Looking back to my earliest piano lessons in an early 20th century townhouse attic space in the Bronx, off Kingsbridge Road, I recall my happiest moments floating through all white key melodies. It was a Diller-Quaile par duo journey with Mrs. Vinagradov, a very warm and encouraging Russian teacher, who sang line by line lyrics in her darkly sonorous mezzo voice. Her richly played secondo Bass sonorities were bundles of harmonic nourishment that sustained me through my practice time between lessons. I would imagine myself a soloist, immersed in an orchestral universe.
Yet despite these early magical years, cruising through stepwise whites, (with a few skips here and there) I harbored a gripping fear that I would have to deal with black keys, (naming them) and relinquishing my illusion of finger nesting comfort.
In one of my early blogs, I detail a free-floating anxiety that had a universal ring to it. Piano students and teachers emerged from a dark closet of denial to openly share their personal “accidental” challenges. (With satirical relief, this writing is pertinent to what follows)
My personal black key desensitization began after the halo effect of Mrs. Vinagradov’s white key duets wore off, and beat-pounding Mrs. Emmy Schwed who replaced her, passed away after years of memory loss about the assigned scale (She put too much trust in my recall)
By the time I began studies with Lillian Freundlich, entering the Oberlin Conservatory a few years later, I was in full remission, dancing on the ebonies with carefree abandon. It was Lillian’s patient and loving approach to learning in its widest dimensions–focusing on tone production in a plethora of keys that freed me of my black key inhibition.
Naturally, my own teaching and personal music learning have an unshackled approach to the keyboard, without prejudice. Black keys are great beginnings for the young and older beginner.
In many Primers the black notes float in space, not yet settled into the Grand Staff. Pictures or mini-maps of double and triple black patterns are good reference points, but they should not be quickly forgotten in a regressive transition to white key fixation. Beware!
In tune with my own emancipation, I’m including a Black Key only tutorial:
Navigating the F-Sharp Major Arpeggio in a layered learning sequence. I hope this particular focus is helpful to those who might have residual resistance to the raised rascals, though befriending them is best!