4/30/10

Technology and Theory

Jenny Bay, what an awesome post! I completely agreed with everything you said! I just came back from a workshop devoted entirely to using technology in the studio to teach theory - so I thought I'd share what I learned!

The presenter had a very extensive computer lab (which I hope to one day attain!), and he went through each of the programs that he uses for his students, the pro's and con's, and which ones he felt were "absolute musts" for the studio:

1. Space Flight Music Notes Flash Cards. This one is AWESOME! I just downloaded it yesterday, actually, and the best part is - it only costs $5! Yes! If you go to ShareSoftware24.com and type in "Space Flight Music Notes Flash Cards", the program will come up. Best of all, you can download the treble clef FOR FREE! If you want the full range (treble and bass clef), that's when you pay the $5. It is TOTALLY worth it - the presenter was saying how his students absolutely LOVE this game, and they WANT to play it, even when they don't need to! It works just like music note flash cards - except MUCH more fun. There's a little space ship that zaps alien enemies, and if you get the correct note, your space ship will zap the enemy - but if you get enough notes wrong, the alien enemies will eventually overtake your ship! I'm addicted to it already! And the best part is - THE STUDENT IS LEARNING THE NOTES!

*Addendum: Since I made this post, the cost for Space Flight music note flashcards has gone up! It's now $9.95, and unfortunately, there seems to no longer be a free download option for treble clef only. Thanks for the update, Malinda! It's still TOTALLY worth it, though.

2. Alright, enough on Space Flight Music Notes. The presenter's next favorite was MIDIsaurus. I'm sure most of us have heard of this one. The reason our presenter loved it so much was because there are a TON of different activities and exercises to teach each of the components of theory. Also, as a teacher, you can go in and tailor a course of theory lesson plans for EACH of your students - so it's tailored to what THEY need. Also, just like Space Flight, this one is A LOT of fun for the students - he's never had ANY student complain about these. He showed us a demo, and I can't wait to buy it!

You DON'T need a MIDIkeyboard for it (like I thought) - you can do it with just a computer. The only "downside" is that now you have to download MIDIsaurus, and each year, the download expires (it's on a timer), so you have to purchase the update - which costs $80 per year. But! If you do a computer lab fee, that should cover it. (Because I'm in Idaho, I'm charging $2.00 per month for the lab fee - that's 50 cents a lesson! Totally affordable, and so far, no parents have complained).

The age range for MIDIsaurus is 4-11, and it's published by Town4Kids.

3. So what do to with the students who are too old for hatching dinosaur eggs and alien space ships? Use Practica Musica! This one is GREAT for high school and college students because there aren't any of the "cutesy" little things - but it still can start at the very first level of theory. This program also has excellent rhythm and pitch-and-rhythm exercises, too. It has a one-time cost of $89.99 and it's published by Ars Nova.







4. Another one that the presenter loved was Pianomouse Preschool. He didn't get to do a demo on this one, but I'm excited to purchase it when I have preschool-aged students. It's published by Pianomouse, and it's for ages 3-6. It costs $19.49 (not bad!)









Here are some other ones that the presenter thought were good, as well as others that he had some reservations about:

MusicAce Maestro, published by Harmonic Vision. This one comes in 2 volumes, and it costs $109.95 total. What he didn't love about this one is that their order of lessons can be a little...unusual, so as a teacher, he's found himself having to rearrange the lesson order (which can take a LOT of time). Also, he didn't like their rhythm exercises because there's a delay - which can be very confusing, and not effective, in teaching a student rhythm!I was going to buy this program, but now that I went to the workshop, I've decided to buy some other programs first.





Theory Games, published by Alfred. This one is for ages 6 and up and costs $18.95. He did say that his students tend to get bored with this one, mainly because it's the same set of games over and over again - at each level, the games stay the same, it just gets a little harder. It'd make more sense to save up and buy the MIDIsaurus, since there are a LOT more games available and greater depth of coverage.

Children's Music Journey, published by Adventus, and made for ages 4-10. It costs $66.45. Unfortunately, we didn't go over this one in the workshop, but the presenter said he loved it, and that he'd consider this one to be one of his staples for the studio.

I hope that was helpful! The presenter went over some other technology-based music tools for the studio, but those weren't so much for Theory (maybe we'll have another post on those!) I know now that I want to buy MIDIsaurus and Practica Musica (as well as those Space Flight flash cards I already bought!) to get a good coverage of all the levels and ages for my studio. I'm also very excited to start my computer lab, so I can have the students come 20 minutes early, do their theory on a FUN program, and then we can devote the entire 30 or 45 minutes of our one-on-one lesson time to just technique and repertoire! I'm so excited!

4/29/10

Theory Issues.........and lots of LINKS!!


Music theory is SUPER important to the beginning piano student. However, I think that sometimes it is easy to slack off and either 1) not leave enough time for it, or forget about it entirely, or 2) make it the most boring part of the lesson.

I'd like to briefly address these two problems with theory in our lessons (at least in my experience - I know a lot of you already are great at teaching theory in a fun, exciting way! Share your secrets with us!;)):

1) Forgetting to do theory, or not leaving enough time for it

Sometimes it can be so hard to find the time to open up that theory book during the lesson. I truly hope that as teachers we don't really forget to teach theory (because honestly, how could you? As I mentioned in an earlier post, there should be a technique reason and a theory reason for everything you teach.) - but it truly can be a challenge to fit everything your student needs to know to be a well-rounded musician into one weekly half-hour lesson. 

A few options (just off the top of my head) to help remedy this:

-set up a computer in your studio and purchase some fun music theory software for your students to use for 15-20 minutes prior to their lesson. Definitely would help fit more into the lesson!
-assign your student to use some online theory resources at home - there really are a ton of great ones available
-do theory FIRST at the lesson, even if it's just for a few minutes. That way you'll keep right on track!
-whether you have the time to go over theory a lot or not, make sure the student always has some type of theory assignment to work on each week
-address the NEXT issue (theory is boring) and you won't WANT to leave it out of the lesson because it is the best part of the lesson!.....

2) Theory is boring

Well then something has got to change! I am just as guilty at this as the next person. It's so easy to just open up that theory book, see which concept should be taught next, go over the page with the student (in a non-exciting way) and assign them the page to do at home. Sure this works, they usually get the concepts alright. But seriously, it can be very boring. And non-memorable. And did I mention boring?

I am not pretending to be some super resource for theory games - because honestly, I could use just as many ideas as the next teacher! My list of "theory games" would be rather short...and maybe a little boring....here is one idea (hey at least it's something!)....

-flashcard games: actually this would probably be my one fun game that really sticks out in my mind as something that the students get into and enjoy, and that is really helpful. It is nothing too fancy, but we make it fun by using a stopwatch. I time the student to see how long it takes to go through the stack and name and play each note on the cards. I think it is helpful to have the student first name the note without looking at the keyboard (to avoid counting up keys and other shortcuts, to make sure they really know the note by sight), then turn to the keyboard and play the key in the correct octave. Any flashcards that the student does not get right, I put in a separate stack and we go through those again at the end. We count up how many cards they got right on the first try, and see how long it took. The students love trying to beat their time each week, and get really into it. It's great to make them go for speed because it forces them to name the notes as quickly as possible.
Ok, enough of my ideas (or lack thereof).....let's turn to some AWESOME online resources! And please, if you know of other great resources, we'd love to hear about them to add to the list!

Online Theory Trainers, Games, and Quizzes

Free online music theory drills & theory concepts to explore
Online piano games
Music information, quizzes and games
46 online music theory lessons
theory lessons, trainers, staff paper generator 
Ear training

Printable Worksheets & Tools
 
free tools, worksheets, sightreading genie, dictionary of terms, infinite supply of manuscript paper, rhythm machine, articles, music crosswords and games
www.practicespot.com
AWESOME website with free printable worksheets, fun composer bios/crossword puzzles, etc.

fun & creative printable worksheets and certificates, teaching ideas
http://www.insidemusicteaching.com/index.html

 
Ideas for Lessons

Music Education Lesson Plans: Music Theory
resources for music educators, lots of fun game ideas
http://rebeccawmusic.blogspot.com/
creative, practical and up-to-date resources for the independent music teacher
a blog about teaching piano lessons
teaching resources, games, activities, ideas
http://susanparadis.wordpress.com/
wonderful ideas for lessons!

Theory Software
 
Piano & Music Theory Software Reviews
Review of Alfred's Theory Games

Have fun with music composition!
Jazz fun!

4/28/10

more theory

Well hello!

I have been a bit missing in action lately, but yesterday I finally finished my NCTM portfolio (wahoo!). We are going to extend the theory topic for a few days because I think we need to cover some online resources and theory games. Stay tuned for a post later today on some awesome resources, and we would love some comments from YOU on your favorite theory games.

Have a great day!

4/26/10

Teaching Beginning Theory

Ah, music theory...most of us are music nerds and we love it! We get excited about things like secondary dominants and diminished seventh chords. But why do so many of our students hate it? I suppose it is because it feels like the boring "work" part of music. But to not teach theory to our beginning students would be like a kindergarten teacher teaching her students to read the letters in the alphabet, without teaching them to write them. I would like to talk briefly about several ways in which theory can be taught so that it becomes an integral part of each student's study, and not a separate activity, hated and often "forgotten."

Theory Worksheets

Okay, so these are important. If you have your students using a method, there are theory pages each week that support the concepts in the lesson book. Have your students get in the habit of doing these from the very beginning. Review them in the lesson, and talk about how they apply to the piece they learned. These pages don't take long, and if you don't act like they're boring, young students will usually do them quite enthusiastically.


Theory Games

This is like the fun version of theory worksheets, and it's worth taking 5 minutes in the lesson to have some fun with theory. A group class is another great opportunity for theory games. I'm not going to try to give examples, because there are so many more creative teachers than I, and great resources on the internet.


Theory Lab

Many teachers incorporate some kind of computer lab into their music studio. This lab can include fun theory computer games as well as ear training tapes, CDs, and videos that can all reinforce theory concepts.


Technique

Here's a place where we don't always think about applying theory, but most technique exercises are theory-based. Five finger scales teach the theory concepts of whole steps, half steps, major and minor scales and chords, and key signatures. Other technique exercises teach intervals, major and minor chords, primary triads, inversions, etc. Talk about these concepts when you teach the exercises, and often later on as well. Students won't remember or understand everything at first, but the more you talk about it, the more it will begin to make sense, and what they are doing in their written work will have a tactile and visual application.


Applied Theory

Speaking of application, if theory is ever to have any real impact on a student's piano study, it must be constantly and thoroughly applied to the music they are playing! For instance, the most basic theory concepts a beginning student must learn are note names, intervals, and rhythm (note values). It goes without saying that you won't just send a student home with a worksheet on these concepts, and never talk about them in the lesson. You will be constantly asking, "how many counts does this note get?" or "what is the interval between these two notes?" So from the very beginning of a piano student's study, you are helping them apply the theory to the music. As soon as chords are introduced into the students' pieces, you can talk about how triads are the basis of our harmonic system. Soon enough you will be able to use terms like "V7 chord," "dissonance," and "leading tone." I used to be afraid to use words I thought a beginning student might not understand, until I realized that they won't ever learn them unless I use them! And every concept must be taught again and again for them to really learn it. Even very young students can hear dissonance and resolution, so give them the words to describe it. The more you talk about how and why music works the way it does, the faster their skills in reading, memorizing, and interpreting music will develop. And they'll enjoy it more along the way.

4/21/10

Piano Teaching Q&A: Theory Technology

Hello, again! We've finally moved into our new home in Idaho and I've already gotten a few student referals (yes!). I went to a workshop for piano teachers this past Friday entitled "Incorporating Technology into your Studio", and it turns out that technology is a BIG deal here in Idaho (which I love!) Even the elderly teachers who have been teaching for 50 years use MIDIsaurus and other computer-based theory exercises. I love it and I'm going to buy MIDIsaurus and a couple other computer theory programs in the next couple of weeks. But here's my question:

How should I handle computer lab fees? I originally thought I would charge a $5 computer lab fee per month (keeping in mind the cost of living in Idaho). However, when I went to the workshop on Friday and asked the same question, a lot of the teachers said they tried doing a monthly fee, but a lot of the parents would try to save money and say "Well, what if I just had my son take piano lessons without the computer instruction, so I don't have to pay the monthly computer lab fee?"

I obviously want to avoid that, because theory and ear-training are such an integral part of piano lessons! So some of the teachers suggested doing a yearly Materials Fee, which covers computer lab costs. I originally had my materials fee set for $25, BEFORE I added my computer lab. I thought maybe it should be $50 for the yearly materials fee, but it sounds like that might be too high for Idaho (I already had to drop my monthly lesson rates by $15, and it's STILL on the high side!) So what would you do? I'm having some students come for auditions next week, so I need to have this ironed out by the end of this weekend! Thanks!

Poll Results, and let's talk about Theory!

Holy moly - another week come and gone already? Now this poll, I think, is very interesting. If we had had a few more voters we could probably draw more conclusions from it :) However, notice that only 1/4 of the voters learned correct technique right from the beginning. Isn't that sad? What can we learn from this? - the importance of giving our own students a great start in technique!

When did YOU learn correct technique?


This next week's topic should be a fun one - Teaching Beginning Theory!

I can't wait to hear all your *amazing ideas* for FUN and EXCITING ways to teach theory to your beginners. Because let's face it, theory can be kinda boring...but it is oh-so important. Here's looking forward to a great week!

Don't forget to take our poll of the week, located on our right sidebar. And if you haven't already, we'd love it if you could take a minute or two and fill out our reader survey!

4/19/10

Technique Exercises for Beginners



So, we know that technique is important for our beginning piano students. But what technique exercises are good to assign to beginners? 

Here are a few ideas (and I'd love to hear what exercises you use!):


Five-Finger Scales

Five finger scales are basically the first five notes of a scale; I have my students play up and back (for example, C Major is C-D-E-F-G-F-E-D-C). I always have my beginners start playing five-finger scales right away. I think these are great for many reasons: 
  • They are simple and the student can begin practicing them right away
  • They get the student playing in many keys right away
  • You can use a five-finger scale to learn all sorts of techniques, such as legato, staccato, different dynamics, etc.
  • They lay a good foundation for the "real" scales the student will learn down the road
  • They are a great way to practice playing with a good hand shape and to help make that a habit

So many ways to practice five-finger scales:
  • Slow, hands alone to learn correct hand shape (student has time to watch each finger to make sure it is curved and the knuckle does not collapse)
  • Slow, hands alone to learn high loud fingers: have them say, "up, down, relax" while lifting each finger, playing each note and relaxing the wrist. When you speed up this motion you'll have a nice, relaxed wrist and a lovely legato passage with a nice, strong sound
  • Hands together
  • Legato, staccato, loud, soft - you name it
  • I usually have my students play a four-octave five-finger scale, crossing hand over hand. For example, for a C Major five-finger scale, the left hand will start and play an ascending five-finger scale on a low C, then the right hand plays one on the next C, the left hand crosses over and plays one on the next C, then the right hand plays one on the next C --- 4 octaves. Once you get to the top of the last one in the right hand, come back down with descending five-finger scales. Doing this in each white-note key is a great way to familiarize your student with the keyboard and with all different keys.
  • I also have my beginners do four-octave arpeggios (similar to the scales described above, just using notes C-E-G), as well as block chords (play a C chord on each of the four octaves, going up and back).
  • You can also use the metronome to help the student acquire speed and evenness
You can assign a different scale per week (or however long it takes them to learn each one) until they have learned all of them (C, G, F, D, A, E, B).


Technique Books

Most of the piano methods these days come with a Technique Book that coordinates with the concepts being taught and pieces being learned. These are such a wonderful resource. Just make sure to teach and show your student the correct technique in each exercise, so they're not just playing the notes and passing them off.


Junior Hanon

Good old Hanon. Have you seen this version of it? It is great because it has many of the same exercises, but they only go up half as high (not as many ledger line notes) and are in bigger print (easier to read). Although your beginners may not know every note yet, they should be able to play these because they are repeated patterns, just like the original Hanon book.

What are your favorite exercises to assign to your beginners?

And the winner is...

Megan said...


I love teaching because it gives me some personal development - and I break from my regular routine. I love it when my mildly autistic student gets every song perfect. I love it when my 12 year old female student loves her "contemporary" piece. I love to see my students compose their own pieces!

4/17/10

The Importance of Beginning Technique

I have to be honest: I sometimes cringe when I hear of teachers who say they are "only" qualified to teach beginners. 

Now let me explain - I know there are many wonderful teachers out there who teach only beginners, who feel that they are not advanced enough to teach intermediate and above students. Now it may have something to do with my own beginning piano study, but the reason I cringe at this is because I worry about what kind of technique they are teaching their students. 

I started lessons with a wonderful, dear teacher who lived in my neighborhood. It was a great experience, and she was a good teacher who instilled in me a love for piano and for music. However, when I transferred teachers about six years later, my new teacher had to completely fix my technique! (Has anyone else had this same experience? Feel free to take our poll on this topic!) Talk about an eye-opener. I was suddenly learning things I should have learned long before, and I feel that my playing improved very quickly after that point.

Image from Clavier Companion
I think that sometimes as teachers we underestimate the importance of teaching good, correct technique right from the beginning. Students need a good foundation of technique right from day one in order to become good, proficient pianists.

My piano pedagogy teacher in college taught us that you should never teach anything without technique. There should be a technique reason and a theory reason behind every concept you teach to your students.

I'd like to go over a few basic techniques that are important for your beginners to know and be able to execute correctly. These techniques will provide a good foundation for the developing pianist.

Hand Shape

This is hugely important. Students should play with a nice, rounded hand shape. Fingers should be relaxed and curved, and should strike the piano keys at the fingertips (except, of course, for the thumb, which strikes the keys on its side/corner). The wrist and arm should be level, with the elbow slightly extended from the body.

There are all sorts of analogies to use to teach this curved hand shape - however, if you have the student naturally relax their hand on their lap, it will almost every time result in a nice, relaxed shape that you can just transfer right to the piano keys. (Who knew it was so easy, eh?) Oh and can I just mention the importance of staying relaxed and avoiding overall tension, such as in the shoulders? My college piano teacher once told me I looked like Frankenstein because my shoulders were getting so tense. Nice.


And one other fun idea - try putting little sticker dots on your student's fingers on the exact place the finger should be striking the key! (Which would be on the fingertips, except for the thumb of course.) You could also put some on the keyboard and have the play by lining up the dots. This works well with the young'uns. 

High Loud Fingers

I feel that it is important for students to learn to play with strong fingers to achieve 1) control over their playing, 2) evenness in their playing, and 3) a nice, deep sound.

(In contrast, think of students who play by keeping all fingers touching the keys at all times and kind of push the finger down into the key with their hand or wrist. This is all fine and good when they're playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or "Oscar the Octopus" but what happens when they start playing scales, etudes, or Liszt pieces of craziness? The required finger movement just won't be there, and the results will be sloppy.)

You can achieve this technique (while avoiding injury) by lifting the fingers, one at a time, straight up, then bringing them down into the keys while keeping the wrist nice and relaxed. Try having them play a simple five-finger scale while saying, "up, down, relax" to get these movements down.

Really, the goal you're going for with this technique is for your students to play with control and confidence.


Staccato Touch

I love teaching staccato (nerdy, I know). I think it is one technique that really gives the student control over the character of their piece, and when they achieve that great staccato sound they get so excited!

Here's how I like to teach staccato. I call it my Basketball Analogy:

image link
Pretend that the keyboard is a basketball, and you are dribbling it. (Hopefully your student has dribbled a basketball before - if not you may have to take them on a little field trip out to your patio or driveway for an object lesson!)

What happens if your hand is touching the basketball the entire time you are trying to dribble it? Will it bounce? Um, no. You need to actually have your hand above the basketball, and then come down with some force and whack it (very technical terms here). The ball then bounces while you lift your hand up again and repeat.

Now obviously you want to do this with nice, curved fingers (but probably NOT with the actual ball - you don't want to jam those precious piano fingers). But at least it gives them the general idea that it is ok to get away from the keyboard a little. It's amazing the difference in staccato when you can get those little fingers to strike the keys from a little ways above the keyboard.

If your student feels a little sheepish with their hands up in the air, just whip out a few photos of famous pianists, and that ought inspire them a bit:

This is Lang Lang.
And Martha Argerich.

Oh and p.s., on a side note I want to mention that STACCATO does not necessarily equal FAST, nor does it equal LOUD. Try challenging your students to play a SOFT staccato piece with a SLOW tempo.


Legato Phrases

This is actually two different concepts. It's one thing to play smooth and legato, and a whole different thing to actually play legato notes within a phrase.

As for legato: I like to illustrate smooth, connected notes by having my student walk across the room. We talk about how one foot cannot lift up until the other one is on the ground. (They can go ahead and try it. It is pretty near impossible, without jumping :)) In order to play a smooth, connected line of notes, one finger should not release its key until the next finger is playing.

Beginning students should learn the basics of playing a phrase. I like to tell my students that a phrase is a musical sentence. (This analogy works very well with all those little bookworms out there.) What would happen if you were reading a book, and there were no punctuation marks between the sentences? Would the book make any sense? Not really. There needs to be something that separates musical phrases (and sentences) in order for them to make sense.

That something is a slight lift of the wrist, like a little breath. A good way to teach this is to begin with two-note phrases, and have the student say, "down, up! down, up!" as they play and move their wrist down and up. Faber and Faber has a great little analogy called a "Wrist Float-Off." Pretend there is a balloon with a string tied around your wrist, slowly pulling your wrist upward. On a closed piano lid, let your wrist rise slowly (keeping your shoulder relaxed) until only the tip of finger 3 is touching the surface.

So there you have it - my take on beginning technique. I'd love to hear your ideas as well. Let us strive to give our students a wonderful foundation of technique to build on for years to come, even if we choose to "only" teach beginners!

4/16/10

Piano Teaching Q&A: Lesson Plans?

Each week we will be featuring questions about music teaching, and will do our best to answer them and to give some ideas :) We would also love lots of comments to see what you think!


I am right now working on my portfolio to fulfill the requirements to become a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music. (In fact I have been thinking about my post for this week about Teaching Beginning Technique, but have not written it yet because I have been swamped the past few of days with this portfolio! Must. Get. It. Done!! :))


My question is this: What do you think about Lesson Plans? Do you prepare them for each lesson? Do you use them at all? Part of the Certification Portfolio is to write nine representative lesson plans for a semester of piano study for a student of any level. I have never used formal lesson plans before, and after working on these I must say that it is a LOT of work! Although I don't usually write lesson plans, I usually have an idea of what we will go over in lessons, and have an activity or two planned to help reinforce concepts. I think it is important to be familiar with the method books used by the student and know what units and concepts are coming up, but I wonder about the usefulness of lesson plans - are they useful, or are they just a waste of time? Is it hard to stick to the lesson plan anyway, depending on whether or not the student passed off their assignments? I can definitely see the importance of having a lesson plan when teaching in a group setting, but what do you think about using them for private lessons?


Thoughts? Ideas? Opinions? Experiences?


If you have a question you'd like to ask us, leave it in a comment or submit it here.

4/14/10

Your Favorite Piano Methods, and our Next Topic!

Thanks for all your votes on this week's poll! Here are the results:

Other responses were:
Music Tree
Alfred's Premiere Piano Course

I love seeing the results of these polls - they are so interesting! I think it's safe to say that a lot of piano teachers really love the Faber & Faber series. I am one of them. However, I am now excited to look into some of the methods that I have never used before, such as Music Tree. There really are so many wonderful piano methods out there! There really is so much more we could go into on this topic - but for now...

...onto our next topic:

Teaching Beginning Technique

I am really excited about this topic...this is where it starts getting fun! We know that teaching correct technique right from the beginning is so important...so how do we do this in such a way to help our students internalize and remember the concepts, make them habit, and have fun in the process?

We'd love to hear your great ideas on how to teach technique to beginners. What fun games do you use? How do you teach your students correct technique? What technique exercises do you use with your beginners? We're looking forward to a great week!

Also, don't forget to enter our GIVEAWAY!! You have until this Saturday at 11:59 pm. Click here to learn how to enter!

4/13/10

Personality Types & Piano Methods

Practical Piano Pedagogy
I just read a great chapter in Dr. Martha Baker-Jordan's Practical Piano Pedagogy all about piano methods. In this chapter she has wonderful, in-depth reviews of ten different piano methods, focusing on Reading, Rhythm, Technique and Theory for each method. The ten methods she reviews are:

Bastien Piano Basics
The Music Tree
Faber & Faber Piano Adventures
Beanstalks Basics for Piano
Hal Leonard Student Piano Library
The Robert Pace Keyboard Approach
Alfred's Basic Piano Library
John W. Schaum Piano Course
John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano
Piano Discoveries


I am excited to learn about some of these methods that I am unfamiliar with! Her reviews are so helpful. I also love how she has a section on "Methods and Character Types." She says,
 "You can't force the student to fit the program - you've got to make the program to fit the student."
I completely agree with this. Although we may have our favorite piano methods, they may not work equally well for each individual student. Each student you teach has their own personality type, their own strengths and weaknesses. Each student learns in different ways (not to mention that each teacher teaches in different ways!).

Baker-Jordan discusses four different character types: Idealist/Dolphin, Guardian/Bear, Rational/Owl and Artisan/Ape. She includes charts for the most common two character types of piano teachers/students which illustrate the types of approaches, methods, materials and components that are most effective for that character type, as well as which specific piano methods are most effective.

I wanted to share this because it is so interesting, and so helpful! I definitely recommend this book; I am about halfway through it and so far it has been really helpful!

Don't forget to enter our GIVEAWAY!! You can enter until this Saturday, April 17 at 11:59 pm. Click here to learn how to enter!

4/12/10

Piano Methods for Beginners

Ah, method books. I sure do have fond memories of my own - when I was learning to play the piano I used the John W. Schaum Piano Course:

John W. Schaum Piano Course Leading to Mastery of the Instrument "F" Brown BookJohn W. Schaum Piano Course Leading to the Mastery of the Instrument, D the Orange Book

and the Eckstein Piano Course:

Eckstein: Piano Course, Book 1Eckstein: Piano Course, Book 2Eckstein Piano Course, Book 3Eckstein Piano Course, Book 6

Seriously, good times. And let me tell you, whenever I come across these old books (which seem like old friends in a way!) at my parents' house, I flip through the old yellowing pages and those great black and white drawings bring back lots of memories. Songs like "Bicycle Bill," "Riding On a Mule," "At the Junior Prom" (my FIRST-ever piece with the pedal - boy was I excited!) just pop right back into my head, and I really remember the joy and excitement I felt while learning to play the piano!

Although there is, of course, a place in my heart for these old black-and-white books I learned from, the method books these days are (thankfully) a lot more interesting and fun to look at (thanks in large part to the color illustrations!). I think that is so wonderful, because they have the potential to keep many students much more interested and excited about the piano.

Choosing a good piano method to use for a student is important. I think that a good method can and should do the following:
  • Help motivate the student to practice, and help keep the student interested (particularly when their books are fun and colorful and have fun pieces!)
  • Help them become musically-literate (especially when the method is well-rounded and includes things such as theory, ear training, transposition, music history, technique, etc.)
Having said that, I do believe that the success of the student depends much more on the teacher than on the method book used. I always have people ask me, "What method do you use?" I do not use one particular method on every student. 

For one thing, each student is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. While I have common standards and a similar curriculum for each student in my studio, I tailor my teaching style to the individual student. One method book may work wonderfully for one student, but may be too advanced and fast-moving for another. 

If you are a good enough teacher and know how to teach correct technique, then you can probably make any method book work. However, there are so many wonderful methods out there that will be a big help in producing well-rounded musicians and music lovers!

Here are some basic things to consider when choosing a method book:
  • Which reading approach is used? Middle C, multi-key, intervallic, or a combination?
  • Does it use a good sequence of concepts? Is it comprehensive (includes technique, sight reading, ear training, etc.)?
  • Does it include all the essential theory concepts, such as intervals, chords, harmony, transposition?
  • Does it make sense to the student?
  • How is it designed/formatted - is it fun and colorful?
  • What kind of supplementary materials are included?  Does it come with supporting technology, such as CD's?
In conclusion, I would evaluate some method books and decide which one fits best with your student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as with your teaching style and studio curriculum. Hopefully the one you choose will someday become a dear old "friend" to your student, and will remind them of the joy they felt when they were learning from you how to play the piano!

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There are still a couple more days to vote on this week's poll about your favorite method book. So far Faber & Faber's Piano Adventures is definitely in the lead! We would love to have some comments about what your favorite method is, and something that you love about it - why would you vote for it as your favorite?

Piano Adventures: Lesson Book Primer Level (Piano Adventures Library)Alfred's Basic Piano Library: Lesson Book Level 1AWP200 - Bastien Piano Basics: Piano Primer Level (Primer Level, Wp200)Piano Lessons Book 3 - Book/CD Pack Edition: Hal Leonard Student Piano Library (Hal Leonard Student Piano Library (Songbooks))Lesson and Musicianship 2A: A Comprehensive Piano Method (Celebrate Piano!®)Premier Piano Course Theory 2a (Alfred's Premier Piano Course)The Music Tree: Student's Book, Part 1Piano Town: Primer Level LessonsMusic for Little Mozarts: Music Lesson Book 4

Visit our Helpful Resources page for links to some fabulous articles and charts about methods. I particularly like the article about evaluating new method books, found on ClavierCompanion.com in the September/October 2009 issue.
And don't forget to enter our GIVEAWAY!! You can enter until this Saturday, April 17 at 11:59 pm. Click here to learn how to enter!
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