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B O O K 3 | ( N - S )
3A - Z O F T E A C H I N G B E G I N N E R S T U D E N T S | B O O K 3 ( N - S )S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 C U R I O S I T Y B O X | T H E C U R I O U S P I A N O T E A C H E R S ©2
From Naughty to Notation and everything in between.
From Parents to Purpose and everything in between.
From Observation to Orientation and everything in between.
From Quarantine to Questions and everything in between.
From Rapport to Rubbers and everything in between.
From Safe-Guarding to Style and everything in between.
Table of Contents
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O | F R O M O B S E R V A T I O N T O O R I E N T A T I O N
P | F R O M P A R E N T S T O P U R P O S E
N | F R O M N A U G H T Y T O N O T A T I O N
P A G E 1 0
P A G E 0 5
P A G E 1 4
P A G E 0 6
0 5 Q | F R O M Q U A R A N T I N E T O Q U E S T I O N S P A G E 2 6
0 6 R | F R O M R A P P O R T T O R U B B E R S P A G E 3 0
0 7 S | F R O M S A F E - G U A R D I N G T O S T Y L E P A G E 3 6
SALLY CATHCART PhD Director & Co-Founder The Curious Piano Teachers
SHARON MARK-TEGGART MA Director & Co-Founder The Curious Piano Teachers
Teaching beginner students is “as easy as pie”...said no piano teacher ever!
Teaching beginner pianists well requires significant effort and skill on the part of the teacher.
The ‘A-Z of Teaching Beginner Students’ is a series of 4 digital books:
Book 1 - A B C D E F Book 2 - G H I J K L M
Book 3 - N O P Q R S Book 4 - T U V W X Y Z
These books feature keywords associated with beginner piano lessons.
For each keyword there is a clear, concise definition.
And when you’re curious about a definition, you will be able to learn more from the references provided: Curiosity Boxes, video links, blog posts, published books.
We hope that you find these digital books insightful and fun to explore. Most of all, we hope that they arouse your curiosity, and inspire you to deliver ever-increasing multi-dimensional learning experiences for your beginner students!
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AUGHTY A naughty student.
Take a moment to consider what that means to you. Does the face of a past or present student flash into your mind’s eye? And what did that student do for you to think of him/her at the mention of the word ‘naughty’?
When we have a naughty student, our own feelings of frustration and annoyance can escalate very quickly. Sometimes it’s helpful to consider what might be causing the naughty behaviour of the child.
1. If your student isn’t listening to you, or is blatently disobeying you, it might be that the ‘self-control’ area of the child’s brain isn’t fully developed yet. We need to be patient!
2. If your student is hungry, thirsty, tired or feeling unwell they’re likely to act irritably.
3. Sometimes our students just crave independence, so they may be feeling annoyed with their ‘bossy’ piano teacher!
See ‘H’ - Hero
4. If your student has been sitting still at the piano, concentrating hard, they might just need a change of activity (ideally something that requires physical movement).
5. Sometimes students are just overcome with emotion - perhaps we’ve asked them to do too much and they’re just frustrated (maybe even anxious).
6. Even our feelings might be ‘countertransferred’ - perhaps you were the one who came into the lesson feeling angry about a completely different matter. Children pick up on our feelings very quickly and can then mirror the same behaviour.
January 2017:
Psychology for
dealing with
teaching difficulties
Dr Julie Knerr-Hague suggests that ‘having a student play with a non legato articulation is the easiest way... to play with a solid tone whilst remaining relaxed and maintaining a good piano hand shape.’
Read the mini essay to learn more and discover the progression from non-legato to legato.
We can make music without being able to read a note (think Paul Mc- Cartney)! However, with secure notation reading skills a whole world of Western art music is available to pianists. Notation is a tool to get to the music rather than the music itself.
There are five key principles behind the successful teaching of notation:
1. Teachers need to provide students with the big picture
2. Students should be encouraged to build on previous knowledge
3. Music is so much more than just what is on the page and teachers should make all the musical details evident from the start: dynamics, phrasing, speed, etc.
4. All rhythmic and melodic notation should be taught within the context of a phrase or melody
5. Direct instruction from the teacher should eventually lead to the pupils being able to decode the notation automatically
Online Video:
principles for starting
to read notation
8 9A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R N
When did you last observe another teacher?
It is such a privilege and we can learn such a lot from each other. Whether a lesson is outstanding, good or not so good there is always something to learn and to reflect on.
Observing others play and/or teach is one of the best forms of professional development there is and we don’t do enough of it! Even better is to buddy up with another teacher you feel comfortable with and do some peer-to-peer observation, finding time to sit down over a coffee and discuss everything together. Approached in the right way (you don’t want to turn into the Piano Teacher Inspector!) both parties have much to gain.
June 2016:
1. Learn together and learn from each other
See ‘G’ - Groups
2. Perform to one another and hear students at higher levels perform too
See ‘P’ - Performance
See ‘M’ - Multi-sensory
See ‘S’ - Singing
Also, as piano teachers we want to continually embrace opportunities to learn more about teaching beginner pianists. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been teaching beginners, we can strive to continually improve!
Carl Orff (1895-1982) was a German composer and educator.
The Orff philosophy encourages children to experience music through play. It encourages creativity through the student’s natural responses to music.
Elements of the whole-bodied Orff approach include:
1. Rhythm - taught through speech patterns (speaking, singing, music and movement are all connected)
2. Melody - simple intervals are explored and pitch notation is only introduced after students have first experienced melodic phrases
3. Improvisation - a big part of the ‘playing’ and ‘experiencing’ is the element of improvisation.
‘Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.’
Carl Orff
Have you ever wondered why some piano beginner methods start on the black keys? (For example, Piano Safari).
The reason is simply this: students can ‘orientate’ themselves most easily by focusing on the black keys, identifying the visual patterns of two and three black keys. (It’s worth noting that, from a technical viewpoint, playing on the black, compared to the white, keys is actually more challenging for a beginner pianist).
See ‘K’ - Keyboard Orientation
The most important thing for a piano teacher not to do is teach a beginner by mindlessly moving through the pages of a tutor book.
Instead, create your own, personalised curriculum where you’ve thought deeply about what to teach and when to teach it. The Piano Framework© will provide you with an overall structure to help you get going.
It’s also important to consider the order of the 4 stages of the learning process:
1. Prepare: unconscious experience of musical concepts
2. Present: making musical concepts conscious
3. Practice: practising the musical concept
4. Reinforce: reinforcing the musical concept in a new situation
You can learn more about the learning process in the July/August 2021 Curiosity Box by watching the video that demonstrates a concept-led approach. If you’re unfamiliar with a ‘sound before symbol’ approach to music learning, this is worth checking out via the November/ December 2019 Curiosity Box.
May 2019:
Exploring Tutor
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
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1 4 1 5A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R P
Especially when we have young beginner students, parents have a very important role to play. What’s more, we can’t assume that parents will know that they have an important role to play.
You’ll find 2 digital books, written for piano parents, inside the April 2019 Curiosity Box
• The Practice Triangle | a parent’s guide to piano lessons
• The Power of Practice | 7 practice hats for parents
Also, download and print off the 18 colourful Home Practice Cards with simple ideas to help your piano parents get involved with their child’s practising at home (they work a treat as fridge magnets!)
‘Passion has a motivating factor; therefore, it is a significant need for high quality learning and teaching. Passion is seeking for the new, and experiencing new ideas. Passion is on the basis of effective teaching. Passion which is indispensable for learning and teaching facilitates learning thorough desire and enthusiasm it creates.
Passionate teachers via creating effective learning environments endeavor to increase learning potentials of their students. This study focuses on differences passionate teachers make, and points out the effects of passion on effective learning and teaching.’
This is an abstract for an article entitled ‘The role of passion in learning and teaching’ by Hamdi Serin. You can read the full article by clicking on the link.
As an ‘expert reader’ when you are faced with an elementary level piece of music you have a lot of experience and prior knowledge to draw upon. You look at the shapes and patterns on the score and that’s what you read. Our brain is naturally wired up to recognise patterns. Edwin Gordon argues that ‘We think with words and we audiate (internalise) with patterns. Tonal patterns and rhythm patterns are the words of music’. Through songs and rote pieces, used alongside notation (initially graphic followed by staff notation), beginners build up aural patterns in their ears, physical patterns in their fingers, and visual recognition of these patterns on the staff. Teaching pattern awareness is a central part of beginner piano lessons.
April 2019:
Educating Piano
Online Video:
Pedagogy means ‘the art of teaching’ - something that we study a lot at The Curious Piano Teachers! However, it’s interesting to note that, world-wide, there are many piano teachers who teach with little or no pedagogical training. Rather, they come to the profession, merely being able to play the piano, which is not enough in order to teach others purposefully and to the best of our ability. That’s also why continuing professional development (CPD) is so important.
Check out the 4 pillars of piano teaching (a professional development framework) inside the August 2020 Curiosity Box:
1. Being a Pianist
2. Being a Teacher
3. Being a Musician
4. Being a Professional
How many times have you had a beginner student who has relished listening to the magical change in sonority created by the sustain pedal?
Increasingly, composers of beginner-level music write pieces that enables beginners to depress the sustaining pedal for the whole piece, creating sophisticated sound worlds.
Check out the repertoire list inside the October 2018 Curiosity Box to discover repertoire for beginners, featuring the pedal.
Pent is from the Greek language, meaning five. A pentascale is a five note scale.
A major pentascale in solfa will be: d-r-m-f-s. While in a minor scale, we sing l-t-d-r-m.
A huge proportion of beginner repertoire is pentascale based (5 notes = 5 fingers). However, it’s more than just playing pentascale melodies that we want for our beginner students. We want them to develop musicianship skills by learning songs that feature pentascale melodies - then exchanging the words of the song for solfa and scale degrees. That can lead to the student being able to write out the pentascale melody, playing it on the piano, being able to ‘figure out’ a new pentascale by ear and understanding the various ‘shapes’ of pentascales in different keys.
For example, the C and G pentascale features 5 white notes whilst the D and A pentascale will be 2 white, 1 black and 2 white keys.
After that, learning a full major (or minor) scale only requires another two notes - which is another reason why it’s so important that we scaffold the learning of scales through pentascales!
Tapping a rhythm with our hands is one thing, tapping it with a frog or ladybird castanet is quite another! Then there are boomwhackers...
See ‘B’ - Body Percussion
August 2020:
October 2018:
Ready to Play:
It’s important to differentiate between practising, playing and performing. Practising is the nitty gritty ‘taking it apart’ process. Through practice, students will be able to start to ‘play’ their pieces with increasing fluency. However, ‘playing’ and ‘performing’ are not the same thing. Often students will go into performance settings (exams, festivals, studio concerts) without having actually performed before. They might not have experience of playing different pianos or perfor- ming in a room with very different acoustics to their familiar, intimate home setting. No wonder beginner students feel so nervous when they take a beginner-level exam if it’s the first time they have ‘performed’!
Before the ‘real’ performance, we want to ‘shake it up’ a bit for our students (see the 7 points below) and provide them with strategies, including strategies for coping with performance anxiety (see the January 2018 Curiosity Box).
Ideas for preparing for performance include:
1. Use images, storyboard, imagination
2. Play your piece as if you were (a certain character)
3. Video record and then complete a self-assessment sheet
4. What if... (you played the loud sections quiet and the quiet sections loud)?
5. Series of character cards
6. Play your piece standing up
7. Teach your piece to someone else
In addition to setting up opportunities for students to perform to one another in a peer group setting, you might also encourage students to set up mini-concerts at home (or on zoom) with family or friends present. Let’s remember too the performance allows our students to share their music-making skills with others, something that is intrinsically hugely satisfying.
See ‘P’ - Practice
What are your core beliefs and values as a piano teacher? What underpins what you do and why you do it?
When we begin to reflect on our teaching we may discover that we have a tendency to teach as we were taught. Over time, with continued professional development and pedagogical training we will become more purposeful, knowing the reasons why we teach in a certain way (and being able to argue convincingly when others chal- lenge our beliefs and values).
When piano parents contact us to ask about beginner lessons, having a philosophical teaching statement is invaluable. Check out the July/ August 2018 Curiosity Box to download a teacher workbook that will help you to get clear on your teaching philosophy. Indeed, when our curiosity leads us down new paths, we can expect to perpetually tweak our teaching philosophy - so stay curious!
A phrase is the most basic musical unit there is.
Within a phrase, notes and rhythms form patterns and shapes that expert readers recognise and reproduce with little conscious effort. When notation is initially taught, notes and rhythms should be shown within the context of a phrase so that the relationship of one to another in sound and in physical movement is understood. Notes either played or read individually have no musical meaning.
A phrase allow notes to become musically meaningful.
January 2018:
Practical strategies
July/August 2018:
Online Video:
Watch Sally
technique called
Rainbow Arms
1 8 1 9A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R P
The Piano - a complete instrument within itself.
Whether it’s a grand, upright, or digital with a piano the world of music is available at your fingertips. No wonder it continues to be one of the most popular instruments to learn. However, alongside that has to be balanced the fact that the set of skills required are some of the most complex and challenging!
See ‘P’ - Piano Framework
The Piano Framework© is an important tool to help you plan your student’s learning with a sense of purpose and clear progression. It will give you an overview to the many and often overlapping elements that learning the piano involves.
The Beginners Level has three sections:
1. Musical concepts
2. Technical Skills
3. Pianistic Skills
It can be used to plan the musical journeys of each individual student. Sharing The Piano Framework© with both parents and students is highly recommended.
See ‘P’ - Planning
High pitch or low pitch - the piano is a very accessible instrument for beginners partly because all the pitches are fixed.
Planning piano lessons doesn’t have to be complicated! The secret is to be systematic.
We recommend a 5 Step Formula for individual lessons that is made up of: The Destination, The Plan, The Lesson, The Review and The Call-to-Action. Knowing The Desination is all important. Start at the end. Ask yourself how the student is going to move from where s/ he is currently to where you want them to be by the end of the les- son. The critical question is: Where will the student be by the end of the lesson? The more specific you are the more likely this is to be successful and the easier it is to plan the rest of the lesson.
Longer-term planning does take time, although most beginners will develop their musical skills and concepts in a fairly predictable way. Use The Piano Framework© in conjuction with your preferred tutor books to provide a comprehensive and holistic musical experience.
Play is central to learning and development, despite its apparent purposelessness.
Because play has no set rules or boundaries, and takes place within a safe environment, we are able to explore who we are and what we can or might be able to do or achieve. We push the boundaries and in doing so, according to Stuart Brown: ‘We stumble upon new behaviours, thoughts, strategies, movements or ways of being’.
Play is also central to healthy brain development and helps to form new connections in the frontal cortex. During the act of play we test out ideas in various combinations and this appears to give us the ability to be flexible in responding to situations back in the ‘real world’.
Check out the blog posts about ‘Play and Playing’.
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
easy lesson planning
2 0 2 1A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R P
Playing the piano should be at the heart of all lessons.
That’s why students come to lessons in the first place, after all they want to experience the emotional thrill and physical joy that comes from genuine musical engagement.
As teachers however, it’s very easy to talk way too much as we explain the many concepts and skills that a beginner is faced with. Aim to always balance up the talking with playing as much as possible.
Here’s some thoughts on how: model technical points, create a sound story together, use simple improvisation ideas (e.g. Forrest Kinney’s books) to make music, use chants and songs (e.g. Ready to Play).
As a teacher you could challenge yourself and your student to have a silent five minutes in a lesson; communicate only through the piano!
Have you ever asked a beginner student to “sit up straight” at the piano, only to discover that they move from a sloppy, slouchy shape to being soldier-straight with tense shoulders?
Instead of using the word “straight”, use the word “tall” and suggest that they imagine a piece of string, coming out from the top of their head that pulls them up towards the ceiling like a marionette puppet!
Check too that they’re not tucked-up-tight against the keyboard, they should be able to stretch both fists out in front of them to touch the fall board. Dangling feet always need support, bums should sit on the front half of the piano stool and stool height will enable students to create a 90 degree angle at the keyboard.
Check out the videos on posture and warming up inside the May 2018 Curiosity Box.
Research shows that beginner instrumentalists on average practice three times a week for 15 minutes. We also know that their practice often consists of playing from the start of a piece over and over again!
Strategic practice ideas can be taught in fun and engaging ways right from the very start of learning the piano. The Magic Number 3, Plus 1, Snail Speed are easy-to-understand and use practice suggestions that can help to instill quite sophisticated practice habits in the early stages.
With the average child beginner introduce one practice strategy at a time, taking several weeks to reinforce it and making sure it is fully embedded and understood.
See ‘G’ - Guiding Principles
In a way, teaching beginners is probably more challenging than teaching an advanced level student who has been well-taught from the earliest stages of learning. Not sure you believe that?
Just imagine building a new home without first digging and creating a solid foundation. Sooner or later things will go wrong, cracks will appear. The house may collapse completely! Getting a piano student started is no different which is why the job of teaching beginners is nothing to take lightly. The beginning phase of learning is probably the most significant phase so don’t down-play your role.
You are (need to be) a professional teacher in every way with studio policies, procedures and contracts in place, a studio equipped for creative, multi-sensory learning and a deep understanding of the learning processes for different age groups of beginners (you won’t do the same thing with a 5 year old beginner and a 25 year old beginner!
Beginners need the best teachers.
May 2018:
The well-maintained
Piano Teacher
April 2016:
Practice Strategies
August 2020:
The Four Pillars
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What does the learning progression look like for beginner pianists? To start with, as teachers, we need to have a curriculum (see The Piano Framework 2021©). We need to have a clear idea about what to teach, when to teach it - and how. This also involves an understanding of the 4 stages of learning (see the ‘concept-led’ video and resource inside the July/August 2021 Curiosity Box):
1. Prepare
2. Present
3. Practice
4. Reinforce
However, we also want our beginner students to be aware of their own learning progression. Perceiving progress can powerfully, intrinsically motivate students. Sometimes it’s all too easy to, metaphorically, keep looking ‘up the mountain’ and feel daunted by the climb that remains.
Therefore, let’s encourage our students to ‘turn around, look back down the mountain, and admire the view!’
Check out the September 2017 Curiosity Box for the Piano Trackers that will enable your beginner students to track, and celebrate, their progress!
See ‘S’ - Studio Projects
The pulse is the underlying, constant heartbeat of the music. It drives the music forward through time, in a similar way to how our own pulse keeps us moving on. Pulse is often used interchangeably with the word beat. Michael Stocks (one of Sally and Sharon’s great inspirations) used to say that the pulse is felt whereas the beat can be heard. So the pulse is felt silently whilst the beat is heard through an instrument. Songs and movement away from the piano are essential activities for pulse development.
See ‘B’ - Beat
See ‘H’ - Heartbeat
If you haven’t got any puppets in your teaching studio yet, now’s the time to go and get some!
Puppets can really help to break the ice, lift the energy and always bring laughter into a lesson. Also, puppets allow teachers to do quite silly things, without undermining their own credibility and seriousness.
Over time Sally has built up a whole variety of puppets (she uses it as a good excuse to go into a toy shop) ranging from ducks, zebras, dogs and frogs. Her favourite however is Lulu who is a bit of a singing diva. Here they are ‘performing’ together.
At The Curious Piano Teachers we often talk about teaching something with ‘a sense of purpose’. This just means that we have a clear teaching or learning aim.
For example, if we’re teaching a song, it’s not just about the student being able to sing the song - it’s about us, the teacher, being clear why we’re teaching that particular song and what we want the student to learn. Perhaps it’s a rhythm element, perhaps it’s the pitch element, perhaps it’s the structure of the song.
In the September 2019 Curiosity Box we explore the processess involved in teaching rote repertoire ‘with a sense of purpose’ - check it out and note the purposeful nature of the lesson videos.
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
September 2017:
Planning for
Online Video:
September 2019:
Teaching by Rote
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UARANTINE The year is 2021, and we’re well familiar with the concept of quarantine!
If you find yourself needing to teach online, because a beginner student needs to self-isolate, then check out the April/May 2020 Curiosity Box where you will find ideas for online lessons: 12 ideas for online lesson fun cheatsheet, including video links and ready-to-use resources.
Then we also have the concept of ‘quarantined’ practice (or ‘goldfish’ practice). For example, if a student is struggling to play a 1-octave G major scale with their right hand, quarantine the elements:
1. Can they say aloud the letter names of the scale, rhythmically?
2. Next, can they play these notes on the piano with a single finger?
3. When the notes are known, then the correct fingering pattern can be practised.
4. Finally, you might ask students to play the scale featuring a repeated rhythm pattern (e.g. 2 quavers/eighth notes 1 crotchet/ quarter note).
When all these steps have been ‘quarantined’ the student will be set up for success. Just imagine what might have happened if you’d expected the student to do all of this at once - it would have spelt disaster for sure!
See ‘I’ - Isolate
See ‘P’ - Practice
April/May 2020:
Teaching Piano
What can we do, so that our beginner students learn more effectively? Well, one very powerful strategy is to ask effective questions. To begin with, we need to understand the 8 different types of question that we can ask:
1. Skinny questions • these are closed questions • will only require “yes” or “no” answers • don’t give our students a chance to reflect
2. Fat questions • these are open questions • we’re inviting our students to think for themselves and give a considered response
3. Low order questions • factual questions
4. High order questions • the student needs to analyse or problem solve
5. Emotional questions • about how the student feels
6. Metacognitive questions • these encourage students to think about their own thinking
7. Imposter questions • these are the ones you want to avoid! • basically, they’re a piece of advice with a question mark at the end!
8. AWE questions • ‘And what else...?’ See ‘A’ - AWE
Some question types will yield better student responses than others.
For example, if we asked skinny and imposter questions all day long we’d come away with a pretty shallow understanding of what our students know - or don’t know.
However, asking nothing but deep metacognitive questions throughout the lesson will probably feel like a exhausting marathon - even for our adult beginner students - so a balanced approach to the types of questions we ask is something to aim for. (Note: numerous studies suggest that 3-5 year old children show an important development in their metacognitive skills, so it’s important that we understand what metacognition is and that we understand the benefits of developing these skills in even our youngest piano students - check out the article!)
Finally, wait for your student to answer the question you’ve just asked (apparently, most of us only wait 0.9 of a second before answering the question ourselves!) The longer you wait, the more likely they’ll be to figure it out by themselves - and even if they don’t, there’s a better chance that your response will be more appropriate, more useful and more actionable.
Accept too, the moments of silence; your student will learn, sooner or later, that you will wait on their response!
June 2018:
2 8 2 9A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R Q
Rapport refers to the building of a close, harmonious relationship between you and each student.
1. Learn about your students’ interests (e.g. baking, hamster, cricket)
2. Show an interest in your students’ lives outside your piano studio (e.g. family, school)
3. Make eye contact with your students (and don’t stand and talk down to them, hunker down so that you’re at their level)
4. Respect your students (treat them like the heroes that they are!)
5. Smile and always, always be kind (we never know what struggles students might be going through)
Lucinda Mackworth-Young offers some wonderful practical advice about creating rapport (between teacher, student and piano parents too) in her book Tuning In.
See ‘C’ - Connection
See ‘H’ - Hero
See ‘W’ - Wholehearted
Reading notation tends to feature heavily in traditional-style piano lessons, often at the expense of aural-based learning opportunities (such as playing by ear, improvisation and rote).
What’s also interesting is that students, whose music making and learning experiences revolve around reading, tend not to be not very good sight-readers - especially when mnemonics are the strategy used to develop pitch reading.
See ‘I’ - Intervallic Reading Approach
See ‘L’ - Landmark Notes
January 2017:
Psychology for
dealing with
Teaching Difficulties
Online Video:
to read notationFrom Rapport to Rubbers and everything in between.
Ready to Play is a series of musicianship books written by our very own Sally Cathcart.
Using the guiding principles of Kodály, coupled with the latest research into learning, each book takes students (and teachers) on a carefully crafted journey that has learning, singing and then playing at its heart.
From ‘Jelly on a Plate’ to ‘I have a Dog’, the songs and activities found in Book 1 ‘Off we Go!’ provide the perfect accompaniment to the first year of learning the piano for children aged between 5-7 years old.
Here’s Sally doing Jelly on a Plate on the Ready to Play YouTube channel for your pupils to join in at home.
The two books can be bought from Blackrock Music using the CPT discount code.
Learning repertoire often dominates piano lessons. Yet when this happens, without consideration of musical concepts and pianistic skills being taught, there will be gaps in student learning.
Check out the July/August 2021 Curiosity Box for more on a ‘concept-led’ approach and to learn more about the musical concepts and pianistic skills that need to be taught to beginner pianists from The Piano Framework 2021©.
There is a repertoire list for beginner music featuring pedalling inside the October 2018 Curiosity Box, and numerous other Curiosity Boxes that provide repertoire ideas.
See ‘R’ - Rote
Have you ever noticed that young children show preference for things that are familiar? Research suggests that repetition has a significant role to play in effective learning.
As teachers we want to find ways for students to repeat things (a song, a chant, a piece) but with different focus points.
For example, our beginner student learns a chant. Can they repeat it again and put a certain word in their ‘thinking voice’? Or perhaps replace the rhythm of that word with body percussion? Or say the 2nd and 4th phrase in their ‘whispering’ voice?
See ‘P’ - Practice
See ‘S’ - Songs
See ‘A’ - Automation
‘We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.’ (John Dewey)
Reflective practice is when we systematically review what we do, and why we do it, in order to deliver better, more effective learning experiences for our students. It can be tempting to ‘brush under the carpet’ the memory of those lessons that did not go well. Perhaps we feel frustrated because we struggle to pin-point the problem, never mind knowing what to do about it. Yet it’s possible to take a ‘hopelessly ineffective’ lesson and create an ‘excellent’ reflection by digging into the problems and creating a route for the following lesson that begins to solve the problem.
Recording yourself teaching (with signed, written parental permission) is a great place to start. Be honest with yourself about what you see. Celebrate the things that go well, noting why you feel they went well. Dealing with the things that didn’t go well is always more challenging - you really do need to make a concerted effort to be kind to yourself. Again, consider why it didn’t go well. What might you have done differently? Then take action to make these small lesson improvements, continuing to reflect along the way.
Online Video:
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
January 2021:
Online Video:
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A wide range of teaching resources can really help to bring beginner piano lessons to life! Having a percussion instrument to play or the appearance of a puppet can help to inject fresh energy and smiles into a lesson.
A basic starting kit should include: a set of claves, a drum, a puppet or soft toy, floor spots, a pack of small, fun erasers.
Another resource we highly recommend for notation work is the Manumat from Blackrock Music. Remember to use your CPT discount code!
The word rhythm comes from the Greek rhythmos meaning ‘flow’. Rhythm underpins all music and is one of the core concepts that beginners need to learn.
We recommend that it is taught aurally first and experienced through a simple chant or song such as Hey, hey look at me (from Ready to Play).
Once the concept of the ‘rhythm pattern of the words’ has been explored, your chosen type of rhythm language can be introduced. It is only at this point that the rhythm notation to represent the sound should be presented.
Check out the ‘Rhythm’ sections of The Piano Framework 2021© to discover the pedagogical sequence of which rhythm values to introduce when.
See ‘F’ - Flashcards
‘Teaching students by rote (i.e. by imitation without extensive reference to the score) allows students to develop their aural ability, technique, musical understanding, and memory without the added complication of reading the notation.’
This statement comes from an ebook, that can be downloaded from the September 2019 Curiosity Box, called The Benefits of Rote Teaching by Dr Julie Knerr-Hague and Katherine Fisher where you can learn more about the 7 benefits of teaching rote pieces to beginner students.
Understanding the processes involved to teach rote repertoire purposefully is important. That’s why the September 2019 Curiosity Box features a series of videos where you get to see piano teachers teach rote repertoire to their students.
The line-up includes: Samantha Coates, Paula Dreyer, Katherine Fisher, Diane Hidy, Julie Knerr-Hague, Sharon Mark-Teggart and Elissa Milne.
See ‘E’ - Erasers
January 2020:
Teaching Rhythm
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
September 2019:
3 4 3 5A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R R
Being a piano teacher comes with professional obligations. We have a duty of care to uphold. Individually we should be aware of how to provide students with a safe and secure environment promoting a climate that enables them to develop according to their needs and abilities. We should know about safeguarding and child protection and have a studio Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy.
There are a couple of online courses available and we recommend these to all piano teachers.
See the blog Being a Professional - Safeguarding and Child Protection for more information and a discount link to one of the courses.
Dr. Jerome Bruner coined the term ‘scaffolding’ and connected it to Vygotsky’s work. Check out the links to learn more about the concept of ‘scaffolding’ in learning.
See ‘P’ - Pentascale
See ‘P’ - Pentascale
Playing with scarves (ideally chiffon scarves) is a fabulous sensory activity with lots of scope for developing and reinforcing musical concepts. For example, what might you get a beginner student to do with a scarf to show the concept of a ‘phrase’? Google ‘Dalcroze scar- ves’ and see where that takes you!
See ‘D’ - Dalcroze
See ‘L’ - Listening
See ‘M’ - Multi-sensory
See ‘P’ - Phrase
There is a new sub-category in the 2021 edition of The Piano Framework©: Reading (Independent). This focuses on the independent reading skills of students.
For example, at Beginner Level 1 students will have independent reading skills involving:
- 4/4 rhythm flashcards
- rhythm sol-fa
Then at Beginner Level 2 students will have independent reading skills involving:
- simple phrases using pentatonic motifs from hand signs
- short, single hand melodies using repeated notes and moving 2nds and 3rds from Landmark notes
You will find additional reading resources and content inside the March 2018 Curiosity Box. Plus, we love the step-by-step progression of the Piano Safari sight reading cards, with lots of cards to practise reading skills.
See ‘F’ - Flashcards
See ‘L’ - Landmark Notes
See ‘T’ - Terms and Signs
If we are to place music firmly at the centre of children’s learning and education, it’s so very useful if we can connect our work as piano teachers with what schools are doing. Nowadays, music and the arts are so tightly squeezed into a very full and heavy curriculum, and so the more we can do to expand the musical horizons of children, the better.
Some piano teachers are already working within a school setting and have a clear awareness of how their teaching and learning fits into the overall national curriculum of their particular context. Some also contribute to the wider musical experience of pupils within school as part of extra-curricular provision, choirs and music groups. For others, it’s often useful to connect with schools who may well be pleased to have that contact with a music specialist.
However, whatever our setting as piano teachers, making links between our own piano teaching curriculum and the National Curriculum (or equivalent, depending where in the world you live) can provide a more rounded, holistic music education for our students. Additionally, we can develop our awareness of cross-curricular links within learning, such as English and Maths, and so support our schools even further.
1. How can you provide opportunities to develop listening links in line with the National Curriculum?
2. How aware are you of the National Curriculum in your country?
3. Have you looked at the website of a local school to see how music fits into children’s overall learning?
4. Have you made any connections with your local school, even in terms of performing opportunities for your students, or offering expertise as a practising musician and teacher?
Online Video:
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
March 2018:
The Super
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In the April 2021 Curiosity Box, Sharon delivers a video presentation: ‘A Bird’s Eye View of Simple and Compound Time Signatures’ (plus there’s an accompanying one-page cheatsheet resource).
Even if we only teach beginners, it’s important that we get the ‘big picture’. Watch this video and then look at the ‘Rhythm’ section of the Beginner and Elementary levels of The Piano Framework 2021©, noting the progression.
See ‘C’ - Conscious
See ‘C’ - Compound
See ‘M’ - Metre
See ‘R’ - Rhythm
Research shows that singing should be an essential part of early instrumental lessons (McPherson and Gabrielson).
Singing helps to build musical scaffolding in the brain that leads students to understand basic concepts such as pulse, rhythm, pitch, tempo and dynamics. It is relatively easy to incorporate the use of the singing voice into beginner piano lessons, especially with younger children and especially if a game or activity is attached.
In Row, Boat, Row for example students can be ‘rowing’ in a boat at different tempi whilst singing the song. See Sally’s Ready to Play books for more songs presented and an underlying progression.
The mention of sol-fa often brings to mind The Sound of Music, the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical starring Julie Andrews. High in the mountains above Salzburg, with the seven von Trapp children, she teaches them to sing using a song featuring sol-fa. Watch it here!
In her digital book, inside the November/December 2019 Curiosity Box, Gillian Earl summarises sol-fa as follows: ‘The sol-fa is the sound. It renders the sounds tangible and memorable; it expresses their rela- tive pitch and tonal functions. It is never used as just ’another verse’ to a song. It defines melody, modulation, intervals, harmonic progression and chromaticism. It aids transposition.’
There are also accompanying handsigns: ‘Handsigns are a visual aid used to express the sol-fa. They provide the link between the sounds and the written notes. They have an effect of producing a reflex action in the vocal cords.’ (Gillian Earl).
You will be able to download an illustration of these handsigns, produced exclusively for members of The Community, from the No- vember/December 2019 Curiosity Box.
See ‘S’ - Songs
Professor Gary McPherson stresses that ‘singing should be a com- mon and natural part of all early [instrumental] lessons’. Singing mat- ters because it helps children to build up important mental models. For example, without a mental model of pulse any understanding of rhythm is going to be tricky.
You will find a couple of digital books inside the November/ December 2019 Curiosity Box by Cyrilla Rowsell and Gillian Earl that provide further insights into the importance of singing in piano lessons. In her book, Gillian says: ‘it is not possible to sing anything which has not first been imagined in the ’inner ear’. Singing is the proof that the music has been assimilated and understood.’ She goes on to quote Kodály, the Hungarian music educator, who once said: ‘A child who plays an instrument before he sings may remain unmusical for a lifetime. That is why we encounter so many skilful pianists who have no idea of the essence of music.’
Sally’s Ready to Play books are full of songs for beginner students. Other resources include the Inside Music teacher handbooks from the Voices Foundation.
See ‘I’ - Internalisation
See ‘S’ - Sol-fa
April 2021:
4 0 4 1A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R S
TRATEGIES See ‘T’ - Tone Quality
Making up sound stories with children works a treat as a way of creating a musically focussed lesson. You can turn words into music and create your own musical stories at the piano.
For example, what about creating a rain storm at the piano or taking your fingers on a trip to the zoo? Another source of fun and inspiration is to use story books as a starting point. We’re going on a bear hunt makes a great sound story. There are several Christmas sound stories to be found in the Curiosity Boxes if you want some inspiration.
Story books can create a wonderful springboard: from composition to improvisation - and much more besides!
Sharon remembers using her own childhood books as inspiration for children’s compositions. In particular, the Ladybird 401 series (now out of print but often available on eBay). These illustrated storybooks feature rhyming animal stories can be used with a particular tone set (for example d, r, m, f, s). Say the following words, from page 4 of The Green Umbrella by A. J. MacGregor & W. Perring, and work out the rhythm pattern, setting out the correct rhythm flashcards! (The rhythm structure is ABAB).
Once upon a time a Bunny Lived beside the deep blue sea, Once upon a sunny morning “Lovely for a swim!” said he.
You might even ask students about the books that they’re currently reading, or about their favourite stories. Remember, they’re the heroes and asking them to contribute their story books is important!
See ‘ C’ - Creativity
See ‘F’ - Flashcards
See ‘H’ - Hero
See ‘I’ - Improvisation
See ‘T’ - Tone Set
A strategy can be summed up as ‘a plan of action’. As piano teachers, we need to be very detailed and thoughtful about how we teach things to our beginner students.
For example, how do you teach pitch notation? Some piano teachers might say ‘through mnemonics’, another might saying ‘using landmark notes and an intervallic reading approach’ whilst a third teacher may feel hazy about how to express which strategy s/he uses. What’s more, giving a one-sentence answer isn’t enough. We want to have a really clear concept of all the various stages of teaching using (for example) an ‘intervallic reading approach’. Indeed, we need to be clear why we use the teaching and learning strategies that we use. (If another teacher challenged you about your strategies, would you be able to convincingly argue your point of view?!)
We also need to be giving our beginner students practice strategies - in other words, a clear plan of action about how they will practice at home. Check out the April 2016 Curiosity Box for more about practice strategies such as ‘Plus 1’ and ‘Snail Speed’.
See ‘I’ - Intervallic Reading Approach
See ‘L’ - Landmark Notes
April 2016:
Practice Strategies
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TRUCTURE TUDIO PROJECTS Structure is a fundamental element of music. Take a moment to write down a few things that come to mind when you think about musical structure. You might have written down:
- Binary (A B)
- Rondo (A B A C A)
You might even have written down the terms associated with the structure of a sonata: ‘Exposition’, ‘Development’ and ‘Recapitulation’. However, we don’t need to wait until our students are playing Baro- que Suites or the Classical Sonatas of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven before introducing them to the concept of structure in music.
Sally’s Ready to Play books introduce beginner students to the concept of structure in a very simple way, and set students up to compose their own short chants, songs and piano pieces. Take, for example, the song Rain is Falling Down where the 1st, 2nd and 4th phrases are exactly the same (both rhythmically and melodically):
Rain is falling down (A)
Rain is falling down (A)
Pitter patter pitter patter (B)
Rain is falling down (A)
Whether you teach one-to-one or small group lessons, providing the opportunity for students to collaborate on a studio project can work really well. For example, there’s the concept of the 40 piece challenge (obviously it doesn’t have to be 40 pieces, it can be 30 - or up to you!)
You might want to have a studio focus on the music of a particular composer and get students to ‘lapbook’ (Google the term to find out more and check out Joy Morin’s ideas). Check out too the London Symphony Orchestra’s digital resources section.
Ultimately, it’s about being creative: considering the learning aspirations for your beginner students and then figuring out how you might get them working together, sharing and collaborating with one another.
For example, as beginner students ‘cross the bridge’ to elementary level you will want to develop their key awareness. (See ‘Tonality’ in the Piano Framework 2021©). Check out the ‘Key Awareness Cards’ inside the July 2020 Curiosity Box (C major) for a ready-made studio challenge score sheet!
September 2018:
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
July 2020:
4 4 4 5A - Z O F T E A C H I N G - L E T T E R S
TYLE In each section of The Piano Framework 2021© there is a ‘Style & Performance’ section which includes the subheadings: ‘Stylistic Awareness’ and ‘Suggested Listening Repertoire’ - check these out!
Using musical contrast cards is a great way for beginner students to start to listen to music in a focused, comparative way (loud/quiet, high/ low, fast/slow). Even having pictures, or cards featuring ‘mood’ words (such as ‘graceful’, ‘spooky’, ‘warlike’, ‘calm’) can be a great way to get beginner students actively responding to points about musical style through listening.
Check out too the educational offering from orchestras - some of them have lots of ready-made digital resources, such as the LSO (London Symphony Orchestra).
July/August 2021:
The Piano
Framework 2021©
March 2016:
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The Curious Piano Teachers © 2021 | [email protected]
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