Young student methods

Discuss the pros and cons of various "methods" with other teachers

Postby PnoTchr1997 » Sat Nov 04, 2006 9:57 pm

I'm new to the forum, and although I've been teaching now for nearly 10 years, I have always had trouble finding the right method book to use for my beginner students. Opinions on your method book choices would be greatly appreciated!
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Postby Stretto » Sat Nov 04, 2006 11:23 pm

Welcome!


What methods have you used and what have you liked or disliked about them? I have had struggles also in figuring out what methods to use as I would guess that many teachers have. And also after about 10 years of teaching as well still feel at a loss for what to use. I've stood in music stores many times over and some on the internet looking over the various methods trying to figure out which ones or which books I would prefer to use.

I've been teaching a couple years now without using lesson books but mainly using repertoire or the supplementary books from various methods. I'm leaning towards going back to using lesson books because they are carefully graded, keep a student on track, and clearly moving up the levels was a huge motivator for my students. Of course, I would still assign additional music alongside.

As far as which ones to use, I had used Alfred's for years because it appeared to be the method of choice when I first started teaching. When I went to the music store to see what books I might like to use when starting out teaching, almost one whole side of bins was devoted to Alfred's with all the other methods taking up much smaller sections. So I trusted the store and those that wrote the books that it must be THE way to go. I'm not really sold on it, however. I thought the level 1 and 2 lesson books were nice but I didn't like the level 3 and 4 lesson books as well as many of the arrangements in the supplementary books such as the pop hits. Now if I were to go back to using a method as far as lesson books, I'm leaning toward Glover Piano Library (the older version), Bastein Piano Library (the older version), and Faber and Faber. I've also talked to a teacher recently who has had good sucess with the red John Thompson books even with kids who transferred to her and had previously been bored with lessons. She says the kids really like the pieces in those books. I learned out of it when young. I also have considered starting them on a method series through level 1 or 2 and then switch over to a series that is strictly piano lit. Then any music outside of that they wish to learn is fine as well. The reason I'm leaning toward some of the "older" methods is just because the repertoire sounds so much better and actually seems easier to play.

It seems to me most method books have a student start out learning both thumbs on middle C and playing notes up or down from there or start out with 5 finger positions on C, G, and both thumbs on C. So I don't think it matters the method so much as basing it on what you enjoy teaching from and what you feel is most important.

I am a little afraid to go back to using lesson books in methods because I felt trapped by them in a way. But if I were to pick and choose repertoire here and there building my own system, I'd have to require the student to buy a lot more books doing only up to a handful of the pieces in each book. Also, with method books written to be carefully graded, why try to reinvent the wheel?

I try to base my choices regardless of what music I use on these criteria: pieces that cater to good technique, are decent sounding arrangements or are classical piano lit. (those have to be decent or interesting sounding too!), and pieces that I feel important and would enjoy teaching and/or a student would enjoy learning. If some pieces in a method or a book in a method series were poor arrangements, something the student couldn't stand the sound of and I agreed, music that no one has ever heard of or would care to, I would not have a student learn it just simply because it happened to be the next piece in the book or the next book in the series.

It's been said on this site and the forums here I'm sure many times over that there is no perfect method but a teacher has to compensate for what they find missing. Also said is as each individual is different, for example, age, goals, learning style, likes and dislikes that there is not a one size fits all approach.

I'd be really interested to hear your experiences and thoughts on the methods you have used. What have you found to work well and what have you found to not work?




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Postby PnoTchr1997 » Sat Nov 04, 2006 11:39 pm

I was actually going to speak on Alfred's method myself. I have been teaching with that method myself (as I learned on the method myself from a young age) since I started teaching, and I have to admit it is very student friendly, and is simple to understand. However, I have noticed a tendency to learn associations with notes and fingerings instead of note names, based on Alfred's note-reading system. Also, I have had to suppliment a lot of theory and scale playing in myself, as alfred's early books do not incorporate these two major applications, and I feel that scale reading and basic music theory is an important part of piano playing (and are things I didn't have in my early studies). As you can clearly see, I'm trying to save my students from the many problems I had as a child. As for other methods, I've heard that the Fabre series is supposed to be good, as well as one other method I can't put my finger on at the moment. Other thoughts?
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Postby PnoTchr1997 » Sat Nov 04, 2006 11:43 pm

By the way, it was the Bastein and the Faber and Faber series I was thinking of before. I'm trying to get some ideas as to which of these two series incorporates the most "complete" method, including some theory studies, scale study if possible, and more important than the others, teaching note reading by letter name at an early point.
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Postby Stretto » Sun Nov 05, 2006 12:29 am

It sounds you are looking for similar things in a method as I am. I've had very similar struggles teaching from Alfred's. I think there appears be some pitfalls or something missing from any method so after going with the one that seems to have the greatest strengths, I think a teacher still has to make up for whatever is missing. In other words, fill in the blanks.

I'm leaning toward trying the old Glover series next with kids at least 8 or 9 but I'm pretty sure that method doesn't stress or mention intervals so again a case where the teacher has to fill in the blanks. But it does emphasize scales, and note names, and gets to reading on the staff right away, although it probably keeps a student in 5 finger mode too long. With kids 7 or younger, I'll probably try Faber and Faber, or the really early series of John Thompson designed for the really little ones. What I like about Bastien is it includes some of the familiar folk tunes which I happen to like but I think with the Bastein series that is in the pink books you'll find yourself in a similar boat as with the Alfred's you mentioned as it teaches the same way. You might look at the old version of Bastien, the books are mostly white with a wide color stripe on them. I think it might be more what your looking for. I'm not sure where scales come in on Faber and Faber but I think the advantage is it gets students playing on different areas of the keys sooner. It also appears to have an excellent series on technique (Technique and Artistry) so much so that I'm probably going to start requiring their technique book even if using another series lesson books. The old Glover, the old Bastien series and Thompson seem to include more familiar tunes and classical style pieces right in the lesson book than the others mentioned which is one of the drawing cards for me. But with Faber and Faber, the familiar tunes and classical style can be found in their supplemental books too.

As far as note names and scales, regardless of what I do for method, I still plan to quiz on note names, have worksheets for note names, etc. and have the students learn and practice scales weekly as even if a method included these it still wouldn't be thorough enough. Also the same for intervals, chords, inversions, and chord progressions.

I'll be interested in what others have to say in answer to your post.




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Postby Mins Music » Mon Nov 06, 2006 6:39 pm

Hello!! I'm afraid my comments won't be much help to you, because i don't use methods anymore, but I wanted to welcome you to the forums PnoTchr1997! :)


The way I've "trained" (sorry, I'm in dog mode I think) my beginner students is probably a bit different, and not something everyone can do, but I'll tell you anway.
:D

I have one of these (sorry to send you to another link - just thought it was easier to show you then try and explain). I've taken the John Thompson "Teaching Little Fingers to Play", and have made an intro, accompaniment and ending for every song in the book. Each song plays 3 or 4 times. I teach kids (and adults) how to read music using this method, we play on the piano, and then they go over to the keyboard, we put on the accompaniment, and they play along. It teaches them rhythm, reading a little ahead - they end up having a really good internal metronome, it's HEAPS of fun because the sound is LARGE, like a full band. I give them a CD to take home to practise with. As soon as we've fininshed the book, I move on to 'literature' based teaching, at the piano only.

I've had transfer students on both Alfred and Bastien - we finish the pieces in them,and then we're OUTTA THERE!
Like Stretto has mentioned, teachers everywhere search for the ideal method and are constantly let down. I have a lot of method books in my library - I use a lot of their ideas without actually using the books.

There is so much wonderful music written for the piano.




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Postby PnoTchr1997 » Mon Nov 06, 2006 8:58 pm

Believe me, I'm about ready to ditch methods and start my own , but I figured I'd give one or two more methods a shot.
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Postby Stretto » Thu Nov 16, 2006 3:15 pm

After trying to go without method books for 2 years I decided to go back to using lesson books in methods for most students anyway.

I think those students who are really wanting badly to learn to play the piano and are also self-motivated and moving forward rapidly may not need a lesson book in methods other than in the beginning stages of learning the basics. However, I've decided that those who are not self-motivated especially need the more gradual, organized step-wise approach that methods provide. I don't want to get trapped into a "cookie-cutter approach" with every student but some sort of graded, gradual step-wise approach is needed for the majority of students. And I think especially most elementary age kids really need this whereas some teenagers and adults might be able to figure out pieces a little too challenging for them without having learned every concept and new note in the piece prior. It is perhaps the minority that could jump into a slightly more difficult piece and take off with it without all the initial steps taken to lead up to it.

I think the methods and publishers have studied this, researched enough, done it enough, etc. to know how to write the music in a carefully graded manner. I decided after trying this for a couple years not to try to reinvent the wheel!

I read a statistic in a music education type article once that only about 14% of students in lessons are self-motivated while the rest need external motivation. I've had some self-motivated students who could practically teach themselves who could figure out music even without having learned all the concepts and steps they need to know leading up to that point - basically jump into a piece and figured new aspects out in it as they went. But for the rest especially, I think a graded approach is necessary otherwise they get too frustrated and lose interest if presented things here and there in the music they haven't learned leading up to it.

I've decided to require students start out with lesson books and will add a required book of piano lit. sometime between level 1 and 3. They will still be allowed and encouraged to learn anything they wish outside of that but it will have to be in addition to the base requirement rather than instead of. Again it also depends on age as with an adult there would be more give and take, and if a student absolutely hated classical music, I might find a suitable supplemental book and have them try a little classical here and there.

I'm falling into a trap of letting kids choose most of their pieces within the range of their skill level and most of the time, they choose pop. I don't mind pop and like a lot of it myself but for some reason I find it difficult to teach on a steady diet of pop (no pun intended). And the kids left to choose what they want wind up even more unhappy in the long run. - Sounds a lot like other areas of life where kids are given too much of what they want.




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Postby PnoTchr1997 » Thu Nov 16, 2006 5:42 pm

I agree with the idea of too much "pop" can be a bad thing. I went through a phase of letting students choose what they want to play, and with my older students, this still applies, but with my younger students, I still choose most of their music so they'll have a steady diet of pop, and the "meat and potatos" of classical piano, if you will.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Nov 17, 2006 11:38 am

At least a significant part of this eternal problem comes from the simple fact that kids tend to pick what they're familiar with, and most of them have not had much exposure to the language of the classical repertoire. When the Pachelbel Canon or the Mozart concerto theme (Elvira Mag--what's-her-name?) got into the mainstream, everybody wanted to play those, too, remember? Kids have to be exposed to music much more often than in a weekly lesson.

Dr. Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Nov 17, 2006 3:32 pm

That is why I loan tapes and CD's often and ask parents to play some of their own and turn on the radio and sttend any local concerts they can.

Tomorrow I have a group in the morning and everyone will go home with one tape or CD. The 'name' of this group is "Listening". We will do a lot of that - students and I will be at the piano, some CD's. We will play Name that Tune and sing some songs and try to find some similar patterns. I hope to have a piece composed by the end of the 90 min. I am also basing most of the music on the Baroque period with some history of that period and the composers. I'll let you know how it goes.

THe groups are a lot of work, but worth it.
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Postby PnoTchr1997 » Fri Nov 17, 2006 10:30 pm

I couldn't agree with you more. That is why I send my students home with new classical playlists on their ipods, and for those students still living with me in the stone age, CD players. I have surprised even myself with how many of my students have become excited about classical, romantic, baroque, and the like through listening to the music performed professionally.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Nov 18, 2006 4:24 pm

A trip to Disney is a great inspiration for music! My grandson is learning "Winnie the Pooh" and my grandduaghter is having trouble chosing one- she is beginning with "Small World" but wants many others ie "Theme from Sleeping Beauty", "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and more.

Yes, I am still singing "Small World" amd recouperating! It was fun and the music was magical, much of it I grew up singing.

I will have to ask my students about Ipods. My oldest granddaughter has one. I didn't think of it for the music. thank you.
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Postby PnoTchr1997 » Sat Nov 18, 2006 5:50 pm

Well I figure, if the technology is out there, and kids like it, why not make the most of it. :)
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Postby Stretto » Sat Nov 18, 2006 8:18 pm

I guess I am in the stone age too. I didn't consider ipods. Good idea! I've recorded a few things onto tape before and many of my students don't have a tape player! - but do have at least a cd player.
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