The Yahoo Piano Teacher’s Forum is a fabulous place to lurk, and maybe even contribute. I’ve learned loads of things about the standard method books from other teachers there, as well as many other resources (older) that I haven’t ever encountered. Kevin Coan is the moderator of the group and an expert on the pedagogy of every method book out there! He has contributed enormously to the group, and has written extensively on Artistry at the Piano. This is how I first came across it. This morning he posted the following article, and he has given permission for me to reprint it here:
I would like to take a moment to address what is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to those who would otherwise consider using Artistry at the Piano by Jon and Mary Gae George: the fact that the course does not use pieces right away. For some reason, we piano teachers have bought into a misbelief that we cannot hold a student’s interest unless they go home from their first lesson playing pieces. It is a flat-out lie on several accounts.
First of all, I do not have ANY student play anything at their first lesson, regardless of what method I use. My first lesson is wholly devoted to a study of rhythm, using listening as the primary tool. I want my student to walk away from the first lesson thinking that rhythm is the be all and end all of music. I want them thinking MUSIC = RHYTHM. Oh yeah, we do throw in some notes now and then.
Second, the student who takes up the trumpet does not play pieces for several weeks simply due to the fact that he or she can’t! It takes quite a bit of time to develop the skill needed to play a melody. No band instructor in the country would have a job if playing pieces was a mandate for band students.
Third, Artistry teachers, including many in this group, have been teaching Introduction to Music from Artistry for years. I have been doing so since 1989, and I have lost only one student in all that time. And I would have lost that same student regardless of the approach I had used. If Intro is taught properly, the student is so busy with the activities that he does not have time to even realize that he is not playing actual pieces yet.
Fourth, a very common phenomenon with Introduction to Music is that students get a feeling of sorrow when Intro comes to an end and they get promoted to level 1! Students ENJOY the activities in Intro a great deal, especially if they are taught in a camp setting.
Fifth, the camp setting is great, but it is optional. I teach Artistry in private lessons, at 40 or 60 minutes a week, over a period as long as 14 weeks and have been doing so since 1989. I have yet to hear a single complaint about not playing pieces. I do not even mention the fact, and students do not even ask about it. They simply accept the
fact that there are some things to learn before we play actual pieces, and they are so excited about all the thousands of things they are learning, that they don’t even think about the fact that they have not yet played a real piece. Most adults are so grateful that they get to bypass the Mary Had a Little Lamb phase that they would choose Introduction to Music over another primer any day.
I think many teachers look at Intro and think, “How boring.” That is the teacher’s shortcoming, not Intro’s shortcoming. If the first lesson consists of a study of rhythm, as suggested in the schedule of assignments, the clapping and tapping activities are extremely interesting. If a teacher will view the DVD Teaching Music, Not Notes, he or she will see students having a bucket load of fun doing the various activities. The student gains from those activities the correct impression that music is MOVEMENT in a rhythm. Eventually that correct impression is modified to include that music is movement of tone. Oh how I wish that every piano student in the country had that correct understanding! I personally have the students perform the rhythm activities at the piano, using two keys that are a third apart. The student who does so does not notice that he or she is not playing pieces because he or she IS making a kind of music in the rhythmic drills. Since one cannot have music without rhythm, he or she is developing a foundation that he or she cannot do without and still have music.
When the student moves into the pitch activities (which I do at the second lesson), he begins playing little motives of three to six notes in interval patterns. To do so requires the piano. No, those motives are not pieces, but they are activities that involve hitting keys on the piano. Since students do not yet have musical tastes, they really are not even cognizant of the difference between these motives and an actual piece. Again, they are just grateful that they are not playing Mary Had a Little Lamb!
When the student starts playing the technical drills, one could argue that they ARE playing little pieces. They have rhythm, they use various different notes, different intervals, and different fingers. The pieces have titles and they have melody lines. My students all think they ARE playing pieces. From that point on, every activity the student does involves some form of melodic line or rhythmic line. The second set of technical exercises consists of little etudes. One would not perform them as pieces, but they are little pieces nonetheless. Introduction to Music concludes with several little pieces. Morning Song and Evening Song are even musically interesting pieces, much more so than the pabulum featured in most primers. I use them as a reward: the student has to EARN the right to play them by showing me that they can touch the keys with a correct hand position, can play in correct rhythm, and know the names of their notes and intervals.
Repeatedly I have asked my students who are using the course what they think of the Introduction phase, once they begin level 1 and start playing pieces. I have NEVER gotten negative feedback from the experience. The students always realize the benefits of mastering those initial skills first. They also develop the very real expectation that music playing involves a number of prerequisite skills. Every single step of the way, the student realizes that there are new rhythms to learn, new technical skills to conquer, and new theoretical concepts to comprehend. In Artistry, there are always theory drills, technic drills, and rhythm drills that prepare the student for the pieces to follow. But there is always a reward of interesting music to follow each of those drills. That is why there are REAL pieces in Workbook and in every other component of the course. As a perfect example, on the very last page of Workbook 1 is a piece that is perfectly acceptable for inclusion on a recital. What other course gives you a feature like that in a workbook?
The only person who has a hang-up about the lack of pieces in Introduction to Music is the teacher, and it is a hang-up that the teacher needs to hang up and dispense with! The best thing a teacher can do is simply decide that he or she is going to teach Artistry exactly as it was designed. Use the assignment schedule in the back of the Intro book, alternating between rhythm and pitch each week and doing part of technique every week. Do not even bring up the issue of pieces, and it won’t come up with the student. He or she might ask, “When do we start learning songs?”, and you simply answer, “As soon as you show me you know your notes and rhythms.” It won’t come up again! Before either of you know it, you will be playing real music, and you will be learning such interesting music that you will never again think about the Introduction phase. Also, your students will become living testimonies as to the benefits of starting with Introduction to Music.