Updated: Jul 26
I've been using Piano Safari Friends for almost a year now, and I have to say this is an amazing method for preschoolers ages 4 - 5 who are interested in doing one-on-one piano lessons.
Piano Safari Friends is a great resource, for both the teacher and the student. I have discovered it does take very careful planning, even for a 30-minute lesson, for it to be a good experience for both teacher and student. I've also realized there is often times a huge difference in learning styles for a 4 year old, compared to a 5 year old. This one year difference in age, especially when it comes to attention span and focus, is important to understand so you can tailor additional supplement exercises in your lesson planning.
As I prepare for another fun lesson with a sweet and bright 4-year old girl, I am placing a chipmunk stuffed animal, which I found on Amazon.ca. This will be our Charlie Chipmunk character in Piano Safari Friends, on the piano in a resting position (pretend sleep). Charlie Chipmunk is also holding an "acorn" while sleeping. Today, we will explore the piece, Breakfast Time. Since Easter is just around the corner, I have prepared some acorn cut-outs and place each cut-out inside five Easter plastic colored egg, and hidden them around them room. We're going to play a little egg hunt today!
My preschool lessons will always begin with a stuffed animal toy sleeping on the piano. As the student arrives and settles on the bench for their lesson, I will ask,
"Do you know who will we wake up today?"
The student will have an idea just by looking at the stuffed animal toy, which I have it placed sleeping facing away from us. This is where we can always practice setting up our hand and finger posture, and practice Leo Lion Paw technique at each lesson. I get them to do a few repeats, with their right hand and left hand, as I put it back to sleep and whisper to the student,
"I don't think he's awake yet, we'll need to try a little harder."
All the children love this part of the lesson, and there's always lots of giggles and laughter.
For home practice, I tell the student and parent to "wake up" a favourite stuffed animal toy, who is sleeping at their piano. This can reinforce going to their instrument daily, and they can practice their heavy arm weight technique as often as possible. This is a very important technique for young beginners, to feel and use their arm weight instead of tensing up the fingers to play a sound at the instrument. I will switch the stuffed animal out to a different one depending on which Piano Safari Friend character we are exploring!
Charlie Chipmunk is now awake ... and hungry! I ask the student to notice what Charlie is holding (which is a picture of an acorn). This is the start of our egg hunt game. I will turn on the Breakfast Time music as we play this game, and have it on repeat since it is a short music. I would have previously introduced this music in the last lesson, where we listened and marched around the room with a small percussion instrument. At least two repetitions are necessary for children at this age, especially if they have not been listening to the music at home frequently.
I proceed to instruct the student to find 5 eggs around the room, and bring them back to Charlie (and me). Once all five eggs have been collected we are now ready to "feed" Charlie Chipmunk. This is where we practice the conversation, to prepare to learn the rote piece. I have the student clap and call out "Time to Eat!"
Then, she/he proceeds to crack open an egg to reveal an acorn to feed Charlie Chipmunk. While she is feeding Charlie Chipmunk, I'll reply saying "Acorns are my breakfast treat." We repeat a few times, until all the eggs have been cracked. There's just so much fun in pretend play with stuffed animals!
When the game is done, we head to the piano and decorate our Giraffe rectangles on the groups of three black keys. Now the student is ready to learn by rote. First, I teach what she has to do by reinforcing the phrase "Time to Eat" as we play the pattern of sounds. On the second, I have the student repeat the same actions, and this time I will converse with "Acorns are my breakfast treat" by playing my (RH melody) part. If the student is following it well up until this point, we try it one last time with the full teacher accompaniment.
By the third repetition of the rote learning, the child is probably ready to move on to the next activity, so I try my best to encourage the discipline and perseverance! Charlie Chipmunk never leaves our side during lessons. He is a friendly, learning companion and is always a good helper when it comes to decorating the piano :D
It is important to understand perfection in the pieces is not the main goal. What I look for is the ability to take instructions well, and focus on executing it to the best of their ability. In fact, sometimes I find a student executing a technique well even if they are not following the sounds right, or vice versa. It's all a win at the end of the day, and it does take time and consistency.
Once we've worked our main piece, we proceed to play rhythm cups, dance and move to other folk/children songs with percussion instruments, singing back simple three-tone patterns, pattern recognition coloring/worksheets, finger play poems, and reinforcing finger number, left/right hand games or improv at the piano. Additionally, I enjoy using supplement games from Wunderkeys by Andrea Down, and Rhythm Cups Primer by Wendy Stevens.