Should we even USE a method book at the beginning? : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

What a crazy idea?! I find most students come to their first lessons with their pieces memorized. (Esp. using Clark's Time to Begin; most cannot make the 4-octave moves and look at the music at the same time)

Why not "go with the organic flow" of learning any language, and focus on acquiring an ample musical vocabulary before learning how to read? With the number of CD's on the market today, I'm tempted to have the parent buy the CD ONLY, and teach the first book (or 1st 1/2) by rote, notating starting positions on the assignment sheet, and encouraging lots of improvisation and composing. We can take advantage of these recordings and send students home with a reference of the piece, with the added bonus of fully-orchestrated arrangements and an exciting rhythmic pulse. We can focus exclusively on technique & posture, rhythm, dynamics, learning key names, which should keep us busy!!!

(Another plus is how the parent's involvement is required even more!)

We could help the child develop their own notation for the pieces, which may or may not follow traditional "pre-staff" notation. Wouldn't this empower and involve the child even more and follow Clark's SOUND, FEEL, SIGN, NAME mantra?

The parent could buy the music book and use it AS A REFERENCE for the words and melodies of the songs. Later the child could browse through it after they've learned all of the pieces and a final goal could be to play through the entire CD in order (One unit at a time!)

Any thoughts?

-- John Bisceglia (, March 21, 2001


Hi. I think your idea is good for the very beginnings, but kids might get frustrated when they start to learn notation at having to backtrack to stuff they can read, when their playing level is so far beyond their reading level. I'm a little wary of an extended use of your idea (even just 1 level), becuase I've seen too many Suzuki- trained kids who have permanent reading problems later. I was thinking of trying a combination approach, the standard reading approach coupled with learning a harder piece by rote. Add improv to this, and we've got a better rounded music education right from the beginning. That way the reading, memory, and ear will be developed together. I wish I had learned more pieces by ear or by rote when I was young, because my ear is deficient. But I certainly wouldn't train my sightreading skills for anything. Sightreading has been my job for years (choirs, soloists, church, etc). I couldn't get by without it, and I wouldn't want to risk having kids be deficient in this area. If you do teach a piece by rote, I think it's good to have the music up there too, so they can see it and sort of absorb some of it by osmosis. I found that when I taught scales by rote, they would see a scale in a piece and not recognize it. But when I started using FJH Achievement Sheets for scales, the kids could look at the scale as well as playing it by ear/memory. I appreciate all the new ideas you've added to this message board!

-- Julie2 (, March 23, 2001.

Oh yes! My main idea is to have each student learn their first pieces by ear, THEN guide them in how to notate these pieces (from pre-staff to staff). Students are still learning how to read, but the notation is a REMINDER of what they have already learned. If anything, I find a student's reading improves since they take the time to make the connection between specific keys on the piano and the correct line, space, and note value. I use Hal Leonard's flashcards (Set A), since they have about 60 different rhythm cards to use for sightplaying, improv, and composing. Hal Leonard's Lesson Book 1 CD also has 3 different improv tracks (really, I am NOT a Hal Leonard rep.......I just love the music & CD's!). I should mention I teach very young beginners (4-5 year olds), so I've learned to gradually introduce reading. Thanks for your response.....I love this "new" (for me!) technology!

-- John Bisceglia (, March 23, 2001.

Well, that is essentially what Suzuki instruction is supposed to be about. Unfortunately, too many Suzuki teachers spend all the time on the rote material and wait WAY too long to incorporate reading.

-- Arlene Steffen (, March 24, 2001.

Oh no! I use CD's and rote teaching in ways that are ENTIRELY DIFFERENT than Suzuki, and the CD's of Hal Leonard and Faber are a WORLD of difference than the solo piano CD's of Suzuki! While Suzuki assignments will often focus on a SMALL number of pieces and stress absolute perfection, I prefer to assign a LARGE amount of repertoire, incorporate improv and composing, and STILL COVER ALL areas of musicianship, reading, and technique that more traditional instruction provides. Since we do not require children to recite verbatim a handful of someone else's "sentences" when teaching language, why do this in piano study? I feel the elementary stage should provide children with a rich, extensive musical vocabulary and not obsess about absolute perfection; I KNOW both parents and children prefer a variety and quantity of music....and as a teacher it makes my day MUCH more enjoyable! Boy, I knew my initial statement would get attention, but I'm afraid my comment on "encouraging LOTS of inprov and composing" was overlooked! I'm just trying to find a balance between traditional classical instruction and the kind of learning that takes place when a rock or jazz musician learns a tune by ear, improvises, and UNDERSTANDS the way each scale degree functions in a harmonic context. Reading IS ESSENTIAL, but there are aspects of musicianship that can be acquired outside of the realm of reading.....(i.e. -- Charlie Parker)

-- John Bisceglia (, March 24, 2001.

Why don't you try your approach with supplementary repertoire only, & use method books to teach reading? Is there any reason why you can't have your cake & eat it too? Combine the traditional approach with the Suzuki-like approach, & see how it works. Then report back to us in a few years to let us know if your students can competently sight- read. I'd love to know what happens.

-- Music Educator (, March 27, 2001.

Golly ... all of these responses, but I do wish that everyone would have READ my initial idea more carefully! Since I mentioned using rote only for the FIRST book (or 1st 1/2), we're not talking about years of rote teaching ... (I mainly use Hal Leonard Book 1 and Time to Begin at first; with a strong preparation in rhythm, technique, and general musicianship most beginners could start reading with HL Book 2 or Music Tree Part A anyway). Since my students bring home a different book each week to sightplay from a library of (I think) over 300 books....their reading levels are progressing nicely.

My main motivation for starting this thread? I was amazed in college how extremely talented performers (and readers) could barely hear and follow a 12-bar blues, inprovise within a simple chord progression, transcribe the bass line in a tune, or analyze and understand the harmonic content of their (memorized!) pieces. Now that I teach, I am challenged to find that BALANCE between competent reading skills and an ear that can listen and understand music from the inside out. Over the years I have admired the musicianship skills of the jazz musicians I've worked with; often more than "trained" classical musicians. As teachers we need to address this difference. Hopefully the new generations of teachers will address this gap.

-- John Bisceglia (, March 27, 2001.

I believe that musical literacy is of prime importance. I incorporate bits & pieces of improvisation into my teaching curriculum, as "dessert" (after the "meat & potatoes" sight-reading, theory & technique) but I'm not a jazz pianist & don't pretend to be. If someone wants to learn all that stuff, then s/he can just go to a teacher who specializes in jazz. The primary focus in my studio is on musical literacy, using a variety of musical styles but with an emphasis on classical music & classical performance techniques.

-- Music Educator (, March 28, 2001.

I agree with Music Educator here. I think it is most important for a student to learn to read and play well the first few years. If they can read their music and play well, they can easily go on to other things such as improvising and other kinds of music that suits their fancy (this doesn't mean they can't learn to do this stuff on the side, but it should be supplemental).

It is much easier to go from a good reader to some other area musically than it is to start from anywhere else and then learn how to read. They have to slow down and take it from the beginning (which will be very frusterating to someone who feels like they are really good, and maybe even is good but just can't read music.)

It takes years to learn to read music well, so why not just start at the beginning?

-- Amy (, March 31, 2001.

Wow....I STILL think many people have mis-understood my initial idea (and I respectfully disagree with some of the responses above!).

I see much better results when a student begins their FIRST FEW MONTHS with an emphasis on playing by ear, improvisation, and composing thier own pieces (and WRITING & READING them), reading rhythms, and generally developing a LANGUAGE before jumping into reading. This is normal for preschoolers in piano; and (again!) a FEW MONTHS can help an "average-age beginner". Also, we need to remember that Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart (etc.) IMPROVISED their ideas before organizing them and writing them down. I heard someone say that IMPROVISATION is a journey; COMPOSITION is a record of that journey. Jazz is only one of MANY ways to improvise! Musical literacy involves much more than just reading. As in language, the ability to read is just as important as the ability to HEAR and UNDERSTAND what you are hearing, as well as ARTICULATE you OWN thoughts and ideas. I've seen too many students read and play like machines, with ears that do not connect with the sounds they are making. I KNOW I'm biased as a composer, but I only began to REALLY understand music when I started to USE it's many components. Is it really that disturbing an idea to postpone grand staff reading for a few months? From my experience in my own studio, it is beneficial.

-- John Bisceglia (, March 31, 2001.

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