Playing on the black notes is a great way to start for small hands. Playing up on the black keys helps shape beginners' hands, and songs that are fun to play will induce them to practice lots, hopefully, and strengthen those tiny muscles.
I've never created music for the black notes before, and now I'm wondering why - it's so fun! Short little songs can create a mood or carry you into a setting quickly. Goodness knows my younger students can use more time just using fingers 2, 3, and 4.
A caveat: this music is BRAND NEW and just barely tried out on my own students. So far, I am seeing excitement and pleasure at the different kinds of lyrics and melodies. None of these songs have "parallel" fingerings; all of them place one hand on 3 black keys, and the other on 2 black keys. Not so hard; Old MacDonald does this too, and my students have no problem with it in the Faber Piano Adventures Primer, but it is a FAMILIAR song, and that can make a lot of difference. We'll just have to see how these work out, but in the meantime I thought I would share them (and hopefully get feedback from some of you!).
If you are NEW to this kind of music, please remember: ONLY FINGERS 2, 3, & 4 will be used in one hand, and ONLY FINGERS 2 & 3 in the other hand!
This song is a bit trickier to start than most of the others, as it has no stems to indicate "right hand" or "left hand." I ask my students, "Do the stems point up? Top hand! Do they point down? Bottom hand!" But here, you cannot tell. So this is a good song to get out the green and red markers or crayons, and circle the LEFT hand with LIME color, and the RIGHT hand parts with RED color. Let your student make suggestions; in Bad Dog there are very few notes for the right hand.
PLEASE NOTICE the hand placement directions: Grandma's House, and The Doghouse. This means the 3 black keys (Grandma's house - Grandma is inside the house), and the 2 black keys (the Dog is inside the house). Sometimes the Doghouse is over, and sometimes it is under.
This piece lends itself to two possible harmony accompaniments for the teacher... when I wrote it, I was thinking Db minor, with Gb as an alternate chord. Later the same day, I tried it with Db MAJOR, and Gb and Ab chords. Perhaps there are other chords that would also work. It is rather pretty, and my husband says it is the kind of song he would have liked as a child. (A rare compliment.) If you are interested in playing a chord background, here is a pretty accompaniment:
I wrote it with slow notes so that little ones can count it carefully. If there were bar lines, you would see that the first half note is actually a pick-up note. There are 6 half notes per "measure", or a pulse of 3, in reality.
Now here is a song that one only needs to see the title to instantly desire (at least if you are an 8-year-old boy, as I discovered today!):
Obviously, my students are doing UNIT COUNTING with these beginner songs. Notice there are no measure lines. Sorry! So when they count a quarter note, it is "Tah", or "One." A line of quarter notes might be "One one one one..." Half notes are "one - two," and sometimes "Tah-two." If there is a word, then the word plus "two."
I prefer for them to sing the song lyrics, but also to be able to count the notes. Usually, we will practice a new song with "drumsticks" (pencils) on the piano lid, alternating hands as the song calls for one hand or the other.
This piece has some sophisticated techniques: the repeat dots at the end of line one, and the two hands playing together in the second line. I think this Halloween song will be a favorite - we'll see!
I'm having good luck rehearsing the songs with PIANO LID DOWN, using pencils for drumsticks, and just playing right and left, to focus students' attention on the note stem directions... pointing "up" for the "up" hand, and "down" for the "downward" hand. Usually just once through is enough - if it's a bit rough, then we do it again, FASTER. Then to the keys themselves.
This next piece, Morning Sun Upon the Mountains, has a bit of a hymn-like flavor. The chords formed by using 2 notes at a time have a happy sound, just like the simple lyrics. This song has 2 pages!
This song is brand new - I don't know how difficult it will be.
Here in Alaska we really do see whales quite a bit. Even so, people in my town may pull over to the side of the road and watch from their cars or trucks when whales are passing down the local waterways. When their tails come up, you know they are going down for a long dive!
This is a short and simple-looking song with two complications: the hands play simultaneously on the last line, and there is a tied note at the end. Lots of counting!
Another thing we have a great deal of here in southeast Alaska - RAIN! I guess that's why the Tongass National Forest is called a rain forest. When the sun comes out for long periods of time, locals walk around with silly smiles on their faces. Perhaps that's what John Denver meant in his lyrics "Colorado Rocky Mountain HIGH."
We only see the sandhill cranes as they pass in groups, far up in the sky. Their rattling calls to each other are unmistakable for any other bird, and we rush outside to watch their migrations.
This song poses a bit of a challenge, because it moves up an octave (and stays there for the rest of the song) after just 8 beats. Then there is a repeat at the end, and to end the song, students should GO UP AN OCTAVE again.
I haven't put any dynamic markings in this song (or any of the songs) but expressive playing, ritards, and pedallling will make a difference in several of the pieces.
This next piece is about a squirrel making a noise on the metal roof of a shed, busily dropping cones. Please notice that the final note requires crossing the right hand over the left hand to go down an octave, to the next "Grandma's House."
I suspect that the lyrics of these short pieces will only seem interesting to children 4 - 7 years old, but we will see...
I welcome your feedback as well!