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Teaching Methodolgies (Read 2558 times)

Offline twofiveone

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Teaching Methodolgies
« on: July 23, 2014, 09:49:14 PM »
Greetings

This is my first post on this forum but I thought it would be really useful to ask some working teachers their opinion on my ideas for a teaching methodology.

Many years ago (when I was about ten years old) I was sent to a piano teacher by my parents who took me through the Royal Schools of Music exams learning to play in the traditional way.  I did learn to read music and to play mainly classical music and I did, eventually, pass an entrance exam for a music college to train as a music teacher.  But I never started at the college and began a business instead - still playing music in my spare time.

I often think that I only really learned to play when I locked away my huge collection of sheet music.  The music that came out of my fingers didn't sound very good but, after a year or two, I began to feel at one with the piano and thereafter only ever borrowed the melody from a tune and created my own arrangements by trial and error.

I didn't really think myself much of a piano player but, almost by accident, I fell into playing professionally and made a very good living for a couple of years (a living that took me around the world).  It was useful that I could play for about fifteen hours from memory (without sheet music) as I've always thought that it isn't possible to engage with an audience if the eyes are glued to a piece of paper.  The songs always came out differently every time as well that way.

But those days are also far behind and now that I have some time I've begin to think about what music really is, and more importantly what the best way to learn is.

Of course, all piano music is build upon a structure of chord progressions along with a melody, played in a rhythmic way.  

I've thought about teaching in the same way.  

My premise is that most students don't really want to play classical music precisely as written but want the enjoyment of expressing themselves via the piano.  I believe that this is far more satisfying than playing somebody else's composition by rote.

But how easy is it to teach this?

I've thought about abandoning all conventional music theory and beginning with rhythm and chord structures.  If a student begins with the Roman numeral system of chord notation one could begin with I, IV, V in the key of C, and get the "instant gratification" in a couple of hours that would motivate.  Practice could be thumping triads with a left hand root at first until faultless rhythm was developed (something that I've noticed traditionally taught students often seem to never develop).

After the rhythm was there the next stage could be inversions of I, IV and V.  And finally harmonising simple melodies (those that only needed the three commonest chords).

I, IV and V could then be supplemented with VI and II and the student's ear would then develop an appreciation of a minor chord sound.

The easiest keys (F and G) could then be attempted with some of the (by then) well known progressions that had been played in C.  But the emphasis could be on discovering (by experimentation) which sharps and flats were needed to hear the same major and minor chord sounds in the new keys.  Perhaps scales and arpeggios would begin to appear on their own at this stage as the brain assimilated the basis of the fundamental structure of music.

Next the student could progress to coloration of chords with 6,7,9 and 13 coloring of the already familiar chords.

By now the student could be making some very beautiful sounds and instinctively creating their own arrangements.  Eventually (if the student wanted to) they could progress to the circle of fifths and learn to play in every key... and all without learning what a crotchet or quaver are or the mathematics of key signatures.

I've thought about trying to teach some willing adults and children using this technique.  Any feedback from others that have tried a similar methodology would be very welcome.  















Offline j_menz

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #1 on: July 23, 2014, 10:31:49 PM »
Isn't that the approach they take to rock guitar/piano; or to some extent jazz, already?

all piano music is build upon a structure of chord progressions along with a melody, played in a rhythmic way. 

Not all, just some.
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline Mayla

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #2 on: July 24, 2014, 06:35:02 AM »
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"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline twofiveone

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #3 on: July 24, 2014, 05:32:07 PM »
Isn't that the approach they take to rock guitar/piano; or to some extent jazz, already?

If you can point me to any resources on the web, or any information, about other similar teaching methodologies I'd be very grateful.  I suppose the crucial element is the abandonment of musical theory.  I've looked at an enormous number of web sites that aim to teach the piano and haven't seen anything that is similar in my own research.

I most certainly wouldn't say that this method would lend itself to any particular style (such as jazz or rock, whatever is understood by these terms) but would provide a foundation to play in any style.

Regarding my assertion that all music (as I understand the term) is "built upon a structure of chord progressions along with a melody, played in a rhythmic way".  And your comment of: "Not all, just some".  Could you quote a specific example of contemporary music where this would be the case so that I can understand the context of your comment.

Offline twofiveone

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #4 on: July 24, 2014, 05:51:28 PM »
In teaching, it is helpful to develop what you feel is the very basic make-up of a musical and pianistic foundation in general, and then to be able to use this as a means for measuring progress and success (or areas that need strengthening), as well as building knowledge and skills.  In cooking, for example, there is a difference between thinking of every particular of a recipe as though it is merely an ingredient, and all ingredients being of equal value to a recipe, vs. seeing what really needs to be in place as a foundation in order for the recipe to truly work.  I think it can be similar in playing.  The real teaching method is behind the scenes; it's the puppeteer pulling the strings - the reason behind the moment.  

Within what principle do rhythm, chords, and harmonic understanding fit into?  Each individual will learn differently for various reasons, some of it is simply because they have varying interests, some of it is because they simply have their own set of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning in general.  You may find that a single ingredient does not necessarily work with everybody, even if it's a great thing in and of itself.  But, if you have a binding agent, or a basic principle that you are pulling from when you teach, you will find that if one idea doesn't work in a particular way for one person, there is something else you can do to help them gain understanding.

Surely we all do learn in different ways and so often have to be taught in different ways.  Music is supremely mathematical and logical by its very nature and I've noticed an enormous correlation between those that are good at music and those that have logical, mathematical and analytical minds. 

I've also noticed that a different approach is needed when teaching adults rather than children.

My feeling is that the approach suggested (in the original post) would be most successful when teaching those with "natural ability" (meaning logical, mathematical and analytical minds) whether young or older.  Possibly it would also be more successful still when teaching adults who also had a natural ability.  But for those with less natural ability perhaps traditional methods that focus upon reading music and traditional music theory could be more successful.

Essentially the methodology suggested is a derivative of Socratan teaching methods, guided discovery rather than by lecture of by demonstration by a teacher.  The method would only work well in a one-to-one teaching situation (or in a very small groups), but I suppose that is how most piano skills are taught.

Offline Mayla

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #5 on: July 24, 2014, 08:57:42 PM »
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Offline j_menz

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #6 on: July 24, 2014, 11:34:18 PM »
If you can point me to any resources on the web, or any information, about other similar teaching methodologies I'd be very grateful.  

http://www.bing.com/search?q=learn+piano+by+chords&src=IE-TopResult&FORM=IE11TR&conversationid=

Seems to yield plenty, though maybe I'm missing something from your approach.

I suppose the crucial element is the abandonment of musical theory.  

How have you done that, though. I, V etc., in a key seems to be based very much in theory.


Regarding my assertion that all music (as I understand the term) is "built upon a structure of chord progressions along with a melody, played in a rhythmic way".  And your comment of: "Not all, just some".  Could you quote a specific example of contemporary music where this would be the case so that I can understand the context of your comment.
[/quote]

Twelve tone serialism.

Or pieces such as Cage's Etude Australes.



"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline twofiveone

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #7 on: July 25, 2014, 09:13:59 AM »
http://www.bing.com/search?q=learn+piano+by+chords&src=IE-TopResult&FORM=IE11TR&conversationid=

Seems to yield plenty, though maybe I'm missing something from your approach.

That's just a Bing search for "learn piano by chords".  It is clear that any method of musical tuition involves chords, but do you have a specific teaching methodology in mind (ideally with a link to some resource that better explains it) that echoes the suggested approach to this?

>> How have you done that, though. I, V etc., in a key seems to be based very much in theory.

My proposed teaching method suggests the minimalist use of music theory in order to achievie  an end result where the student can undoubtedly play the piano (though not to understand musical notation and musical theory in any depth).

Regarding twelve tone serialism and Cage's Etude Australes.  For me, both twelve tone serialism and Cage's Etude Australes are not "music" in the conventional sense but are rather experiments in noise.  I think that almost any person (without formal musical training) listening to Cage's Etude would reach a similar conclusion when applying the word "music" in its common usage in the English language. 




Offline outin

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #8 on: July 25, 2014, 12:55:29 PM »
For me, both twelve tone serialism ... are not "music" in the conventional sense but are rather experiments in noise. 

What do you mean? You might as well claim that traditional music from different cultures around the world is not music if it doesn't follow our conventions...

Sounds very much like music to me






Offline twofiveone

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #9 on: July 25, 2014, 10:56:16 PM »
What do you mean? You might as well claim that traditional music from different cultures around the world is not music if it doesn't follow our conventions...

Well, Arnold Schoenburg was from Austria, and John Cage was from Los Angeles so they were not really from a different culture.

I have a friend in Switzerland who makes a living from throwing buckets of paint at canvases and he is quite happy to join in my amusement at how ridiculous this is.  However they sell for thousands of francs so how ridiculous is that?

Hans Christian Anderson was most observant when he wrote "The Emperor's New Clothes".

I am the child in the crowd.  And, for me, this isn't music in the way I understand the essence of what music really is.  But I can also respect the point of view of others.  I am just not equipped to  understand how, for some, this "music" represents an enjoyable experience - but perhaps that's just because I am not clever enough to understand it!




Offline outin

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #10 on: July 26, 2014, 03:59:00 AM »
Well, Arnold Schoenburg was from Austria, and John Cage was from Los Angeles so they were not really from a different culture.
That of course has nothing to do with my point :)

(and I also don't agree, they are definitely from different cultures as well, even though they do probably share many things in their musical education)



Hans Christian Anderson was most observant when he wrote "The Emperor's New Clothes".

Well, I do get that feeling from some of the more concervative composers...better not mention any names...

Does it really matter how serious someone is, if they can create a desired effect? Does it make music better that someone spent years learning and figuring out rules?


I am just not equipped to  understand how, for some, this "music" represents an enjoyable experience - but perhaps that's just because I am not clever enough to understand it!

No...I don't understand it at all, I have no idea how or why it is formed as it is, I just listen and enjoy :D

There seems to be two kinds of people, those who enjoy art when experiencing things somewhat expected and familiar and those who enjoy things NOT going the way expected. I am more in the latter group.


Offline j_menz

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #11 on: July 26, 2014, 07:06:33 AM »
That's just a Bing search for "learn piano by chords".  It is clear that any method of musical tuition involves chords, but do you have a specific teaching methodology in mind (ideally with a link to some resource that better explains it) that echoes the suggested approach to this?

But isn't that just what you are proposing?

My proposed teaching method suggests the minimalist use of music theory in order to achievie  an end result where the student can undoubtedly play the piano (though not to understand musical notation and musical theory in any depth).

It seems to me the only "theory" you are leaving out is either inapplicable to your limited definition of music, or related to reading notation. You still seem to rely rather heavily on it.

Regarding twelve tone serialism and Cage's Etude Australes.  For me, both twelve tone serialism and Cage's Etude Australes are not "music" in the conventional sense but are rather experiments in noise.  I think that almost any person (without formal musical training) listening to Cage's Etude would reach a similar conclusion when applying the word "music" in its common usage in the English language. 

You don't get to limit the definition of music. Particularly to suit your purpose, or to fit your tastes.
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline ahinton

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #12 on: July 26, 2014, 05:29:33 PM »
10 responses already and no one has yet questioned "Metholdolgies" when surely it's "Mentholdoggies"...

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline twofiveone

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #13 on: July 26, 2014, 05:41:57 PM »
10 responses already and no one has yet questioned "Metholdolgies" when surely it's "Mentholdoggies"...

Best,

Alistair

... and none of the ten has in any way contributed to the discussion I has hoped would result - how best to teach and enthuse those who seek enjoyment and pleasure from playing the piano!

But this is an Internet forum after all so I shouldn't have expected any more.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #14 on: July 26, 2014, 10:32:31 PM »
If you can point me to any resources on the web, or any information, about other similar teaching methodologies I'd be very grateful.  I suppose the crucial element is the abandonment of musical theory.


This is simply a bad idea, sorry. You're trying to turn an inherent limitation into a positive and that's a dead end. You've given us your story, but clearly you're talented. So you self-learned on instinct, based on just a small set of starter tools. But if you think telling the average joe how to play 3 chords and then getting him to fiddle about with them for long enough will end up with him playing in "any style", think again. That's exactly what will never happen, unless a student has an ear for music as accurate as Mozart's. The most naive statement you make is this:

Quote
Eventually (if the student wanted to) they could progress to the circle of fifths and learn to play in every key... and all without learning what a crotchet or quaver are or the mathematics of key signatures.

Figuring out how to do that assumes greater talent on the student's part than when the nature of key signatures has been explained.

Even for the method you propose, all you've spoken of is giving chords and fiddling around without understanding. That won't teach anything but formulas without a really good ear. It's only when a musician has really advanced aural skills that they can build upon basic tools and self learn their way to being able to translate the sound of more advanced things into a realisation at the piano. Things like solfege and various methods linked to vocal techniques will be needed for most students to begin getting off the ground. Otherwise you are talking of an evolutionary method in which those who are born with instincts thrive and those who don't learn nothing but a very limited theoretical formula to play by (with none of the musical instincts required to turn that into something more wide-ranging and truly creative).

Improvisation is a very positive thing but so is sheet reading and theory. Reading between the lines, I'm getting the impressiont that there are various skills you don't have and which you don't particularly want to bother learning in order to teach. Therefore you've theorised a way to teach in which can get away without having to learn these things. Learn these things for yourself and then decide whether they're useful or not- don't neglect them simply because you haven't learned them. Above all, don't assume that whatever you know should be part of a good teaching method but that whatever you don't wouldn't be of any value anyway. Remember that you did well based on talent, not because noodling around on a few chords is a magic road to success. To teach people to play by ear in anything but the most overwhelmingly limited way you need all kinds of ear training methods- otherwise talented will thrive on instincts whereas ordinary students go just about nowhere. Don't expect fiddling around with chords to be an effective general "method" simply because you happened to get where you are from this approach. Even for improvisation, the ability to read music offers far greater scope to learn from others than even extremely advanced aural skills. None but geniuses of the rarest order can really understand a diverse range of styles by ear alone.

PS. I should stress again that I'm totally in favour of improvisation as a part of learning. But there's no way I'm going to applaud the idea that the bits that you picked up instinctively on talent don't need to be taught, or that they would typically be picked up by experimentation alone.

Offline twofiveone

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #15 on: July 28, 2014, 09:03:37 AM »
I should stress again that I'm totally in favour of improvisation as a part of learning. But there's no way I'm going to applaud the idea that the bits that you picked up instinctively on talent don't need to be taught, or that they would typically be picked up by experimentation alone.

I think your general point (which you elaborated on in many ways within your post) can be distilled to:

"Students have different abilities and music should empower all of them, not just the few that already have latent aptitude".

... and who could disagree upon that.

I have never been able to draw or paint.  I have bought lots of books on the subject and have tried hard and failed.  It is an ability I simply do not have.  However, when I was a child my parents bought me a "painting by numbers" kit for Christmas one year.  I you are not familiar with the concept, a board has a picture painted upon it with many small areas marked out containing a number.  Each number matches one of the oil paints. I painted a wonderful picture of two horses in a field that was proudly hung on the wall for many years.  But, of course, I still couldn't paint or draw (though I did transfer another artist's creative ability onto canvas).

Would I have been better served with a set of paints, given some elementary instruction upon how to mix and apply them to the canvas, and encouraged to make a mess?  Difficult to answer, I really enjoyed painting by numbers and maybe I would have thought myself a failure by making a mess.  Or maybe I would have discovered an ability within to express myself via this medium.

When I was a child I was entered into many music festivals by my parents.  A set classical piece was played on the piano before three judges.  Marks were given for how "well" the piece was played and the winner was the person who had most faithfully transferred the notes written down into piano strokes on the keyboard.  I was taught by my music teacher under no circumstances to deviate from the written notation.  This would be marked as a "wrong note" and points lost.  I suppose you could mark finished "painting by numbers" work in the same way, the winner being the student who had used the indicated color in every case and stayed strictly within the de-lineated patch being painted.  And the end result would still be very pleasing on the eye.

I suppose the real debate is whether musical theory is a precursor to musical expression and performance.

We all learn to speak long before we read and write.  Speaking requires thought and is always unique.  But speaking has its own notation (just like music) which is words on paper.  There are people in the world that can speak eloquently but not read and write.  Just like writing words, I think music notation is a useful ability, but it does not have to pre-date making music (just like reading words never pre-dates learning to talk).  Imagine going to a poetry recital and hearing some great works by Wordsworth and Yeats.  And then, afterwards, an amateur recites one of his own, original, poems.  Not as good as the great masters of course but still interesting.  Which would you most enjoy listening to?

So I still feel it may be worthwhile to experiment with teaching students to play well with a minimal amount of theory and then, if the student so desires, fleshing this out with the ability to sight read and understand some underlying theory later.  The input of others (who have had far more experience of teaching piano in the real world than I), would be most welcome (especially from those that have actually attempted such a technique with success or failure).






Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Teaching Metholdolgies
«Reply #16 on: July 28, 2014, 01:22:33 PM »
Quote
Would I have been better served with a set of paints, given some elementary instruction upon how to mix and apply them to the canvas, and encouraged to make a mess?  Difficult to answer, I really enjoyed painting by numbers and maybe I would have thought myself a failure by making a mess.  Or maybe I would have discovered an ability within to express myself via this medium.

I like the analogy, but remember that nobody has to make a polarised decision. You can do both. A combination of copying and experimenting is probably far more useful than only doing one or the other.

Quote
So I still feel it may be worthwhile to experiment with teaching students to play well with a minimal amount of theory and then, if the student so desires, fleshing this out with the ability to sight read and understand some underlying theory later.  The input of others (who have had far more experience of teaching piano in the real world than I), would be most welcome (especially from those that have actually attempted such a technique with success or failure).

I wouldn't disagree at all that it's probably very good to start out with some things before theory comes in. My concern was that you portrayed it as if never even getting to involve some theory later would be a positive. It really isn't. A lot of people get so lost in the convenience of noodling around (without having the advanced aural skills to instinctively learn more complex harmonies or techniques merely by listening) that they never have access to what can be learned via reading. It takes supreme talent to learn about truly diverse styles by ear but far less to learn about them by reading the notes off the page and seeing all the interellationships between intervals and voices in an interesting chord. Don't make the mistake of thinking that it's better to avoid things that are useful, even if you do want to work notably around chords and improvisations. It's a baby and bathwater thing.