As I journey along with Liz, my newest piano student, I’m collecting insights about the nature of music learning from the perspective of a child. And by this most recent experience, I’ve come to realize that the choice of teaching materials is wedded to a mentor’s own philosophy about expressive music-making.
The samples below represent Liz’s second lesson exposure to the piano. Her initial introduction to the instrument was memorialized in a separate blog that’s linked at the conclusion of this post.
Thoughts on Teaching
Over decades of mentoring beginning students (in the 7 to 9 year old range) I’ve concluded that nearly all so-called “method” books have their set of strengths and weaknesses and each can be somewhat adapted to meet the needs of a diverse student population. But if pre-reading offerings that include staff-less, floating black key pieces, are quickly disposed of in favor of quick fix, Five-Finger position romps that over-generalize keyboard geographies, (and become addictive), then then I must draw the line about what I can in good conscience work with in my role as a front line, first responder to the musical needs of a fledgling.
Have I found a magic path in a published set of materials on the market?–not necessarily, but I’ll admit that Frances Clark, the original Mother of The Music Tree series never intended to woo students to the piano with “shortcuts” and Kool-Aid dispensing note-reading routines that pin the thumb on Middle C, and follow with a parade of invented “positions” that march laboriously through Red, Green, and Yellow “A,” “B” and “C” levels.
I tend toward being a repertoire-based teacher, though in the formative introductory period to the piano, I want to synthesize singing tone production, with cognitive and affective dimensions of learning within a balanced, educational framework.
So rather than nit pick this or that “METHOD” that could ostensibly work, or to the contrary, not be feasible for a particular student and teacher, I’ve made the decision to embark upon a collective journey with Liz, having an open mind.
In this vein, the student’s piano lessons will continue to be recorded and posted weekly on You Tube as my point of departure for review and evaluation. In this way, I’ll allow myself the unswerving freedom to modify any teaching material to meet the pupil’s individual needs.
What I currently favor, however, about Time To Begin, is its renunciation of the “position” route that forces too many pupils into a five-finger dependency rut.
Yet, I’m not unconditionally pleased with method book packaged pre-recorded accompaniments that are associated with the Music Tree Primer.
The companion Time to Begin CD provides the beginning student with a cushion of harmonic support and rhythmic framing in duo form, while it can be constraining for a pupil who has to fit into a “robotic” Midi generated Secondo.(Accompaniment) Between lessons he/she is unable to bend a phrase, contour or it, or “express” creative spontaneity while the disk is streaming. Nevertheless, I can still live with what I consider to be a CD generated- compensatory boon for early learners because of the disk’s repository of adventurous harmonies and basic framing “beats.” Eventually, these measured “ticks” should become internalized and ripened into a “singing pulse.”
I’ve already worked around the pitfalls of MIDI Secondo parts, by revisiting Time to Begin duets at the LIVE lesson, with my creative prompts. More specifically, I’ve “slowed” up the fundamental beat, while suggesting an array of “dynamics” that include “making a “crescendo” and varying “colors.” We have “floated the Canoe on gentle waters”–(“In The Canoe”) and made an “echo” on the repeat of “Inchworm.”
Liz, a bright and responsive child is flexible and malleable when taken off the CD track and placed in an imagination-rich zone beside her teacher at the piano.
So for the present, Time to Begin is working harmoniously for Liz and its pages have unearthed my own unique approach to mentoring the child with necessary, self-applied Add-ons. These expand the learning environment as I perceive it, without strictures imposed by Clark, Goss and Holland.
In the creative cosmos, I’ve even added a “composer” opportunity to Liz’s lessons, hoping that she can trust her own unique expression at this early developmental stage.
In time, as Liz progresses to the Grand Staff, not having been exposed to the same old fixed notes attached to specific fingers, (thanks to Music Tree) she’ll ultimately become a repertoire-based learner (with supportive technique-based regimens). Listening assignments, meanwhile have been added into the mix. (Teacher recordings and those of various pianists–i.e. Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels” to illustrate “supple wrist” motions through seamless, rolling triplets; Duet playing examples such as a set of Haydn variations with ECHO phrases.
In the offing, hand-picked compositions of merit will draw upon the the works of Turk, Hook, Kabalevsky, Tchaikovsky, et al serving to emancipate beginners from the drudgery of pre-designed, one-size-fits-all, LEVELED books.
The post below contains LIZ’s first piano lesson, in THREE parts: