Piano Teaching Analogies and Musical Metaphors for Articulation

When it comes to concepts like articulation, analogies and metaphors are some of my favourite teaching tools. Musical metaphors make abstract terms like this relatable even for young piano students.

The featured video today correlates to chapter 4 of Thinking Theory Book One. This is when I introduce slur, staccato and accent notation; as well as ritenuto, ritardando and rallentando.

These three piano teaching metaphors are my go-tos for introducing and reinforcing these articulation marks.

Three Articulation Analogies

1. Staccato Surprise

Try this one as an alternative to that old favourite of the hot stovetop.

Imagine there is a hedgehog at the bottom of each key. You don’t know he’s there because his needles are lying flat. But once you press down the key, you startle the hedgehog and his needles shoot up so you jump away.

As an extra touch if your student is not pressing the key fully, remind her that she didn’t surprise the hedgehog yet, he won’t wake up until you press the key the whole way down.

2. Accented Footsteps

Ask your student to close her eyes and imagine she is walking up the stairs in her house in the dark. She knows the stairs pretty well, so she’s counting the steps in her head.

At the top step she thinks there’s one more, but she’s miscounted, so she stomps her foot down through the air. Her foot lands with a thud, but she didn’t push it down, it just sort of “fell”.

This is what accents feel like. We fall into the key heavily, but we’re not pushing forcefully.

3. Legato Tightropes

Picture yourself walking a tightrope. You need to place each foot on the wire in front of you, and as you do so, lift the foot that’s behind.

If you lift your foot too soon, you won’t be able to find the wire with your other foot. If you’re too late, your balance won’t be centred over the front foot and you’ll fall off.

Legato is like walking a tightrope with your fingers. Carefully shifting your weight from finger to finger so that the notes are joined up, but not overlapping.

Flipped Term & Symbols Video

Use this short video to introduce your student to these terms before they come for their lesson. That way they’ll come into the studio ready to expand their knowledge and gain further understanding.

Layering learning like this is the surest path to long term memory of the concepts.

More Flipped Thinking Theory

If you liked the approach of this video, you might also like these others:

What are your favourite piano teaching analogies?

Is there one metaphor or explanation that return to again and again? A new one you’re just trying out?

Give us your tips and tricks in the comments or in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers community on Facebook.

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