“I guess to try to pin down when spoons were first played,
you'd have to find when the first spoon was invented.
Human beings use many things for music,
so I'd say within a short while
after the invention of the spoon, you'd have a spoon player.”
The Piano – A Map of Music
The piano is a musical map. All of the tonal relationships in Western music are laid out before you in patterns of black and white. I love to ask young children: “Why are there both black and white keys on the piano? Can you think of a reason they aren’t all white or all black?” As you might imagine, there is a range of creative answers to this question.
On the piano it is possible to play a melody or chords, high and low, soft and loud, half steps or whole steps. Through a natural process of exploration and experimentation the student will become familiar with musical logic: tonal relationships, harmony, voicing and theory. This leads to a feeling of musical comfort and confidence.
I can’t remember a time before I sat at the piano, exploring its capabilities and learning about musical relationships. Though I never studied it formally, and went on to study other instruments instead, it is the piano keyboard that I picture in my mind whenever I’m trying to figure out tonal or harmonic relationships.
The Autoharp – The Magic of Harmony
The autoharp is a wonderful introduction to stringed instruments. Like the piano, there are no problems with tone production. This leaves the novice free to explore and experiment. Unlike the guitar, which requires contorting one’s hand into various positions in order to play chords, chords on the autoharp are produced by pushing down a button while strumming, making it a logical first step en route to learning guitar. It is possible to quickly learn how to harmonize a tune and accompany yourself or others. The autoharp is also great for scientific minds: How does the pressing of a button magically transform the sound, and what causes each button to produce a different sound? What happens when more than one button is pressed at the same time? How are chords formed and what are their components? What happens if you strum the strings and then push down a button as an afterthought?
Are you motivated to try all this? For lots of information on the autoharp, including how to play it, go to Mike Strickland’s website. If you get hooked, go to “Some Hints on Buying an Autoharp.” Another wonderful site is at http://lorenkohl.net/ahbasics.html
These instruments are used primarily as melody instruments with an alternative tone color to the piano. It is possible to orchestrate a tune by assigning different phrases to different mallet instruments, providing a drumbeat or other percussion and thus transforming a song.
Mallet instruments also lend themselves to the exploration of tonal relationships and intervals. Even chords are possible if you can manage 3 mallets at once (or invite a friend).
If you really want to have fun with this, go to Jim Doble’s Elemental Design site and try some of his unusual mallet instruments online.
Children need no prodding to use or invent percussion instruments. At Music House they are used to accompany or orchestrate as well as for spontaneous jamming. It’s a learning experience to watch a child figure out ingenious ways of playing several instruments at once and become a one-person band.
© Meryl Danziger 2004