As well as being a talented artist, my grandmother played the piano. When Lil Sis and I were young, one of our family traditions was that we’d all get in the car and drive to our grandparents house on Sunday afternoons.
They lived in a huge house in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but was really only about a 15 minute drive out into the country. The house used to have a General Store attached to it that my grandparents operated, but as they got older, and (I assume) business declined, as it did in many country General Stores, they closed the store and converted it into extra rooms for the house.
My grandmother’s piano was in a room near the front of the house, and she used to give piano lessons there. Lil Sis and I were two of her pupils.
The piano was a beautiful old upright piano and I spent many Sunday afternoons agonising over scales, trying to hold my hands correctly and playing basic pieces that bored me stupid. I don’t think I was very good. I remember hating doing piano practice at home (on our much less classy piano that doubled as a hall stand), and resenting every note of every scale that I played. I struggled along with it into high school and finally quit when I realised I wasn’t committed and wasn’t enjoying it at all.
My piano skills right now are fairly limited. I can read music and play it, as long as it’s not a very complicated piece and I don’t have to do too much with both hands at the same time. The terms ‘quaver’, ‘semi-quaver’ and ‘crotchet’ ring bells in my head, but don’t ask me which one is the shortest, as I have no idea.
I can also work out how to play tunes that I know on the keyboard, and I get the notes right about 90 per cent of the time, so I’ve been able to play songs for Juniordwarf on his keyboard without needing the music.
Juniordwarf has inherited my grandmother’s old keyboard (a very cool (for its time) Yamaha with an ‘Automatic Bass Chord System’), that approximately replicates 14 or so various instruments and has a range of rythyms that just make you want to get up and dance (or leave the room).
I wasn’t sure how old kids needed to be to learn music, but seeing how Juniordwarf likes to play the keyboard, I thought it couldn’t hurt to show him the basics – introduce him to the concept of naming the keys, and showing him how the notes in a sheet of music relate to the keys on the keyboard. Nothing formal, and definitely nothing forced. Whatever he’s comfortable with.
I went into a music shop to ask what they thought would be possible for a nearly five year old. The guy at the shop suggested buying some removable stickers that you can put on the keys to show their names and a music book with kids’ songs that show the music, but also have the letter of each note printed, so the kids can learn the names of the notes and their place on the stave, and relate that to the actual keyboard.
So I did that a couple of weeks ago, and every now and then Juniordwarf will come to me and ask if I can please show him how to play the keyboard. We only spend about five minutes on it at a time, and I’ve just been showing him how to play Mary Had A Little Lamb – because it’s the first song in the book. He’s been interested, but hasn’t quite got the concept that he needs to play the notes in the same octave, rather than middle-C, and then a higher D and a lower G, so we’re getting some rather interesting results. But I don't care. I just want to give him a bit of guidance, and let him work out for himself how it all works - when (and if) he's ready.
Today I was in the kitchen, and Juniordwarf went into his room, got his music book out and started playing all by himself.
It was very cool to hear Mary Had A Little Lamb being played in his bedroom.