Your 5-step Method is Pissing Me Off

Piano Fingering ChartI’ve been teaching piano lessons for a while now, and like all piano teachers, I have a favorite method book. But regardless of what method you teach, they all give the same basic information to new piano students. Notes to the right get higher, notes to the left get lower. This is how you find middle C. Fingers are number 1 through 5 from the thumb out to the pinky.

This last one is key because in the early days of piano playing, your hands generally sit in one position. If you put your thumb on D, it’s going to stay there. These are often called 5-finger scales, and when you start playing the piano, that’s almost exclusively how you play. You might change where you start out, but once you’ve found that starting position, you aren’t going anywhere.

Because of this, it can be a major temptation for new students to simply read numbers instead of learning note names.

Honestly, that can work for a while. If you know that your thumb is supposed to be on middle C, you can just write in numbers and be good to go. As a teacher, it can be tempting to use that crutch. Students already know how to count to five. Learning where the notes are on the staff is like learning a whole new language, and that can be a lot more challenging to teach. When I’m frustrated that a student is having a difficult time translating what they’re seeing on the page to their fingers, it’s very easy to just say, “Three!” so they know what they’re supposed to do.

But there will be a day, somewhere about three quarters of the way through the first book, when this method won’t work any more. There will be a song where finger one changes mid-way through the song. The thumb needs to shift from C to B and suddenly what worked for months and months is no longer adequate. Don’t get me wrong, fingerings are important. Most piano music includes some kind of notation to tell you where your fingers need to be at any given time and that can be helpful when you’re trying to navigate a difficult passage. But if a pianist relied solely on the numbers above the actual notes, they would find that the music was less musical. The simple solution becomes a hinderance rather than a help.

At the risk of being achingly cliche, I’m so tired of simple solutions being offered to us as people of faith. 3 Ways to do This. 5 Things to Improve That. 2 Steps to Achieve The Other Thing.

It’s so easy to give these kinds of answers. So easy to accept them.

The thing is, they work, at least to some degree. There’s usually some truth buried in those easy words, in the 1-5 step solutions.

And sometimes our problems are simple, so simple solutions work. The circumstances that we find ourselves in fit within the confines of the five step fixes. There’s nothing wrong with that. When our circumstances change for the better, that’s a positive step and not one to be ignored.

However, we should be careful not to assume that because something works for us, it applies to all situations. And while there may be parts of these easy answers that apply to complicated situations, it can feel tremendously frustrating when someone who doesn’t know all of the details of your particular circumstances offers you five-step advice. Even when given with good intentions, it can feel trite rather than true. It becomes a hinderance rather than a help.

In piano, my thumbs will always be 1 and my pinkies will always be 5. That doesn’t change no matter how complicated the piece of music I’m playing might be.

In life, there are foundational truths that also hold no matter how complicated my circumstances. One that is always true for me is that I would rather you listen to the notes of my story and work with me to find a solution that works for my particular situation, rather than just throwing the same tired advice at me.

It’s then that we can begin to make music together.

piano

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About Alise

I’m a lot of things, but more than anything else, I’m a woman in progress. I’m finding that out more and more all the time. Knitting is just a series of knots. I hope as my tangled thoughts are put out there, they will weave together into something that adds a little bit of beauty to the world.
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6 Responses to Your 5-step Method is Pissing Me Off

  1. sheila0405 says:

    My pet peeve was strangers telling me how to handle my kids. My son was never able to sit still through church, for example, and there was one member who told me I should just beat him into submission. Nice.

    People are complex, relationships are complex, and easy, bulleted lists don’t usually have much of an impact because of this. If someone specifically asks for advice, then think HARD and give that advice, always with the caveat of “I’m not sure if this will help you, but, here’s my opinion”. If advice isn’t requested, it’s better to just be there for another person. IMHO, of course!

    • Alise says:

      I tend to agree. I think solicited advice is absolutely acceptable. And I do think that there are times when you know someone well and you know their situation and you can speak into it with some kind of relationship. But even then, I’m pretty hesitant to say much because there are almost always areas even in close relationships that are held back.

  2. Deb Palmer says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Years ago I devoured self-help books like a starving dog. Then I realized they were all saying the same things, just tweaked a little. Today when a well intended friend spouts self-help babble as if it is a new concept, I cringe. For me, the only advice that never disappoints or bores me is all found in the Bible.

  3. Stacey says:

    Well said Alise. If there were a “Like” button on your blog, I would have clicked on it.

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