Cardboard keys take beginner musicians way beyond ‘Chopsticks’
July 19, 2011
By Laura Geggel
Issaquah piano teacher Carolyn Carson’s fingers flew across the keyboard, and although she pressed on the keys, her sonata was silent.
Instead of teaching on a piano or an electric keyboard, Carson instructs her students on cardboard keyboards.
The Providence Point resident began teaching her neighbors how to play the piano in January through Communiversity. Demand for her classes was so high that she began offering two sessions for her 13 students.
Piano student Sally Bahous Allen hasn’t played the piano since she was a girl in Palestine. At Communiversity, Allen said she likes playing on a cardboard keyboard because she can take it home with her to practice.
“I don’t have a piano at home, which is really devastating,” she said.
During class, Carson tapes her cardboard keyboard to the wall and shows the fingering to her students. The cutout’s keys are the same size as a regular keyboard, so when the time comes, “We are prepared to put our fingers on the piano,” Allen said. “It’s just the same.”
The students take turns playing a real piano, and everyone plays in class recitals on a real instrument.
Teaching piano allows Carson to spread her joy for music. As a child, she would listen to her grandfather, a tailor in New York, sing arias all day. She began taking piano lessons at age 6.
“I was one of those weird kids,” Carson said. “I didn’t mind practicing.”
One time, after receiving a new music book filled with Frederic Chopin’s waltzes, “I ran all of the way home to show my mother,” she said.
After high school, she attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York, married and began moving across the country every few years with her husband, a military man, their three children and her small upright piano.
Moving frequently made it hard for her to create long-term relationships with her piano students, but thankfully her husband’s career took her to Memphis.
Halfway through the school year, a teacher who knew that Carson taught piano asked her to fill in for another music teacher.
“I walk over there and there was this class of cute second- or third-graders,” Carson said. “Someone said, ‘Say something,’ and I’ve been talking ever since.”
Many of her students had access to school keyboards, but they used cardboard keyboards when they didn’t. She learned more about the technique at Rhodes College. With the cardboard, every student can play at the same time without making a medley of noise. Every student is engaged, too.
“No one is looking out the window,” Carson said.
A regular piano has 88 keys, while Carson’s cardboard cutouts have 53.
“This has four octaves, and four octaves is all you need to learn the piano,” she said.
The cardboard keyboards work so well that Carson said she plans to offer a class teaching the technique for school or music teachers in August.
With much of school arts funding falling to parent fundraisers, Carson said the cardboard keyboards were a cost-effective way for students to learn the piano.
“The benefits of studying music, oh my goodness, it helps with their coordination, it helps them focus, it helps them think,” she said. “We are kind of missing that in youths today. They have too many electronics where you just push the button and you have the answer.”
Allen, the ever-studious piano student, said Carson has a talent for teaching students at different levels. Allen’s granddaughter, a student at Yale University, plays the viola. Allen just learned a song called “Sea Mist,” and plans to flaunt it.
“I’m going to sit right down and plop out ‘Sea Mist’ for her,” Allen said. “You got to keep up with your grandchildren.”
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.