It’s nearly Christmas time again, and today’s guest writer, Jeni Warder, offers a few ‘stocking filler’ suggestions and ideas for your young pianists. Jeni is the Creative Director and owner of the Keys Piano School in Bolton (UK); she is highly experienced at teaching young beginners, and she will be writing a series of posts on my blog focusing on this specialist subject. Over to Jeni…
We’re here again, the Christmas chaos is just around the corner, and parents, grandparents and extended family are starting to collect those little items to make sure there are plenty of surprises to open on the special day. Although the letter to Santa may read like a toy shop catalogue (or perhaps a Currys inventory!), we all want to encourage our children in their hobbies and talents with constructive gifts. As a parent of three sporty children – an aptitude they most certainly do not get from their mother – I am well aware of the difficulty involved in buying supportive gifts for a hobby in which you have no experience. (Thankfully they’re now old enough to send me a link to the thing they need and we’re all happy with the outcome!).
When it comes to buying for a young pianist, the most obvious choice of gift is often sheet music of pieces they enjoy listening to. Unfortunately, this can come with a few issues for youngsters who are still in the early stages of learning to read music (and the early stages do extend well into the graded exam levels). The excitement of being able to play the latest pop songs or film music can quickly turn to frustration when faced with complex rhythms and awkward key signatures. Even ‘easy to play’ repertoire can feel very daunting for a new player.
With this in mind, here are six more creative ways you can support your young musician with a thoughtful gift this Christmas.
Most professional musicians can pin down the moment they were first inspired to work hard, and for many it is the experience of live music which truly began their journey. A concert ticket is a great option for any aspiring musician, and in some cases can truly alter the course of a young life. Of course, many of us are now opting for ‘experience’ gifts to save both space and the environment so this idea has multiple benefits. Musical experiences are usually in plentiful supply over the festive period (pandemic permitting), and local amateur performances can be well worth attending with children. If you live within a reasonable distance of a city with a professional orchestra, it’s likely you will be able to find Christmas performances specifically aimed at children. These are often programmed at child-friendly times of day and can be a great treat for the rest of the family too!
My youngest and I have tickets booked for The Halle Christmas Family Concert at the Bridgewater Hall this year, the programme looks beautifully accessible and there even promises to be elves! What’s not to love?!
Encourage them to explore the stave
Children are often fascinated by musical notation long before they are able to interpret what it means. The chance to explore the stave using different media is a great gift option. We have a collection of simple musical whiteboards printed with the grand staff and these are very popular with our children. Some are also available with magnetic notes to allow creativity while developing an understanding of how note heads are placed on or between the lines. A pad of manuscript paper is always useful for more experienced recipients, or a large-stave manuscript book is a fun idea for younger children.
Start a collection of piano toys
For our very youngest children (age 3-6), we love to ‘decorate’ the piano with small toys such as rubbers, little characters or finger dragons. These are small enough to fit on the piano keys and work best when they can stand up by themselves! Using toys helps little ones to learn the note names without the need for labels or stickers, and makes learning much more age-appropriate. Little toys can also double as practice helpers, where children can play to each ‘buddy’ to encourage repetition.
We love these mini animal erasers but there are hundreds of mini toy ideas to suit every child perfectly.
Widen their understanding of music history
When our students learn new pieces, it’s really important that they consider the context of its composition: When, where and why was it written, and how does this influence our playing? A book about composers or the history of their instrument can be a fantastic gift, and something that can be kept and referenced to well into the future. There are some lovely, colourful books which focus on lesser-known, sometimes silly aspects of composers’ lives, which of course children love!
This Music and how it works book from DK is a modern, general overview of different aspects of music presented in a very colourful way. More specifically to the piano, The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the invention of the Piano also includes lots of information about how the instrument itself influences the music we make – a fabulous insightful read for younger children.
Help them keep the beat
Although we all have access to metronome apps these days, there’s something really special about an old-fashioned wind-up metronome that fascinates children. When most of our technology is hidden away behind computer screens, the simple mechanism of the weighted pendulum is often a novelty! The concept of a consistent ‘heart beat’ in music is at the core of early learning, but the ability to play slowly and accurately with a metronome remains a key practice technique even into advanced work. Many metronomes also have the main tempo terms of allegro, andante, adagio, etc. also displayed – a great learning tool in itself.
At Keys our children love this Donner metronome. It’s simple and functional, and to many children’s delight, it’s also LOUD!
Let them shine
What to wear for a performance can be a big deal for youngsters. A well-chosen hair grip, necklace or bow-tie can make all the difference in them feeling special and more confident. These additions will sometimes develop into lucky charms – a comfort for when they’re feeling nervous. The great Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich is very fond of her necklaces, and can often be seen wearing more than one in her performances. Small toys or a lapel badge with words of encouragement can also be tokens of confidence and can stay with young musicians throughout their performing future.
This ‘good luck’ necklace comes with a positive message of embracing experience and adventure.
Now with only five weeks until the big day, I hope you are feeling a little inspired with a few more ideas. Of course, this is far from a definitive list and we would love to hear your ideas too! If you are a parent, what are your top tips for musical presents? If you are a musician, what presents did you treasure as a child? Do you still keep a lucky charm or a battered, well-read book from your youth? Sometimes the best stories begin with the most simple of gifts.
You can find out more about Jeni’s work, here: www.keyspianoschool.com
Neither author Jeni Warder or Melanie Spanswick have any affiliate links with any of the products highlighted in this article. All opinions are Jeni’s own.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.