Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

9.11.2023

Review: Daring Greatly

September 11, 2023 0 Comments

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brenรฉ Brown, Ph.D. LMSW


For piano teachers and students alike, there are many situations that make us vulnerable. Lessons, recitals, auditions, and teaching are a few of the many arenas we may find ourselves in. If you have ever felt afraid and thought that you are not good enough, I highly recommend this book. 


This non-fiction, research-based psychology book teaches assertiveness, taking risks, and having courage. Brenรฉ Brown, Ph.D LMSW presents her extensive original research in shame: an overwhelming emotion with which many of us have suffered at one time or another. It is a subject that we often try to avoid. The purpose of Daring Greatly is to encourage people to take risks, especially in the face of possible failure. 


Dr. Brown points out that many of our critics are not "in the arena" with us, they are on the outside and are often projecting their shortcomings on us. She describes the scarcity mindset, characterized by "never good enough," and contrasts that with the abundance mindset. Her practical recommendations for adopting this new mindset are clear and life-giving. 


I learned that failure is necessary to one day be successful. I learned that what I create is not the same as who I am. I learned that I am not the sum of prizes and accolades I have collected from other people. 


I'm finding joy in playing piano and teaching that I didn't have before.  The love of music and curiosity that drew me to piano in the first place is back and I feel freedom to continue to learn. I have also written new music and entered competitions. Rather than stopping myself because I might not be good enough, I decided it can't hurt to try it out. I've had disappointments and hurtful words from professors in the past that I carried on my shoulders for over a decade. When that happens, why even try to improve? But by not taking their words personally, I have found that I have been able to thrive in ways I never imagined. 


Dr. Brown's tone is humorous and colloquial. Her personal anecdotes are descriptive and realistic. Reading each personal story felt as though I was present in the scenario. (As a note, she does use profanity occasionally, so if you are sensitive to that form of language, please be forewarned!)


Some of my favorite quotes from this book:

"You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking." (page 64)


"I have never heard one person attribute their joy, success, or Wholeheartedness to being perfect." (p. 128)


"Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It's about courage." (page 248) 


I encourage you to read this book and I hope that you find it to be transformative. 


What books have helped you?


-Jenny

7.12.2023

๐Ÿ“• 10 Keynotes of Piano Pedagogy

July 12, 2023 0 Comments
Wanda Landowska at Chopin's Piano - Public Domain

For some reason, when I put Chopin's name in the title of this post, the thumbnail will not show up on my main page. So this should be titled 10 Keynotes of Frederic Chopin's Piano Pedagogy

I recently read Chopin: pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger. Chopin had about 150 pupils in total, which is pretty incredible considering his many compositions and performances; and, he only lived until he was 39. In this book, his students share their experiences and the specific teachings of Chopin.


Here are the 10 most important takeaways that I'm actively applying. 

  1. Teaching Hand Shape

  2. Many methods teach beginners to pretend they are holding a ball or apple under their hands. Others mention keeping your fingers rounded, playing on fingertips, and keeping your wrist level.


    Chopin's instructions were to place fingers 2, 3, and 4 on the three black keys. Then place fingers 1 and 5 on the black keys. This is your natural hand shape. To play on the white keys only, gently pull your hand towards you and maintain the hand shape.

    Forearms should be level with the piano and the wrist needs to stay flexible. In addition to that, he taught that the 2nd finger was the center of the hands; turning my hand out has actually helped with playing his music, but it is awkward to maintain since that is not how I learned.

  3. Singing with the Fingers and Breathing with the Wrist

  4. You must sing if you wish to play - Chopin

    Chopin was a huge fan of opera singers and specifically the bel canto style of singing. By singing our piano pieces, we can hear our natural tendency to crescendo and decrescendo, to take extra time preparing for leaps, and have a freedom from the accompaniment to push and pull the tempo; an effective way to learn how to play rubato.

    Along with singing with the fingers, Chopin also taught students to create the impression of human breathing. He taught students not to lift their hands too quickly and would ask,

    Did it burn you?

    Legato playing was also emphasized. Playing detached would lead to Chopin asking if they were hunting pigeons.

  5. Teaching Rubato

  6. I don't know about you, but when I was taught rubato, the only definition I had was to push and pull the tempo. Listening to interpretations of Romantic music, I would often hear the artist use both hands simultaneously to push and pull the tempo. This sounded great to me! However, my execution often ended up being a cover for my less than stellar sense of rhythm and maintaining an even, steady beat.


    How did Chopin teach rubato? He noticed that singers didn't always stick with the accompanist's tempo, therefore his definition of rubato is the melody is free from metrical constraints leading to the artist being able to freely express their feelings.

    So, if you thought teaching hand independence was difficult, just wait until you teach rubato for Chopin's compositions!

  7. Inspiring Students

  8. Chopin used images to convey emotion. Chopin's own imagery included 

    • For legato - avoid a pigeon hunt
    • For staccato - think of pizzicato or plucking a string and grazing the key like a fly brushing it with it's wing

    I have practically applied this by telling beginner students that spiders can only crawl with rounded legs. Don't be a smashed spider! Use a hammer-like touch for accents and forte, but gently pet a cat to create soft sounds.

  9. Playing Pieces for Students

  10. Chopin would play piano pieces, including his own compositions, many times for his students in full. This is encouragement to us to also play for our students! Don't be shy! I think we may focus more on how to get through the method material or marking up the students' scores, but students need to see how technique and expression are applied.

  11. Advocating for Shorter Practice Times

  12. Chopin advocated for practice sessions to be no longer than 2 hours a day. He actually was angry with a student for reporting practicing longer than that. Why? Because he was very against being mechanical and he believed practicing more than 2 hours caused the student to lose expression and musicality to exhaustion.

  13. Being Self-Taught Is Not a Weakness

  14. I spend time on Reddit's r/piano subreddit. Many users have reported being told that they will have created too many bad habits from self-teaching that a teacher will not accept them into their studio.

    I will admit, I was self-taught for my early years. I did have bad habits. I, perhaps wrongly, perceived my high school piano teacher reluctantly taking me on as a student given my patchy background. Why can't we as piano teachers have the patience to help a student sort out bad habits? Are we worried about tarnishing our reputation? 

    Chopin was self-taught and his eventual piano teacher was a violinist. See how that worked out for him? A well-respected composer, teacher, and performer, remembered nearly 200 years after his death. Please don't underestimate self-taught individuals.

    In my own story, after a failed audition for a university, my dad recalls I was told that I didn't have the expected background of a future music major. When a different college accepted me, I thought it was because they felt bad for me and unfortunately, I carried that sadness for many, many years. I didnt feel as though I belonged and that I was simply given the spot because the professors felt bad for me. Kindness is free. Imagine how a student can thrive if they have your encouragement.

  15. Purpose of Technique Books

  16. Chopin was not a fan of training mechanical technique. Technique and expression work together. Therefore, the technique exercises he preferred weren't trying to create a perfect evenness between fingers, but challenging artistry to shine through even the most difficult passages. He actually prized the individuality in tone each finger could produce. We can hear that in his Etudes. They are performance literature for a reason! Practically speaking, Chopin assigned Clementi's Prรฉludes et Exercises and Gradus, Cramer ร‰tudes, and Moscheles Op. 95 or 70 for technique.

  17. Expression over Accuracy

  18. From the earliest levels, I have been drilling this into my students. Better to focus on the dyanmics, articulations, and putting your emotions into music than play robotic, trying to be perfect, and correct any and every mistake. I ask for my students to continue playing despite mistakes, cover the mistake if they are able, and, since we are still practicing the piece, we go back in and work on the problem spot. This is to train them to perform. We all make mistakes when we are performing; develop the skill of covering and the audience will not notice.

  19. Finding Joy in Piano Teaching

  20. Have you ever been told

    Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

    Ridiculous, I know that now, but I was told by a student that his grandpa said that about me. His grandpa didn't know me, but even if he did, those words are not true. Chopin stopped giving performances due to anxiety about being on stage (another way I related to him!), but I don't think any of us would consider him someone who "can't" simply because he became a teacher full-time. He gave excellent performances of his works to his students. He continued composing. Teaching is an amazing career and rewarding. Don't let someone undermine your accomplishments.

  • Bonus! Chopin's Curriculum
  • Specifically lesser known repertoire

    • John Field
      1. Concertos 1, 3, 4
      2. Nocturnes
    • Weber
      1. Sonatas in C (op. 24)
      2. Sonatas in A-flat (op. 39)
    • Hummel
      1. Rondo brilliant op. 98
      2. La Bella Capriciosa, op. 55
      3. Sonata in F# minor, op. 81
      4. Concertos in A minor and B minor
      5. Septet op. 74

    In conclusion, I found these points to be so encouraging and helpful for practical applications and for creating a positive mindset. I highly recommend picking up this book. It is priced as a textbook, so I suggest doing what I did: use your library or your library's interlibrary loan service to borrow a copy.

    What books have helped you grow as a piano teacher? Please share them in the comments!


    -Jenny

12.29.2022

๐Ÿ“’ Review: Full Focus Planner: How to Stay Positive, Organized, and Focused

December 29, 2022 0 Comments
One Year of my Full Focus Planners
My 2022 Full Focus Planners
I painted Quarters 2 and 3. 
Full Focus Planner by Full Focus
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

This is my honest review of the Full Focus Planner. This post is not sponsored.

What symptoms did the Full Focus Planner address for me?

  1. 1,000 tasks in my brain at a time
  2. No idea where to start
  3. Long-term projects being pushed to the last minute
  4. Feelings of discouragement for "not doing anything today"
  5. Little tasks getting lost in the shuffle

How did it address the symptoms?

  1. Key Projects section - List your most important tasks for the upcoming quarter. Other Tasks and Notes spaces on Daily pages. Weekly Overview space where I keep rolling over tasks. 
  2. Ranking my most important goals and projects. Using the Goal Detail pages to break down the goal into action steps. Sending these action steps to Weekly Big 3 and Daily Big 3 pages. 
  3. Using calendar pages and quarter pages to set regular deadlines for the action steps. 
  4. Feelings of encouragement from checking off my Big 3 each day and saying I accomplished important things today. 
  5. Checklist-style entries with a key with symbols to code if the task is finished, waiting for something, deferred, delegated, or deleted. Tasks that are not completed or deleted get sent to the following day. 

How did I learn about the Full Focus Planner?

Last year, my husband became interested in Full Focus through a podcast. One product they make, their Full Focus Planner, really caught his interest. I was very skeptical of this system because of the expense and also because I had experience trying planner systems that were far too cumbersome to set up or set up but with not enough space. I abandoned those systems and found that I was making long lists on loose-leaf paper and leaving them around the house. I would hang on to this list of never-ending tasks and feel bad daily for not accomplishing anything. 

After using this method for a few quarters, my husband was keeping work at work and coming home when he planned and being present. He was more organized and positive. 

My husband wanted me to try this method too, but I was reluctant. Like the Bullet Journal method, this planner required a lot of front-end setup. It was also a very expensive system because you need 4 planners for one year.

In contrast to the Bullet Journal, however, I didn't need to create my planner from scratch, which eventually became a chore. In contrast to a yearly planner, Full Focus had equal space for each day of the week rather than shrinking Saturday and Sunday. 

I was very skeptical that this would help, but I was getting annoyed by the recurring reminders on my phone (to the point of ignoring them!) and my loose-leaf paper wasn't organized or motivating.

At the beginning of 2022, my husband bought the Best Year Ever course from Full Focus and encouraged me to watch with him. Almost immediately I was sold on this method as I realized they were using a researched-based approach to help people reach their goals. I was already learning how to implement challenging limiting beliefs and all-or-nothing thinking using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques and this planner is built specifically to implement those challenges. 

How is the Full Focus Planner structured?

The Full Focus Planner is a quarterly planner that is centered around goal setting. To start small, the Start Here page gives a Simple Setup: On the first Day page, list your top 3 tasks for the day. This is called your Daily Big 3. Check them off as you accomplish them. Just 3 tasks. There is a list for other tasks below the Big 3, but the Big 3 are the tasks that have priority for accomplishing your goals and to help you feel like you did something today. 

I use the Big 3 to remind myself to plan piano lessons, send piano lesson notes, plan music for Sunday worship, email my band and AV team, post a blog, read to my daughters, and clean my apartment. Each Day page also has a schedule column where I list my lessons and other appointments. I also draw boxes to show how I will use my time: cooking, cleaning, or writing music. 

The Weekly Preview is my favorite tool. After the end of a week, the first section has you review what you did and write down 3-5 of your Biggest Wins. I can't begin to express how much just sitting down and reviewing what I actually did objectively has done for how I view myself. Lazy? No. Doing the best I can with what I have? Yes. 

Previously, I would complain to my husband about how lazy I am and that I didn't accomplish anything. Then I would proceed to list doing the dishes, picking up a toys, going to the park with the girls, and making lunch. I was accomplishing tasks, but I didn't record them, so I didn't remember them, and I felt discouraged and even shame about myself. Now, I look back and see that I put together a worship set list for Sunday, I had guests over on Friday, I published a blog post, I turned in a competition entry, I made a craft, and planned a piano lesson. 

On the Weekly pages, you get to set a Weekly Big 3 to advance your goals and projects and at the end of the week and gauge how far you got. There is space to review your week for what to keep, improve, start doing or stop doing. I usually roll over a list of tasks in another space and have decided to use large post-it notes so I'm not rewriting long term tasks multiple times. 

Another helpful tool has been the space for writing down appointments for the week. Even though they are on my phone, reviewing and writing them down helps me to be prepared ahead of time. The last part gives space for planning self-care. I use this space on and off, but I want to set a goal to focus on how I can rejuvenate myself. 

To sandwich the book, the front gives lots of space for goal setting for the year. I highly suggest learning the SMARTER goals format. Next are blank calendar pages including full box calendars for the 3 months of the quarter and additional list pages for the remainder of the year known as Rolling Quarters. 

The back of the book has a quarterly preview which is a review of the previous quarter and a time for planning the next quarter, giving steps for setting up the next one. An index is in the very back for any notes you've made over time that you would like to find later. 

Additional favorite features of mine include the back pocket that is the perfect size for inserting a Moleskine notebook and inspiring and motivating quotes on each page of the planner. 

Did I have my Best Year Ever?

Yes. I consider my mood boost from reviewing my weeks and quarters (and in the next few days, my year) similar to eating chocolate except the benefits are long-lasting and actually change my negative beliefs about myself. These positive feelings towards myself are based in reality and I have physical evidence to prove it. I have been less anxious about completing projects and whether or not I will have enough time. My goals are set according to my values and not what I think I'm expected to do by others, so I get intrinsic rewards from my accomplishments even if I don't have a sushi date or cream cheese danish waiting for me on the other end of a project. Although those treats are a good idea, so maybe I'll treat myself for a great a 2022. 

What annual goals did you specifically accomplish?

I haven't done a year in review after having used this system, but I imagine my comparison to last year will show that, while last year I did do a number of things that I hadn't formerly considered accomplishments, this year I purposely had goals and I purposely accomplished them. 

My 2022 planned and accomplished goals:
  1. Have a fully licensed business by August 21 ??? Whenever Chicago can figure it out
    • Status: Completed, but much later than August 21st.  
  2. Teach my 5-year-old how to read daily and finish lesson book by April 30
    • Status: Completed by May 7
  3. Post 1 composition a month on Soundcloud, Pond5, and/or Arrange Me
    • Status: Completed on time
  4. Finish reading Daring Greatly by Brenรฉ Brown by March 31
    • Status: Completed on time
  5. Read the Bible 4 times a week (48 times) by September 30
    • Status: Completed
  6. Composition Competition by April 30 
    • Status: Completed. "The Voyage Home"
  7.  Composition Competition Entry by July 31
    • Status: Completed "Save the Sheep!"
  8. Spend quality time with my daughters everyday by December 31
    • Status: Completed, however I didn't track this. 
  9. Symphonina Competition Entry by December 15
    • Status: Completed

What planned goals were not accomplished? 

It is true that not all goals get accomplished with this system. Realities set in, such as too many invasive weeds took over our shared backyard (4), concertos are very, very hard (goal 1), habits are hard to form and maintain (2, 3), and sometimes saying no to one project means getting to say yes to another (5). 
  1. Memorize Romance movement from Chopins' Concerto in E Minor (8 ½ pages) by June 5
    • Status: Abandoned
  2. Do physical therapy or yoga every morning (80 times)
    • Status: Abandoned despite the reward of cheesecake...
  3. Practice piano every morning for 30 minutes at 6am (60 times) by March 31
    • Status: Partially completed (I have a ~ in the checkmark box)
  4. Plant lawn and garden by May 31st
    • Status: I have an indoor tomato plant I grew from a seed. Hoping for a better season in 2023. 
  5. Composition Competition Entry by October 31
    • Status: Abandoned in favor of the Symphonina Competition
In addition to these annual goals, I had a number of smaller projects that came up over time that were also accomplished or abandoned, but they are less interesting and more mundane, such as cleaning and paperwork. 

Conclusion

The Full Focus Planner is worth the cost. The productivity increase and mood boost has been absolutely priceless. I highly recommend this system for everyone whether you are a stay-at-home mom like me or a manager like my husband. They even have a youth version. 

It is so much more than just a planner; it is a way to capture the truth about what you accomplished in a year and to challenge the negative beliefs about yourself and how you spend your time. Everyone has different values and our goals reflect that. 

I hope if you try this system, you also find that you are able to do things you dreamed of accomplishing, such as me orchestrating compositions, but didn't know where to start. 

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know below!

Have a happy New Year!

-Jenny

11.11.2022

๐Ÿ“• Why I Stopped Teaching Music for Little Mozarts to Preschool Students: A Detailed Review of Level 1

November 11, 2022 0 Comments

According to the Foreword of the music lesson book, Music for Little Mozarts "was designed to provide a balance between the discipline necessary for playing the [piano] and the enjoyment one gets from the process of music-making" (p. 2). 

The FAQ on Alfred.com says, "When a student completes Level 4 of Music for Little Mozarts, they should continue in Alfred's Premier Piano Course, Level 1B. Note that it may require some extra work by the teacher on naming notes and moving around the keyboard." The authors expect that completion of Music for Little Mozarts will take about 2-years.

This review is for Level 1 of the Music For Little Mozarts series. 

Music for Little Mozarts: Music Lesson Book 1

Rating: ⭐⭐ (out of 5)

Pros

  • Adorable concept complete with original characters and a narrative on each lesson book page
  • Uses stuffed animals as a teaching tool for young students
  • Easy for parents to help their student practice; detailed instructions and steps are included for each song
  • Appealing for 3-year-olds as well
  • Holistic music approach incorporating movement, singing in solfรจge, and coloring activities in the supplementary books

Cons

  • Overall expected cost will exceed $100 if you buy the lesson book and two core books for levels 1-4
  • Long and boring
  • Might not appeal to older 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds

General Overview

Grand Staff Reading: No songs use the Grand Staff. 

Approach to Note Reading: Pre-staff notation only, directional by step. Notes move higher and lower on the page to show melody contour.  The contour is more subtle than in the Faber pre-staff notation volumes. It's harder to distinguish that the note is moving. 

Method of counting: Unit counting

Hand Position: Each page has a picture of the piano keyboard with finger numbers and later note names. Thumbs Share C is the only hand position that is introduced. 

Technique: Posture and hand shape are introduced in the first lesson. These concepts are not reinforced throughout the method. 

Complete range of piano: Only in activities at the beginning comparing the high and low sides of the piano and playing glissandos up and down the keyboard. 

Fingering: All notes have finger numbers even if they are repeated until piano key letter names are introduced.

Adequate reinforcement of concepts: Yes.

Rate of progression: Very slow

Logical Sequence: Yes

Pieces: In the lesson book, short original songs and one folksong fragment with lyrics. The compact disk sold separately narrates the written story in the book and provides a backing track for the songs. If you subscribe to the Piano Maestro app, the songs are also included. Sometimes the students play along with the entire track, sometimes they play a fragment, such as just the E-I-E-Os in Old MacDonald. The Discovery Book includes full songs intended to be movement or rhythm activities. 

Familiar Folksongs in the Music Discovery Book 1:

  • If You're Happy and You Know It
  • Finger Play Song
  • Hickory, Dickory, Dock!
  • Mexican Hat Dance
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Composers and Compositions Introduced in the Music Discovery Book 1:
  • Beethoven - Rage over the Lost Penny
  • Mozart - Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
  • Sousa - Stars and Stripes Forever
  • Mozart - Minuet in F Major
  • Beethoven - Symphony No. 5 in C minor

Varied styles: No

Harmonically interesting: No

Concepts:
  • Dynamics: Clear explanation; forte and piano only. Beethoven Bear represents loud sounds and Mozart Mouse represents soft sounds. Forte and piano are interspersed throughout the book, but pieces are either one or the other.  
  • Tempo: No
  • Phrasing: No
  • Articulations: No
  • Pedal: No
  • Harmony: No
  • Form: No

Theory: Music Workbook, Notespeller & Sight-play Book, and Rhythm Speller are separate purchases. The Lesson Book has keyboards printed for coloring in the introduced piano keys, but no other written activities.

Composition: No. 

Improvisation: No.

Ear Training: Yes, in Music Workbook.

Sight-reading: Yes, in Notespeller & Sight-Play book. 

Duets: Yes, high quality. 25 of 25 songs have duets.

Private or Group Lessons: Group or private.

In-person or Virtual: Either

Levels in Series: The Music for Little Mozarts Core Levels are 1, 2, 3, and 4. The student will be ready for Level 1 of Piano Adventures upon completion of Level C. 

Supplementary Materials: A plethora of accompanying books per level, coloring books, flash cards, 7 cheaply made plush toys and probably more. 

Visual Appeal: Low to Medium. Pastel, watercolor illustrations. The character designs are cute. Printing size is very small. The keyboard depicting hand position is three-dimensional on most pages and a bit hard to decipher sometimes.  The hands are drawn next to the music line.

Daunting: No

Audience: Young students, ages 4-6

Audio: On CD, on Piano Maestro (subscription based), or Apple Music (subscription based).

Publisher Preview: Music For Little Mozarts (Alfred.com)

Additional Support for Teachers from the Publisher: Teacher's Handbook for Levels 1&2

My experience: I came across this method at the sheet music store at which I worked about 8 years ago. A local piano teacher came often to pick up cute stuffed animals every few weeks. I thought it was adorable. 

Previously, I would try to teach preschool students with the typical piano method recommended by my lesson coordinator, Bastien. It was not designed for preschoolers. I found it particularly effective to use her stuffed bunny to teach her. She would listen to me if I used the stuffed animal as a puppet to instruct her. 

At a later job, my coordinator pushed me to take on two 3-year-old boys who were brothers. I picked this method for them hoping that the Mozart Mouse and small bear stuffed animals would keep them engaged. However, I do believe that 3-year-olds are bit too young to begin independent piano lessons because of short attention spans and beginner verbal and written language skills. Eventually I was able to progress my students through level 1 and 2 of this series.

Closing Thoughts:

For very, very young students, Music for Little Mozarts is a non-threatening introduction to the keyboard. It is intended for group lessons and much of the supplementary activities are similar to early childhood group classes. 

The songs are only 4 measures long (8 if you include the repeats) from the beginning to the end of the book and the introduction of new concepts is very slow. For very young students and students on the older side of the age range who may have learning struggles, this is a good series. 

But from the perspective of me as the teacher and my young daughter when I began trying preschool methods with her, I've found this method to be pretty boring and frustrating because of the cost to give the full intended experience of the method. 

The books mention the stuffed animal characters frequently, and not just as characters, but as learning tools. The instructions on many of the songs in this book, for example, start with "Place Mozart Mouse..." or "Place Beethoven Bear...". The stuffed animals are typically very small and they cost $7.99 each. The lesson book and supplementary books are approximately $8.99 each. I think that this is unfortunately a money grab. This series has three different authors, so I understand the need to charge enough to cover paying for their content, but the expectation for each child to have multiple books and collect the stuffed animals is saddening to me at such a high price point. 

Have you used Music For Little Mozarts? If so, what was your experience? What are other options of preschool methods you have tried? 

Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

-Jenny

Music for Little Mozarts: A Piano Course to Bring Out the Music in Every Young Child 

© 1999 Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. (Distributor: Alfred)

  • Music Lesson Book 1

11.07.2022

๐Ÿ“• The Best Preschool Piano Method to Engage Young Students: My First Piano Adventure Level A

November 07, 2022 0 Comments

When I first showed my daughter the My First Piano Adventure series, her eyes lit up. Illustrated with vivid colors and original characters, this method journeys to take the Piano Adventures curriculum to a younger audience. 

To intentionally enter into a child's imagination, the Fabers adopted the ACE instructional theory:

  • Analysis →Understanding
  • Creativity →Self-Discovery
  • Expression →Personal Artistry

ACE is practically applied in the Writing Book with many activities, the Lesson Book which contains engaging songs with vibrant pictures in between the notes, and accompanying audio tracks  with great audio mixing and mastering, funny lyrics, and great voices. 

The goal is to have students playing musically through listening, singing, tapping, and moving. 

This review is for Level A of the My First Piano Adventures Method. My opinion is that this is the best preschool piano method for engaging young students. 

My First Piano Adventure Lesson Book A Cover

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (out of 5)

Pros

  • Engaging for young children and piano teachers
  • Easy for young children to practice on their own; illustrations provide directions
  • Easy for parents to aid children at home; practice instructions are printed on each page

Cons

  • Overall Cost of all three levels ($47.70) as compared to the Primer core books of the Basic Method ($29.95).

General Overview

Grand Staff Reading: No songs use the Grand Staff. Games introducing the Grand Staff are at the end of the book. In the middle of the book, the treble and bass clefs are introduced and a note at the bottom of the page says that the games may be started. 

Approach to Note Reading: Pre-staff notation only, directional by step. Notes move higher and lower on the page to show melody contour. 

Method of counting: Unit counting and word associations

Hand Position: Each page has a picture of the piano keyboard with finger numbers and later note names. C 5-finger scale is introduced in the second to last unit. 

Technique: Posture, hand shape, and firm fingertips are introduced and reinforced throughout the method.

Complete range of piano: Yes

Fingering: All notes have finger numbers unless they are repeated

Adequate reinforcement of concepts: Yes, especially when using the Writing Book.

Rate of progression: Slow and steady

Logical Sequence: Yes

Pieces: Original songs and folksongs with witty lyrics and interesting backtracks and teacher duets

    Folksongs include:

  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Buckle My Shoe (backtrack or teacher duet game)
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb (renamed Mary's Rockin' Pets with new lyrics)
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm (renamed Old Pig-Donald with new lyrics)
  • If You're Happy (backtrack or teacher duet game)
  • Eensie Weensie Spider (new lyrics)
Varied styles: Yes

Harmonically interesting: Yes, but teacher duets or backtrack are needed for full effect. Major, minor,  whole tone, tritone. 

Concepts:
  • Dynamics: Clear explanation; forte and piano only. Often the first play through is forte and then the repeat is piano
  • Tempo: No
  • Phrasing: No
  • Articulations: Short and Long sounds are introduced and experimented with in the first unit activities
  • Pedal: No
  • Harmony: Yes, harmonic intervals are used sparingly
  • Form: No

Theory: Writing Book reinforces rhythms and piano key names. Writing book involves circling, drawing lines, coloring, and some writing with ample space for large letters, numbers, and drawing pictures.  

Composition: Yes, in Writing Book. Creative presentation with boxes for letters. 

Improvisation: Yes with teacher duets or backtrack.

Ear Training: Yes, in Writing Book.

Sight-reading: Yes, in Writing Book.

Duets: Yes, high quality. 35 out of 48 songs have duets. 

Private or Group Lessons: Private, however Group Lessons are possible according to Faber's FAQ

In-person or Virtual: In-person and virtual. Virtual is aided by a subscription to Teacher's Atlas by Faber to enable screen share. 

Levels in Series: The Young Beginner Core Levels are A, B, C. The student will be ready for Level 1 of Piano Adventures upon completion of Level C. 

Supplementary Materials: Christmas Book (best to begin around p. 66; contains an Advent calendar), CD (Free Cloud Audio only more recently). 

Visual Appeal: High. Vivid, bright colors. Cute character designs. Printing size is large and often pictures are in the music. Easy to see the notes going up and down on the page.

Daunting: No

Audience: Young students, ages 4-6

Audio: Free Cloud Audio (I highly suggest listening here).

Publisher Preview: Click here for an extensive look from the publisher's website

Additional Support for Teachers from the Publisher: 20 Questions and Answers for My First Book A, Lesson Plan for the First Lesson

My experience: I use Piano Adventures as my main method for all of my students. I have had success particularly with the Basic Method, especially levels Primer-2B with my students ages 7+. Initially when I learned about My First Piano Adventure, I actually wasn't sure about the visual appeal for young children. But when I showed my 5-year-old daughter and saw her eyes light up, especially after we had been trying Music for Little Mozarts with little interest, I knew this book would be something special. 

It is fantastic. I love that it stretches out the concepts presented in the Primer Lesson Book of the Basic Method. More time is spent reinforcing new piano keys and rhythm concepts. If you are familiar with the Basic Method, you will recognize some of the original tunes. They are often paired with new lyrics. The lesson book has pages dedicated to technique and there is accompanying written work, ear training, and rhythm exercises in the Workbook. My daughter has been going to practice the piano unprompted and has been succeeding in accomplishing the work at a high level. She is currently 6 and we are close to starting Level B. 

The art is similar to the look of construction paper cut-outs. On most pages, the child is supposed to find Tap, a little firefly hidden on some of the pages. A unique approach is the images that show up in between notes. Rainbows, kangaroos, and whales are used to show hand position changes as the student moves up and down the piano. 

Closing Thoughts:

For young students, this method is a wonderfully engaging introduction to piano. 

The songs increase in length as the book progresses. The activities are inventive and the audio is free online which gives an additional depth to the songs.  For example, Monster Bus Driver has a very funny voice making beeping sounds with which the student plays rhythms on the 2 black keys and 3 black keys. 

From the perspective of the teacher, I'm excited to teach this method. It has made me laugh on more than one occasion because the humor is very well-written and incorporated. 

While the overall cost of the core books will cost more than just the Primer level with core books, I believe it is an excellent investment and bang for your buck.  Capturing the attention of a young child is more than half the battle of teaching them piano, that is why I believe that this is the best preschool piano method for engaging young students.

Have you used My First Piano Adventure? If so, what was your experience? What are other options of preschool methods you have tried? 

Let me know in the comments!

My daughter and I will be starting Level B of this series very soon. Stay tuned for another review! 

Until next time,

-Jenny

My First Piano Adventure for the Young Beginner by Nancy and Randall Faber
© 2006 Dovetree Productions, Inc. (Distributor: Hal Leonard)

  • Lesson Book A and Writing Book A (Pre-Reading)