Teaching Pedaling with a Pencil!?


You can teach a student how to pedal by using a pencil? And you step on the student’s foot?  Is this some sort of torturous, antiquated teaching technique?  Absolutely not!  Students love it and it’s highly effective.

I find the pencil’s eraser side to be a wonderful teaching tool.  There is something so simple about a pencil. It is a familiar, everyday object. You don’t have to hold it properly, and you don’t have to worry about your hand position or your posture.  You simply plunk it down gently into the keys and the learning begins!

Pedaling is an aural art as well as a motor skill.  If the student releases it too early, the sound is not connected.  If they change the pedal too late, the sound is blurred.  This simple teaching tool involving the pencil and stepping (gently, of course) on the student’s foot creates a smooth and continuous sound.

One of my students recently learned the chords and bass line to the popular tune “Stand by Me”.  When she was comfortable playing the piece, I taught her how to pedal… with a pencil.  In one lesson, we accomplished so much.  First, I had her put the note down with the pencil while I stepped on her foot.  I released her foot at the proper time and put it back down.  Of course, I explained in words how to pedal, but sometimes I like to get right to the point and access the kinesthetic sense immediately.



After she was comfortable pedaling with the pencil, I had her play with one finger and move up the scale.  Once she could feel the timing of the pedal, I no longer needed to squish her untied Converse high top shoes.  After she could do this comfortably, I had her play the scale in the left hand.



The third and final step was to pedal while playing “Stand by Me”.  It was clear and lovely and there was no overlapping in sounds.  She learned so quickly by using this carefully sequenced approach.  If I had simply explained how to pedal using only words (which would have sounded confusing) and instructed her to pedal while playing her tune, it would have taken longer to accomplish the same goal.  I am quite sure it would have been overly blurry or there would be large gaps in the sound, and the student would feel confused and overwhelmed.  With the pencil approach, each step was manageable and gave very clear results.  She now feels and understands how to time the pedal and is confident in her new skill.

What interesting and “out of the box” teaching tools do you use?


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