There are an almost overwhelming number of different method books available for teaching the beginning student. Discussion rages in some circles about the pros and cons of each method and its approach to reading; publishers market their own methods with an intensity that can make the teacher feel they’ve been missing the boat until now; and the whole issue of different learning styles puts pressure on the individual piano teacher to find a particular method suited to each particular student. It could be easy to get stressed out about this.
One of the most refreshing and liberating things I heard was in a workshop promoting the American Popular Piano by Scott McBride Smith and Christopher Norton. APP is not a method, but a course of study. The student has to be able to read music before starting it; the average student would probably take a few months to get to this stage. The point is this: the authors did not create a method as such; it is up to the teacher to get the student reading; it is up to the teacher to actually teach, not just point to the fancy graphics, rhythm drills, warm-up drills, charts, etc. that fill the pages of so many method books. The APP Repertoire books have the music printed on the page. That’s it.
Artistry at the Piano is also wonderful for this; the workbook and musicianship book have some teaching components included like technical skills and theoretical ideas, but the Repertoire books have just the music – and very little editing, which forces the teacher and student to explore the music and come up with their own, hopefully logical, ideas of translation and interpretation.
I find this liberating because it simplifies the process: just get the students reading. We don’t need to get so hung-up on comparing the minute details of every method. The Canadian exam system and culture makes it a bit easier in a way. The goal is generally to get the student prepared to enter grade 1, whether or not they actually do the exam this early. So we use our method of choice only as long as we need to to get the students to this level. There must be a big drop-off of method sales in Canada after Level 2! I wrote a post recently about system itself, you can read at Examinations.
I’ve tried quite a few different methods – sometimes for no other reason than that I get some freebies that I want to try out. I try to stay on top of the new publications and the different approaches. More than once I’ve abandoned a method and returned to my old favourite, which is Piano Adventures. It has some weaknesses: it takes too long to introduce key signatures and compound time, but the music itself is wonderful and I supplement where I need to in order to compensate for these weaknesses. I know the method well and can adapt it to most students.
Only Artistry at the Piano has comparable or better music, and that is the final decision point for me. We are teaching a set of skills, yes, but much more than that. While we have to spend time on the technical, aural, and sight-reading skills (this is where all students collectively groan), so much of this teaching and learning can come from the repertoire itself. Even if they can’t articulate it until they are much older, everyone connects well with good-quality music. The weekly lesson, the students’ practice time and enjoyment, and life itself are far too short to waste time on poor music (or books, or food, or television, or whatever!).
Thank you to all of you who have either left comments on this blog or who have e-mailed me with your own thoughts and questions. Unless you have your own blog, you have no idea how wonderful it is to get feedback! Thanks for stopping by and have a great week.