Standing-Up Music

A question that comes up all the time when I present seminars to piano teachers: what about the students who are too small to reach the pedals/the extremes of the keyboard?

The answer: Standing-Up Music. This is the same music as the normal kind, but you (the teacher) decides when the physical reach of the child requires the music to be ‘standing-up music’.

Move the piano bench away from the piano, and let the child find their own standing-up position that allows them to access the bits of the piano they otherwise could not, and they’re away.

Don’t be concerned too much about posture in this circumstance – the goal here is complete engagement with the instrument, and working towards an ideal sitting posture that the student will use in diploma examinations and the like is a completely inappropriate goal/fixation. Work with the body of the student the way that body is today. Teachers with experience know that once students hit that adolescent growth phase much rebooting of the technique is required – hands grow so fast that students need a while to relearn what an octave feels like, for instance, and that’s just the start of the adjustments. Young beginners will benefit many times more from engaging with the whole instrument than they will in attempting to look like mini-me professional recitalists.

Standing-up positions enable the pedal to be depressed, the extremes of the piano to be played, and comparatively rapid movement around and between those extremes. The kids love it, there’s more practicing going on, and best of all, there’s more exploring going on. And more exploring means the student is falling in love with the piano, and the relationship starts getting serious.

Devices for small children such as pedal extenders or footstools enable even more exploration. But don’t let the absence of equipment disenfranchise your¬†students from using their whole bodies across the whole of the piano. Get rid of the seating, and get into the possibilities!

5 thoughts on “Standing-Up Music

  1. What a sensible approach! As an Alexander Technique teacher, I can only congratulate you for the common sense of this approach.

    I’ve been watching my 7 year old son having cello lessons. It has been a constant source of fascination to me that, because he is growing (quite quickly!), his bow hold, his finger positions, the angle of his arm joints as he draws his bow across the strings, and his hugging of the instrument all have to change virtually week on week.

    If he memorised a certain stretching sensation in his hand as being the ‘right’ difference between, say first finger and third finger, then he’d play out of tune as soon as he had a growth spurt. Instead, we’ve spent time getting him to actually listen to the notes, to think about when they sound in tune, nd what happens if he slides his finger a little up or down the fingerboard. What we are doing is trying to teach him the *principle* of how to use his fingers to play in tune, rather than any set procedure.

    As FM Alexander urged, it is by learning general principles and by experimentation that we truly learn and achieve proficiency in whatever we wish to achieve.

  2. I don’t know why I used to be so terrified of my youngest students standing up to reach the pedals! I think it was that whole “must get the posture perfect from day one” mentality. I have a 7 year old who LOVES standing up and mucking around with the pedals. We do a black key improv where he stands and improvises on the black keys and experiments with the pedal while I keep a rhythm going in the bass – he loves it, and couldn’t do it if he was sitting down.

    I love that so many of the P Plate pieces feature pedal too. Why not get started day 1? If they can’t reach the pedals, just slide them forward on the bench or stand up otherwise that “soul” of the piano is lost.

  3. Nice idea! I agree that “standing up” at the piano during a music lesson helps with little ones! However, sometimes I feel that standing up causes the student to stand in an awkward position. Their foot is stretched out to reach the pedal, their back has to bend back to support themselves, and they are balancing on one foot. However, I like some of the suggestions you had! I will try them in my own piano students and see how it goes. Thanks!

    -Theresa Chen

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