Guest post by Christian A. Pohl, Professor of Piano and Piano Methodology, Head of Piano Department, University of Music and Theatre ‘Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’ Leipzig
The start of the nineteenth century saw a seismic shift in the world of domestic keyboard playing as the piano rapidly displaced the harpsichord and clavichord as the instrument of choice in homes across Europe. Seizing on this new opportunity, a series of piano instruction methods were swiftly published, followed by methods and studies over subsequent generations that covered the rudiments of piano playing, technique and performance practice. A huge number of these studies are represented in the Edition Peters Piano Catalogue.
Major names in the field of piano pedagogy were quickly established – including Beyer, Burgmüller, Hanon and Clementi – but it was one who followed behind them that arguably defined the shape of piano pedagogy for generations to come. Indeed, even today – nearly 200 years after this educational “meteorite” first struck the German-speaking piano world – the waves of his impact are still being felt. There is no getting around Carl Czerny when it comes to pianistic exercises or didactic approaches to building a virtuoso pianist.
Those of us who teach beginners have specific challenges. Not only do we have to acquaint our students with new instruments, but we also have to begin to acquaint them with musical notation and theory, help them develop good practice habits, and be on the lookout for improper techniques that can turn into major challenges in the years ahead. If our students are very young, we have extra work to help them develop their motor skills, and if we teach ensembles like bands and orchestras, we have the added challenge of attempting to do all of this for many students at the same time.
On Habits Universal, students can watch videos of professionals introduce and play each exercise on each instrument. This helps them learn how music notation translates to the sounds they make, exposes them to what their instruments can sound like with proper technique and tons of practice, and gives them models to strive toward. This is especially critical for students who don’t have access to private lessons, masterclasses or high-level live performances.
Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician also addresses individual instrument techniques that many other methods ignore entirely, which are especially helpful for instruments that a lot of band directors find a bit trickier. Among these topics are:
The oboe F dilemma: Did you know that the oboe has three different ways to play an F? Many directors don’t even realize that there are three options! Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician indicates which F an oboist should use throughout most of the book.
Bassoon flicking: The best way to initiate sound on the bassoon for an A, B-flat, B, C or D is to flick on the C key. Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician describes what this means and how to do it, and employs the degree sign, the universal sign for bassoonists to flick, throughout the book.
This level of detail extends to other instruments with such features as left and right indicators for clarinets, thorough sticking for mallets, and chromatic fingering indicators.
Teacher Tips & Resources
Each exercise in Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician comes with tips for the teacher: how to approach an exercise with their students, what to watch out for in various instrument sections, and suggestions for how to help students master it. Below is an example:
On Habits Universal Interactive, students can play along with backing tracks and listen to real audio models of their lines. They can also video record themselves playing their lines and get automatic graded feedback on their performance. While this feature is especially helpful for remote instruction, it’s also incredibly valuable for students who can be shy about playing in front of their peers.
Notably, the assessment software scores pitch, rhythm and length separately, and tracks errors alongside the notated line, so that a student can go note by note and see exactly where they need to improve. (The teacher still has the option to change final scores on assignments and to add comments.)
As a note, grades can be integrated with virtually any software (e.g., Schoology, Canvas, PowerSchool) that a school uses to report grades via a simple export.
Written by band directors with decades of experience under their belts, Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician confronts the classic difficulty of getting kids out of what author Scott Rush calls the “B-flat/E-flat/A-flat Club,” where kids are only comfortable playing in B-flat Major and E-flat Major with some momentary departures into F Major. Rather than, as in other methods, playing in the B-flat pentascale 95% of the time, Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician quickly moves up a step to the C pentascale to get kids used to reading and playing in keys with naturals and sharps, opening up a larger portion of the literature to them by the time they get to middle school and high school.
With so much focus on specific tactics and features, it’s crucial to mention that what is perhaps the most important part of Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician is that its primary goal is to help students fall in love with music. Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician offers teachers developmentally appropriate language for teaching musical concepts so that even beginner band students can start to build musicality into their playing from the early days.
Understanding that teaching band is as much about teaching students to work together as it is about teaching them to learn musical skills individually, the team behind the much-loved Habits series, which includes such titles as Habits of a Successful Band Director, takes on the broader subject of leadership in Pathway to Success, which helps develop leadership skills in every student in a class and includes a focus on emotional health that has been especially helpful for teachers during COVID.
“To borrow a phrase: All children have talents, however, not all children have opportunity and encouragement. Pathway to Success by Tim Lautzenheiser and Scott Rush describes in detail the ‘how’ and provides that encouragement young people need to overcome any reservations and reluctance they may have to step forward and become a leader! History is full of examples of shy and timid youngsters who responded to a challenge and rose to greatness as a leader. This book is invaluable for any age! Leadership by example. Pathway to Success. I wish it was available when I was a student. Tim and Scott nailed it!”
– Richard Crain, President of The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic
While this coincidence might seem puzzling or even contradictory at first, it is exactly what lends Sikora’s approach the nuance and balance to successfully bridge the gap between theory and practice. InJazz Harmony: Think – Listen – Play – A Practical Approach, Sikora sets out to mold musicians who can adapt to anything, regardless of how novel and unexpected it may be. To achieve this, he establishes a close relationship between theory, the ear and our instrument, forging a dialogue between theory and spontaneity that helps musicians connect with music both intuitively and analytically.
Editions Marc Reift, founded in 1983 by noted trombonist and conductor Marc Reift and offering a wide selection of music for bands, orchestras and solo instrumentalists, has two series of repertoire books with accompaniment CDs that are designed for young musicians.
The new Melodies for Beginners collection from Editions Marc Reift allows young beginners to build up a small repertoire of short, simple pieces. Arranged into several volumes for both solo instrumentalists and small ensembles, these Level 1 books are useful for small concerts or auditions.
Debbie Cavalier of Debbie and Friends, a music educator and Sr. Vice President at Berklee College of Music/DEO Berklee Online and one of the top children’s music artists in the nation, published Learning To Play Pianofor the Very Young to provide a fun, engaging introduction to the keyboard. Cavalier created the book with her grandfather, noted arranger/composer Marty Gold.
With this fun, new pre-primer piano method, young children may:
learn to read the treble clef and note names using colorful pictures
get started playing familiar melodies with their right hand
learn to play seven well-loved songs including favorites such as “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Jingle Bells”
enjoy family sing-alongs with the guitar chord chart and lyrics included
In a January 2019 survey, BPI (British Phonographic Industry) found that British state schools had seen a 21% decrease in music provision over the previous five years, with this decrease disproportionately affecting schools serving less affluent communities.
To address this situation, TV star and conductor Gareth Malone of BBC Two’s The Choir has joined forces with teacher Catherine de Sybel to create an exciting new music resource for schools, Bright Star: Inclusive Songs for Whole-Group Singing. Catchy, heartfelt, accessible and fun, the book includes a song co-written with Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Equally suitable for small groups, school choirs or the entire school, these engaging songs cover a wide range of themes including life choices, friendship and community, the environment, bereavement and growing up.
The songs are written to get the whole school singing confidently and are appropriate for all ages, with a particular focus on children aged 8–14, bridging the gap between Key Stages 2 and 3, when children are more likely to give up singing.
“We believe that singing has enormous benefits to children’s mental and physical well-being and that it should be an integral part of every child’s school day. The simple act of breathing and singing together can be so valuable in fostering a sense of community and shared values. We hope that the subject matter will resonate with pupils and their teachers and we have included some pointers for discussion in the introduction to each song. We want pupils of all faiths and none to experience the joy of singing and most importantly for every school to be a singing school!”
— Gareth & Catherine
Designed to be user-friendly for music teachers and particularly non-specialist teachers, the Bright Star pack includes full scores, demo and backing tracks to download, and photocopiable melody and lyric sheets. Introductory notes on the songs provide support in learning and performing, as well as discussion points for use in the classroom.
About Gareth Malone
Gareth Malone OBE, is well-known around the world as a broadcaster, composer and choral animateur. He has won two BAFTAs for his BBC Two series The Choir, and has been making programs for the BBC for over 14 years. Other achievements include working as an artistic director for a Royal Opera House community opera, and working with orchestra and opera education departments, including the LSO, Philharmonia, Glyndebourne and ENO Baylis.
Gareth has had two number-one singles in the UK, the first in 2011 with the Military Wives Choir, followed by the Gareth Malone All Star Choir for Children in Need three years later. He has also had two number one albums: In My Dreams with the Military Wives, and his latest, Music for Healing, which is currently at the top of the specialist classical charts. His 2014 series The Big Performance 3 won the Royal Television Society award for best children’s television, and Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne won an International Emmy in 2011. In 2012 he was honored with an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen for services to music.
Gareth continues to compose with young people and to work with emerging artists. He has recorded with some of the leading performers in the UK and has just released his third album, Music for Healing.
About Catherine de Sybel
Catherine de Sybel is a composer, pianist and music educator. She read music at the University of Cambridge and continued with postgraduate studies in composition at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, where she won the prestigious Premier Prix for her work for mezzo-soprano and piano, Imagination.
Her teaching career, spanning over twenty years, has encompassed work in mainstream, private and specialist schools, always driving inclusive music education to the forefront of the curriculum. As Head of Music at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, she facilitated outreach projects with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as high profile performances for Her Majesty the Queen and Michelle Obama.
In addition to her work inside the classroom, she has led music composition workshops for trainee teachers at the University of Cambridge, mentored beginner teachers from the Institute of Education and worked as Schools Projects Manager at the London Symphony Orchestra.
Catherine believes passionately in the power of music to inspire and educate and has dedicated her career to enabling the finest musical opportunities for children from all backgrounds whilst encouraging young voices to be heard from every corner of her school.
The Sightreading Coach “listens” to the student play along with the score, and instantly grades rhythm and pitch by highlighting incorrect notes and rhythms. Students can practice the exercise as often as they wish, and upload their best performance to the teacher in between lessons. Teachers can monitor student progress without using valuable lesson time, making at-home practice more accurate and efficient.
So, you want to learn how to play the ukulele. Great! In this article, I’ll take a close look at 7 popular ways to begin your ukulele journey and explain who each of these methods is best for.
You, the learner, need a book that fits your learning style and background knowledge. You want a book that teaches you the ukulele skills you would like to know, such as singing and strumming chords, fingerpicking melodies, reading ukulele tablature, and/or learning to read standard music notation. You also want to find an approach you will enjoy.
In some ways learning music is like learning a whole new language. You also need to know what skills you must master in order to progress in music such as how to practice. Finally, you have to learn how to tune your instrument and take care of it. more “Beginning Ukulele Book Reviews for 7 Popular Methods”…
After months of practice and anticipation, performing in a music exam can feel like an adrenaline-fuelled sprint to the finish line that passes in a blur of pieces, scales and musical tests. As an exam board, we know that exams can be stressful, and we at ABRSM want to make sure that learners’ exam experiences are as positive as possible. To make sure that learners can really succeed, we carefully select exam syllabus pieces that allow them to demonstrate their talents. We live for inspiring and challenging learners!
If a music exam is a sprint, then our experience of putting together an exam syllabus is more of an endurance event involving a huge amount of music. We take an open approach to our syllabus creations, and for ABRSM’s Bowed Strings syllabus (2020-2023) we: ran multiple surveys with teachers, learners and examiners; engaged a variety of strings consultants; and had several ruthless stages of revisions.