Archive for May, 2011

Middle C Repertoire is a piano method for teaching beginning piano students.

It is also a great supplement for using with other methods as the book is simply an anthology of pieces in a progressive order.

The Middle C Repertoire Series of books grows out of my pre-school piano method — Keyboard Kids.  This pre-school method centers on the concept of teaching the student to read music as steps and skips and combines it with more traditional methods of note memorization.

In Middle C Repertoire I’ve purposely introduced musical vocabulary that immediately gives students the tools to learn to think musically about their piano studies.  After introducing several compositions using    2-4     3-4     and    4-4    time signatures we have a simple song called THEME.

With the introduction of the composition THEME a conversation can begin with your student about  themes and how composers use them to build their compositions.  As a note of interest it is at this point that I introduce my students to examples of art compositions for students to grasp on to the various musical concepts that are evoked in the titles of the compositions in the Middle C Repertoire Series.  The example I use for THEME is Peter’s Theme from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.  I thought it to be an excellent way to introduce students to the concept of theme.  Whenever Prokofiev has Peter featured in his musical story we hear Peter’s Theme.

Maybe with a recording of Peter’s Theme you could better grasp the effectiveness of using musical examples to make a teaching point.

Another departure that Middle C repertoiree Book 1 uses is that everything is in the English language.  Tempo’s are marked as Moderate Speed or Fast Speed, not Moderato or Allegro.  Loud is marked with an “L” and soft is marked with an “S”, not “f” or “p”D.C. al Fine is marked F.B. to End (from the beginning to the end).  In Middle C Repertoire Book 2 the traditional Italian language is used.  But, in this first volume students, who are often at the most elementary levels in their reading skills, are first introduced to these common markings in English.

Middle C Repertoire does not create lyrics for every composition.  Occasionally it does.  When the concept of song is introduced, then lyrics are essential.  This is another occasion when a music example is most appropriate.  Keeping with the humorous nature of I Forgot My Brain Today I introduce students to Aaron Copland’s arrangement of I Bought Me A Cat.

Since the concept of theme was introduced early in the book we can explore how these themes can be manipulated by composers.  The Theme and Variation can now be logically introduced, expanding the student’s concept of theme.  Not only does the simple piece study Theme and Variation form it also explores Time Signatures.  Each variation is based on in different key signature.  I point out to the student that the FIRST NOTE of EACH VARIATION plays the THEME TONE.  When students see this they all seem to have a “light bulb moment”.  They begin to see that music is not so mysterious and is something they can truly understand.

To finish the lesson on Theme and Variation I play Mozart’s Theme and Variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  I only play the very beginning of each variation.  I stop the recording at the end of each variation and ask the student if they can hear Mozart’s disguise of the THEME.  Most students do very well; but there are some variations that are difficult for students to follow.  I use this as a lesson that music is something that must be studied and if they put forth their best effort they will be able to understand the music of these great geniuses even better.

The composition MARCH! introduces students to eighth notes.  I have found that it’s best to introduce eighth notes as repeated notes until the rhythmic impulse is neurologically understood.  I also introduce the eighth note as a rhythmic group of THREE notes — the two eighth notes and the succeeding note.  The three note groups are marked in blue in the graphic.  Our ear naturally organizes these sounds into three notes so I think the best way to introduce the eighth note rhythm to students is in three note groups.  After the student has neurologically mastered the rhythm then the student can slowly be introduced into playing this rhythm with more complex step and skip patterns.

Middle C Repertoire also gives the student several opportunities to play the same composition in different keys.  Again, I feel this is very important because composers will often take their themes and reintroduce them in various keys.  It is important to get exposure in transposition early on because if it is delayed it becomes a bit of a struggle to learn the same music in a different key.

While students learn their compositions in Middle C Repertoire they are also learning all of the white key hand positions (five-finger scales) and chords.  They are thoroughly given exposure to various techniques they will encounter as composers manipulate their themes.

I have  been working on Middle C Repertoire for about 20 years and have been very pleased with the results.  I’ve dedicated a major part of my teaching career to the teaching of the very young student so this method is tailor-made for young students.  Most of my students playing Middle C Repertoire are in kindergarten or first grade.  The progression of materials best fit this age of student.  Through the summer of 2011 I will be making the Middle C Repertoire Method Books and accompanying Middle C Repertoire Theory Books  available for sale on at http://www.pianoteacherpress.com/

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This blog will be the third installment of Your Desktop Studio; the items I ALWAYS have within reach while teaching my lessons.

CALENDAR – The calendar is an item that I assume most teachers have at an eyes glance in their teaching environment.  Having a calendar, to me, gives my eyes an immediate perspective for arranging things as make-up lessons.  It is also a good reminder to show students that a recital is only days away and that their next lesson will be the LAST LESSON before the recital.  It’s also good for getting a quick look in finding good times for parents wanting to schedule summer lesson times.  Just looking at a calendar sometimes jogs a parents memory as to summer vacations and camps that help us determine that a Friday is really the best day for lessons because there will be fewer conflicts with other planned events.

HAND SANITIZER – This item is a must.  When students come to lessons with a cold I always give them a squirt of hand sanitizer after they sneeze or clean their nose.  I think this is a normal procedure in the public schools to as they seem to automatically give me their hands at these appropriate moments.  Parents seem to have a sense of comfort in knowing their is at least an attempt going on to limit the spread of germs.

CLEANER FOR GLASSES – Young children just do not take to keeping their glasses clean and free of smudges.  Frankly, I’m amazed that some of them can see at all!  When I notice a student’s glasses are smudged (or worse) I try to instill in them the need to proper care for their glasses.  I clean their glasses for them with a glass cleaner specially designed for glasses and a cloth specially designed to prevent scratches from forming on their lenses.  After putting their glasses back in their heads they always respond with a “WOW!! I CAN SEE!!”.  Hopefully, the example of proper care of glasses will give students the incentive to develop a good habit.

ASPIRIN – Anyone who works with teaching for long hours is apt to get a headache now and again so it’s important to keep your pain killer of choice handy.  I put the aspirin in an inconspicuous place.  I would rather students see my pencils and pens (and glasses cleaner) than a bottle of aspirin.  Power of association, you know.

HIGHLIGHTERS – When I was a student teachers marked everything with a red or blue colored pencil.  I had one piano teacher in particular that LOVED to mark my music.  At my first lesson he told me he required me to memorize all my pieces.  After a couple lessons I understood why; after marking my music to thoroughly I couldn’t see the notes.  This teacher helped me have no qualms to writing in my students books.  However, I find that highlighters often to the job much more effectively than colored pencils.

For example – if a student is just getting used to Key Signatures and has difficulty remembering F# for the Key of G using a highlighter to highlight all the F’s in the score is much more effective than writing a sharp symbol before each F.  Also, the fact that the highlighting is still “symbolic” it jogs the students memory that they are to remember something at all the highlighted places in their score.  The highlighting makes for an intermediate step to the student, where writing out the sharp basically delays the inevitable time when one depends upon the Key Signature alone.

For a thorough explanation on the use of highlighters read my blog article on HIGHLIGHT YOUR TEACHING.  This concludes all the information I have out in the open, but what about what’s kept in all those shelves?  Stay tuned, or better yet, subscribe to Blogging at Piano Teacher Press.

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Greetings!!  Today in Mr. Severino Presents I’d like to give you some ideas to help you become a more interesting pianist.   At first you may think odd the whole idea of becoming an interesting pianist.

I learn the notes and play them.  What more is there?  you may be thinking to yourself.  That’s a very good place to begin!!  Let’s begin with the question What more is there?

When I was in 4th grade we began learning about poetry.  I thought it was interesting how the poets would put together words in very clever ways.  I think my first favorite poet was Ogden Nash.  His poems made me laugh.  Like this one.

The Cow
by Ogden Nash

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

What a clever way to describe a cow!  Each end of this creature tells us something very important about itself.  But, as a 4th grader I never came across the word – bovine.   The word bovine means relating to cattle.  The little word ilk was also a word I was not familiar.  Ilk means class or family.  So, the first line of the poem is a poetic was of saying that the cow is a member of the cattle family.

It is not at all uncommon for poets to use words that are a little unusual.  The magic of poetry is often in the clever way poets, like Ogden Nash, put words together.  Now let’s compare Ogden Nash to my version.

The Cow
by Dan Severino

The cow is of the cattle family;
It may moo, but it also gives milk.

There is nothing clever in my version, it doesn’t even rhyme. There is nothing that would make anyone remember it.  Not so with Ogden Nash’s version.

How does this relate to playing the piano?  Much of the music we enjoy is in the clever way the composer puts notes together.  Any time I hear a piece of music I like I want to get a copy of the music to see exactly how the notes were put together.  Also, when playing the piano, we want to make our pieces special so they will be remembered,  just like the Ogden Nash poem.

In music,  it is the composer and the clever way he puts notes together that create a kind of musical poetry.  Let’s now take a longer poem, examine it, and then notice the the tools of understanding and expressing a poem.  We will find the same tools are used in understanding and expressing a musical composition.

The poem I want to use was also one of my favorites while in grade school and it is still a favorite many years later. The Duel by Eugene Field.

The Duel
by Eugene Field

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn’t there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!

The gingham dog went “Bow-wow-wow!”
And the calico cat replied “Mee-ow!”
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I ‘m only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!”
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don’t fancy I exaggerate—
I got my news from the Chinese plate!

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.

This poem is first of all a story that captures our imagination.  The way the poet tells the story makes us want to listen to the very end.  The poet asks himself, “How can I make this story as interesting as possible?”  The pianist (you) must asks himself, “How can I turn these notes into a musical story”?  Too often we are given a new song and the first thing we do is start playing the notes.  It may be better to do some other things first.

1)  Look at the title.  Does the title give us any clues as to what this piece is all about?  Do you understand the title?  If a composition is titled – Berceuse – do you know what you will be playing?

This poem is called The Duel.  A duel is a fight between two people, usually with witnesses, to settle a point of argument.  Duels have been going on for almost 1,000 years.  Our combatants are the gingham dog and the calico cat and the witnesses are the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.  The two witnesses give their witness to the narrator who informs us of The Duel at the end of each verse.

2)  Look at the time signature.  The time signature tells us how our musical notes are organized.  This is VERY important.  Beat 1 is always emphasized and it is especially important to stress this beat in anything dance-like.

3)  Look at the key signature.  Are there sharps or flats that I must play throughout this piece?   Is the piece major or minor?

4)  Check out all the musical words in the composition.  If you don’t know them ALL — find out!!  Ask your teacher OR buy a music dictionary.  CLICK HERE for a link to several Dictionaries of Musical Terms.

5)  Look for notations that are not familiar to you.  Examine them to see if you can figure out how to play the passage.

Now the poem itself.  There are two pairs of people in our poem.  The main characters of The Duel are the gingham dog and the calico cat.  The next most important are the witnesses to The Duel; the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.  The narrator also has a very important part to play in this poem as he relays The Duel from the information given to him by the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.

What is gingham?    Gingham is a checked or striped cotton fabric.  Gingham was a cloth that was first found by European tradesmen that was found in Indonesia.

What is calico?  Calico is a coarse, brightly printed cloth.  Calico was imported from India.  Eventually these two cloths were made on the European continent.

So, the gingham dog and the calico cat were two stuffed cloth animals that were put together on a table, probably for decoration.  And in this same room was a special place for some rare knickknacks like the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.  Very often, when people have items in their home that are special or rare, they identify them with the country where they were made.  I think we can say the room than housed our four friends was a very special room indeed.

Let’s now listed to The Duel by clicking on the link below.

First, knowing what a duel is helps the person reciting the poem to understand why we have two combatants and two witnesses that give information to the narrator.  We might enjoy the poem without knowing this information but with the information everything in the poem makes more sense.

It is therefore very important that you know everything you can about the pieces you play.  If you are playing a Minuet, you should learn everything you can about a minuet.  The more information you have found the more interesting you can make your minuet.  The more information you have the more you will enjoy practicing the minuet trying to get it exactly right.  You will soon begin to see that your piano compositions all have interesting stories behind them.  You will also see that music is so much more than “the notes” staring at you on the page.

Did you notice how many times in The Duel that the last word of two consecutive lines would rhyme.  These two lines of poetry are often referred to as a couplet.  Music, too, often has set of notes that musically rhyme.  Here is an example from a popular composer for young students, Cornelius Gurlitt.

Notice the first two short phrases.  They rhythm is exactly the same in each phrase.  The melodic shape is exactly the same in each phrase.  In this sense there is a perfect “rhyme” between the two phrases.  The only difference is the second phrase begins one step higher than the first phrase, the second phrase begins on “D” and the first phrase begins on “C”.

This little example shows you how the two short musical phrases act like the several couplets in the poem, The Duel.

“Rhymes” exist in music just as frequently as in poetry.  Draw attention to the poetical elements you find in your musical compositions.

Did you know there was A LESSON that Eugene Field wanted us to think about in his poem, The Duel?    Eugene Field asks us at the end of his poem –  Now what do you really think of that!   What do you really think about two people that fight each other so intensely that they “eat each other up”.  This is a poetic way of saying they do harm to each other and hurt each other.  I think he wants us to think that this is not a good idea at all.  What do you think?

Composers often have LESSONS they have in mind in the compositions they write too.  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a group of pieces that we know today as “The Two and Three Part Inventions”.  Bach tells us WHY he wrote these pieces.  He wrote an …

” …  Honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only

(1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress,

(2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good Inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however,

(3) to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time

(4) acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”

Bach wrote these pieces with four major ideas in mind.  I would like to draw our attention to points 3 and 4.  It was very important to Bach that students learn to develop a cantabile style in playing.  It was very important to Bach that one learn HOW TO SING on their keyboard.  Much of Bach’s greatest music was for vocalists and that ability TO SING was at the center of his work as a musician and composer.

Also, as a composer, Bach wanted to draw attention to his students not only to perform well BUT TO COMPOSE too.  Bach wanted to give his students the tools to compose and this is one of the major reasons he wrote his Two and Three Part Inventions.

To be involved in music is to be involved in a great adventure of the imagination.  That imagination is often centered on the poetry of sound.  It is also centered on being as curious as a detective in searching every avenue that might lead you to some information to help you understand your musical compositions better.  The great thing about studying music is that every area of human thought crosses its broad roads; history, poetry, mathematics, science and composition and even athletics.

Thanks for participating in Mr. Severino Presents.  ‘TILL NEXT TIMEKEEP PRACTICING!!

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