By Jodi Anderson
What are fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination? How are these skills used in your students’ day-to-day lives? And why are they important as they begin their musical journey?
Hand-eye coordination is the ability of the vision system to coordinate the information received through the eyes to control, guide, and direct the hands in the accomplishment of a given task, such as handwriting or throwing and catching a ball. Hand-eye coordination uses the eyes to direct attention and the hands to execute a task.
Did you know that playing along with music is one of the few activities that fully engage both hemispheres of a child’s brain? If you then add the fine motor coordination it takes to hold an instrument and tap along with the music, the student is working on the hand-eye coordination and hand strength that’s necessary to hold a pencil or throw and catch a ball.
One of the great benefits of playing an instrument is strengthened hand-eye coordination and enhanced fine motor skills.
When teaching, you’ve probably noticed that coordination is often the trickiest skills for your beginning students to learn. So many instruments, especially guitar, piano, and drums, require both hands (and feet!) to work together, but also sometimes against each other too. The beginning stages of playing instruments encourage and support the development of hand-eye coordination and muscle memory. As eye-hand coordination is a learned skill, practice is essential!
Below are just a few tips for encouraging the improvement of hand-eye coordination:
Work on the “goofy” part first. If your student is new to playing a musical instrument, or is starting a new piece, encourage them to spend time first with the “goofy” hand first as it needs more time to get oriented than the stronger hand.
Slow it down. No matter how you teach your students to practice coordination—scales, tapping rhythms, arpeggios, or similar exercises—the trick is to take it slowly. In order for them to learn the correct hand technique, students need to practice deliberately so not to pick up bad habits.
Add rhythm instruments. Mix it up! No matter what instrument(s) your students may usually play, try adding a drum or a set of maracas to help strengthen your students’ “hands together” coordination. It can often help to allow your students some time to just build the physical awareness needed.
Count it out. Regardless of what instruments your students play—piano, guitar, drums, or something else—it’s essential for them to learn to coordinate their hands to play different rhythms! Try having them tap out quarter notes with left hand while the right hand taps out eighth notes, then vice versa.
Practice, practice, practice. Encourage your students to practice coordination exercises SILENTLY everywhere they go! Fingering exercises can be practiced on a table; guitarists can practice (and strengthen their hand) by going over chord changes “in the air;” drummers can tap out rhythms on the couch or pillow. These types of exercises help build muscle memory and can be done virtually anywhere.
Jodi Anderson earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Vocal Performance and English Literature from California State University, Chico. Having a passion for music since a young age, she has been singing since she was old enough to hold a hairbrush “microphone” and playing piano since age six. She has devoted her career to music publishing, and at Alfred Music, strives every day to help others experience the joy of making music. Jodi loves reading, cooking, and watching sports; most especially baseball (Go Dodgers!) and football (Go Ducks and Chiefs!).