What Are the Lessons Like?
Music is meant to be enjoyed.
So, we endeavor to teach music rather than just how to play notes. We also strive to match the lesson content to the needs of each student.
Toward that end we have chosen Suzuki, Stewart Piano, Artistry at the Piano, and Piano Adventures as the basis for piano instruction. More advanced students study the masterworks, with an emphasis on interpretation, ear training, and tone production.
For singing, we have chosen vocal warm-ups, solfeggio exercises, vocalises, and curricular books aimed at improving and expanding the student's range, tone, enunciation, and ease of singing.
In all our lessons, listening is important. Just as a child learns to speak a language by listening; likewise, we learn music best by listening.
In fact, our system of writing music on paper is only several hundred years old. How was music taught before that? The answer: By the teacher performing an example, and the student listening and imitating.
For this reason, we play the pieces at lessons to help the students learn them. The students are taught to codify the sounds, to write them down, and to read them. But listening is the first and most important step. Music is, after all, the art of sound.
Then, for home practice, we find or make recordings of the students' pieces. Students are encouraged to listen to these recordings every day. Not only will they learn how to play their pieces better, but they will become eager to practice them.
Why? It's the same principle that advertisers use: If you can get a jingle into someone's head, the music will strive to come out. Some people hum. Some people sing. Pianists can do more: they play the music, in their minds, and with their fingers on anything they can touch...desktops at school, planners at work, steering wheels in the car...and finally on real pianos when they arrive home.
In addition to teaching students to play fluidly and beautifully, we teach students music fundamentals and music-writing skills so they can learn to play by ear and compose their own music.
For this, we have created a unique approach using Montessori principles, the Stewart Method, Artistry at the Piano, and Piano Adventures. Theory and scales are indeed taught in our studio, but never in a dry way. We use hands-on tools and Montessori-style manipulatives to make theoretical concepts concrete and easy to understand.
For two examples, please see the photo below.
First, the colorful pattern blocks represent the poetic structure of a song. They help with decoding, understanding, and memorization. The pattern blocks allow us to take abstract sounds and make them concrete and easy to point to and discuss, or easy to point to and play.
Second, the numbers on the paper template, resting below the pattern blocks, represent the tone pattern of all Major scales. Notice that the 3rd and 4th steps of the scale are close together, as are the 7th and last steps. The last step is labelled 1' to indicate the start of the next octave.
This is similar to the WWHWWWH scale pattern that many students are taught, but more useful for reading music. The W+H scale pattern represents the distance in between notes. It is useful for measuring intervals. The 1-7 scale pattern, also known as solfege or Do-Re-Mi, represents the tones of the scale. It is useful for reading notes and understanding each tone's purpose in a song.
Do you remember the old sidewalk game of "Don't Step on a Crack, or You'll Break Your Mother's Back"? Our W+H scale pattern is like the cracks in the sidewalk. Our Do-Re-Mi scale pattern is like the squares in the sidewalk. When we play the game of "Don't Step on a Crack," we are doing the same thing we do in playing piano: Measuring distances (cracks or W+H) and stepping in the right spots (squares or Do-Re-Mi).
Similarly, we take other abstract principles, such as chord theory, melody patterns, motives, modulations, rhythm, and meter — and use creative teaching techniques to bring them to life.
With this method of teaching, students truly understand. They are not just taught to play songs, but equipped to be in charge of Music. It becomes their own. They are able to sight-read, improvise, compose, and transpose. They are able to achieve the music they want.
Something that makes our school extraordinary is that we teach a skill vital for maintaining interest in lessons and long-term musical growth: how to transpose music. Usually this skill is taught only to advanced pianists. However, it is best taught early on, so that even beginners can have the satisfaction of being able to play the entire keyboard, using all the black and white keys.
Our goal is to nurture pianists who can play in social situations, confidently, by ear or with sheet music, and who can transpose a song for a singer whose range is higher or lower than what is written on the page. To be able to play at a party, or for a group of friends, transforms piano-playing from a lonely hobby...into a relationship-building skill.
With the youngest students, we use a listening and discovery approach to music. Students learn by playing playing rhythm games, duets, and “piano stories” together with the parents and the teacher. They learn over time to play melodies, be sensitive to tone, and to accompany their songs with a beautiful Alberti bass line. This gives them a head start on music playing that cannot be overemphasized.
Socially, all the students learn public speaking skills and confident performing skills in the weekly group lessons. Each group lesson begins with an informal recital of the songs students have been learning in their private lessons. The students practice their audience manners, performance bow, and their oral introductions.
After a student plays, the other students and their parents all clap, and then raise their hands to ask for a turn. Everything is positive; mistakes are handled as normal and not a big deal; and the emphasis is on giving the gift of music to everyone in the room. The teacher leads the way by setting a positive tone and teaching the students how to listen and appreciate each other's efforts. With this approach, even the shyest students are soon raising their hands and asking to play next.
Adults and seniors tend to enjoy a logic-based approach. Many adults and seniors also enjoy participating in recreational piano classes, that offer social opportunities and the joy of playing duets and compositions for each other.
For all ages, we use innovative techniques for more fun and faster learning. Everyone is musical, and the teacher's job is to unlock that potential.
We encourage you to schedule a first lesson to see what the lessons are like. You can reach Suzanne by clicking here to send an email.
Everyone can learn to perform music and enjoy it. It will improve your thinking skills. It will enrich your life.