Forty-third year of teaching winding down – Have I Seen IT ALL?
- Because I prefer to teach beginners in a group setting.
- Because I require that at least one parent attend each lesson.
- Because parents are required to play an active role in motivation and oversee the daily practice.
- Because the emphasis is on ear development first and not the eye.
- Because the amount of time I spent with his daughter was based on what we needed to accomplish and her ability to concentrate as opposed to a “per half-hour” basis.
- Because I didn’t set an arbitrary amount of time for the in-home practice.
A Little Background
- Saskatoon and Saskatchewan's first Suzuki Piano Teacher
- Founding member of the Saskatoon Suzuki Piano Parents Association
- Founding member of the Saskatchewan Suzuki Piano Teachers Association
- Was able to meet and closely observe Dr.Shinichi Suzuki as he worked with children and parents on three occasions
- Studied with Haruko Kataoka, founder of the Suzuki Piano Method
- Studied extensively with Elaine Worley, renowned North American Suzuki Piano Master Teacher
- Performed in various jazz ensembles in a number of Saskatoon nightclubs on a regular basis.
- Did studio session work and jingles
- Founding member of the Saskatoon Jazz Society
- Performed with my band "Collage" at the Saskatoon Jazz Society's inaugural event at Club Yip's
- Ideally, start children's piano education at a young age
- Involve the parent in the learning process, and maintain a strong Student - Parent - Teacher relationship.
- Introduce young children to the piano using the "Mother Tongue" educational philosophies of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki
- ABOVE ALL - respect each student and nurture their abilities with patience, positive reinforcement and gentleness
- Use the standard Classical Repertoire to develop technique, musical sensitivity, and interpretation
- Study the reading of notation as an essential and vital element of becoming a Practical Musician
- Introduce the elements of Blues, Jazz, Rock and Pop at an early age
- Include developmental Pop, Contemporary, New Age, Rock, and Jazz pieces as part of the standard repertoire
- Encourage all students to explore improvisation as part of their musical education
- Look at musical education as a long-term process. Therefore, don't get caught up in looking for short-term results. Like learning their language, children progress at different rates, but they all eventually learn to speak.
“THE “MOTHER NATURE” METHOD – HOW A CHILD LEARNS A LANGUAGE
- PRE-BIRTH - Conclusive tests by scientists in Washington, Stockholm and Helsinki proved that babies start to develop their hearing ability thirty weeks into the pregnancy.
- NEWBORNS - At zero to six months, babies are intense listeners. They learn to recognize voices and begin trying to communicate through crying. They soon engage in “vocal play”, (babbling, gurgling). They learn to recognize their names, start responding to salutations, begin to recognize words they have repeatedly heard and babble even more, as they try to imitate the sounds of the voices around them.
- THE ONE-YEAR-OLD - They can now start to point to different parts of the body when asked, and respond to queries such as “Where’s Daddy?”, and requests like “clap hands” and “dance”. Comprehension level is far beyond their ability to speak, but words are starting to happen.
- AGES TWO TO FOUR - Vocabulary increases dramatically, language structure gradually becomes more and more intricate and sentences become longer and longer. By the age of four, most children have learned the language and have become fluent speakers. They can convert abstract thoughts into complete sentences, respond to questions and have meaningful conversations. They are becoming more and more comfortable with the highest of linguistic skills – the ability to improvise. They love repetition. Things like singing the same songs over and over again, or reciting nursery rhymes repeatedly.
- AGE FIVE AND BEYOND - Until now, children have learned whatever complicated language they have been surrounded with by hearing it. They even have the ability to learn multiple languages at this young age simply by listening. As time goes on, there is a gradual transition from their reliance on aural skills to the visual for learning. This continues until adulthood. Thus, the reason it is so difficult for adults to learn a new language, while it is easy and natural for a young child.
WHAT THIS CAN TEACH US
- Listening is central to learning any language. It is virtually impossible to become comfortable and fluid in a language by simply learning to read and write it. Although listening is a seemingly passive activity, with its benefits apparently intangible, but it is important to understand it is invaluable.
- When learning a language, there is much to be learned from making mistakes. This is key in learning to be comfortable with any vocabulary. We don’t worry when a young child mispronounces a word or makes a grammatical error when learning to speak. We accept this as being part of the learning process. The child just continues growing and learning by listening.
- Repetition is a vital element of learning. Young children will listen to the same things, watch the same things, and say the same things over and over again, seemingly never becoming sick of it.
- Immersion – this includes being exposed to what you want to learn every day, hearing it, experiencing it, trying it and repeating it.
- Natural learning – We are confident that all, normal, healthy children will learn to speak fluently at their own pace. We accept this process as being a part of growing up, thus allowing it to occur naturally.
- Leave the abstracts for later. We don’t begin teaching children to read and write until they are relatively fluent in their language. It has always puzzled me that the “Traditional Music’s” underlying philosophy involves the teaching of abstracts first, thus ignoring the child’s natural “aural” abilities.
THE OLDER BEGINNER
- Get them reading right away. Accept that, as they grow older, they are relying on visual learning more and more. Start a reading method immediately, separate from the developmental repertoire.
- Get them playing hands together as quickly as possible. It is important to build strong independence of the hands quickly and efficiently, so hands together playing becomes a reality. A sense of success generates interest and builds motivation.
- Don’t ignore the ear. Encourage listening. Use the study of developmental repertoire to build the ear. Introduce supplemental materials such as the 12-Bar Exercises to further aid in building a strong ear when the student is ready.
- Keyboard Theory is an invaluable tool in technical and aural development.
THE POST-SECONDARY STUDENT
I am very fortunate. Often, I have the pleasure of meeting students as toddlers and watching them grow up through elementary school and high school. In addition, many continue their musical studies as they continue their education in post-secondary institutions. With these students, it is important for me to adjust to the demands and added pressure their classes are placing on them.
When it comes to their piano practice, they are going to have good weeks and bad weeks depending upon their academic workloads. If they are just studying the “standard repertoire” with me, this means that on weeks where they have been extremely taxed at school, very little can be accomplished at the lesson. The study of improvisation, however, allows us to still have productive lessons. Yet another reason why I encourage students to pursue this discipline.
THE ADULT STUDENT
Children have the ability to learn languages relatively easily and effortlessly because their minds are readily open to aural stimulation. Adults no longer posses this trait, however they still have the potential to attain proficiency in a new language. They just have to work a little harder at it.
Following are some observations.
- Patience …... adults tend to overthink, overdo, and attempt to overachieve. They must recognize playing the piano requires aural, mental and physical skills, each needing time to develop.
- Listen …... Learn the way children learn. In order to develop the ear and build the ability to internalize music, adults must resist the tendency to rely on the visual. They should listen to recordings of the music they are learning and use their ears as much as possible. To this end, I supply and assign supplementary listening exercises involving playing along with recorded music.
- Repeat …... learning in young children revolves around repetition – doing the same thing over and over again, until it becomes internalized. Adults have the tendency want instant results and often become impatient when much repetition is necessary. The key to learning any new skill?
- Take tiny steps…... Recognize that playing the piano involves the development of visual, aural and physical skills. The mastery of one tiny skill at a time leads to larger skills and success. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
- Keyboard Theory…... These materials provide valuable resources about chord structures, scales and other improvisational elements.
“Improvisation - the art or act of improvising, or of composing, uttering, executing, or arranging anything without previous preparation”
Musical improvisation involves imagination and creativity.”
There are many aspects to art of improvisation, ranging from the ability to just “sit down and compose spontaneous pieces”, to being able to easily add chords and accompaniments to a melodic line, to building elaborate improvisations over existing chord progressions.
“My goal as a teacher is to produce well-rounded, well-versed musicians with practical musical skills. This includes technique, tone, and development of the ear, expanding the mind, knowledge of various genres, the ability to improvise, and a deep knowledge of the elements of music. Keyboard Theory plays a large role in this.”
- Live Recording/Digital Recording/Mixing/Engineering/Producing – for aspiring recording artists, singers, composers. We record students performing their own compositions, including vocals and instrumental parts. This provides a basic knowledge of live recording techniques. We also have the option to work with a wide variety of digital instrumentation, ranging from drums, to strings, to orchestra, to synthesizers and much more. Once instrument tracks are completed, mixing techniques are introduced. These include equalization, compression, reverb, delays, and exposure to literally hundreds of other plugins designed to produce studio-quality mixes.
- Mixing/Engineering/Producing – This is for students who do not wish to record their own compositions, but who are interested in the Mixing/Engineering/Producing aspects of recorded music production. We use pre-recorded vocal and instrumental tracks as a starting point to build a unique mix. Students learn mixing techniques, including panning, automation, equalization, compression, reverb, and digital effects. They may also choose to add digital instrumentation as well as experiment with other production techniques.
- Electronic Music – Students work with a multitude of state-of-the-art in-house electronic instruments, synthesizers and samplers top build their own electronic sounds. They learn about electronic sound creation and manipulation, as well as mixing, engineering and production basics.
- In order to provide an adequate amount of time to each student enrolled in Digital Recording, I limit the amount of Digital Recording students each year to five.
- In the past, I have worked with students as pre-preparation for media school, others intending to enroll in post-secondary sound production programs, and still others looking to release Demo Cd’s and EP’s.