Over the last few weeks we've looked at the benefits of learning music; what good music teaching looks like; and how it is possible to measure progress without relying solely on exams. Today we're considering the needs of today's children and how a novel approach to piano lessons incorporating all aspects of musicianship meets those needs. Please do share if you think your friends will find this interesting.
As renowned music educator Paul Harris says, today's children have a wealth of choice in terms of activities they can choose to fill their time and many of these give instant gratification. Learning an instrument does not always give instant gratification and so, if taught by a teacher who doesn't understand music education thoroughly, it is not something children are going to choose to fill their time.
Lessons with Surrey Music School offer children activities they can do well, 'now' - they learn to sing a song, they move to the beat, they spend all week singing the song and they play games together while singing the song - often they can't get it out of their heads! When they know the song really well they work out the pitches (the sounds that go higher and lower) and work out how to play it by ear on the piano. Because their ear is being developed through all this singing and playing they begin to work out how to play it.
So a task that could be difficult - playing a song and reading it from notation - becomes easy because they have had lots of fun learning it thoroughly and when it is time to play it they know it really well.
Children are then curious to know work out how the song can be notated (written down), so they are given resources to help achieve this and again, what could be difficult becomes easy.
Children happily and independently working out rhythms to songs
The piano is a pretty exciting instrument to play and explore, so not only do children get to play songs they have learned to sing, but those taking our group programme at St Johns in Merrow also spend half the lesson exploring the whole piano through improvisation.
Children learning in this way not only get a really great musical foundation for the future but also get to play real music 'now'! Of course we do not advocate having everything now, but this approach has the dual benefit of enabling children to make real music while developing all the skills necessary to become confident rounded musicians.
Of course they will have to apply themselves, it will not always be easy, but it will be much easier than going the route of 'traditional' piano lessons which involve setting a tutor book in front of a child and expecting them to read and play without any musical foundation at all. In these instances the eye takes over from the ear in the effort to decipher the notation and all thoughts of music making are absent in the struggle.
Over the next few weeks we'll be looking at everyone's roles in the learning process - the parent's, child's and teacher's.
Director of Surrey Music School.