Choosing a Method

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Choosing a Method

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Feb 15, 2010 11:58 am

There are probably well over a hundred different sets of teaching materials which are termed, at least by their authors and promoters, as "methods". There are still more "methods" available in software or in online sites. All claim to have major advantages over other ways of learning the piano.

However, if you're a teacher or a student the "method" materials used make a difference. A few, perhaps most notably Suzuki, are as much lifestyle as piano methods (as several Suzuki teachers have told me in strong terms :D ), so use of those methods involves a commitment to the method as much as it does learning the piano. Other methods are more focused on the mechanics of learning piano, leaving philosophy for the philosophers.

Although we have said many times all over the site that the best teachers will tailor their method and approach to the student's needs, rather than simply requiring that the student use the method the teacher likes or learned with herself, there is no question that method materials can be valuable for both teacher and student. But how do you choose one, either as a teacher or student. Do you simply use the one you were taught with or choose a teacher who uses one you've heard about? What kinds of things should the ideal method include (and exclude)? Is it the method who makes the teacher or the teacher who makes the method? What should students look for from those teachers who espouse a certain method?

Although we've written on some of these issues on the main part of the site, we haven't discussed them in detail in the Forums. I hope this thread won't simply become about justifying one's own choice of method. I think it will be much more interesting to find out what teachers think of the strengths and weaknesses of various methods and how far one can carry a method-based teaching approach.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Re: Choosing a Method

Postby celia » Tue Mar 16, 2010 10:39 pm

I would be interested to hear about this Suzuki "lifestyle" because I know absolutely nothing about it! The reason I say is because I have taken on many students who have started with a different teacher over the years and the ones who had been taught Suzuki were the hardest ones to relate to! I am very patient and understanding of the fact that students may have been taught differently in the past, but these kids weren't at all able to explain what they had learnt, they could play pieces which were technically challenging but told me that they had not learnt to read music or even what the different keys were called! So I found it hard to find the right music for them to study...
That aside, I have managed to pick up and fill in [what I see to be] gaps, with other transfer students I have had. Most of them have either learnt Alfred or Bastien and I have to say, I am not a big fan. That is because they are very much 5 finger position pieces which I find to be very limiting if it goes on for too long. If a child starts with these methods (they do middle c position, then c position then possibly g position and that is all they do in the first year...) that is fine if you can move them onto different material which requires them to - :o stretch or even :x move their hand... This goes down ok if they have not been learning for too long, but I have found with older kids it is just too freaky to have to stretch or move their hand whilst playing and they are too stuck in their ways to move on...
I like Music Tree method for little kids and also Michael Aaron for older ones. I think it is particularly important that the student learns to play (and find) different positions on the keyboard and change hand positions whilst playing from pretty near the start of learning... Even my 4 yr old students are moving their hands around the keyboard whilst playing from day 1...I also like to use the music tree method of teaching land marks treble g, bass f and middle c, and then reading and recognising the intervals from these notes... it is much harder work to teach than Alfred (which is more rote learning) but I find in the long run (my very first students are coming to the end of book 1) they have extremely secure note-reading skills, maybe better at sight-reading than many older students doing piano exams...
I would be very interested to hear other people's opinions on this, particularly as I have said to better understand Suzuki in case I come across another student who has learnt this way... I do hope I have done alright by all my students, sadly having lost a couple of students who came from Suzuki and a couple who came from Alfred and didn't like having to move their hands around the keyboard... you can't win them all and who's to say they may not have quit anyway...
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Re: Choosing a Method

Postby celia » Wed Mar 17, 2010 8:09 pm

What I also forgot to say is that I think a huge amount can be said for allowing the students to choose their own material... When I started teaching I asked all of my students what they would really like to learn and was surprised that the majoritiy replied "I don't know" meaning, "As you're my teacher I would feel much happier for you to decide what I am capable of/should be learning" However, along the way I have come across several very strong-minded individuals who have very clear ideas on what they wish to play. I am always happy to give anything a go, and I have found that, with a strong motivation, students can actually well achieve material they want to learn even if it is a little above their level...
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Re: Choosing a Method

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Mar 18, 2010 8:32 am

celia wrote:I would be interested to hear about this Suzuki "lifestyle" because I know absolutely nothing about it! The reason I say is because I have taken on many students who have started with a different teacher over the years and the ones who had been taught Suzuki were the hardest ones to relate to! I am very patient and understanding of the fact that students may have been taught differently in the past, but these kids weren't at all able to explain what they had learnt, they could play pieces which were technically challenging but told me that they had not learnt to read music or even what the different keys were called! ...
I like Music Tree method for little kids and also Michael Aaron for older ones. I think it is particularly important that the student learns to play (and find) different positions on the keyboard and change hand positions whilst playing from pretty near the start of learning... Even my 4 yr old students are moving their hands around the keyboard whilst playing from day 1...I also like to use the music tree method of teaching land marks treble g, bass f and middle c, and then reading and recognising the intervals from these notes... it is much harder work to teach than Alfred (which is more rote learning) but I find in the long run (my very first students are coming to the end of book 1) they have extremely secure note-reading skills, maybe better at sight-reading than many older students doing piano exams...
I would be very interested to hear other people's opinions on this, particularly as I have said to better understand Suzuki in case I come across another student who has learnt this way... I do hope I have done alright by all my students, sadly having lost a couple of students who came from Suzuki and a couple who came from Alfred and didn't like having to move their hands around the keyboard... you can't win them all and who's to say they may not have quit anyway...
Celia

Your comments are very similar to what we have said on our Piano Methods page about some methods. As for Suzuki..................., I have never come across a Suzuki teacher who could explain exactly what the "method" is. The closest I have gotten to that, when I have asked a Suzuki teacher to write a review of the method, is the following: "As far as Suzuki teacher's writing reviews of the "method", well, they can't because there is no method. There is repertoire, there is philosophy, and there is application. There is also training, and there is also education." I couldn't figure out what that meant and told the teacher so, but I offer it to you in explanation. Perhaps someone trained at the Suzuki school in Stevens Point, WI could enlighten me more. Your comments about Suzuki students are very similar to what I have heard from other non-Suzuki teachers over the years.

As for other methods, there are a number of worthy ones out there and not all are right for every student or teacher. That's one of the reasons we have advocated very strongly all over the site that teachers should be sufficiently aware of methods that they can "mix and match" pieces of methods or their own materials to suit the needs of the individual student. In fact, I would like to hear more from teachers about how they do that themselves, since most teachers do tailor the method to the student to at least some degree.

The trick in letting students choose their own material is making sure that that material is not too far beyond their current skills. There is a book by Noah Adams (reviewed here on PEP) about how he decided that he wanted to be able to play Schumann's Traumerai - and what he went through to accomplish it. It was way beyond his abilities at the beginning, but he was willing to spend the time to build his skills and knowledge to the point where he could play it. If you have that kind of commitment from the student, then most goals are achievable. The teacher can usually guide the student to works works that are reasonable goals and consistent with his wishes, even if the ultimate goal of the student is not yet within his capabilities.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Re: Choosing a Method

Postby celia » Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:19 pm

Thanks John,
"There is repertoire, there is philosophy, and there is application. There is also training, and there is also education." Suzuki teacher
I would love to challenge a Suzuki teacher to explain this... The method I teach encompasses repetoire, philosophy, application, training and education. ( which I wouldn't term as "music tree" or "Michael Aaron" but rather the way that I as an individual choose to explain different concepts - ie. I have laminated resources which I made myself to explain different aspects of music theory etc. Plus I have my own individual way of explaining things and relating to each student...) If I were to write a thesis on this topic, each of those 5 headings (repetoire, philosophy, application, training and education) would involve learning to read music and identify notes on the piano etc. So I invite a Suzuki teacher to please clarify because it seems to me that if a Suzuki student leaves Suzuki method it is near impossible to pick up anywhere else and this is a shame - how will they ever learn the classics or anything else? I am not claiming to know better, I am just totally ignorant in this area and would love to learn more.
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Re: Choosing a Method

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Mar 22, 2010 7:55 am

celia wrote:So I invite a Suzuki teacher to please clarify because it seems to me that if a Suzuki student leaves Suzuki method it is near impossible to pick up anywhere else and this is a shame - how will they ever learn the classics or anything else? I am not claiming to know better, I am just totally ignorant in this area and would love to learn more.
Celia

From what I have been told about Suzuki by Suzuki teachers, Suzuki is as much a lifestyle as a method, as I indicated when I started this topic. I think that a lifestyle devoted to a love of music and piano might not be all bad! :) Many people come away from it with a sense of having broadened their appreciation of music. However, the majority of piano teachers' observations of Suzuki students are similar to yours. Of course, there are also teachers who teach "modified Suzuki". I haven't spent a lot of time trying to understand what that means in all its variations, since, by definition, it means something different than the original meth - I mean lifestyle :) . In some cases, it seems to mean that the modified Suzuki teacher tries to remedy the difficulties many Suzuki students in the U.S. have learning to read music. Even though many teachers would not want to use Suzuki with their students, it has to be said that it has an appeal to many students and teachers and can't be ignored for that reason. Like you, I would like to see a Suzuki teacher explain their understanding of Suzuki. This thread is open to Guest posting, so anyone can post a reply.

There is an old thread, The "perfect" method that talks about some of the things that might be in a good method. Of course, it can't be complete, but I recommend it to you for reading and consideration. Although we've mentioned and talked about Suzuki, this thread is about what makes methods valuable and useful, both strong and weak points. A discussion of why one uses a given approach, even if it is mixed with others or modified from the method materials, would be helpful.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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