Posts Tagged ‘piano theory’



I’ve often seen piano teachers state that their goal is to “make themselves obsolete”.  I totally agree with this.  This blog is to address one way that we can virtually guarantee this happens.

One of my last blogs was on a common study program given to academic school students to help them master their subject material.  The study program is called SQ3RSQ3R stands for the study sequence of Survey – Question – Read – Review – Recite.  I go into detail into each step of the sequence in the blog found [HERE].

What I have devised is a Mini-Certificate Program for my piano studio that incorporates this study sequence into a plan that I think will guarantee I “make myself obsolete” if adopted and diligently implemented by the student.


What I did was to devise five different “mini-certificates” for each of the major parts of the study sequence; Study – Question – Read – Review, and, – Recite.  These “mini-certificates” are approximately 1/9 the size of an 8 ½ X 11 sheet of paper.  Below is an example.  Students are to accumulate these “mini-certificates” throughout the academic year.  Each major assignment can be adapted with a mini-certificate in mind.


***An example of a SQ3R Mini-Certificate***


Here is how it may work.  Let’s use the popular Burgmuller Arabesque as an example.  The first step in the learning sequence is survey.   BEFORE PLAYING A NOTE we survey the piece and the student is to make notations in the music of everything he can see to help his mental preparation before he begins to practice the piece proper.  This can be anything!   In the case of the Burgmuller Arabesque a few points may be:

  • Key: A minor
  • Spot all the A minor chords
  • Spot all the D minor chords
  • Spot the C, G7, Am sus
  • Note the two sixteenth note patterns
    • Measure 3 = quick up-down scale pattern
    • Measure 4 = ascending scale
  • Measure 7 – Clap the rhythm
    • Perhaps isolate this rhythm and play it
  • Note the AB form
  • Check to see if all the terms are understood
    • Various editions may have different editings

As the student notes these points they should mentally think of what they mean and imagine playing them.  Imagine playing the A minor scale.  Did you include the G sharp?  Imagine playing the Am and Dm chords.  Imagine playing the two sixteenth note patterns.  This mental preparation is highly important and should not be neglected or slighted.  It’s like the construction of a new structure.  The laying of the foundation takes a great amount of the total time it takes to build the building.  There is much preparation that needs done even the substructure of the building is put in place.


I do this type of survey work from the very beginning of a student’s piano lessons.  This type of work must be taught.  Students do not do this type of work automatically without instruction.  The natural impulse is to begin playing the piece; no preparation is considered necessary. Students just lunge into the sight reading cold and the results are not near as good had they “surveyed” the landscape before trying to play the piece.

The best way to teach students on how to survey their music is by doing it with them.  Ask the student questions that lead them to the answers to points given above.  By all means have students write on their scores through this Survey Stage.  As students learn how to survey their music, slowly have them take over more and more of the survey process.

Even when students can begin to survey on their own don’t stop helping students in surveying their music.  Rather, become more detailed.  In Arabesque you could point out tonic, subdominant and dominant chords and a little bit about functional harmony if this is a proper time to pass this kind of information to the student.

Of course, all students will learn how to survey their music at a different pace; but the important thing is that all students learn to make surveying a part of the procedure they use in learning new compositions.  THIS is how we can “make ourselves obsolete” and turn our students into independent learners. A very small handful of students learn how to do this without any instruction and a few more can learn it at a low level of expertise; but, with our persistence all our students can learn how to do this if we make it a part of our teaching approach.

I feel this will go a long way to helping our students learn to not only sight read music better, but just read music itself better.  Music notation can be a very clumsy way of communicating musical ideas.  With most beginning students reading flats and sharps can really slow down their reading; especially if it’s part of a simple chromatic passage.  BUT, if I point out the chromatic passage and SHOW the student the chromatic passage by actually PLAYING the chromatic notes on the piano keys where they SEE the movement of the notes played instead of slogging through the music notation they can often play it, or at least begin to play it more fluently, almost immediately.  In my early teaching years there was the common thought that doing this type of activity would actually hinder the student’s ability to read music well.  My experience has brought me to see it differently.  Again, music notation is often a very clumsy and cumbersome way to express musical ideas and compositional procedures.  If teachers can find other effective means that will facilitate learning and teach these effective means to their students, they should not hesitate to do so. 

Often, I will then get out my yellow highlighter and highlight the chromatic notes to remind the student of what we learned so, in their practicing at home, they can increase their learning curve in mastering the composition.  I think an important part of the teacher’s job is to help the student see these simple music ideas that standard music notation tends to obscure.


The way I’ve decided to apply SURVEY to our SQ3R MINI-CERTIFICATE PROGRAM is to award a student a mini-certificate for each four compositions a student surveys.

As I said, at the beginning stages of learning I will be doing most of the surveying; but this is done through leading the students through a series of questions to help students arrive at the “points of interest” that will help the student before their initial reading of the composition.  For example, to a beginning student I will ask, “Where in this composition do you see steps?” ,or, “Point out places where the music skips”.

Also, I will, as soon as possible, ask for the student’s input without any instructional coaxing from me.  This is often done as a check to see how much the student is absorbing in their ability to survey music.

As the student begins to get the hand of surveying they will become more and more responsible for their survey work on their compositions.  A teacher can also ask a student to survey a composition that you’re planning on assigning the student the next succeeding lesson.  This will help the student to develop the practice and habit of surveying their new compositions.

As they students complete their surveying work I will have place a blue dot on the corners of the mini-certificate.  Once the certificate has blue dots on each corner the student is awarded the mini-certificate.  Students are asked to see how many mini-certificates they can receive through the academic year.

**NOTE the Blue Dots on the Mini-Certificate**

I think good directed instruction in helping students to survey their musical compositions will go a large way to helping “making ourselves obsolete”.

Stay tuned for PART 2 on my SQ3R MINI-CERTIFICATE Program.  To make sure you don’t miss an installment please subscribe to Blogging at Piano Teacher Press.

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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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Piano Lessons PLUS

In the late 80’s is when I made the jump into the world of computers.  I did a lot of reading and saw the great potential that was developing in using computers in music education.  I’ve been using computers ever since and have never looked back.

Today – a quarter of a century later – I see a new leap forward as the computer industry advances in making technology more immediately useful to educators.  The opportunities are too much to pass up.  What I can now offer students is so much more than I could when I began my professional teaching career in the late 70’s.  I can even offer a great deal more than I could when I began Severino’s Piano Keyboard Lab in 1988.  Let’s begin to explore what I can offer to piano students in this new wave of innovation.


Tablet Computers is going to bring computing to a new level usefulness.  The power that can be packed into a thin computing device the size of a book is revolutionary.  Here is how I plan to take advantage of this technology in my PRIVATE LESSONS at Severino’s Piano Lessons PLUS.  I will continue to use my innovative system of marking my students books by using highlighters to draw the student attention to my instruction.  (See “HIGHLIGHT” Your Teaching).  I will still continue to use the books and methods I’ve published through Piano Teacher Press.  I will still continue to utilize the creative music programs I developed for readying students for music lessons when I was going to schools as Dan Dan the Music Man.  I will still continue using the computer programs I designed that supplements the method books I designed in my Keyboard Kid series of books.  What I will now begin to offer is a new level and a new dimension of instruction using the newest technologies available to give you better and more creative musical instruction.

What I can now do is to made a COMPUTER NOTEBOOK for each student.  This notebook will include, among other things, mp3 files of key explanations given in my lessons.  Let’s say in a lesson there is a need for a thorough explanation of “key signatures“.  I can easily record this part of the lesson and include it in the student’s personal computer notebook.  After the lesson I can now send this is to eMail this recording TO YOU so you can review the lesson again at home.  The instruction can be reviewed for greater, more comprehensive learning.

Let’s say a little later in the lesson I assign a new composition.  Very often I would play the piece for the student.  Now I can make either an mp3 of the piece or even a video of the piece and put this directly into the student’s computer notebook.

I recently had a student learn – O What A Beautiful Morning from the musical Oklahoma.  We listened to this song on YouTube.  Now, I can put the link in the student’s computer notebook where they can listen to the piece again.  They may enjoy the piece so much they may even put it on their personal iPod.

Often at the end of a lesson I don’t always get through all the music the student prepared.  I can put a little note in the student’s notebook what we need to cover first at the next lesson.  I can put a notation into the student’s computer notebook and send it via eMail so it will not get misplaced.  I have a record and the student has the same record so there is less confusion and communication breakdowns.  Progress will gain consistency.

It is the practice of many teachers to play new assignments for their students.  What I can now do is make a video of that performance and again put it into the STUDENT NOTEBOOK.  They can now have the performance as part of their permanent record.  The student will not have to recall what they remember  from the lesson but will have live recordings and performances of the most important parts of their lessons.  This cannot help but make the piano lessons more effective.

I can also bring little inspirational quotes and easily put it in each students notebook to personalize the student’s notebook.  It will be much easier for me to get out universal messages to my students concerning recitals or auditions.  As it is now it’s easy for me to forget a family or two concerning an upcoming event.  Now it will be much easier to get my messages to parents.  This only scratches the surface to what I can do through Tablet Computers in making my studio run more efficiently and more professionally.


Another emerging technology that has emerged in the past few years is that of the teleconference; the connecting of people not only aurally but visually.  Some means of doing this is Google Plus – Adobe Connect – and the popular SKYPE.  SKPYE has become a popular platform for piano teachers to connect with student for a piano lesson.  A WebCam (Web Camera) often included with laptop computers, an internet connection and SKYPE (a free download of SKYPE software HERE ) is all you need.

I know many people, both adults and children, would love to take piano lessons if only it could be made a little bit more convenient.  Severino’s Piano Lessons PLUS is going to now offer a program of study where one can, for example, take only one lesson per month at my studio and the other lessons through SKYPE.  This would be especially helpful for busy professionals wanting a self-study program.  BUT with the advent of “cyber-schools” it is being found that young children can learn just fine through this type of computer technology.  Many people are even getting college degrees learning at home with a minimum of visits to a local university.  Please call my studio at (724) 935-2840 if this program interests you.  On the table below are the basic plans I devised for my expanding service of “CYBER-PIANO LESSONS”

30 minute PRIVATE 30 minute  PRIVATE 45 minute PRIVATE 60 minute PRIVATE 45 minute PRIVATE 60 minute PRIVATE
20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE
20 minute SKYPE 30 minute PRIVATE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 45 minute PRIVATE 60 minute PRIVATE
20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE
90 minutes  monthly 100 minutes monthly 105 minutes monthly 120 minutes monthly 130 minutes monthly 160 minutes monthly
$75.00 monthly $83.35 monthly $87.50 monthly $100.00 monthly $108.35 monthly $133.35 monthly

Some may have questions concerning the effectiveness of online piano lessons. Here is an encouraging note.  Actually, the nature of the medium gives way to increased focus and concentration.  Thus, one can more done in less time and actually costs can be contained.  This is why I designed my SKYPE lessons to be 2o minutes in length and pass that savings on to you.

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.


I mentioned that I began my teaching career by going to my student’s homes.  When I saw the great things computer technology could add to piano lessons I began to do all my teaching at my studio.  Now with the advent of the new technologies including the tablet computer I can bring a large part of that technology from my studio to YOUR HOME.  With a  piece of equipment the size of a book, and a rather thin book at that, I can again offer piano lessons as part of my expanded services.

Again, if this is the type of convenience you need please don’t hesitate to call my studio at (724) 935-2840.  CALL TODAY!!

These EXPANDED SERVICES actually only scratch the surface of the exciting options I have available to offer my students.  My first studio, Severino’s Piano Keyboard Lab, had the byline – Where Traditional Instruction Meets Modern Technology;  That byline is still true and growing at Severino’s Piano Lessons PLUS.


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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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