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>Teaching Little Fingers to Play

>Despite my memories of the very tense Sr. Irene Marie (who, probably to everyone’s lasting relief, “jumped the wall,” as we used to call leaving the convent in the 1960s), I’m immensely enjoying Tricia Tunstall’s Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson (S&S). Noting that “there are very few occasions when a child spends an extended period alone with an unrelated adult,” Tunstall’s observations flicker between her own childhood piano lessons and those she now gives as an adult. There are plenty of parallels for those of us who go mano a mano with child readers, so check it out.

And, fellow survivors–what can you still play? I still have “Lightly Row,” “Spinning Wheel” and “The Juggler” in my fingers.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Susan T. says:

    >I can still play a bit of “Brian’s Song,” which I forgot at the actual recital.

    Thanks for mentioning this book. My library has a copy. Yay.

  2. Mama Squirrel says:

    >Play by heart, out of those first piano lessons? Just about everything out of the first Leila Fletcher book.

    When I’m sitting in a student recital (my daughter takes voice and the voice recitals are combined with piano and other music students), I know every (painful) note of a lot of the pieces that are played–after maybe 25 years? I rarely remember the names, but oh, do I remember going over and over and over them.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >Oops, not “Spinning Wheel,” “Spinning SONG.” Duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah . . . you remember.

  4. Mitali Perkins says:

    >Way Down Upon The Swanee River, Far, Far Away …

  5. Mama Squirrel says:

    >Roger: yep.

  6. Melinda says:

    >It’s been 15 years since I last played, so basically I’ve gone from playing a really cool Bach fugue and the theme from Beethoven’s Seventh to a tiny bit of Scott Joplin’s “Solace” and the left hand of “Maple Leaf Rag.”

    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >As the youngest of four, I listened to my brother and sisters play through the John Thompson sequence. I couldn’t wait to be able to play “Swans on the Lake.” And I can still play it! “Spinning Song,” too, for that matter.

    With thanks to my teachers, Mrs. Reichlinger, Mrs. Scott, Mrs. Graham, and Mrs. Allen.

    Even though I cried when my mom told us that she’d found us a new piano teacher in our new town, I’m SO grateful now that she insisted I learn to play.

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >And, Anon., “Distant Bells,” in Book 2. You can use the PEDAL!

  9. Ifahren says:

    >Spinning Song, oh yeah. Thanks Roger, now that’ll be stuck in my head all morning! Da da da da DUH–da! da! da!

    As for the others: one Bach invention, the introduction to “Stairway to Heaven” and the piano solo from the middle of the Stones’ “Angie.” All very cool to play in the band room…aaarrrggghh.


  10. Charlotte says:

    >My boy has just reached Hayden’s “Air” in the first John Thompson. He did not find “Song of the Volga Boatmen” as soul stirring as I did…

    What troubles me is that I can remember so many of the words from J.T.’s songs. Think of all the great poetry I could have learned instead of “Stately as pri-in-ces swans part the lilies and gliiiiide…”

  11. >My hell was the Hannon exercises.

    (On special occasions, my hubby can still bust out with a little Bruce Hornsby “Just the Way It Is”).

  12. ifahren says:

    >Fun conversations emanating from this post at my library today–one of our shelvers here remembers playing BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY at a piano recital!

  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >THANKS, Charlotte: “Let’s pretend / Jip’s a friend / Come to gossip / and to play.”

  14. >Oh my head! I’d compartmentalized all of this nicely and, now, chaos. My fingers spill out a Sonatina by someone who is escaping me whenever I run my fingers on a keyboard. Da da-da dum dum. Da da-da dum.

  15. >And also? Receiving my monthly copy of “Sheet Music” was a highlight as it was the only chance I had to play music that was less than 100 years old!

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >HG, that’s the Clementi sonatina that’s in John Thompson 3!

  17. rebecca says:

    >there was a wigwam song, wasn’t there? that was my favorite because it was minor (I think)? I liked the pounding rhythm–and I don’t know whether it was prescribed or not, for that song, but I definitely pedalled it up!
    I have it playing in my head now.

  18. >Papa Haydn’s dead and gone
    But his mem’ry lingers on
    When he was in a state of bliss
    He wrote merry tunes like this.

    And then there were the songs from the Thompson sequence that, as a late 20th-century child, made NO SENSE to me. Like “The Scissors Grinder.”

    My other musical tormentor was Schaum. Anybody else have to learn to play “Country Gardens” with their brother?

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Roger. It’s a-goin’ on the queue.

  19. >Yes! Roger, you have saved me from waking at 2:13am with the composer’s name. For that I thank you.

  20. >Oh and on a tangent – I finally saw Sunday in the Park last month and loved it. I thought the stage was stunning – my only disappointment was that I didn’t “buy” Daniel Evans as George in the first act, though I liked him just fine in the second.

  21. >I thought these were gone from my head until something brought me back to old Mexico:

    Sing chaponegas, ole
    Dance chaponegas, ole

    I’m quite sure that “chaponegas” is wrong, but that’s how my six-year-old brain remembers it. Does anyone know? Google laughed at me.

  22. Anne Bingham says:

    >Here we go
    Up a row
    To a

  23. waltergiant says:

    >Czerny, baby! Czerny…

  24. >Thank you very much for recommending this book. It is excellent! Even if you’ve never taken piano lessons, this will remind you of all the piano lessons in literature–it brought to mind Miss Cobb, the piano teacher in the Betsy-Tacy series, and Madeleine L’Engle’s first novel The Small Rain.

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