piano, piano teaching, primer piano books

The Primer Piano Learning Environment and being Creative

As so many teachers know, there’s no foolproof method or material that will encompass the needs of all beginning piano students. And for some mentors who’ve grown frustrated with what’s available on the commercial market, they’ve responded by creating and self-marketing their own approach.

Yet, regardless of what primer package ensues with a personal autograph or not, the teacher must at some point deviate from a pre-fixed path, and imbue lessons with creative, dynamic activities that spring forth at spontaneous junctures of study. The child in effect becomes the impetus for what will nudge him/her forward with captivated interest. (The teacher should therefore be on high alert for signals that could indicate a detour from a preconceived, printed page parade of pieces/exercises)

I use as an example, Frances Clark’s Time to Begin, the earliest launch of the well-known mentor’s Music Tree series.

Right Side up Music Tree

One of my colleagues called it “too dry,” but through its earliest short phrase exposures that reject stunted five-finger positions, its secondo parts (teacher accompaniments) combine rich harmony and interwoven contrapuntal lines that are wedded to imaginative titles. Such ear-widening introductions to the musical universe, minus the cliche tonic/dominant underpinnings, capture youthful enthusiasm and interest. But such exposure is only the beginning of the adventure that must make twists and turns to heighten and sustain a dynamic learning process.

Here are samples of favorite ear-catching pieces in duo form from the Clark primer. They provide generous opportunities to teach the singing tone via supple wrist, relaxed arms, weight transfer, etc., and afford opportunities to shape phrases by singing them. (Playing Parallel minors by inserting a flat is also an important tonal variant in the march of pieces.)

These early primer explorations are also great springboards for composing activities and allied listening recommendations (you tube and other) that expand the student’s horizons from week to week between lessons.

In this video, my daughter assists me, though the 8-year student who has been journeying through this particular book, has advanced to the point of attaching chords to her own creations.

Currently, after eleven lessons, my pupil is learning about melodic and harmonic seconds that invite an allied composing activity.

At this juncture of Time To Begin, the partial staff is introduced showing simple line to space movement, with a companion activity of playing 2nds divided between the hands. Thirds follow in sequence. Had I simply page turned from one lesson to another without any innovative and creative side-trips, the student and teacher would likely have become “method book” dependent. (In this regard, I find that most method books’ suggested composing activities are far too limited in scope)

While I set boundaries in this particular composing exercise, it also became a nice segue way to companion listening assignments:

Harmonic seconds

(The student will play her piece in Staccato and will use the “8ve” sign which had been amply inserted in preceding pieces.)

Listening tie-ins include “Playing Hobby Horses” by Tchaikovsky Op. 39 (She will be given the score to follow and will circle harmonic 2nds and 3rds as a companion written exercise) and she’ll write a few sentences about her response to the piece.

The second listening recommendation is Couperin’s “Tic Toc Choc” (for animated staccato combined with legato) performed by a young Russian pianist in a picturesque setting.

There are so many imaginative and stimulating piano learning routes that benefit both mentor and student as they share a common journey of discovery.




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