One thing about playing on and teaching on upright pianos is that we don’t get many opportunities to look inside. Many students have no idea how the instrument they’re playing works – they just see a closed box.
That’s why I decided my students needed a Naked Piano Week.
“Naked Piano Week” is exactly what it sounds like.
I took off my dear piano’s clothing for a whole week of lessons and put them in the corner so that every student could learn about how the piano actually works.
Discovering How the Piano Works
The first thing I did was instruct my students to sit down away from the piano so we could chat.
I explained to them about Naked Piano Week and told them it was going to be super cool but they had to listen to me and follow my directions carefully so that we didn’t hurt poor Annabelle (my piano). She’s a lot more delicate without her protective clothes on. 😉
This went well and they all treated her with the respect she deserves.
Once they were on board we went to the piano and I asked some guiding questions to help them discover:
- How the keys work
- How the sound is created
- How the sound is stopped when we take our finger off
- Why low notes are low and high notes are high
- What each pedal does
As much as possible I got my students to guess what would happen before we watched it. For example, to guess which part will move when we press a key, or what will change when we press the pedal.
Every student was really engaged with this discussion and some were downright astounded by each and every part of the piano.
Exploring Sounds and Patterns
After we covered the basics of how the piano works, we did some experiments.
- I had my students press a finger on a string and then play that key so they could feel the vibration. (Video of this below.)
- We sat on the floor and leaned all the way in, then shouted at the soundboard to try and get an echo. Then we put down the pedal, tried again and heard the dramatic difference as the strings were freed!
- We strummed the bass strings above the bass bridge with a drumstick, with and without the pedal.
- We talked about the difference between white and black keys on the inside of the piano (there isn’t one!) and discussed semitones.
- We played scales & chords, improvised and played memorised pieces while watching the hammers dance.
This was so much fun for me too! Even at the end of the week I was still totally absorbed in each student’s reaction.
Naked Piano Week in Action
Here’s a short clip of one of the many fun moments from our Naked Piano Week. In this video, you’ll see my students learning about the dampers and pressing on the strings to create a different sound, feel the vibration and understand how the string makes a sound.
Keeping the Memories Alive
I can’t actually leave the case off my piano all the time. For one thing, she might get damaged, for another, my ears would suffer for it (Annabelle is crazy loud without her dress on!) and for yet another, we need somewhere to put our music books on.
But I don’t want my students to ever again think of the piano as just a box that creates sounds from thin air.
So the last thing we did was to fill in a chart with the names of all the different parts.
I’m also taking care of our lessons to reference what’s happening on the inside of the piano.
When we’re talking about semitones I remind them about the hammers all being the same. When we’re using the pedals, I ask them what’s moving on the inside to create this effect.
Download the Naked Piano Diagrams
You can download the empty diagram below. The upright version is actually just a modified photo of my Annabelle. 🙂
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Are you a member of Vibrant Music Teaching? You can access this printable directly in the library here.
Are you going to do a Naked Piano Week?
I’d love to start a movement among piano teachers – especially those of us who teach on upright pianos!
If you do a Naked Piano Week of your own make sure to post a pic on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and use #nakedpianoweek.
Oh and make sure to tag me @colourfulkeys too. 🙂