There are many ways to learn to play the piano. Especially nowadays, one can surf the Internet and find many options to learn anything, including how to play something on the piano. If one wants to really make piano playing a good hobby or profession, however, the choices are fewer.
After teaching for a fair amount of years, I classify piano methods into two major categories: reading-based and playing-based. I began piano lessons in the second grade of elementary school (US). Most or all piano methods were (and many still are) very traditional (reading-based). This meant I started learning the complex language of music notation from the very beginning. Since it was a requirement that I had to learn to read the notation of a piece before I was able to play it, the first couple of years were filled with super simple and boring pieces that, frankly, I'm not sure I would want to push on anyone.
Was this the best way for students to learn to play piano? I assumed so. All piano teachers in my area taught this way so I also taught this way for many years while constantly trying to think of another, better way. However, I wasn't aware of some important concepts that blow this way of learning out of the water.
Music is a language, the learning of which can be compared to our own language.
How do we learn our language? As toddlers, we start learning words, then experiment with putting them together into sentences. Only several years later do we learn what those words and sentences look like on the printed page - that is, we learn to read. And along the way, we've made many cute mistakes in grammar and pronunciation and that was okay as that's part of learning.
Students' playing skills can grow much faster than their music reading skills.
I had no idea this was true because I never challenged the paradigm of requiring students to read the music notation of a piece before they play it. I was one of the people who constantly said that "real" musicians read music notation. It was only after many years of teaching that I really posed the question, "Was music the printed page or what we hear from the printed page?"
So, if there really was a better or more natural way to learn piano, maybe we should find a way to foster our playing skills first so we can "speak" this language of music and tackle the music notation part later. This would certainly relieve boredom and spur motivation, especially in those important beginning years of piano lessons - but is that possible?
Enter Simply Music
After thinking for awhile about how this could be done in a student-centered way, I saw a late-night infomercial about a method called Simply Music and realized this did solve many of the issues that piano teachers have with keeping learners motivated to keep learning. After teaching this program for several years, I'm convinced that it is a game-changer in the music education field. I've never seen students grasp playing concepts and gain such a high comfort level with the piano keyboard so quickly. It does seem to be a more natural way to learning to play. It's no longer the number of music theory elements you can recognize that decides where you are in your piano study - it's how you play - and I think that's the way it should be.
This is a very different paradigm from the way I learned but I have no problem making the adjustment. I think Simply Music gives learners (young and not so young) their best chance to make music a lifelong companion, which is a great reason to take piano lessons in the first place.
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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