I’ve been teaching for about 30 years (counting the years I was a student myself) and it seems to me that traditional wisdom held that after 2 years of study a student was ready for grade 1. This is not the case for many of my students and I’ve been wringing my hands over this issue. Is it the method books I’ve been using? Am I trying to do too many things in the lesson and sacrificing advancement in reading? Are my students practicing enough? Is grade 1 harder than it used to be?
I hauled out all the old grade 1 books that I could find – for the most part every book dating to 1988. I played through them all and made comparisons. I really wanted to find that they have indeed been made more difficult over the years but, alas, I don’t think that’s the answer. Many Baroque and Classical pieces do get recycled over the different editions and for good reason, for they are excellent teaching pieces.
Of course there are a handful of more contemporary pieces in each edition and some of these are more daunting to read, mainly because of the number of accidentals. If a student has been through an intensive multi-key method it might be easier, but I find most students are not prepared for them.
Perhaps I’m not taking students far enough in the method books. Perhaps I’m just impatient! Perhaps I need to relax about the whole thing and, in Elissa Milne‘s words, not always teach students to the extreme of their capacity. A larger quantity of easier pieces could go further, I think, in solidifying the note-reading, preparing them for the all-important grade 1 book.
Certainly students are a lot busier than they used to be. With so many scheduled activities and electronic media competing for their attention, not only is the practice time compromised, but also the mental focus. I know at age 9 I had to quit figure skating ( my ONE other activity) to focus on piano – a wise choice indeed!
I’m intrigued by something Greta Hanson-Carballo said about Artistry at the Piano – after a student has completed Level 2 they are often ready for grade 3 or even grade 4. With the emphasis on melodic writing and thorough preparation, it should be possible. I’m eager to have my 3 students in Artistry get to that stage.
We’re currently in the middle of Spring Break, gearing up for the last 11 or 12 weeks of lessons. This is a time of reflection for me, to ensure that my students can achieve the most, yet always leave the lessons loving music.