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Update on Rina, age 4, and her musical progress at the piano

Rina has lately grown camera shy, but she’s still tenderly stroking the ivories on my precious Haddorff console. This piano affords a perfect fit for young ones who otherwise can barely stretch their necks to gaze up at a music book. A small foot stool has been added to support little feet until they grow to meet the pedals.

Now that Rina is well into her fifth month of study, she’s playing selections on her own without tapping single notes to CD recorded selections. The latter is a strength of Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey. It provides a substantial interval of time to focus on the physical aspects of tone production without racing to meet unrealistic deadlines. (My review of Gorin’s Book I will be published in the Spring edition of the California Music Teacher Magazine)

Sometimes, however, I veer in and out of any teaching material, custom-designing it for each student. That’s why I’d made a few adjustments tailored to Rina’s specific needs.

Still, she warms-up in accordance with Gorin’s “rainbow” movement routines enlisting relaxed arms “like a weeping willow,” and supple (“spongy”) wrists as she traces arc motions in octave jumps up and down the piano, alternating fingers and hands.

Since Rina is not quite ready to read music on the staff, I’ve re-set short-term goals, some of which she’s already realized:

1) From Gorin’s excellent book exposure to “short and long sounds” through verse scanning and cardboard black and white circle shuffling, Rina can identify quarters and half notes. (though we haven’t yet tagged them in this way)

And she can clap these note values and then translate them into melody at the piano.

She also knows her music alphabet going forward, but needs some assistance in reverse order.

2) I’ve recently added “running notes” (8ths) to Rina’s repertoire of rhythms, and this ensued from her exposure to “Frere Jacques.” (Her mom had taught her the piece by rote, before Rina began lessons with me)

At first Rina did a few staircase romps with letter-bearing flash cards placed on each stair step. Then she pranced up and down the stairs singing letter names, as I played the French folk song at the piano.

3) Rina then translated physical movement in space to the piano, having as reference, notes jotted down on paper in RHYTHMS with added bar lines and fingerings. We had therefore, planted the seeds of note reading.

4) Adding LETTER names above the notes and inserting DYNAMICS completed the learning triad. (Rina had already created an “echo” in the last measure of “Frere Jacques” so she had exposure to variations in tone and timbre.)

In a word, Rina can now follow a “score” as she plays not only “Frere Jacques” using a single finger at a time, alternated between the right and left hand, but also “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” (Staircase work likewise preceded this particular learning experience)

Rina also understands the “minor” mode. She has easily learned how to play E in HAPPY “Frere Jacques” and then bring it down to the very next black note, creating a “FLAT” in the SAD “Frere Jacques.”

When she plays the “sad” version of the song, she has no difficulty absorbing the concept of a “minor” mode.

From my decades-long experience teaching children, I’ve found that it’s best to introduce black notes sooner than later. Otherwise an aversion to these develops that could have long-term learning consequences.

Here’s a Lesson flashback to Dec. 15th, 2011, when Rina did some meaningful stair-climbing before playing “Frere Jacques.” (At that point she had not yet learned about “running notes”–8ths) In the second segment of this video she was exposed to the “sad” minor.

This week I added a listening assignment: Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals, “Introduction and Lion” performed by the Rachlin Group on You Tube. Rina will watch and listen, giving her impressions to mom, who will jot down her comments.

My simple rendition of the music on video contains a repeated bass pattern or Ostinato from measures 9-18 (I purposely fleshed out the bass so Rina could easily join in.)

At her next lesson, Rina will be taught to play these recurrent, alternating bass notes, A, E, while I provide the melody.

In the past, Rina was asked to watch a You Tube performance of Mozart’s “Twinkle, Twinkle” variations. Her response was direct: “I don’t like it!”

I hope she feels differently about “Introduction and Lion.”





Over the past few months, I’ve provided many sample lessons-in-progress with Rina on You Tube.

Relevant links:



In addition, Irina Gorin’s Channel has a series of videos showcasing her teaching and related materials.


Piano Addict.com Review, Tales of a Musical Journey


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