Tips for Teaching with Piano Methods
Notes by Brent Hugh
Assistant Professor of Piano
Missouri Western State College Department of Music
These notes are part of our Piano Pedagogy curriculum.
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- You, the teacher, are primary; the method is secondary. You fill out the method--fill the gaps--and make it fit the student. Don't blindly do something just because it's in the method, or leave it out just because it isn't in the method.
- Many experienced teachers don't use a method at all. They may make their own "method" or just use various repertoire books. But for beginning teachers, a good method is highly recommended--it keeps you from "re-inventing the wheel" every time. It gives your lessons a long-term structure and helps you cover all the bases. It helps you find a logical sequence of learning--the right thing at the right time--and helps with pacing.
- One method definitely does not fit all students. When choosing a method to use with a particular student, consider:
- Age, background, experience of student
- Your own teaching style and preferences
- Preference of student (What did the parents use? Parents are more likely to help with an approach they feel comfortable with. What did older siblings use? Depending on the situation you might purposely choose the same, so student has heard all the music and knows what to expect, or different, so the siblings aren't directly compared)
- Layout, type of music in the method--will this method series appeal to this student?
- If at all possible, have the student get his/her own, new books. Re-using books with notes and marks from older sibling/parent/friend is confusing.
- Have the student get a bag or special piano lesson backpack to help keep all method books, lesson notebook, and repertoire book together. Without this, students won't be able to find books for either practice sessions or lesson.
- Always supplement lesson books with outside repertoire--either solos or collections (see separate sheet with example list of rep. used with Music Tree). Why? (1) Method repertoire is always narrow, all quite similar, and usually not very exciting. (2) With method books alone, students will progress too quickly into too difficult repertoire. This extra repertoire "slows them down" and helps reinforce concepts learned in the methods.
- Another method series can be a good source of "extra" repertoire in a convenient graded sequence. Noona, for example, has terrible sequencing when used on its own, but is a rich source of creative and fun pieces that can be added to the primary method series you're using with a student.
- Even with "integrated" theory in most modern methods, you will probably find that you need to supplement the musicianship side of the methods, too--flashcards, sight reading material, note spellers, theory and history notes and drills, ear training materials, videos, and computer programs to help with theory/history/musicianship may all be helpful, depending on the student.
- Method books become less useful after the first few levels. By Level 3-4, the method may still be primary, but heavily supplemented. By Level 5-6--if you choose to continue the method at all--it should be but one resource among several. The purpose of a method book is to take the student step by step to the point where he or she can play "real music", and once the student can play real music, there is little point in continuing to learn the contrived music of the method series. By Level 5-6 there is much real, well-written music that can be found to address any particular pedagogical purpose.
The Missouri Western Piano Pedagogy students have written reviews covering various aspects of the piano methods most commonly used in the U.S. You can read their reviews at http://www.mwsc.edu/~pianoped/reviews.html