39. The Music Staff Helps to Understand the Music Staff!
The staff – that’s what really matters, right?
From early childhood, I learned to count with the help of my fingers and toes. Starting with the little finger of my right hand, I got used to counting from 1-20, and this became a skill. Without this method, I would have had to rely on outside sources. Of course this could have been possible, but without a reliable guide, I wouldn’t have been able to check my estimates, and would never have gained confidence in counting.
It wasn’t at once that I understood that the piano’s keys are a visual extension of the grand staff. No one ever taught me this. The world of the keys was hardly connected to the world of sheet music in my consciousness. But one happy day, this view turned sideways. I wanted to look over some piece, and accidentally set the sheet music on its side, with the clef symbols on top. I looked, and suddenly saw the music staff as it really is – “standing on its tail.” This revelation struck me like a lightning bolt! On the paper before me, I saw the keys of the piano!
Later, I found out that this idea is far from new. Before I came along, some teachers tried to place their staves vertically for their beginners. This way, the keys become an extension of the lines, and the vision acts as a support for the coordination of the fingers. Furthermore, both the notes and the fingers move in the same direction (left and right), the coordination becomes more clear, and the student no longer has to strain to flip the staff in his head.
Before I developed the computer program “Soft Mozart,” I printed the sheet music for my students on widened, vertical lines. Once, at one of my student’s birthday parties, a guest got into the room where the piano was kept. One of my vertical printouts was left there from a previous lesson. It was the “French Song,” meant to be played with both hands. The girl sat behind the instrument and dutifully started to pick out the piece. Delighted, she spent about an hour on this, and learned to play the song by memory. Later, she played it for everyone, and with disbelief admitted that she had never played the piano before – it was her first experience.