Along with music, I have an interest in a language Learning (a hobby). In reading several articles about best practices in learning a new language, I was struck by the similarities in the way I teach piano to my students.
I didn't used to think that music was a language. Now I not only think it is but I think the best way to learn a musical instrument is to follow the structure of language learning.
So how did you learn language? Probably, as a child, you learned to "mimic" your parents and family members as they spoke. You learned a few individual words at first, later graduating to putting them together in phrases and short sentences. You made lots of mistakes in pronouncing things and probably the adults thought it was cute and knew that eventually you would get it right.
And you did. Later, In school, you learned what words looked like, and how they were constructed. You also learned how to put together more complex sentences into paragraphs. Perhaps most importantly, you learned how to express yourself in your speaking and writing.
So the journey of language began with speaking only, then later learning to read words and sentences. No one would expect a toddler to learn to write words and sentences before they learned to speak. That would be ludicrous.
Can this compare to learning a musical instrument? You bet it can. I've found that when I follow the same mindset of learning to play first and learn to read music later, my students find it easier and more motivating because they get to play great stuff right away. We begin looking at music reading exercises about 6 months in. It's rather easy for them as they're so used to playing the notes and rhythms they’re learning.
We would call this type of piano method a "playing based" method. These methods are fairly new on the music education scene. The only two I know of are Suzuki and the one I teach, called Simply Music. All other piano methods are "reading based" (you must learn to read music notation as you learn to play) and have been around in the same basic form for about 200 years. Here are some of the reasons I choose to teach the Simply Music method:
There are many more benefits but these are the most prominent.
I do know that I'm glad to be able to provide great learning and motivation for children and adults who want to learn piano but may have had challenges with other methods. For many people, learning to play the piano is really a dream come true.
Last year I got a call from a principal at a charter school in Philadelphia, PA. She asked if I could do a pilot program teaching music theory remotely to K-8 at their school (I was already teaching private piano online). I was nervous about it but very intrigued. I did a proposal pushing including some general music topics along with theory and started in their Fall term. Here's how it went.
This is a charter school where all students of all levels physically come into the school but have a laptop where they get much of their instruction. A teacher is assigned to every two levels. We worked out the sessions where I would do all classes one day a week with two grade levels per session (6-8 took together). K-1 went for 20 minutes and the other levels would be 45 min each. I used the wiziq.com learning platform to run everything.
Though I had a microphone and two webcams (one pointed to me, one pointed to my piano keyboard), they did not have webcams or microphones. Therefore, they could see and hear me but I couldn't see or hear them. We used instant chat for feedback, which was okay except for K-1. Their teacher would chat me for a few things and I "winged" it the rest of the time.
I was able to explore a varied menu of musical topics. I found that the Philadelphia Orchestra was doing Beethoven's 9th Symphony soon so we explored the composer's life and background of "Ode to Joy." I made a plug for the upcoming orchestra's performances. Other topics included Native American Music, The Nutcracker Suite, and the Music and Musicians on the Titanic. Here are some typical lessons I used:
Typical lesson , Grade Levels K-1, 20 min
Typical lesson, grade levels 2-8, 45 min
I think most everything went well. The lack of good feedback was an issue as well as technical issues on their end. I have to say that the older students LOVED the chat. I laid down ground rules that they only chat when I ask for feedback and all messages display to everyone including me and their classroom teacher. It never really got out of control. Once, as my 4-5 level session was getting started and logged-in, nature called so I left the camera for about 30 seconds. When I returned, one of the students chatted, "Where did you go?" Though I wanted to say none of your business, I just ignored the question.
It was a great experience even without a wealth of feedback that we all like in the classroom. I still teach one-on-one piano lessons online with great success. It's a great way for homeschoolers, adults, and those in rural areas to get quality music education into their life.
Terry Smith teaches piano and voice privately in the Phoenix, AZ area and online anywhere using an innovative approach called "PLAY NOW!"
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