Posts Tagged ‘piano methods’

In high school I had a friend who became his schools valedictorian.  We were both members of a speech club patterned after Toastmaster’s International.  One meeting Rich was scheduled to give a speech.  I remember it to this day.  It was on the subject of How to Learn Effectively.  Rich didn’t create this method but he used it with obvious success.

The method is SQ3R or Survey/Question/Read/Recite/Review.  I think this method can be adapted to be a superb plan for helping our students learn their repertoire assignments. In adapting the method for music study I slightly altered the sequence by switching the last two “R” items making it  Survey/Question/Read/Review/Recite.  SQ3R is a method guaranteed to improve learning and comprehension in our student’s music study.

I think most students just lunge into their assignment and begin slugging through their new pieces through sight reading. Another slightly more disciplined approach many students use is to first learn hands separately.  But, can this method for learning new assignments be improved upon?  I say YES!!  According to SQ3R jumping into immediately reading the piece is a mistake.  According to SQ3R “reading” is the third step of the five step plan.  Let’s review this plan and apply it to learning a musical composition.

The Overview

SQ 3R or SQRRR stands for Survey – Question – Read – Review – Recite.

SURVEY – Survey the piece for new symbols, words, dynamics, phrases, touches, repeats, fingering, possible trouble spots

QUESTION – As much as you can, study the piece and take in as much as you can without playing the piece through.  Mentally imagine playing isolated passages, for example.  And, after mentally playing through the passage, physically play through the passage.  If the piece contains thumb turns mentally imagine playing those thumb turns.  Make plans as to how to go about learning the trouble spots and then execute that plan by physically playing through it.

READ –  Read through the piece but first determine which parts you’re going to play hands separately and which parts you’re going to play hands together.  ANOTHER R to associate with reading is REPEAT.  REPEAT this step until you can play through the piece steadily and musically.

REVIEW – Once you can play through the piece steadily and musically; to bring this piece to the next level (if you so desire) begin memorizing the piece.  ANOTHER R to associate with review is RECALL.

RECITE – After the piece is well “in your fingers” and, for the most part memorized, we can take this piece to an even higher level and make it RECITAL READY.  ANOTHER R to associate with recite (for my students) is RECORD.  I ask my students to record their favorite compositions as part of their lessons.

I think by students not giving due attention to the first two steps (Survey and Question) they make the third step (Read) much more difficult than it need be.  I think if students will get in the habit of properly surveying and asking questions about their pieces, BEFORE taking their fingers to the keys and reading the piece for the first time, a goodly part of the reading issues will already he partially accomplished.  This is one of the major reasons I think SQ3R is superior to having students jump into reading the piece cold, without proper preparation.  Jumping into reading pieces immediately without due preparation is one of the reasons I think our students may get frustrated with the learning process in taking on their new compositions.

More Detail – SURVEY

In applying SQ3R to music study, I’m saying SURVEY would include those areas of a music composition would include all those items that can be learned through a quick glancing over the music.  I think it is important for the teacher to teach the student “how to survey” a piece of music.

If a composition has a repeat mark, point to the repeat mark and ask the student, “Where do we begin this repeat?”

Is the student familiar with all of the musical terms found in the composition.  The teach should define the terms.

Also include looking at the title of the composition!  If the piece is called Scherzo does the student understand the term and how that would effect the nature of his performance.  The teacher should inform the student so they have a basic understanding of the term.

Finally, at the SURVEY level the student should spot those areas that may provide technical or reading challenges.  If a student has little experience playing left hand eighth note patterns taking note of that passage would be in order.  If there are some very low bass tones the student has never played take note of them.  All this preliminary work help orient the student to the task at hand in learning this new composition.

To repeat, I think it’s very important for the teacher to impress on the student the necessity to SURVEY their composition before playing a note. This is counter to the impulse to get ones fingers running through the notes of a new piece as soon as possible.

Also, at the beginning stages of learning students are carte blanche  and need to develop the skill of learning how to SURVEY a piece of music.  It should be a part of the piano lesson for the first several years of piano study while the student gradually can do this independently from the teacher.  I would also recommend giving students a SURVEY ASSIGNMENT occasionally to check their growing ability of learning how to SURVEY their compositions.

More Detail – QUESTION

This step of SQ3R is where the student asks many QUESTIONS as to how to go about playing the piece.  This requires both mental work and physically work in playing through those isolated trouble spots one found in the SURVEY stage.

This stage is where the student takes the information gleaned from the SURVEY stage and gives it physical application.  If we take our example of learning our first Scherzo the student should give some mental thought and ask QUESTIONS as to how to create an image of playing a piece with good humor.

If the piece has some trouble spots we can isolate those passages, perhaps decide on a good fingering (mental work), and then get a start of learning that passage (physical work).  If one goes through this QUESTIONING method through each tricky passage of a composition one will be in a much better position when one finally gets to the point of playing through the complete composition.

As an example.  I recently started a new transfer student with only 4 months of previous lessons.  She wasn’t poorly taught but she was struggling with her note reading, as do many beginning students.  She already knew several scales and was beginning to learn about chords.  There was a lot of good teaching that I could build upon.  One of the first things I taught this student was “reading in steps”.  I taught her the concept of steps; notes moving from line to space.  THEN I would take a piece from her book and highlight all the step passages in yellow.  A good 85% of this particular piece was steps.  I asked the student a QUESTION. “How much of this piece is made of steps?”. The student quickly observed through my SURVEYING of the music for her that almost the complete piece was made of steps.  When the student saw that 85% of her piece was just stepping to the next note she immediately was able to play the piece with greater steadiness and security.   This is SURVEY and QUESTION at work!

Another example with the same student.  We were learning a very simple arrangement of This Land is Your Land.  This little arrangement had two repetitions of the main theme.  The second repetition had accompanying notes for the left hand.  We didn’t have a lot of experience with this type of simple harmonization so before playing a note I pointed out that this would be a “trouble spot” and something we have not experienced up to this point.  After seeing the problem we isolated those measures and I asked the students questions regarding the notes and we found the notes followed a pattern containing steps and skips.  We found this pattern happened twice, in fact.  We highlighted the left hand pattern and played it through a couple times until we had a basic understanding of the movement of the notes.  I repeated to the student the movement of the notes; a step here and a skip there.  I mentioned to the student when we play this hands together you have to remember the movement of the notes.  THEN we tried playing hands together.  She was able to get through the passage fairly well.  This is SURVEY and QUESTION at work!  It’s a frustration saver.

But again, I repeat.  At the beginning of lessons it will be largely the teacher’s job to help the student through these initial two steps of SQ3R.  In time the students will slowly, as they gain experience and knowledge, be able to take more and more responsibility themselves.

If we immediately hop to the READING step of SQ3r without these very important preliminary steps of SURVEY and QUESTION students will most likely be slugging their way through their new pieces and leading themselves into frustration.  And, in my experience frustration is one of the leading causes of potentially good students dropping their music studies.  The frustration eventually reaches “critical mass” and piano lessons just don’t become worth the effort.  SQ3R is a method that can ameliorate that constant frustration in learning new music; especially through its preliminary steps of SURVEY and QUESTION.


More Details – READ

If SURVEY and QUESTION is done thoroughly the READ step will come much more easily.  To save the length of this article I will not address tips on helping students with techniques to help them read music.

BUT ….. I would like to add ANOTHER R word to accompany READ.  That is REPEAT.  There will always be a need for repetition for one to gain fluency and  facility.  I think what we want to strive for is repetition that is meaningful and not meaningless.  One error is the mistake of playing a piece from beginning to end.  It is much more productive to work on more bite size units; a phrase and/or a unit (e.g. Theme One of a sonatina), than a complete composition.

Also, repeating should also have an end in mind.  To repeat a passage until a crescendo is mastered.  To repeat a passage until the voicing is executed clearly.  To repeat a passage until the tone quality is what your ear tells you is proper.

The ability to teach students to read well cannot be underestimated.  I would much rather have my students read well than labor over a couple compositions that gain them a superior rating at a music festival.  I would much rather have my students play 20 pieces nicely than 2 pieces artistically.  Of course, the ultimate goal is to have my students play 20 pieces nicely AND two pieces artistically.  BUT ….. it’s the ability to read music readily that going to be the lasting skill that will keep a student in music for a lifetime; and, for me, reading well gets the priority.

More Detail – Review

Applying SQ3R in the REVIEW step in academic work occurs after one reads the material and then goes over that same material again. This second going over the details is to cement them into ones memory. It is to maybe see if there is a macro theme to be found in this more refined reading stage of the SQ3R plan.

Applying this to music study I again add ANOTHER R to accompany REVIEW.  That word is RECALL.  One of my first teachers once told me that a musician doesn’t carry around his music in a bushel basket when he’s asked to perform.  My teacher had me buy a composition book and I had to alphabetize several pages for each letter of the alphabet.  I was to memorize my music and list these pieces alphabetically in my composition book.  After putting my memory pieces in my composition book I was to be able to play any piece listed instantly from memory.  It was a great discipline.

Unfortunately for me, this teacher quit teaching and my succeeding teachers didn’t continue this particular discipline.  But, developing our students memory skill, or their ability to RECALL, is important; especially to those students that are gifted with good memories.

Developing memory skills and giving students incentives to memorize pieces and/or develop repertoire lists is beyond the scope of this blog but memory, the ability to RECALL, is a discipline that can only benefit a music student.

More Detail – RECITE

Our final step in our SQ3R plan is RECITE.  In academic work after one READS an assignment and then REVIEWS the material so he can recall the significant points of the assigned reading; the student is asked to RECITE the assigned material and put it in his own words.

Here the students gets to the last point of academic mastery by “owning the material“; having absorbed the contents to the point of being able to, in his own words, RECITE the material.  This is learning of the highest order.  It is beyond just “recalling” the points of the assignment.

Some educators derisively call this “parroting”.  This goes to a higher level of learning that demonstrates full mastery of the material where the facts and details are totally absorbed into the student’s person.

Translating RECITE into music study I again give an ADDITIONAL R word.  That word is RECITAL.  After a student has SURVEYED his assignment and have asked good and insightful QUESTIONS about the assignment.  After the student has READ and reread the composition repeatedly.  After the student has thoroughly mastered the reading of the composition and REVIEWS it recalling its details from memory, his work still isn’t fully completed until he goes one more level.  He must now play (RECITE) the composition in recital.  The greatest level of mastery is to play in recital (for an audience); having thoroughly prepared through SURVEY-QUESTION-READ-REVIEW and finally RECITE.

My friend, Rich, who taught me SQ3R became his high schools valedictorian.  This was his method of study.  He became a successful lawyer.  I think if we apply SQ3R in our piano teaching (or creatively adapting its principles in our teaching) we will be “upping our game” in our studios and producing more masterful young pianists.





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Freebie Friday LOGOAbout six months ago I began FREEBIE FRIDAY over at PianoTeacherPress.com  Every Friday I offer a free excerpt from one of my Piano Teacher Press products.  I was recently looking over the wide variety of products that I’ve given away and I thought it should be something more widely known to my loyal readers and your piano teaching friends.

Not only do I give away a FREE excerpt each week but I provide a short commentary on the selection explaining how it can benefit a student in your studio.  To find out what we’re offering this week please click [here] on our FREEBIE FRIDAY LINK.

Here’s a smattering of what you have been missing by not being part of our FREEBIE FRIDAY GIVEAWAY!!

BK1A_00A OUTCOVER (COLOR)If you have difficulty getting the very young preschool student to read music KEYBOARD KIDS reading method may be your answer.  Our reading method introduces one music symbol at a time in a leisurely paced manner where young students are never overwhelmed.  Suzuki teachers have found KEYBOARD KIDS as a great supplement to introduce their young students into reading music notation.  I have used it for a over quarter century and it has been a great success.  One week I offered The Cool Ghoul as a FREEBIE FRIDAY GIVEAWAY.

SAMPLE - The Cool GhoulEach symbol on this page was introduced individually before The Cool Ghoul appears in their book.  … the quarter note (walk note), the rest, the bar line, the staff line, the treble and bass clef, the time signature (only the top number is given at this stage of learning), the double bar; even the fingering and the stem direction of the notes were introduced as in individual concept.

Reading is introduced to students as STEPS and SKIPS and students are given assignment pages to cement this critical reading concept into the students thinking.  This is introduced from the very beginning.  Students are taught to underC000-COLORIZED My Very First Theory Book (Cover)stand notation where reading becomes a natural process.

To help students understand STEPS and SKIPS we have My Very First Theory Book.  This book gives students exercises to help students think in steps and skips.  One FREEBIE FRIDAY I offered a page that helps student think in steps; not through notation, but through the alphabet.FF - SAMPLE The Next Letter

NOTICE:  This page gives the student the musical alphabet where “A” follows “G”.  After students gain mental facility in learning to think ahead one (musical) alphabet letter; students are given pages to help them think one step backwards.  The same exercises are repeated for skips.

These little exercise is a very good one to help students in doing simple thought exercises in basic reasoning and is one of the ways where understanding music is very beneficial for mental development.

This book provides a very good supplemental book to the KEYBOARD KIDS series of reading books.

Another week I also used The Cool Ghoul as my Freebie Friday Giveaway but this time as part of an exercise designed to build a students rhythmic skills.  This exercise is found in our Discovery Piano System – THEORY Book 1.00-FC THEORY_Middle C - COLOR Book 1  I will speak in more detail about The Discovery Piano System in a subsequent blog about our Freebie Friday program.  In THEORY Book 1 there is a section of nearly a dozen pieces that have student and teacher play in ensemble.  One player is the pianist and the other provides a rhythmic background played on a common rhythm instrument.FF - SAMPLE The COOL Ghoul

In this example the rhythm player must play on those beats where the piano player rests, almost always on beat 2.  On the first exercises of this rhythm section of THEORY Book 1 the rhythm part emphasizes the easier skill of playing on the downbeat (beat 1).  This exercises begins to develop the skill of having the student learn to feel an offbeat.  Even though the exercises are designed around simple concepts they are designed in a progressive manner where success is most easily achieved.  Students discover musical concepts in an almost seamless stream of little steps.

As I hope you can see our FREEBIE FRIDAY Giveaways not only give you free music but they give you pedagogical information where you can use the free excerpts and maybe even give you some ideas you can use in your own studio teaching.  To join our growing list of FREEBIE FRIDAY teachers go [HERE]– find the RED BUTTON that looks like the link below (which will be red and not purple) and in your correspondence write – SUBSCRIBE FREEBIE FRIDAY. FREEBIE FRIDAY BUTTONBe on the lookout for future blogs that go over all that we’ve been giving away each FREEBIE FRIDAY!!

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Piano Teacher Press is adding an exciting new line of teaching products called IMITATION SOLOS.  IMITATION SOLOS are FOLIOS of musical selections, theory briefs, written work, performance exercises and certificates of achievement.

The basic concept of IMITATION SOLOS is to take a selection from the Classical student repertoire and arrange a well known Folk Song in the manner of the Classical selection.  If the Classical piece contains alberti bass patterns the Folk Song is arranged with alberti bass patterns.  If the Classical piece contains a particular syncopated motif the Folk Song is arranged with the same syncopated motif.

The reason I originally did this was to take the “mystique” out of Classical music.  I remember as a grade school student in the 1960’s my friends talking about the Beatles.  They were in awe of them because they did some of the same thing in their songs as Beethoven.  WOW!!  My friends thought if the Beatles did the same things as Beethoven they must be on a higher plane of musical composition than even Elvis.

As young music students discover the musical world they are mentally trying to figure it out.  In the process they can come to some opinions that are formed without quite enough information.  IMITATION SOLOS were written to help students on that journey of mental discovery.  If the unknown “mystical” world of Classical music can be demystified by comparing it to something in the more familiar world of folk music then we will have facilitated that mental journey of discovery.


Most IMITATION SOLOS are going to begin with a page called Technically SpeakingTechnically Speaking lays out the technically common feature(s) between the Classical Composition and the Folk Song.

Let’s take the idea of Melodic Imitation.  In my private studio I’ve always used Kabalevsky’s elementary composition Chit Chat but since Kabalevsky’s compositions are still under copyright protection I composed an equivalent in a piece called HelloHello.

Hello – Hello is another piece of direct melodic imitation.  Each measure is directly imitated in the next.

Hello Hello Sample

Hello – Hello is followed by treating the Folk Song – Are You Sleeping? in the same exact manner of direct melodic imitation.

Are You Sleeping SAMPLE

But IMITATION SOLOS do not stop here.  There are two more important sections designed to help the student assimilate the concept of Melodic Imitation; WRITE ON! and PLAY ON!

In WRITE ON!  the student is given a little composing/copying assignment that reinforces the idea of melodic imitation through writing.  The student is given another popular folk song, Three Blind Mice, and asked to complete each of the short phrases in direct imitation; just like the Classical Composition and the Folk Song.

Three Blind Mice SAMPLE

After students do their written work they must play that work, their own creative effort, to see the result and to solidify the concept of Melodic Imitation.

When students experience Melodic Imitation in Hello – Hello and then see the same concept expressed in an arrangement of Are You Sleeping?; the “mystique” of Classical music becomes part of the common language of all music. Students begin to feel like they are an intellectual part of the long tradition of Classical music expressed through its actual creation.  This is a very different feel and experience than just learning to physically “play pieces”.

After the completion of understanding the concept of Melodic Imitation through Technically Speaking, learning the Classical Composition, learning the Folk Song arrangement (with the option to memorize these pieces), doing the WRITE ON! assignment to understand the concept through the act of writing, and finally playing the PLAY ON! assignment to gain fluency in the concept the student can feel a degree of ownership in understand an important aspect of musical understanding.  They can and should be justly awarded a certificate for his efforts.  There are two certificates that is included in your FOLIO; one for black and white printers and one for color printers.  Each certificate has “boxes” to check off the individual assignments to earn the certificate in Melodic Imitation”.



I have about 20 IMITATION SOLO FOLIOS in various stages of development.  They fall in the mid elementary to the mid intermediate level of advancement.  Stay tuned for future installments of IMITATION SOLOS.


Watch a YouTube Video narrated by Professor I.M. Pedantic.  Click HERE or on the graphic below.  (The video includes a performance of the Classical Composition and the Folk Song arrangement).PTP VIDEO LOGO -Professor Pedantic Speaks

To purchase IMITATION SOLO – Melodic Imitation go to Piano Teacher Press and click HERE or on the graphic below.  (The Web Site also includes a performance of the Classical Composition and the Folk Song arrangement).

PTP - Piano LOGO

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Last month I began teaching piano lessons online.  Many of my online piano teaching colleagues have been doing this for quite a while and I decided to make the plunge.  Even before I began teaching online I spoke with my online piano teaching friends and speculated that the online piano lesson would be of a different nature than traditional studio teaching.

I found that I was correct.  To teach online piano lessons, as if it were simply like a studio one on one piano lesson, is to miss the subtlety that distance learning provides.  I feel it is a mistake to view online lessons as a lesser version of the private studio lesson but I think many people hold this incorrect assumption.  The two kinds of lessons are different animals.  It is important to know those differences to provide the most effective instruction.  The following quote gives us clues on the differences between online music lessons and one on one studio lessons.

American Journal of Distance Education, 24(2), 92-103. Orman, E. K. and Whitaker, J. A. (2010).

Time usage during face-to-face and synchronous distance music lessons.

This experimental study closely compares multiple aspects of applied instrumental music lessons in face-to-face and online lesson settings. Three middle school students (one saxophonist, two tubists) had lessons with a saxophone and tuba instructor respectively. Each student had a mix of face-to-face and online video lessons which were videotaped and coded for a variety of factors. When on-line lessons were compared to face to face lessons, there was a 28% increase in student playing, a 36% decrease in off-task comments by the instructor, a 28% decrease in teacher playing (modeling), and an increase in student eye contact. In the online lessons, less than 3% of the time was spent on technology issues, although audio and video quality concerns were mentioned.

This quote highlights the different nature of one on one learning (studio learning) with distance learning (online piano lessons). This quote also demonstrates they are indeed two different animals and brings out distinct advantages that online distance learning provides.  Let’s examine some of the statements of this quote and take note of distinct differences between studio learning and distance learning.

When on-line lessons were compared to face to face lessons, there was a 28% increase in student playing,

Online lessons, by their nature, is a medium that will increase the students playing time on their instrument.  Teachers need to use this information positively in designing their online lessons.  If the nature of the medium is to have the student play 28% more, on average, the teacher can adjust the lesson with this in mind.  The learning will be in the doing more than in the explaining.

The tasks of the online lesson are suited to the specific performance on the instrument more so than in studio one on one lessons.  I found this to be true in the lessons I taught online.  It was very natural to give focus to the performance and go through each passage several times.  In face to face lessons each repetition was an instruction dealing with what would improve the playing of the passage.  Another subtle difference was in the online lesson there was more trying out better fingerings instead of just a verbal instruction to use the fingering given in the manuscript.

a 36% decrease in off-task comments by the instructor

I also found this comment to be true and also something that’s simply the nature of online instruction.  When you’re with the student one on one it is natural to talk to the student about thinks not directly related to the musical material and it’s easy to get off task and speak of items not directly related to the lesson.  Certainly it’s important for any teacher to have some knowledge of their students that are not musically related but online lessons, by their nature, decrease off-task comments by the instructor. Knowing this the instructor can prepare a lessons that’s very task oriented and can feel at the end of the lesson they covered their material in depth.  The teacher feels not that “we had a good lesson this week” but “we got a lot of important material covered in this weeks lesson“; a subtle but important difference.

a 28% decrease in teacher playing (modeling)

Again, I found this to be true.  During the online lesson I do a lot less modeling than in the one on one studio lesson.  Again the nature of the online lesson directs attention very naturally on the student’s performance and the perceptive teacher will direct his attention to this fact; and I feel a very positive fact if the teacher uses it to their advantage.  It is in issues like this that I feel it is not smart teaching to make the online learning experience simply mimic the face to face studio lesson.  They indeed are two different animals and each has its own nature to give students the maximum benefit of the lesson time.  (NOTE: This blog is not to downgrade studio lessons but to highlight the distinct advantages online distant learning provides by comparison.)

and an increase in student eye contact

I find it interesting that online lessons resulted in an increase in eye contact.  But in private lessons when one doesn’t slide into non-musical conversation one involves themselves in teaching tasks that doesn’t require eye contact.  Things like modeling or writing in the student’s books and manuscripts or in pointing out items in the score.  But in teaching online after one is completed with all their performance tasks the student instinctively looks into the WebCam to look for the teacher’s next instruction and a good bit of eye contact is made because the teacher in looking into his WebCam to make eye contact with the student.  So, even something as personal as eye contact is increased in online lessons compared to one on one studio lessons.  Another plus for online lessons simply because of the nature of online learning vs studio instruction.

In the online lessons, less than 3% of the time was spent on technology issues, although audio and video quality concerns were mentioned.

To be truthful this issue did come up.  There were times when we got cut off or I lost the video of the student, or when using a different camera view I had to learn how to deal with microphone issues, but these were quickly resolved and just proved a minor inconvenience.

ONE MORE THING: Students take ownership of their music and manuscripts.

When I’m one on one with a student I generally did all the writing in the student’s books and manuscripts.  I cannot do this when teaching online, of course BUT I have the student write all my recommendations.  By having the student to do this, the student takes ownership of the music they are learning.  When they write “no pausing between sections” on their music it means more to them than if I do it.

I hope this blog got you to thinking of the different nature of piano lessons caused by the medium we use, whether one on one studio teaching or online piano lessons.  The different nature of each should automatically cause adjustments in our teaching.  As a teacher we need to maximize those adjustments to the full benefit of our students.  AND as the beginning research begins analyzing and comparing the two mediums online piano lessons provide some distinct advantages that can be utilized by the perceptive and savvy piano teacher.

SKYPE LOGO 6If interested in online piano lessons or studio lessons in the Wexford PA area call Dan Severino at 724-935-2840 or 724-898-0273.

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When I began studying music it was all a mystery.  All the notes seemed to be fixed and I couldn’t change them.  This was reinforced to my uneducated mind through the mistakes I made.  Whenever I played a note that wasn’t notated on the page it sounded terrible.  I assumed that any note beyond the notation was wrong.


I thought it was like the story I read of a famous sculptor who was asked how he would sculpt an elephant.  The sculptor said it was easy.  All I do is eliminate everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.  I assumed music worked the same way.  To play Yankee Doodle all I needed to do is eliminate every note that wasn’t Yankee Doodle.


There is a principle in teaching that instructs the teacher — GO FROM THE KNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN.  It was obvious from my childhood assumptions above that there was a great deal of the UNKNOWN in my musical education.  I remember that experience and assume the same process is going on in my student’s minds as they begin their piano instruction.  My goal was to help my students not fall into the trap and limitations of holding on to the assumptions I had as a young student that were limiting at best and downright wrong at worst.


There are many ways I do that in my teaching but today I want to focus on only one of them.  I’ve made several anthologies of “classical music” for my students.  In several of the compositions I took some of the major ideas employed by the composer and applied it to a common folk song.  If a composer uses imitation in a composition I take a folk song and arrange it using the same type of imitation.  If a composer uses syncopation I take a folk song and apply syncopation within the arrangement.  When the young music student compares the similarity between the classical composition and the folk song; what is unknown becomes known.


This method of learning helps the student understand far better than just giving a text book definition of imitation or syncopation.  Let’s take a couple examples to demonstrate using this method in applying the principle of going from the UNKNOWN TO THE KNOWN.


Here is a popular teaching piece by Kabalevsky – Chit Chat.  The piece is a simple piece of imitation; a measure is first played by the left hand and is directly imitated by the right hand in the following measure.


I always mention to students that imitation is something they are going to find very common in the music they will study.  It will enter into their compositions in many different and creative ways.  I use this piece as my “entry level” piece to teach the concept of musical imitation.


This little arrangement of Are You Sleeping?  uses the same imitation technique as Chit Chat by Kabalevsky.  To add a little variety and to give students another example I created a variation on the Are You Sleeping? theme.


Using this method helps students become aware of how a composer can use an idea like imitation to create a composition.  For teachers who teach composition this is a good simple technique that can be used to guide students to make their compositions more interesting.


The page on the left is another way to reinforce the concept of imitation.  The student is given the major phrases of the folk song Three Blind Mice.  The student is given two measures to write out the imitation.


The teacher may certainly aid the student in helping him write out the imitation but most students do rather well in understanding the assignment and knowing what to do to fulfill the requirements.



A good piece to introduce students to syncopation is Morning Greeting by Gurlitt.


The same syncopation is repeated throughout the piece.  Also, there is always a chord to play on beat one to help the student feel/create the feel of the syncopation.


To reinforce the concept of syncopation to the student I created an arrangement of the popular folk song Cockles and Mussels.  I used Cockles and Mussels because it also could be syncopated with the same rhythmic arrangement of notes as Gurlitt’s Morning Greeting.


The pedagogical use for the Ecossaise in G major by Schubert is that it is one of the few pieces that uses root position dominant 7th chords.  Root position 7th chords makes a perfect springboard for the introduction of teaching 7th chords.


To compliment the Ecossaise in G I took the old madrigal Now is the Month of Maying by Thomas Morley and arranged it with several root position dominant 7th chords.  Again, when students get an opportunity to see the similarity between the two compositions the student grows in understanding that music follows rules and traditions.  When students are made aware of these rules and traditions their understanding and assimilation of their repertoire will be facilitated.


Finally, I would like to explain my way of helping students experience the common practice of changing from a major mode to the parallel minor.  Kabalevsky makes use of this technique in a piece he wrote called The Little March.  The first phrase is in C major and the second phrase repeats the same material in C minor.


To further the students understanding of the changing from major to minor I took the popular folk song Shortnin’ Bread.  Through the little arrangement I alter the mode of the phrases going from major to minor.  Being that most students are familiar with Shortnin’ Bread they can more easily discern the dramatic difference that this change of mode creates.


Using folk songs in this way has been a great way to teach my students the great musical tradition we follow.  It has been one of the major ways I use to help my students go from the UNKNOWN and make it KNOWN by going from the KNOWN (folk songs) and showing the connection it can have to the UNKNOWN (our musical tradition).




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