Introducing Sharps and Flats

Introducing sharps and flats to students | I had a few students who were I needed to think about introducing sharps and flats to this week.  I’ve noticed that some of my students get confused with which is which, so I inquired on the forum and received many great ideas for introducing this concept.  Here is what I did on Tuesday which seemed to work very well with my students:

Introducing Sharps and Flats

1.  I introduced the concept of flats and sharps by using the “flat tire” and “sharp tack” illustration.  I showed them a flat, told them what it was and asked what happens to a tire when it is flat.  They responded that it goes down, so I was able to show that the flat was 1/2 step down on the piano.  I asked them what would happen if I put a tack on the piano bench and they sat on it.  They responded that they would jump up (after I demonstrated…with an imaginary tack), so I told them that a sharp means to play the note 1/2 step up.  I then showed them a natural and told them it meant the original white key.

2.  I placed a 3×5 card with a natural sign on it on 2 places on my staircase.  I had 2 students stand on those “natural steps” and then stood at the bottom of the stairs to show them a sharp, flat, or natural sign.  They had to move up if it was sharp, down if it was flat, and to the natural step if it was natural.  They loved this as we slowly increased the speed.

3.  To illustrate that up is to the right and down is to the left, I then placed 3 pieces of paper on the floor in front of each student.  The middle piece of paper was white to represent natural, the right paper was purple, and the left was blue.  Then, I again showed them a sharp, flat, or natural flash card and they had to move to the appropriate paper. This was also fun as they ended up dancing around as we increased the speed.

4.  I then sat them down and placed a picture of a keyboard  in front of them and gave them a candy pumpkin.  I called out E flat, F #, etc and had them put their pumpkin on the correct note. When they got 5 correct, they ate the pumpkin.

5.  After the lesson, I sent an email asking them to do a few online games and quizzes just to reinforce the concept.  You can see some of these games on the Web Rewards Level 2 page.

I am much more confident that they understand sharps, flats and naturals now.  Thanks to all the teachers at for their suggestions! What about you? What have you encountered when introducing sharps and flats to students?

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By |2016-12-31T15:20:34+00:00October 22nd, 2009|Piano Teaching, Wendy's Piano Studio|5 Comments

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  1. Mindy October 23, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I also use the flat tire, sharp tack idea. And I am very careful now to explain that the sound will be higher or lower. I found students were getting confused because when they play a black key their fingers goes higher, topographically, for it.
    Good reinforcement ideas, though.

  2. Wendy October 27, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Excellent point! It is important to specify that the sound is higher, not the finger. I think the game with the squares on the floor is helpful in reinforcing that the finger goes to the right or left, not higher or lower. It’s important to keep tabs on how our student interpret our explanations!

  3. Elissa Milne October 28, 2009 at 4:03 am

    What a fun sequence of activities! I can hardly wait to try out these ideas with my students!

    I’ve never noticed my students struggling with the notion of sharp and flat, but that may be to do with the fact I include keyboard maps with all my students’ pieces so that when they go home they have no excuse as to knowing which notes to play. One thing I have found is that sometimes parents or grandparents confuse my students with their (erroneous) home spun logic as to the hows and whys of flatness and sharpness…..

  4. Elissa Milne October 28, 2009 at 4:05 am

    I should have specified that I use keyboard maps when I feel a student might struggle to recall the hand position, and I continue to do this well beyond the first year of tuition.

  5. Wendy October 28, 2009 at 7:29 am

    It’s a good idea to use keyboard maps. A lot of the methods here use them for a limited time.

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