For my youngest students’ first pieces, I use a system of coloured stars or circles as notation. This is for simple pieces that they play with braced 2-1 or 3-1 fingers (donuts).
Most pre-reading in music books uses the letters to help in finding the notes, but I teach kids as young as 3 so they’re usually not that comfortable with their letters yet, and that concept needs to be introduced more gradually.
These coloured stars help them get used to finding the correct note on the piano. We open to the sheet below, Hot Cross Buns, and discuss the diagram at the top right of the sheet, where the red, yellow and blue keys would be on our own piano.
Then we play one of these games with the stars.
Run for the Stars
- Spread the stars out on the floor, a little bit away from the piano.
- Ask them to get a certain coloured star, bring it back to you and play the correct key on the piano.
- Once they get used to this idea, try calling out multiple colours, e.g. “Bring me 2 yellow stars and 1 red star!” This also introduces the idea that 2 stars = playing the note twice.
Star Lucky Dip
- Place all the stars in a bag or hat.
- Get the student to draw out a star.
- Ask them to find play this note on the piano, or all of them starting at the bottom or the top of the piano.
Giant Sheet Music
- Open a “star song” such as ‘Hot Cross Buns’ or ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’.
- Have the student recreate it on the floor using their star cards to create a giant version of the song.
- Then play the song together on the piano!