From Hans-Günter Heumann and Schott Music comes a new piano method, Piano Junior. In this creative and interactive piano course, children will join PJ the robot and Mozart the dog in discovering how much fun playing the piano can be! The online resources, including audio and video recordings and interactive extras, bring the method to life for today’s tech savvy kids. Discover more about this method’s approach in our interview with the author, below, and request your free copy today!*
When did you first start teaching piano and how do you think teaching methods have changed since then?
It was at the end of the 1970s, when most of the repertoire in traditional piano courses was classical music. Since then of course some things have changed, with regard to more varied repertoire and diverse approaches to learning and understanding a piece of music. The student’s needs and abilities now stand more at the forefront of teaching methods, with enjoyment of playing the piano the main motivating force.
With so many excellent methods for beginners already available, what drove you to write ‘Piano Junior’?
The international publishing house Schott in Mainz, Germany commissioned me to develop an innovative children’s piano method in English designed to set a new benchmark worldwide. Teachers should be able to choose from a range of material to suit the individual needs of their students in lessons, with additional online support from a dedicated Homepage.
Your piano method is called ‘creative and interactive’: what does that mean?
There are many aspects to the experience of learning to play the piano. This innovative course stimulates and encourages creativity by featuring frequent ‘Corners’ that highlight Composing, Improvising, Action, Playing, Technique, Ear Training, Memory, Sight-Reading and Music Quizzes to provide a foundation of musical knowledge and develop technical skills. Online access is available, too: teachers, parents and students can visit www.piano-junior.com for audio recordings, video demonstrations and a range of additional free resources to download that go with this course (Rhythm Checks, Workouts, Sight-Reading).
Are young children really capable of improvising and composing – like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?
Yes, certainly: children can be given guidance and ideas to encourage playful improvisation and composing from the very beginning. This is the first step to exploring creativity on a journey of discovering musical sounds and notes – and that is how the young Mozart started, too.
At what age can children start using your method?
It will suit children from the age of 6 who want to play the piano and learn about music. This method presents material in small, manageable steps, encouraging quick and measurable progress.
The method starts with the five-note range in each hand, covering an octave – instead of starting with middle C. Why did you choose this approach?
This physically comfortable position avoids twisting and ulnar deviation from the wrist.
How else is ‘Piano Junior’ different from other methods?
Supplementary online material and range of repertoire are a special feature, of course. All the pieces in this method are simply written to introduce notes and musical concepts in a very enjoyable manner.
What kind of tunes and repertoire do you use?
Piano Junior includes exciting and attractive compositions from the classical period to the present day, as well as arrangements of folk tunes, children’s songs, classical masterpieces, jazz and pop melodies.
Can you tell us about the various books and levels in ‘Piano Junior’?
Piano Junior progresses through 4 levels with 4 books at each level. In addition to the Lesson Book (which includes Daily Finger Fitness exercises), at each level there is a Theory Book, where valuable information from the method is worked through and consolidated in a playful, imaginative way. There is also a Duet Book at each level to provide motivation for playing the piano with others and a Performance Book with great repertoire that is fun to play.
With four titles at each level, what do you suggest is the best way of using the books in combination?
In each Lesson Book (levels 1-4) there are colored icons with page references to the other books. This is the key to using the books: follow the links to find exactly the right supplementary material for each teaching point.
‘Theory Book’ suggests boring theoretical explanations! What approach do you use for children? Is it easy to learn with this method – and do you include practical exercises?
All aspects of this method are presented and developed in a playful, imaginative way. Interactive exercises, quizzes and games encourage children to learn transposing, improvisation, composition and using traditional musical notation, along with aural training, sight-reading and rhythmic exercises. These activities will appeal even to very young beginners.
At each level you have Duet Books with pieces for four hands. Why is this?
Piano Junior is designed as a complete teaching method that presents a range of progressive repertoire at each level. These Duet Books increase motivation by encouraging two pianists to play together, producing lovely sounds at every stage.
There is a lot of video and audio material to supplement the ‘Piano Junior’ series. Why did you feel it so important to include this in a new beginners’ method?
Video and audio material is available for online access. This enables students to become familiar with the sound of the pieces (on acoustic piano) and make visual sense of teaching points such as hand and finger positions and general posture.
Where can these videos be found?
For each level you will find videos on ‘PJ’s homepage’ www.piano-junior.com illustrating the main points covered.
Your books make rich use of colours and illustrations. Can you tell us something about your approach to using colour?
Good, clear optical presentation of teaching material is an important element in the learning process for children. Colour has an incredibly powerful impact in teaching and can be used to stimulate concentration, energy and attention. Children react very sensitively to the style of presentation used in teaching material, with their capacity for retaining information greatly reinforced by visual images. Drawings and the choice of colours used in this Method are by the well-known children’s book illustrator Leopé.
The Lesson Books include colourful Flash Cards. What are these for?
The Flash Cards stapled at the centre of each book include notes and musical symbols/terms to identify and rhythmic patterns to clap. By collecting the cards from each volume students will acquire a wealth of reference material.
On the cover we see a funny little robot called ‘PJ’: who is he?
Piano Junior, ‘PJ’ for short, is a robot who loves the piano. He accompanies and motivates children throughout this piano course, together with his cheeky friend Mozart – a little dog.
Level 3 is to be published in August 2017: what will children learn at this new level?
Extending the hand position, increasing the range of notes, passing the thumb under, crossing fingers over, scales (major + natural, harmonic + melodic minor), chords (major, minor, dominant seventh) and inversions as well as the use of the right pedal. Level 3 again features a variety of exercises and repertoire, from well-known pieces to original fun compositions. Publication of the final level 4 is scheduled for the end of 2017.
*Sheet Music Plus is offering one free review copy of Piano Junior Lesson Book 1 to the first 250 customers. Request yours today!