Introducing new pieces
Hearing a new piece can be part of the learning process. With the Grade 1-5 pieces I play a piece through several times, asking pupils to clap the beat, follow the notes with their fingers, give me 3 words to describe the character, spot any “mistakes”, or answer a quick rudiments quiz on it. For example, in Grade 1 A3 La donna e mobile, pupils might describe it as lively, tuneful, or having contrasting dynamics. They may also spot the mixture of staccato and legato notes, that it’s in ¾ and C major, and that it has repeated rhythms and is in 2 main sections. For more ways to teach holistically see Paul Harris’ Simultaneous Learning.
Having observed these basic elements, pupils could quite easily sight-read the left-hand A section as you duet the right-hand with them. I lift bars or phrases out of pieces to use as warm-ups; the left-hand bars of A3, beats 1 and 2, can be played to “down-up, up”. Other related exercises can be found in A Dozen a Day or Practice Makes Perfect. Playing a scale in the key and style of the piece is good for learning and technique, i.e. play with the correct articulation, the appropriate dynamic, or in the rhythm.
Teaching pupils to play with the correct style involves them listening and identifying it, and then teaching them the technique for conveying this; e.g. Grade 3 A3 German Dance, saying “lift” on beat 3 and “land” on beat 1.Grade 3 B3 March of the Wooden Soldiers cries out for the teacher to play and the pupil to march and then as they become more fluent, reverse roles. Bringing out the melody and quietening the accompaniment e.g. Grade 4 B2 The Merry Peasant, can be taught like this: see it in the music, hear it when you play it, do it themselves by using “heavier fingers”, and then adding an on the surface right-hand before a played version. Encourage listening and self-marking out of 10 to help independent learning for this and all techniques.
At all levels it is important to have supporting material; music that is not so hard that it defeats the object. Bradley’s Tuneful Graded Studies, and Agay’s The Joy of First- Year Piano Technique are useful but so are easier pieces using the same technique from a tutor series or an easier grade; for example the waltz style technique for Chopin’s Sostenuto at Grade 5, could be introduced by playing the Grade 2 B2 Waltz in G.
Great lessons are followed by effective practising. Clearly lay out what is to be done in the practice diary and check it at the next lesson. Stars and stickers work if they are specific and honest- pupils can spot bland praise a mile away. Your great allies are parents so ensure that they know how much and how often practice needs to be done and how they can help their child progress and enjoy piano playing.
Written by Fiona Lau