Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Evolution of a Twinkle

I wrote before about Fiona's piano experimentation, which is impressive in an absolute sense, but what has fascinated me most is how it illustrates a playful learning curve so beautifully. It's a learning curve I can hear ... and notice, and document. So here's how it's gone.

Melody in C: Since she was quite little, Fiona's been able to 'sound out' the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. At first she wanted to play it in A, because that's the key of the violin, but that was confusing because of the 'black notes', so I suggested C as an easier starting place.

Melody with simplified chords, in C: She wanted to play "hands together", so I taught her a C-E-G triad, a C-F-A triad, and an F-G second, with which to accompany the Twinkle. I didn't tell her which chord to play when... that she figured out by ear.

Melody with three-note-chords, in C: Because I wanted to encourage Sophie to figure out the Alberti bass pattern, I gave the girls a B-F-G chord (instead of the F-G).

Other melodies with 3-note chords, in C: Next came "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" and a few others. Accompaniment chords fitted with the melodies by ear.

Alberti bass pattern in C: She worked out how to turn each chord into an Alberti bass pattern (i.e. a three-note chord became a set of four eighth-notes played in the order low-high-middle-high).

Twinkle melody with Alberti bass pattern in C: Soon she had the melody paired up with the new left hand pattern.

Modal melody with Alberti bass: Now she moved the whole thing into different modes by starting on different white notes.

a Minor melody with Alberti bass: She figured out how to use the Aeolian mode (natural minor) plus a G# to put the piece into a minor key

C Major Rhythmic variation A with Alberti bass: This is the one I recorded last week.

Dissonant versions of the above: She began playing around doing things 'wrong' on purpose, playing the version above, but with one hand playing a half or whole step above the other.

Novel rhythmic variations: Instead of the standard Suzuki rhythmic variations, she began playing her own, like "Canada Canada Stop Stop" and others.

Transpositions to different major keys: G major, then F major, then A major.

Transpositions to different minor keys: d minor and e minor

What blows me away is how logical the sequence here has been. She has bumped up the level of challenge in such sensible ways. G major and F major are the next-easiest major keys after C. How did she know? The other thing I love is the playful diversions into things that are intentionally 'wrong' (like the dissonant version). This is such a hallmark of self-directed mastery learning ... learn the rules, and then have fun breaking them, so that you experience the results of not following them and really understand why they're there. Learning is such a fascinating thing.


  1. Fiona's talent amazes me. She is a brilliant little girl! I have a daughter who just turned 5 and I've played piano for almost 20 years. I hope to teach her soon but I feel like she will not be ready for a few years still. Maybe though...

  2. When I read the title of this post I saw "Evolution of a Twinkie" and I thought 'Miranda is posting about twinkies? I can't imagine that at all!' Of course it's Twinkle...Go Fiona!
    As a side note, though you didn't ask-I've taught piano for 22+ years and one of the ways I've taught kids about chords is:
    A major chord is made up of 3-2. Start on any key, play, skip 3 notes-counting black and white in order, play, skip 2 notes, play. You have a major chord. A minor chord is 2-3. It really opens up the world of chords to them without having to understand the circle of 5ths.

  3. Twinkie, LOL! My kids have never even seen one of those, I don't think!

    That's a cool way of approaching the triads. So far my girls just get them by ear but some day I expect they'll be interested in understanding why they sound the way they do. I'll tuck that idea away.


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