I think every child should be able to play the keyboard by the age of 10. By being able to play the keyboard I mean:
- They can switch it on, put the headphones in and know the letters names of all the notes including sharps and flats
- They can change the tones and discriminate between at least thirty of them from sound alone, using correct instrument names
- They can change the rhythms and make them faster and slower and know the difference between different time signatures
- They can play melodies by rote with one hand from the guidance of the teacher modeling from the front
- They can play melodies using treble clef notation with one hand using all five fingers
- They can play simple pieces with hands together
- They can play single fingered chords using their left hand
- They can play fingered chords both in the left hand and right hand
- They can play a simple piece with a melody and left hand single fingered chords
- They can play with a partner and on their own
- They can record themselves playing
- They know how to compose their own melodies using staff notation
- They can pick out a tune from a simple melody from listening alone
- They can improvise a tune using a few notes
This is not an exhaustive list but if we could manage to teach this it would make our secondary colleagues very happy as half the time they are starting from scratch with many students. Buying the keyboards is not always the biggest burden, it’s the set up and the rooming that needs the most thought. If you are going to do it properly you really need a room set up with fifteen power points as if you are dealing with batteries, recharging and moving keyboards around you end up with broken instruments and chaotic lessons. To set up the room properly takes quite a lot of thought and we still haven’t got it right where I am at the moment. The problem is that music rooms are often multi purpose, we need space for choirs, orchestras, dancing so setting up keyboards semi-permanently is not easy.
Something I will be experimenting with soon are the keyboards that are powered by and use the sounds of an iPad. This could be a game changer in a normal classroom. They are low cost but I am going to try one out at home before ordering any for school.
Children love using the keyboards generally. They get frustrated as if the keyboards are not set up with enough scaffolding, the children with no experience of how they work get quickly discouraged. I find it best to put the letters of the notes on from C-C in two places using stickers; some people think method this is of the devil but it saves a lot of questions and normally means everyone can get some work done. I also put Treble clef and Bass clef reference cards on each keyboard so the children can work out the notes themselves. It also helps if the children have used xylophones before they come onto the keyboards. In our school from Year 4 onwards the expectation is that children will be using keyboards for about a third of every other lesson. So in total, from Year 4 to Year 6 we are talking about 50 hours of Keyboard tuition. That should be enough to teach all the points above but it is also good to have a keyboard club for children to go to if they want to take it further or simply practice the music they have been given in lessons. I always let them take the music home – we are fortunate that a lot of our students have keyboards at home and those that don’t have the opportunity to play in school.