TO BANG OR NOT TO BANG: Your Child's First Keyboard

Making up a tune on the Play-A-Toon Virtual keyboard from TOON IN MULTIMEDIA's first episode, TOONING UP.

My first piano was a toy piano with 16 white keys and 10 black keys. I spent many blissful hours playing and singing my songs, clunkers and all. But by the time I graduated to a real piano I could find those keys anywhere.

The piano is classified as a percussion instrument, the sound being made by small hammers striking wire strings. So when young children get their hands on one, the first thing they generally do is bang. I wish I had a dime for every time I've heard a parent say "stop banging!" Actually the child is feeling pretty powerful about all the sound he or she is making.

Exploration of rhythm and range comes first. Given enough time the child will discover that they can play individual notes on the piano to make a melody, but limiting the melody to a short range of notes can be helpful. One of the music games in TOONING UP, called "Play-a-Toon", consists of a virtual animated piano with 8 interactive white keys. Children can make up their own melodies, record them and play them back. The secret to their success is inherent in the game itself. By limiting the melodic range to 8 notes and only the white keys, the young user will not be hitting any clunkers. He or she can also learn to play a short melody by playing along with the animated piano. The keys on the virtual keyboard help children recognize that same pattern on a real piano or keyboard, and encourages them to explore melody. After all, 88 keys can be very overwhelming for small fingers.