Saturday, 5 October 2013

Piano methods

I've been a piano teacher for over 15 years now.  People often ask me what method or book series I use, and it's a question that's hard to answer: I use so many different ones that I can't pin it down to one thing.

I've used the Royal Conservatory of Music.  I've taught children using the Bastien, Alfreds and Adventure series.  I've taught adults out of hymn books.  I've taught teenagers with popular and Disney music books.  I've taught by ear and by sight.  I've let students pick their own style and music and I've used their interests to teach music basics.   I guess if I had to sum up my theory to this point, it would be teaching my students not perfection in music technique, but simply to enjoy making music.

This year, I've subconsciously started something new, with the challenge of teaching my own children. I've only had one boy in all my students, so maybe it also has something to do with the different learning styles of boys to girls.  Whatever the reason, I slipped into something new without even realizing it.  It wasn't until I was trying to explain my method to a friend yesterday that I realized how radical, but hopefully effective, the method is.

When asked if I was using the regular children's books series (Bastien, Alfreds, etc) I replied no.  I'm using a book by John Schmidt that has the student playing 3 different songs each day.  The goal is to learn to read notes by interval, not by note name.  I'm teaching rhythm or fingering or italian terms.  The student does not have 2-3 songs per week that they practice over and over until they master that song and associated skill.  This is not like most music teachers.

This is the analogy that I used yesterday explaining it to my friend, and it was completely spur of the moment, but totally true.  We don't teach children to read by giving them 2-3 books and making them read them over and over and over until they can read each word perfectly, until they read with appropriate inflection and rhythm.  Instead we provide a mountain of books for them to look through, encouraging as much exposure to as many books as possible.  We teach the sounds the letters make, or we teach whole words by sight.  If they don't know a word we might cue them, or let them jump over it.  We don't insist on perfection, and yet somehow they learn to read, and generally quite quickly.

So I'm teaching piano the same way.  I'm providing some basics without overwhelming them with note names and fingering and rhythm and staffs and markings.  I really think that as they have exposure to more and more music, they will start to see that the notes look different, and then I'll explain that some are long and some are short.  They will start to see markings and terms and we can talk about interpretation.  But I have a feeling this will be a much more organic way of learning music, and instead of forcing things they aren't ready to learn or understand, they will inquire on their own about unfamiliar marks on the page as they become familiar with sheet music.

It's all new right now, but I'm not in a rush.  Caleb is only six and Colin only eight.  I figure in two years they'll be playing full songs and you'd never know the difference between my method and the traditional one.  (Which, coincidently, is what they also say about letting children learn to read when they are ready and in their own way - after two years you can't tell the difference!)

No comments: