There are many methods that piano teachers can follow when giving instruction to young learners; some methods focus on music theory while others try to encourage students to start playing by ear to the best of their abilities. The most widely recommended methods mix a bit of theory with instinctual playing; one of the best ways to approach this method is to shape lessons around songs that kids are already familiar with and are thus more bound to enjoy. To this effect, music associated with the vast catalog of Walt Disney media is a great idea to incorporate within piano lessons.
All children can be taught to play piano and other instruments by ear; those who are naturally gifted are bound to learn faster in this fashion, but playing by ear is a skill that can be taught with certain degrees of success. The following steps are followed by many piano teachers who work with children:
- Song selection: Needless to say, this is entirely up to children, but they should be able to sing it with decent ease of vocalization. Teachers sometimes steer students towards some songs instead of others depending on their skill level; for example, Let It Go from the film “Frozen” is more difficult than It’s a Small World, the anthem of Disney amusement parks.
- Range of notes: In this step, the teacher simplifies the musical piece down to a starting note followed by a range. The 12 Disney songs listed below are ideal for simplification.
- Sitting down at the piano: After singing together with students and reviewing the note range, teachers will sit next to the learners and point them towards the starting note. When the student strikes the first note, the second one is sung by the teacher. Subsequent notes should be gleaned from the sheet with guidance from the instructor. A good strategy is to give clues as to whether the next note is higher or lower.
- Hunting down notes: Children tend to associate piano music with beats. Most students will require assistance from their teachers with the first few notes, but they should find the rest on their own even if it is not smooth sailing. Something that helps in this regard is when teachers encourage their students to treat musical passages like beats; this may require singing or humming, but there should be a process of discovery.
It should be noted that playing by ear is not as simple as it seems; this method of instruction has its limits, but it is certainly fun for children to learn. Piano teachers know when their students can no longer play by ear and should instead look at notation and practice instead. What is neat about playing by ear is that it builds confidence. Once children are able to nail a song with proficiency, this will boost their self-esteem and prompt them to continue learning. Even some classical pieces such as Beethoven’s Fur Elise can be taught to be played by ear, but there are others such as La Campanella by Frank Liszt that are simply impossible to play without deep study.
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With all the above in mind, here are 12 Disney songs that piano teachers can simplify so that children are able to learn and perform on piano. You can always ask your child’s piano instructors if these pieces are in their songbooks, but they can always track down the corresponding sheets online.
I See the Light
In 2010, this song from the film “Tangled” was nominated to the Academy Awards in the original song category. It certainly helps that Mandy Moore performed this song in the film; since then, quite a few singers who are popular with Disney fans have recorded their own versions. This song is neat because it is easy to sing, but once students sit down to play, the tempo seems challenging, which is why teachers start out slow with their students’ left hands.
American composer Michael Giacchino is a master of simple melodies. This song is from “Ratatouille,” one of the most creative films in the Disney catalog, and one of the last times fans of Irish actor Peter O’Toole heard his mellifluous voice as restaurant critic Anton Ego. Getting your child to sing this song will be fun but challenging because it is in French, but the melody is so easy that it can be played entirely with one hand.
He’s a Pirate
This is one of the most memorable songs in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise, and it is composed to sound like a barroom tune. It is a fun song to play; similar to the Chopsticks waltz, it encourages players to pick up the tempo just to make it more lively.
Beauty and the Beast
For some reason, many children love to sing this song, which is great because that means that they will be interested in playing it during their piano lessons, but it is not so easy to play. Some piano teachers like including this song in their lessons and encourage children to slow down playback on a digital players so that they can find all the notes.
Stuff We Did
Here’s another Michael Giacchino original piece from the 2009 film “Up,” which film critics consider to be among the best of the Pixar catalog. You can find dozens of Stuff We Did piano tutorials online. Giacchino is the kind of composer who likes to keep it simple and catchy.
It’s a Small World
Looking for a song that is fun to sing and extremely easy to play? This song is built around a single chorus. Highly recommended if your child has visited Disneyland in California or Disney World in Florida.
When You Wish Upon a Star
Old school Disney films are packed with songs that are catchy and reasonably easy to play on piano; this is because the late Walt Disney was inspired by the early days of silent films when a piano or organ player scored the presentation live in the theater. There are quite a few online tutorials for this song from the 1940 classic Disney movie “Pinocchio.”
The World Es Mi Familia
Children growing up in bilingual communities will love learning to play this song from the 2017 film “Coco,” which mixed Mexican Day of the Dead motifs with a strong message about the importance of family bonds. This song is based on a traditional huapango beat, and it is equally easy to sing and play.
Here’s another song from “Coco;” although it was originally written for guitar as a mariachi ballad, it can be simplified for piano lessons as a jazzu bolero.
This song is a staple of Disney programming, but it was composed for the soundtrack of the slightly controversial “Song of the South” film from 1946. The catchy composition earned the Academy Award for best original song, and the chorus has been featured in piano lessons for decades. If it seems easy to play is because it is so infectious, but there is some complexity to be learned, which also makes it great for younger students.
With vocals from Kuana Torres Kahele, this song from the eponymous 2017 film is not the easiest to sing unless you follow the melody and read the lyrics, but it has a nice hook that easily translates from the ukulele to the piano.
Cruella de Vil
We all know that the 1996 live-action remake of the film “101 Dalmatians” was one of Disney’s greatest hits. The same cannot be said about “Mulan” in 2020, but the song Cruella de Vil will always be with us because it mostly stick to the tried-and-true Broadway show tune style, which means it is easy to play on piano.
Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?
We are going back to 1933 with this song, which is not on a film but on an animated short that was made memorable for its main song. Your child will probably have more fun singing this song than playing it on the piano, but it is fairly easy to learn.