55. Much Ado About Nothing: The Search for The Do of The First Octave
What does the keyboard of the piano look like? A vast collection of absolutely identical keys. And at least the black keys, luckily, are a little asymmetrical. The pair of black keys in the center of the keyboard are suitable for one’s orientation. To the left of them is the Do of the first octave. “Here, right in the middle,” the teacher tells the student with an enigmatic voice. “Just to the left of these two black keys is the note Do!”
Let me assure you that even the most inventive Disney film about where Do ‘lives’ won’t give a beginner the ability to find it right away on the keys. The white plane, separated into tens of straight identical slices, is the same thing as an untouched snowy field in which one must find a white mouse. To adults, it is a simple matter of ‘twos’ and ‘threes’, but for a child, it’s completely different! He still doesn’t have the necessary skills. First, he needs to pass the stage of sounding out: “One two, one two three.” Then, he must figure out the difference between the numbers, and learn to catch it with his eyes on the fly. And only then, gradually, will he develop the ability to mentally count and figure out the difference in keys at once.
It takes a few weeks of practice for my young students to easily understand how the keys are grouped in twos and threes. I cut out figures of dinosaurs and horses out of paper. I showed my students that the dinosaurs belong on the three key groups, and horses on the two key groups. The kids, in turn, would place the figures on tops of the right key groups, but without them, they struggled to answer at once where the two- and three-key groups were.
This means that here too, most teachers ignore the gradualness of the perception. They assume that the student can already count quickly in his mind, and that the keyboard is already a familiar and studied space to him. But a child isn’t an adult! To wait for a beginner to take the entire keyboard in with an eagle eye, quickly group all of the black and white keys and separate the octaves is, simply speaking, naïve. If a child is concentrating on the black keys, then he can’t easily keep up with the white ones. And if he’s focusing on the white keys, he just isn’t in the condition to distinguish between the black keys, two here, and three there. Think of all of the mirrors in a car. A beginner is in just the same confusion when he sits in front of an ocean of keys. But this isn’t all!
See, Do is located to the left of the two black notes that are located in the middle. As I have already explained, “to the left” isn’t much of a hint for a beginner. This word doesn’t say much to a kid if he hasn’t memorized it tactically yet. “In the middle” is also a mystery to him. And thus begins the second act of the drama of “The Search for Do.” It goes something like this:
- Wandering aimlessly one way or the other along the keys, the eyes try to separate two keys out of a mass of black and white. At last, they stop at a pair of them. They sort of seem to be in the middle, right? The student hesitates, trying to figure out exactly how close they are to the middle… by comparing the keys to where he is sitting on the bench.
- Now, a test in mathematics. Two or three, that’s the question. It seems that it’s two. Hooray! We’ve found the place that’s been prescribed.
- And which is “left?” Hmm… It seems that “right” is the side I write with, so “left” is the opposite! That way!
- Look at the keys: which is closer to the hand that I don’t write with? That one is “left.”
- From that key, I need to shift over to the white one, again to the left. Here it is. Hooray! I found it! Now what?
And now, all that’s left to do is to seek out the remaining notes just like this, one at a time. This is how things go when you don’t know the music alphabet! Hooray?
These are the questions and confusions that innocently fly by when a student that is learning about the note Do. Seems quite a way off from playing fluently with both hands, no?