When choosing where to take private lessons, parents are usually ambivalent about the music curriculum from which their child will be learning. Instead, they decide if they like the teacher. Sometimes it is someone who they know and trust, maybe it is for convenience or price. When asked what curriculum their teacher is using, most parents don't even know its name - much less the philosophy behind it. However, especially for beginners, the curriculum matters more than the teacher.

 

The Conservatory Course is a result of years of research with thousands of students to discover a procedure for learning that works for everyone. By documenting results, we found a better in teaching students that is modeled after the classic methods of the past and is more effective than the modern methods of today. Let's compare some of these ideas for piano methods.

 

AMERICAN METHODS

The methods used by most piano teachers in American are distinctly different from those used by teachers around the world. In fact, when thumbing through American methods, teachers who are trained from other countries are confused by them because they do not fit within the natural order of studying music. This universal and historical weaknesses of American methods is the primary reason we have developed our own curriculum. The most commonly used piano methods are: Alfred, Bastien, and Faber. Let's compare them with The Conservatory Course.

 

  • Colored pictures:  Most methods published in American have picture illustrations on each page of music. Sometimes these pictures take up most of the page. At first glance, you might think the pictures are a teaching tool to make the music more interesting. However, big pictures, very large print, or characterizations of musical symbols do not help children learn music. The music itself is interesting and can make a direct route to the imagination without pictures. The pictures in modern methods are more of a marketing tool by the publisher to attract the purchaser than a teaching tool to help the student.

 

The Conservatory Course is better: Playing music is, in itself, an art form that stimulates imagination without the help of pictures. In The Conservatory Course there are no illustrations to distract from the meaning of the musical text and all the space on each page contain music to play. Students who are learning to play musically do not miss having pictures in their music book.

 

  • Hodgepodge of ideas: Flip through the books. You will see a hodgepodge of ideas that make no sense. While the authors make declarations of what will be learned in the method, the facts are random without order and do not build a good foundation on which to continue music study. In addition, musical ideas are spread out over several books, so they lose their relationships to each other.

 

The Conservatory Course is better: The correct way to teach is to bring out all ideas at once, then gradually developed them for more understanding. Flip through the first few pages of any level of The Conservatory Course and you will be able to understand exactly what the student will be learning.

 

  • Chordal harmony: All these methods introduce chordal harmony way too early in the form of analyzing chords by theoretical terms such as tonic and dominant, I and V7, or by hand position such as C position or G positions. Students who learn by these terms and positions early-on are misled to think they know more than they do; or that they are learning to read, when they are not. If this happens all manner of problems will occur, and most students are unable to advance without remedial help. As a result, do not become fluent readers.

 

The Conservatory Course is better: Students in The Conservatory Course learn at lessons to read music like a book, and at the same time, react in precise time and touch on every note they play. Notes are not analyzed in groups until students have experience reading notes individually on the staff, and until the hand has been made strong to technically play note groups without collapsing. For example, In grade 1 of The Conservatory Course students learn to read and play single melodies, then quickly progress to two melodies hands together in parallel, contrary, and oblique motions. This way is the only way to build the mind and hand to understand music. Students who miss this process will, sooner or later, have to relearn to play music that is not written in positions.

 

  • Separate books: Most teachers ask parents to buy four separate books per level. This library of books consists of a Method Book usually called the Lesson Book, Repertoire, Performance, and Theory books. However, in past generations, children studied music from one book that contained the method in the front and songs on which to apply what was learned in the back. In modern methods, the ideas are disjointed and spread out through several books, thus making them difficult to understand. Ideas introduced in this random way are quickly forgotten.

 

The Conservatory Course is better: It is all in one, just as the classical methods of the past. You can look at just one book and understand what will be studied. The one music book contains these sections: Method, Etudes, Exercises, Repertoire, and Amusements. The Lesson Book is the lesson plan from which students get their weekly assignments, and it is a report of what was studied at the lesson.

 

METHODS IMPORTED FROM JAPAN

The two methods used in America that originated from Japan are Yamaha and Suzuki. However, it is interesting to note that neither method it widely used for teaching piano in Japan. They are surprising ignored by most Japanese piano teachers who primarily use the traditional German Beyer Method. It is also important to recognize that students who transfer from Yamaha or Suzuki to other teachers usually have to start again from the beginning.

 

The logic behind both Yamaha and Suzuki is that children should learn to 'speak' a language before they learn to 'read' it. For this reason, the music is taught by copying the teacher, parent, or a recording; and not by reading. The problem is that children naturally imitate musical sounds. Once lessons begin, developing hand-eye coordination and reading visually should be the primary concern. In Yamaha and Suzuki, the student imitates the teacher and a parent is often expected to sit in on the lesson so they can continue to help the student at home. More students fail with this method of imitation than succeed because once students learn a piece by memory or by ear, and rely on adult help, they are not going to make the effort to read independently. Plus, the relationship between the student and parent helping in this way is often strained.

 

  • Yamaha Method: The first years of Yamaha are group classes of 8 to 10 students on keyboards. In the Yamaha Method, teachers sing melodic patterns that children imitate with the goal of singing solfege syllables by ear and playing the piano by ear. The program claims that the curriculum is broad compared to typical private lessons. "Children sing, solfege, play the keyboard, sing songs with lyrics, move to music, play rhythm and keyboard ensembles and participate in music appreciation activities." Actually, this sounds more like a preschool class.

 

The fundamental error in non-reading methods is that children are intellectually ready to read in kindergarten. An additional problem with Yamaha is that students are learning in a group. In a group, the teacher is unable to correct technique and many bad habits are formed during the first years of lessons that are very difficult or impossible to correct.

 

The Conservatory Course is better: From the first lesson, students learn to visually read musical notation that they will continue to read the same way all their lives. The lessons are private, so the teacher can help them learn the first skills of piano technique and the formation of the hand at the lesson. No help is needed from parents at home.

 

  • Suzuki Method: The Suzuki Method employs some of the same ideas as Yamaha. They teach playing before reading and parents are required to attend lessons for the purpose of helping at home. With this being said, there are some qualities too. For example, their material is universally accepted repertoire. Their lessons are private, so an emphasis can be put on the student's technique. They maintain the student's repertoire instead of discarding what has previously been played. Students are taught to respect their teacher and to appreciate what has been taught them. Suzuki teachers believe that all children can learn and don't judge their abilities.

 

However, the problem still remains that students eventually resent learning to read what they can already play without reading. This is the major problem with any method that encourages playing by "ear". Remember, imitation is easy, learning to read is a long and complicated process that will be resisted by students who are not taught to read and play all at once. In addition, the demands put on the student and family create an environment that only the strong and dedicated can survive.

 

The Conservatory Course is better: Many of the standard pieces in the Suzuki method are the same repertoire as in The Conservatory Course. Even so, The Conservatory Course is more organized with a sequential plan for teaching reading and more variety of experiences. The Suzuki curriculum consists only of pieces to play with no explanations; and when it is time to start reading teachers have to seek out other methods. With The Conservatory Course students are taught right from the start to respond to written musical notation. Everything is taught at the lesson and parents are not expected to attend lessons in order to help at home.

 

THE ECLECTIC APPROACH

Common sense tells us that teacher should have a plan for progress. The worst possible plan is to have no plan. Look on any music lessons website and you will see something similar to this, "Our teachers understand that every student is an individual, with personal musical needs and goals. We make it a priority to tailor how we teach and what we teach to your individual needs." Giving a lesson by just telling students random ideas is not teaching. Teaching must have a method and objective goals. Using a variety of methods or using what the student brings is not a method.  Frequently teachers go into the lesson not knowing what they are going to accomplish that day but reacting to what the student did or didn't do during the week. This also is not a method. These ways do not result in a coherent teaching strategy that can be proven to work. Organizing a lesson plan for study from many resources by one's self is an enormous amount of work and a great responsibility. It takes years of trial and error to know all the ways that information can be misunderstood by the student.

 

IN CONCLUSION

There are countless details for training students mentally and physically in music and there are countless errors that can be made. The following is a list of the most commonly used teaching errors that should alarm parents if they occur with your student:

 

  • The teacher or method book stating sayings such as Every-Good-Boy-Does-Fine as a trick to naming the lines and space of the staff. Most music teacher still use this saying, even though the staff is actually read in alphabetical order.
  • Finger numbers or letter names over notes which takes attention away from learning to read the notation. When the answers are written in, what does the notation do? It becomes invisible and the student is not compelled to look at it.
  • Students looking up and down while reading. Students who are dependent on looking up and down or memorizing their music will never learn to read.
  • The act of playing with fingers that are flat or collapsing rather by lifting from the knuckle. The finger joint must be stable like a knee joint, so the player can "walk" on the keys without wobbling.
  • The teacher counting aloud, singing along, or writing the counting in the music. Instead the teacher should play along to stimulate the student rhythmically.
  • Students making and fixing mistakes instead of playing slow with mental control.  The first impulse will be repeat if it is right or wrong. Making and fixing mistakes is a enormous waste of lesson time.
  • Students playing too slow. Once it is read correctly, the music must be trained in the student's hand, so it is can be played faster for a real musical experience.
  • When students want to pick songs for the lesson it is a clear sign they have not learned much, and teachers are searching for ways to keep their interest.
  • The teacher relying on parents to help students play the assignment at home.