PIANO ADVENTURES – RANDALL AND NANCY FABER INTERVIEW
Sheet Music Plus attended the Music Teacher’s Association of California Convention this year. After his keynote address and masterclass, we had the opportunity to interview Randall Faber, co-author of the Faber Piano Adventures Series. In the video, Randall provides his expert advice to teachers and answers some questions sent in from members of our Easy Rebates Program for Music Teachers. Please enjoy, you can read a transcript of the interview below:
B: Hi everyone and welcome, I’m here with Randall Faber. My name is Brendan and I’m from Sheet Music Plus. Today, we’re interviewing him to learn a little more about the Faber series and a little background on that. So for those of you at home who don’t know, the series is made for a wide age range, from students who are five years of age all the way to those who are adults.
B: (00:29) How did you meet Nancy? I know you and Nancy both wrote the method together and it’s a wonderful series so tell us more about that. (00:40)
R: Thank you so much. Nancy and I actually met at a piano teacher’s workshop, a workshop on the Robert Pace method. I was teaching some group lessons and teaching Pace at the time. I was a college student and Nancy was a college student, both music majors, and Nancy was assisting her mother in her studio. So Nancy was at summer break from Eastman and she didn’t really want to go to a piano teaching workshop; she wanted a break and her mother said, why don’t you just come, and so we met and at that teaching workshop it was an opportunity for us to not only to meet for our marriage but also to be in that habit of us both being involved with teaching and wanting to write, to be involved with developing a better curriculum. It was interesting, she was the only woman under fifty. And I was the only guy. So it was inevitable that we meet.
B: (01:43) Well great. That’s really awesome. So who are your musical heroes? Who’s inspired you throughout the years? (1:50)
R: If anything the first thing that comes to mind would be that my musical heroes as a teenager were more into pop. The Hammond B-3 player Jimmy Smith, Lee Michaels, Elton John. I did a lot of transcriptions of playing Elton John’s sort of style so he was definitely a hero for me. On the classical side, James Dick was quite a big performer. He played with the symphony there and I had the chance to have a private dinner with him. He was quite an inspiration. Even though we didn’t stay in touch afterwards, that really gave me some strong incentive to pursue piano seriously.
B: (02:29) Those are all great artists and that’s lovely. So what caused you to pursue a career in music? I know for some it’s one of those things where you know, you start out, you enjoy it, and then eventually you have to make that decision like, “Hey, this is something I’d love to do.” What pushed you into that direction? (02:50)
R: It’s kind of a funny story. My senior year in high school, I was really strong in math and I represented my school at math competitions, so I kind of assumed math. But I was also doing well with music and winning competitions. I really had a draw between those two. And there was a point in the summer, I had scholarships to Interlochen but I was also representing my school to go to this national political camp, and they were at the same time. So I either had to decline on the Interlochen music scholarship for the political camp, or vice versa. So I waited until I had the assigned position that I wanted, you know, I was hoping that I wanted to be President of the United States or a congressman or governor, but the lottery selected all the positions for the simulation. I was the city sewer system manager.
R: So that’s really doing a lot for my self esteem here. And so it was an easy decision to pass on the political camp and go to Interlochen. And once I was there, with the music peers and the teachers, they had inspired me to go into music over math and political science.
B: (04:18) Great! Well now we can go a little more in-depth into the Faber piano series. What was your inspiration for coming up with the method, and what motivated you to write your own? (04:33)
R: Thanks for asking me that; it’s a good question. At the time we just found that the material wasn’t up to the potential of the kids. We saw lots of students were dropping from various studios and coming to Nancy and me with parents just pleading as their last resort, save my child. And a couple things we found in the methods of the day was that they was too pedantic and the methods were written to teach some specific piece of information but not to play musically or play with artistry. So we wanted two things we wanted to improve the sequences of the instruction and we wanted to make it more artistic, more expressive and more pianistic. Basically things were pedantic, written as if it were written for functional harmony instead of written for the sake of music and building a pianist. So we wanted to infuse it with more artistic meaning and also better educational sequence that would give better understanding. So it’s really a response to the needs of our own students. In fact before we even thought of any commercial publishing of our own materials, Nancy was writing pieces to motivate the kids and I was doing some jazz curriculum and improvisation with my kids. We were publishing for our own studio right from the beginning, and that lead to something more formal and we thought, well why don’t we just tackle writing our own piano method. It was a much bigger project than we ever imagined. We wrote 27 versions of the Primer Level before we brought it into the form it is now.
B: Wow! And did you bring the set to your friends to test? (6:00)
R: Our studio expanded so that we had a number of teachers in our own studio, so the initial twenty versions were just our own in-house testing, and then from there we did some more national testing with other teachers and more fine-tuning. But we really used the testing and revision process to get it right. We took a lot of years and that is the reason why it’s been successful.
B: (06:32) Great. Okay, so with that, can you provide any advice on maybe what is the best way to go about using the series, just for teachers? I mean is it okay to start at a different level of the book, or is it better to go through the series one by one? How does it work? (06:53)
R: Yeah, you know it’s really written as a curriculum so the reinforcement is all built in. So I think the student is–and it sounds self-serving to say this, but it’s really designed to give its own sense of review. And so if you use the materials as intended, use the technique and our lesson book and have that right side-by-side, you can supplement with a theory and if that book is done almost at home, and then bring in performers book pieces as needed. Basically use that as your curriculum and work through it and then supplement. If the students’ motivation wanes at all and they’re becoming not quite as interested, then you can bring in the pre-time to big time to supplement. You can customize, but one thing we try to do is to make Piano Adventures the core and then you customize with developing artists with Pre-Time to Big Time to make sure you get the maximum effectiveness. The key I think is that the courses we have, My First Piano Adventures for the young kids, and the Basic Piano Adventures, Accelerated and Adult so having four entry points, each a quite a distinct pedagogy and appeal of the pieces allows that to be customized to that particular age group.
B: (08:10) Right, great. Okay, well we have two more questions and then maybe one or two teacher questions. Our Easy Rebate teachers were so kind as to send some questions in and we’ll get to those too. So if there were maybe two tips that you could provide for teachers, something that you’d say could be very beneficial for students, something inspirational that they can give their students or ways to teach their students, what would that be? (8:41)
R: Well, I’d say the first would be to reflect on your own teaching style and relationships with the students. In other words, that one thing we can’t do as the authors for the curriculum Piano Adventures is that we can’t be right there in the studio, so it’s really up to you to build that relationship and develop good communication with the child so that you’re inspiring the child, you’re helping guide their attention. And you hear the key delivery of the skills and the method is your tool that helps you get there, but I like to suggest that you know, you empower yourself for that communication with our own enthusiasm, your own caring for each student. Don’t teach the student as if they’re a number or a generic student. Each student is so individual that you have to be right there with that individual child, and when you do that, then you’re developing the basis of communication and relationship, from which the learning can occur. That would be my first one.
The second would be, don’t feel like you have to race up the levels. In other words, don’t feel like you have to show off the student on big repertoire too soon. Take the time to build the foundation. Teach a lot of pieces. Let the student build fluency and technique at that particular level. Understand or relate the technique and theory, along with the pieces that they’re learning, so they understand what they’re doing, with meaning. Where’s the one chord, where’s the five-seven, where’s the four, invert it. Get them to really know those fundamentals inside out and that’s the better foundation for the bigger repertoire later. But don’t short-site these fundamental skills because they’re harder to patch up later when you’re at higher levels and the student has tensions and doesn’t understand the material at the high level of repertoire.
B: Absolutely, wow. Thanks so much, that’s perfect advice. I think all our teachers will really enjoy it.
R: Thanks so much Brendan.
B: (10:43) And so, one other question here, so I hear you have some new books coming out, and I believe next week is when maybe you’re starting to release? (10:52)
R: Right! And for this conference (10:54) we ship some directly here for you and for the teachers here, as kind of a prerelease you might say. We’re excited about it; it’s the favorite studio collection. And many of you know our PreTime to BigTime series, and over the years, that blue pop book and you know, jazz and blues and rock and roll and we receive hundreds of letters from teachers, you know, thanking us for saving their studio with songs that the student really wants to play. So we’ve been, over the last couple of years, we’ve done revision for rock and roll and pop and jazz and blues to make sure we get more current pieces in it, but this is our next step in PreTime to BigTime in that it’s essentially a sampler of the various styles. So PreTime to BigTime is all about taking exact, precise graded levels and giving a variety of genres and different styles, so you can find whatever style the student can celebrate, that motivates that particular student student and then goes right at the right level. So the studio collection will combine pop pieces, rock and roll, jazz and blues, ragtime, hymn even, and classic themes so that the student then can find which style is really most motivating to them, and then you can zero in and give them that book given the style. So it’s a little bit of a triage, you know you’re finding where does the student get the best maximum impact from the material. This is a sampler that helps you find that impact point. So we’re enthused about how it helps student motivation and it’s just a great set of fun pieces again that can be used the social elements of piano playing, pieces they can quickly pick out for their peers, for their cousin’s wedding and so forth.
B: Great, well, we’re going to hold this up here for you to see. Check it out later when you get the chance. Again, these are going to be coming out sometime next week so look up a music store near you and take a look. Great, so almost done here, we have—maybe we can take two teacher questions. (13:03) So here’s one we can ask. This comes from Debbie Knapp, Washington State, she’s a member of Music Teachers National Association. She asks, “Are there any plans for you to write more supplemental music for level 5? My students loved “Time” books and I’d love to see more stuff available at a level 5 or even level 6!” (13:22)
R: Okay that is a very good question. We do have PreTime to BigTime, and BigTime is level 4, which is really intermediate. One thing that I like to do at BigTime is I think of it just as level 4 and above, and then I’ll get back to directly answering the question, but what you can do here in the meantime is figure it’s not just that this level is easier, relatively easier, and you have to surpass it right away. The student has a number of BigTime books and exposes themselves to these many genres, and they play these pieces that are relatively easy but can play them really well. That’s the best context for their education that supplements along with their classical repertoire. As you get them into some Bach Inventions and some higher level Sonatinas and all, the fact that they can play some of these pieces from the various BigTime books is really, really helpful. It keeps their sight-reading skills growing, they can relate to the harmony and do some chord analysis, and then they can even start doing some improvisation or embellish the arrangements. So we use it actually, BigTime, as quite a curriculum not from doing just one BigTime but giving them BigTime book after BigTime book, and then they’ve got a set of books, a set of tunes really, that they can take and play for the social occasions like parties, weddings, receptions and so on. But with that in mind we do have plans, actually, to do some more at the advanced Time level. We have advanced Time Christmas and we do intend to do it at the higher levels. We want to get the studio collection out first, and the other thing we want to do, maybe before we do the advanced Time, is do a collection that has more current pop songs, something that we could rotate to Bruno Mars and so on, for those that really relate to that or want to have a current song, and have it in the fashion that they can really understand what’s going on. So once we do those two things then we’ll start publishing more for the advanced Time level. Now we do want to reassure teachers that don’t feel like the student is pegged at the Big Time and that you have to pass over it. Playing some of that music with understanding at a relatively easier arrangement is much, much better than a difficult arrangement that the student gets mired down at and can’t play with a steady beat all the way through.
R: So it’s the social value of music making and the students’ world is very social at these ages, and for them to play pieces fluently that other students relate to, that their peers relate to as well as adults, then we really get a good outcome. And that’s kind of what PreTime to BigTime is all about. It puts it back into the social sphere and adds a little element of fun and supporting the fundamental skills as they’re moving out up the repertoire.
B: Great. Great answer. Okay and last question comes to us from Laurie Lyons, and she says, “Hi, Thanks for the opportunity. I am a big fan of your method books, and my students really love the content within their technique, lesson, theory and performance books. My problem seems to always be getting through the material within the space of a half hour lesson. I often feel so rushed to cover everything from the 4 core streams of the curriculum. Do you have any pointers on facilitating an efficient lesson through the use of your 4 books? Grateful for your expert advice!” (16:29)
R: That’s a very good question. So one thing here I’d like to suggest is that a 30 minute lesson is really problematic, because as you know there’s so much to cover with the kids, to integrate the theory with the right reading and ear training and technique and artistry, and especially approaching various genres and so on, so we need time for teacher and student. So a 30-minute lesson isn’t enough particularly for teachers for Washington, when you’re in the north and you got to take off your jacket, all of that, and you lose five minutes just getting the lesson started. So I encourage teachers to teach forty-five minute lessons at a minimum. The only time we teach 30-minute lessons is the first year, first level. We teach two 30-minute lessons a week and that’s really workable. So the two lessons a week, and then you can promise the parents that once they finish that ABC and My First Piano Adventures at the Primer level, you know, and the basic Piano Adventures, finishing that fundamental first level, then you cut back to a forty-five minute lesson once a week. We found that it works like a charm. The students make such fast progress and you can quote “sell” a 45 minute lesson to a parent without the big obstacle and they feel like its at least cheaper than two 30-minute lessons.
B: Haha. There you go.
R: So don’t shortchange the student’s progress and success with music just for the sake of those few minutes and a few dollars difference. We want them to be successful. And indeed, two 30-minute lessons, as long as you can do that, is tremendous value because the teacher contact time is a really good value for the dollar, and I always tell that to the parent. Most parents just don’t blink an eye, they want the student to succeed. They get to go four times faster with two 30-minute lessons, they just go for it, and then you cut back to the 45-minute lessons. That’s my best suggestion. The only other thing I can suggest is let the lesson book and technique be the core, and the student can do a lot of the theory book, almost all of the theory book at home so that it doesn’t take up lesson time. You know, bring in the performance book and if you don’t get to the performance book in the lesson, that’s okay, you can just do the same ones again for next week. You know, related to that, you want to have enough repertoire in each lesson so that when the student goes down to the check sheet, they have lots of things to play. It’s not just to be given a lesson book for instance, and they have two pieces, they’re going to be done practicing in three minutes. And then they’re off to something else and then they feel the lesson is so easy they won’t practice the next few days and it self sabotages. So the student who’s having trouble needs more pieces usually, not fewer, and just make the pieces all of the same level so that we’re not moving forward at fast but we’re building the foundation here at the level of the student, and that’s usually the key to success.
B: Great. Well Randall, thank you so much for being here with us.
R: My pleasure, thank you for your time, it was great to talk with you.
Brendan Lai-Tong is the Assistant Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus and holds degrees in trombone performance from University of Miami and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.