyone who is still following such a long post):

1) Is there something I'm missing?

2) Are there other English-language beginner materials that teach from this note-set first?


Edited by ten left thumbs (03/20/13 06:11 AM)
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#2051220 - 03/20/13 07:53 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 71
Loc: North Carolina, USA
Hmmmm, don't know of any books with the hands two octaves apart, but there are a couple I know of that start with the hands one octave apart, in "C position" : the Bastien Piano Basics course (after some playing on the black keys, which I always skip in beginner books) and the Alfred's Basic course (not Premier). Alfred starts with these notes on the staff, although it introduces middle C position in pre reading first.

A trick I use with my students for D and B: we say D "dangles" below the line and B "bobs" his head above the line. This helps them associate those notes as being in a space and not having a line through them.
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#2051231 - 03/20/13 08:46 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
Minniemay Offline
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Loc: CA
You haven't seen many American methods, then! Music Tree Time to Begin starts on black keys. When the grand staff is introduced, it works from the landmarks treble G, middle C and bass F.

Music Pathways starts with black key clusters and quickly moves to open 5ths at various locations on the keyboard. When it gets to staff reading, students are on high C and low C!

Celebrate Piano starts with black key clusters also, but staff reading begins at treble C and bass C.

I think every course, at some point, will have a thumbs on C piece, but the courses listed above do that rarely.
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#2051273 - 03/20/13 10:16 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
Chris H. Offline
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Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
This crossed my mind in the other thread too. As you say the majority of tutors do begin with middle C position in each hand. I have never really found that this causes problems with learning to read music as three of the main points of reference (middle C, treble G and bass F) are reinforced regularly. In fact I have found from past experience of the American tutors where the first pieces don't use the stave at all that these students take longer to learn their notes. Another benefit if you like is that they learn to cope with the symmetry of the stave and quickly get used to using their alphabet backwards as the LH notes descend from C. I think this is useful.

What bothers me most is that it's not a very comfortable position to play in. Just this morning I was teaching a boy who is beyond middle C position and exploring more of the keyboard with his current pieces. We revisited an earlier piece which was in middle C position and he said it felt 'tight' and I know exactly what he meant. I can appreciate that this position often allows them to play melodies with a larger range of notes from an early stage. But then most of them find it more satisfying to have the melody in the RH and an accompaniment in the LH

I can kind of see arguments for and against but have to say I prefer the books which move away from this position sooner rather than later.
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#2051289 - 03/20/13 10:56 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: pianopaws]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: pianopaws

A trick I use with my students for D and B: we say D "dangles" below the line and B "bobs" his head above the line. This helps them associate those notes as being in a space and not having a line through them.



Love it! smile
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#2051294 - 03/20/13 11:02 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Loc: Scotland
All useful info, thanks. No, Minniemay, I don't see that many American methods because they are not very available here. Some I have ordered from across the pond, but sometimes they are quite culturally inappropriate.

I take Chris' students point about it feeling 'tight'.

My problem? My students spend too long there. Probably if they practiced more (and a few do) we could move on quicker. But at the end of the day, I need them to know some things properly (like learning those notes on the staff) before we move onto new notes, otherwise confusion abounds.

I do use the primers with thorough 'pre-reading' skills before asking them to read from the stave. Chris, is that what you meant about the students who take longer to learn notes?
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#2051357 - 03/20/13 12:56 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
Minniemay Offline
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Loc: CA
I have not found that students who use pre-staff notation take longer to learn notes. If they do, it's my fault for not reinforcing the skill.

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#2051498 - 03/20/13 06:03 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
currawong Offline
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Posts: 5976
Loc: Down Under
Though not a "method book", Bartok's Mikrokosmos starts exactly where you describe, TLT.
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#2051683 - 03/21/13 12:51 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
Brinestone Offline
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Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 358
Music Pathways deserves another mention. I don't use it past the "B" level books, but it does a wonderful job of introducing beginners to a wide range of positions and a huge range of notes. It does tend to make for a slower learning curve at first, much like teaching kids two languages from birth, but once they catch on to note reading, they can read everything and not just the notes right around middle C and in C major.

The first notes taught are high C and low C, followed by middle, followed by treble and bass C's. Then seconds and thirds above and below, followed by fourths, and finally fifths.

I tend to avoid "thumbs on C" for the first year or two entirely if I can, with the notable exception of Christmas music.
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#2051755 - 03/21/13 06:09 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Good point about Mikrokosmos. I've never liked it for teaching, however.

Brinestone, what would I have to buy exactly to find out about Music Pathways? I can find Piano Discoveries, Piano Activies, and Piano Solos for levels A and B. How much is needed?
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#2051830 - 03/21/13 09:51 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
Minniemay Offline
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The Discoveries book is the core book. Solos is just pieces and Activities is mostly writing activities.
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#2051882 - 03/21/13 11:36 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
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I'm not sure what the huge problem is here. Many, if not most American methods, and I assume other nations as well, begin using long fingers on black keys, then move to middle C for a few pages, then on to C major. But even if the thumbs share middle C for a while, so what? As I've said to my students, "Don't your thumbs get along with each other?" This usually gets a huge smile out of them and generally, end of problem. Also, they can drop the unused thumb momentarily or shift it aside, if space is really an issue.

The teacher should understand the pedagogical reason for this progression, so you can help your student with confidence. The student needs to learn both keyboard geometry and music notation, generally at the same time. We do little drills up and down the keyboard to help the student with learning the keyboard geometry, at least at the most elementary level, but learning the grand staff is more complex. Most teachers have found the use of landmarks is extremely effective in helping the student learn their way about the GS.
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#2051887 - 03/21/13 11:46 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
piano2 Offline
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Registered: 10/26/11
Posts: 83
The Methode Rose can be bought in English as well. Perhaps it would have Japanese and English, or English and French.

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#2051941 - 03/21/13 12:58 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: John v.d.Brook]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Registered: 05/22/09
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Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook

The teacher should understand the pedagogical reason for this progression, so you can help your student with confidence.


John, I don't understand the reason. I understand that we need to teach them some notes somewhere, then allow them to become familiar with them, but I don't understand why it needs to be thumbs on C.

Why can't it be with hands an octave apart?

Don't get be wrong, we cope, but I can't help but feel that tradition is making things more difficult than it needs to be.
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#2051943 - 03/21/13 01:00 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: piano2]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: piano2
The Methode Rose can be bought in English as well. Perhaps it would have Japanese and English, or English and French.


From where? I'm not sure i would use it even if it was in English. The layout is confusing for beginners' eyes, the notes far too small, and too confusing with fingering for both hands written on the same stave. Apart from that, and the artwork, I love it. wink
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#2051946 - 03/21/13 01:07 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
Chris H. Offline
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Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
I've always thought it was mostly to do with the connection between treble and bass staves or 'the grand stave' as most books call it. That the notes move alphabetically through that mid point so the two sets of five lines they see are not thought of as completely different things. Also I think the symmetry and contrary motion movements are worthwhile, especially with younger ones. It's much easier to play a C major scale in contrary motion than it is in similar motion. So it does make sense for RH to start with thumb and progress upwards and LH downwards.
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#2051958 - 03/21/13 01:32 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
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Registered: 03/18/06
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Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: ten left thumbs
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook

The teacher should understand the pedagogical reason for this progression, so you can help your student with confidence.


John, I don't understand the reason. I understand that we need to teach them some notes somewhere, then allow them to become familiar with them, but I don't understand why it needs to be thumbs on C.

Why can't it be with hands an octave apart?

Don't get be wrong, we cope, but I can't help but feel that tradition is making things more difficult than it needs to be.

Theoretically, you could begin anywhere, but I suspect most of us would be easily confused if we started learning the grand staff at disparate points, different for each hand. Most non-keyboard instrumentalists begin on treble G or bass F, depending on instrument, or middle C if using the C clef. Then learn staff notation a note at a time, as they move away from the key note. Pianists, by beginning on a common key for both hands, learn a common key that's frequently played with either hand. Using middle C, the left hand is learned down to F, then moving to bass C, the left hand is learned from C up to G, offering overlap with what was previously learned. Likewise, the RH is moved up to G, there is a common key to help the student maintain bearings.

I don't know if the current method is a result of rigorous intellectual investigation, or trial and error, or some combination of both, but it works amazingly well for the vast majority of students. You should probably deviate from it only in very special cases.
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#2051959 - 03/21/13 01:33 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
keystring Offline
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If a student is "dyslexic", meaning left-right and up-down disorientation, I see a lot of potential confusion. I think if I had studied that way, it would have messed me up. I already had major problems in primary school in regards to writing on the red or blue lines, and which way to turn letters. Just considering this makes me dizzy. I'd rather relate to the notes and not the fingers of hands that are backward to each other.

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#2051966 - 03/21/13 01:47 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
ezpiano.org Offline
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Registered: 05/10/11
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Loc: Irvine, CA
I do not think starting from middle C position is a problem, however, I do think staying in middle C position too long is a problem. How long is too long? 5 lessons is too long in my studio. I have some self-made sheet that teach reading in step and skip from five-finger positions in all white keys and a systematic way of have students memorize all the “name” of the notes on music staff by 5th lesson. So, combination of using flash card, ipad games, enforcement of reading in step and skip, students are able to read in all hand positions very fast. So, it is two skills that I emphasis: reading note in flash card (single out the note) and reading notes in directions and intervallic (a group of notes). In my studio, all my students accomplished these two skills when they still playing piano in the “pre-staff notation”. This approach will give them fearless feeling when they start playing piano on regular music notation because they “know” all the notes, they just have to spend time to find it.

Also, I do not think Faber’s Piano Adventure has it wrong when it started from middle C position. By the time student finish the Primer Books, I gave them “Gold Star Performance Primer Level” in purple color and that is the best book ever that I could have my students start moving around in their hand positions, it is all over the place. Yes, TLT you are right then they have pieces that place thumb in D for RH and in B for LH because it is near middle C so that students won’t feel “too far away from home”. The series stays in five finger positions until Level 2B to start to have scales passage, sometimes stretching or squeezing from five-finger position.

I agree with KS. Only with student with dyslexia, you might want to avoid middle C position like plague.

Add on: I know Piano Adventure is not the best method book out there, it is just I am too comfortable with it and I see great result of it when combine with my self-made system, that is why it doesn't occur to me that I should switch to any other method books yet. YET. smile


Edited by ezpiano.org (03/21/13 01:51 PM)
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#2051971 - 03/21/13 01:53 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: Minniemay]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
The Discoveries book is the core book. Solos is just pieces and Activities is mostly writing activities.


thanks
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#2051974 - 03/21/13 01:58 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ezpiano.org]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
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Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7417
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org
I do not think starting from middle C position is a problem, however, I do think staying in middle C position too long is a problem. How long is too long? 5 lessons is too long in my studio.

Good thinking. You'll find that the more substantial methods, like several already mentioned and Piano Town, my favorite, do not remain in middle C position very long at all.
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#2051985 - 03/21/13 02:17 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: Minniemay]
Brinestone Offline
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Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 358
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
The Discoveries book is the core book. Solos is just pieces and Activities is mostly writing activities.


Yup. I like the solos book for the A level, mostly because the unusual nature of the lesson book makes my beginners unable to play any other supplemental material for the first six months or so, and longer, nicer-sounding songs are great motivators to keep plugging along.

There are a few real gems in the B level solos books, so I use those too, but not as heavily.
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#2051989 - 03/21/13 02:21 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
keystring Offline
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Question: Is this thumbs on middle C system related in any way to relating notes to fingers? (Still trying to wrap my head around it.)

Edit: I should explain this question.

I'm looking at this. We have RH: C,D,E,F,G ascending - 1,2,3,4,5. Then we have LH, C,B,A,G,F descending - also 1,2,3,4,5. So that looks like associating fingers and notes. Also with hand position. If so - is that good?


Edited by keystring (03/21/13 04:20 PM)

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#2052072 - 03/21/13 05:42 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: keystring]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: keystring
Question: Is this thumbs on middle C system related in any way to relating notes to fingers? (Still trying to wrap my head around it.)

Edit: I should explain this question.

I'm looking at this. We have RH: C,D,E,F,G ascending - 1,2,3,4,5. Then we have LH, C,B,A,G,F descending - also 1,2,3,4,5. So that looks like associating fingers and notes. Also with hand position. If so - is that good?


Just to deal with this. You have to teach a 5-finger position at some point. When you do, the student will associate fingers with keys. It's a bit unavoidable really. You need to let them stay in one place long enough that they read the notes consistently. Hopefully, you change positions, and yes, they will protest and get notes wrong, but it's part of the curve.

That's my take on it anyway.
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#2052077 - 03/21/13 05:45 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ezpiano.org]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org
I do not think starting from middle C position is a problem, however, I do think staying in middle C position too long is a problem. How long is too long? 5 lessons is too long in my studio. I have some self-made sheet that teach reading in step and skip from five-finger positions in all white keys and a systematic way of have students memorize all the “name” of the notes on music staff by 5th lesson. So, combination of using flash card, ipad games, enforcement of reading in step and skip, students are able to read in all hand positions very fast. So, it is two skills that I emphasis: reading note in flash card (single out the note) and reading notes in directions and intervallic (a group of notes). In my studio, all my students accomplished these two skills when they still playing piano in the “pre-staff notation”. This approach will give them fearless feeling when they start playing piano on regular music notation because they “know” all the notes, they just have to spend time to find it.



I think you are saying you have them learning notes and intervals by flashcards, while still on pre-reading materials. Is that right?
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#2052079 - 03/21/13 05:49 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: John v.d.Brook]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook


Theoretically, you could begin anywhere, but I suspect most of us would be easily confused if we started learning the grand staff at disparate points, different for each hand. ...

I don't know if the current method is a result of rigorous intellectual investigation, or trial and error, or some combination of both, but it works amazingly well for the vast majority of students. You should probably deviate from it only in very special cases.


Why would we get confused if we start lh and rh at different points? Children have a wonderful way of blanking out what they don't understand and not letting it bother them.

I think it would be just fine, but, in response to your other point, I would love to see some actual research on this.

The thing about deviating from the norm is why I have stuck with the norm so far.
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#2052104 - 03/21/13 06:58 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
chasingrainbows Offline
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Registered: 09/19/06
Posts: 1214
Loc: NJ
ezpiano, are you saying your students can read every note on the keyboard after 5 weeks or a group of notes, say Middle C down to F in left hand, then Middle C up to G in right hand? I'm confused, because you say no matter what hand position they are in, they can all of the notes.

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#2052144 - 03/21/13 08:58 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: keystring]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5590
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: keystring
Question: Is this thumbs on middle C system related in any way to relating notes to fingers? (Still trying to wrap my head around it.)

Edit: I should explain this question.

I'm looking at this. We have RH: C,D,E,F,G ascending - 1,2,3,4,5. Then we have LH, C,B,A,G,F descending - also 1,2,3,4,5. So that looks like associating fingers and notes. Also with hand position. If so - is that good?

It is not set out that way intentionally, but I bet many students end up associating notes with finger numbers.

I think I've run into maybe three or four kids who got confused by the Middle C position. Maybe. And they were from a long time ago. I've since taught many really really bad students, and none of them struggled with the Middle C position. I've taught a beginning student who didn't speak very much English, and even she managed to figure out the Middle C position.

Am I missing something here? Or am I just so blessed with students who can actually count to five and know their alphabets from A to G? How is this approach a problem to begin with?
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#2052161 - 03/21/13 10:00 PM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
ezpiano.org Offline
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Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1027
Loc: Irvine, CA
TLT is right, ChasingRainbow is wrong, sorry.

Let me explain.

I teach youngest 3.5 YO student. If student is 3.5 YO, it would be different than teaching 8 YO.

Here is 8YO progress:
First five lessons, they learn...
1. Playing on "pre-music staff" on piano with about 5 songs each lesson.
2. Memorize all notes from Bass line G to Treble Line F including middle C, middle D and middle B.
3. Playing in five finger pattern to recognize step, skip, interval 4th and 5th.

For purpose number 1, I use method book on the market.

For purpose number 2, I use my own material, plus ipad game and flash card.

For purpose number 3, I use my own material only.

For 3.5 YO, all these will be accomplished in 15 lessons.

While doing purpose number 1, students are not using what they learn from purpose 2 and 3 yet, but they can play from first day of lesson because pre-staff is so easy!

When they move on from "pre-staff" to "real music staff", they already memorize all their notes and comfortable with skips and steps.
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Watch the introduction video on YouTube
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#2052265 - 03/22/13 04:00 AM Re: hand position for beginners - Methode Rose [Re: ten left thumbs]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
I get it, brilliant, thanks! smile Basically, you pre-teach, rather than wait for it to come up in the book. However, that would work if the books started from a different note-set, no?
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