Another summer has come and gone and once again I find myself preparing for an exciting year in my piano studio, working with the coolest students in the world! This week, I will begin my forty-third year of teaching and amazingly enough, I find myself filled with the same eager anticipation I felt many, many years ago as a young man.
I love working with young people. Over the years, I have had the privilege of watching many fine students grow from little children, to wonderful adults. I have also had the good fortune to build deep bonds and long-lasting relationships with many of these people. I feel blessed to have been given this opportunity.
As I prepare for the new teaching term, I am excited about seeing old, familiar faces once again and getting to know many new ones. I also cannot help but to think of the students who have left me this year. I know it is inevitable, but I am always sad to see them go.
I have finally come to terms with and am comfortable with the fact that I am an “old-timer”. Over the years, I have seen and experienced many different things. When I began teaching back in 1972, the word “digital” did not even exist. I was a performing musician back then and had a stack of up to seven keyboards. This consisted of a Yamaha Electric Grand, a Hammond B3 organ, a Fender Rhodes piano, and a number of synthesizers. The synthesizers were monophonic – that is, you couldn’t play more than one note on them at a time. Also, there were no “presets”, In order to change sounds, it was necessary to manipulate oscillators, filters and tone generators. The only way to get more than one note at a time to sound was to play two keyboards simultaneously.
The arrival of the digital age seemingly made my analog keyboards obsolete, so I sold them all for peanuts. Oddly enough, just as in the recent trend to back to listening to vinyl records, these ancient keyboards are now widely sought after, making them extremely valuable. If I only had kept all of mine – I would be rich! Oh well!
Our digital world continues to revolutionize our daily lives, the ways we communicate with one another, and how we think. It offers so many positive aspects, enabling us to have richer lives, but there are also some negatives. My wife, Velda and I were recently fortunate enough to visit Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in southern Saskatchewan. We were having dinner at the resort in the park, in a gorgeous restaurant, with huge windows, overlooking a magnificent forest of lodge pole pines. A family of four, mother, father, teenage son and daughter came in and were initially ushered to a table away from the windows. The parents protested and the family was subsequently seated next to that spectacular view. As soon as they were seated, out came four phones. They looked away just long enough to order their meal, but for the rest of the time, even as they ate, they remained buried in their phones. There was no conversation, no admiring of the view, and seemingly no appreciation of being together. Their lives revolved around those phones.
This is not an isolated incident. You see situations like this every day. I believe it is an indication of the power of our digital world and how easy it us for us to allow it to dominate our lives. Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-digital. It can play a huge role in making learning easier and more efficient – it can make communication almost instantaneous.
This year, I have vowed to use my digital recording studio much more extensively to the benefit of my students – to utilize the internet, including my website and Facebook to communicate more effectively with them and to embrace any technology with the potential of making learning easier for them.
I am very thankful to have parents and students who are willing to take time away from their digital worlds to spend time with me, learning to play a very old, analog instrument. I admire all of you for this dedication!
“What’s he been doing all summer?”
At the end of the 2014/2015 teaching year last June, it seemed like I had more than enough time to prepare for the 2015/2016 term. It was my intention to create a brand new set of CDs and Parents Guide to Book One and possibly Book Two – based on how my students were reacting to Keyboard Theory at the Rudiments and Advanced levels, I wanted to make sweeping changes to the materials – companion CDs for the 12-Bar exercises were also on the agenda. (I will be covering each of these topics in more detail later in this newsletter). Ironically, my “best laid plans” were overruled by circumstances dictated to me by our digital age. The untimely death of a PC containing the majority of my music software, and a printer constantly mangling paper and refusing to print double-sided threw off my schedule by a couple of weeks. I have been scrambling to complete as much of this as possible, but apologize in advance for not being completely prepared for the first week of teaching.
New for 2015/2016
Music is the language of sound. Children have the amazing ability to learn ANY and EVERY language they are exposed to, merely by listening, and emulating the words they are hear every day. Dr. Suzuki coined the phrase “Mother Tongue Approach” to describe this phenomenon. Children grow up using Mother Tongue Approach to learn many things. As they grow older and older, they become more visual in their learning habits. We, as adults find learning a new language to be an extremely daunting task. To a child, it is easy and natural.
If you apply the Mother Tongue theory to the study of music, it is easy to understand the importance of hearing the music to be learned as much as possible. Listening to a CD of Book One is key to developing the ear, but I am convinced practicing with CDs on a daily basis is invaluable.
To this end, I have recorded a set of CDs and am writing a new Parents Guide to Book One. Following is the introduction to this set as presented in the new Parents Guide:
“This guide was created as a companion to the Right Hand Phrase Study CDs. These recordings promote advanced ear development in the student by presenting each piece in a repeated phrase-by-phrase format. This step-by-step method of learning has many advantages:
- Dissects Book One pieces into easy-to-learn musical elements, creating a strong musical foundation for each song.
- Clearly presents key musical elements to the parent in a visual manner (through this guide) and to the student in an aural manner (through the CDs).
- Regular use of the CDs develops superior concentration skills.
- Studying in this way builds confident, fluid performance.
- Utilization of this technique establishes consistent, systematic practice habits.
How the CDs Work
Use of this set of CDs as part of the daily practice will greatly increase the student’s potential for natural, unforced, easy learning. Building a strong ear at a young age is invaluable to establishing strong musical skills. Once the child is comfortable working with the CDs, digesting the repertoire will become easier and easier.
CDs Currently in the Set
- Book One RH Phrase Study Part One – covers pieces from The Honeybee to Go Tell Aunt Rhody. Each song is first presented phrase by phrase, focusing on individual elements. All are repeated four times consecutively, with a metronome maintain a steady tempo and providing cues for each element. Subsequently, each piece is then presented by lines, repeated four times, teaching how to sew the phrases together. Finally, the entire piece is played four times. This graduated study system introduces new skills in a natural, attainable manner.
- Book One RH Phrase Study Part Two – covers pieces from Claire de Lune to Allegretto One.
- Book One RH phrase study part three – covers pieces from Goodbye to Winter to Musette to complete the entire Book One repertoire.
- Book One RH full songs – presents all pieces in Book One, played four times consecutively, with metronome, eliminating the Phrase and Line repetitions. This allows students to efficiently review songs which no longer require Phrase and individual Line study.
- Book One LH accompaniments – allows students to practice right hand songs over the left hand accompaniments, as preliminary preparations and ear development for hands together playing.”
As I write this, All CDs have been completed except for #5. The Parents Guide is about 50% completed. My goal is to have all completed by the week of September 21. The cost of this set is $40.00. I hope to have them online avaialable for download from my website in the future.
I will still have the original Parents Guide and accompanying CD of Haruko Kataoka performing the pieces hands together available for all Book One families free of charge. Although it is possible to practice with this CD, it requires the student is very comfortable with pieces before attempting to do so. I have designed the new set to allow the student to learn each song in simple steps, while always developing the ear.
If the Book One CDs and Parents Guide are a success, I will be doing the same for Book Two. Just the recording, mixing and mastering of each song in the Book One Set took an average of one to two hours per song. Book Two will require many more hours to complete.
A set of companion CDs for these exercises is high on my priority list. Plans are to include individual hands separate phrase study, as well as entire exercises both hands separate and hands together. I will be starting this project immediately after I have completed the Book One Companion Cds and Book, as well as planned revisions to some of the Keyboard Theory Materials.
Keyboard Theory Rudiments
Last year was the first year I offered Keyboard Theory at the Rudiments level, specifically for Book One students. On the whole, it was extremely successful, and students taking it soon gained a much better understanding of the keyboard, notation, and basic elements of theory. I did recognize some flaws in the way materials were presented. Often, in my desire to give the students as much information as possible, assignments were too large and sometimes too demanding. I will be simplifying things in a more digestible fashion. This will be completed by the week of September 21.
Keyboard Theory – Advanced
Last year, I had many high-school aged children taking Advanced Keyboard Theory. The materials I used were the same ones I had assembled for students wishing to study advanced improvisation and/or prepare for entrance auditions to jazz schools. I had achieved excellent results with this previously, but did not have the same success with this particular group of students. The original Advanced Keyboards Theory materials required each new element to be studied in all twelve keys each step of the way. This appeared to often be a daunting task for these students.
I am now in the process of writing a new volume, specifically geared towards the teenager. As with Keyboard Theory at earlier levels, we will be moving key by key. The emphasis will also be towards the creative by including the elements of songwriting, arranging and various improvisational techniques.
Thank you for choosing me as your piano teacher. It is my desire to build a strong relationship with each student and all parents. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. Here’s to having a truly great year!