Playing the piano helps much in the development of hand-eye coordination, reading, small muscle strength and total body coordination. When we play, nearly every muscle of the body is required to work together – in coordinated tension and relaxation. The feet promote balance and control the pedals. The legs and lower torso provide pivotal movement, to reach each of the 88 piano keys. The diaphragm (breathing) works in cooperation with the shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers to produce changes in tone (how the music sounds). The neck and jaw are also involved in relaxation, while supporting the head and eyes to read the score and locate the piano keys. Expressive piano playing requires conscious control, or release, of all these muscles working together to produce the right sound by playing the piano keys in different ways.
The most basic beginner playing needs finger strength and flexibility. Some people have a greater level of natural coordination or strength; others must work to achieve every movement. The stronger the muscles are, the easier playing the piano becomes. Practice exercises all the muscle groups until we are able to use them more efficiently to achieve more. Similarly, playing the piano has the benefit of improving coordination and physical control. This control pays off in other areas, such as faster / neater handwriting at school.
Since piano playing develops and demands muscle strength and coordination, many activities (both at and away from the piano) help in the learning of piano. Other physical interests (e.g. swimming, gymnastics, dancing, netball, soccer) contribute to breathing and larger muscle control. Many hobbies (e.g. drawing, macramé, model plane building) can contribute to fine motor development. In addition, there are some exercises and activities that can speed up the process.
Here are some suggestions:
|Play with plasticine or play dough. Make small balls, rolled between your hands. Squeeze between each finger. Make a snake and then pinch it all the way along its back.|
|Use a soft, foam ball, squeezing independently with each thumb and finger against the palm. Hold for the count of 5, stretch the other way and then squeeze again.|
|Play clapping games. Clap a rhythm and see if your child can copy your pattern. Then you copy their clapping pattern. Start easy and gradually get more complex.|
|Play a different copycat game. Clap hands, tap the opposite shoulder, tap your knees and so on. Especially work on patterns that mean you have to cross your hands over to tap the other side of the body.|
|Take regular breaks at the piano, hanging your arms down by your sides and letting your shoulders droop. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Then, with your wrists still in the relaxed position, place your hands back on the piano keys.|
|Make a loud sound with the piano. Then, without lifting the keys or your fingers off the keys (keep the sound going) try to relax your wrists and fingers.|
|Thread a string with small beads. Place small beads or pegs onto mats to make pictures.|
|Pick up hundreds and thousands between the thumb and each finger separately. See how many you can get into a container in 5 minutes. What’s your record?|
Talk with your child about their lessons, especially immediately after a lesson – what did they learn or enjoy? What do they need to do or can they do for practice during the week? How can you help them? Did they find anything confusing? What do they want to achieve?