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#1 of 12 Old 11-07-2008, 02:50 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm a music teacher by trade, and I have some VERY exuberant boys I'm giving private piano lessons to. They are 5 yo twins, and their 6yo brother, who are in a Montessori school during the day.

I've been having great success with them by taking an unschooled approach to their learning. I had mom buy each of them a book and one set of music flashcards with notes, musical terms, symbols, and rhythm exercises on them.

Each time they see me (the twins for 15 minutes each and the older brother for 30 mins), we decide what they want to learn.

Depending on the day, they may pick flashcards, where we learn notes or symbols.

Or, they could pick drawing musical symbols where I get out complicated piano music and they reproduce a measure or so of music onto their own paper (they call this "ART music," and giggle uncontrollably) and we discuss what they're drawing.

Or we go through their book and choose a song to play on the piano. If it's too advanced for them, we talk through the piece and isolate a line that they CAN play. Sometimes, they're willing to learn everything they need to because they REALLY want to play the song, which is great!

I just wanted to share this with you guys (though I'm sure lots of you know this already ) because I want to empower you to make sure there's music theory in your lives. Even if you cannot play an instrument, knowing your way around music is an invaluable skill.

</shameless plug>

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#2 of 12 Old 11-07-2008, 02:58 AM
 
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We just started piano lessons and this is really interesting information for me. My girls often want to go on to another song and their teacher stops them and says to wait, not yet, etc. Hm.... I don't know anything about music so I don't know what to think. I am interested in hearing more about this approach.
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#3 of 12 Old 11-07-2008, 03:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Treasure, to me it depends on the age of your girls. If I had a 10 year old, I would be a little more strict about what is played and why. I wouldn't just let a kid do all fast songs or something like that.

With these guys, I'm more concerned that they be familiar with music, love what they're doing, and be able to pick up any instrument they want and not have to struggle through navigating music. They're young, and while I'd love to have a piano player among them, I'd be just as proud if they stopped piano and applied the musical knowledge I've helped them cultivate to a different instrument.

Long way of saying - maybe your girls' piano teacher is trying to create pianists, whereas I want to create a music appreciator and musician (whatever instrument that may be).

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#4 of 12 Old 11-08-2008, 04:11 PM
 
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I think you're on to something.

I'm a private voice teacher, and my teaching has been transformed since I started reading and thinking about homeschooling. One particularly pivotal book for me was Instead of Education by John Holt.

He describes learning to play cello as an adult beginner. More specifically, he describes *playing* the cello, because that is really what he was doing, though perhaps not as masterfully as his instructor.

In my own teaching, this meant a new perspective on my students. They are not "learning" to sing. They ARE singers. I can only advise on what I think will make singing easier, more beautiful (according to my aesthetic), or more efficient. Their experience belongs to them, and I cannot take them to their destination.

I look back now and realize how much time I spent trying to squeeze students into a framework that I created. I thought I was guiding them down the path, but it turns out the path was all in my mind. I started listening to what THEY wanted, and honestly trying to help them achieve it, even if the goal is not the one I would have chosen. Sometimes this means I have to tell them I'm not the right teacher-- but more often we end up making unexpected discoveries together.

I don't know that any of this applies in your situation; my students are mostly teens and adults. I just saw the title of your thread and had to respond.



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#5 of 12 Old 11-08-2008, 08:48 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think you're on to something.

I'm a private voice teacher, and my teaching has been transformed since I started reading and thinking about homeschooling. One particularly pivotal book for me was Instead of Education by John Holt.

He describes learning to play cello as an adult beginner. More specifically, he describes *playing* the cello, because that is really what he was doing, though perhaps not as masterfully as his instructor.

In my own teaching, this meant a new perspective on my students. They are not "learning" to sing. They ARE singers. I can only advise on what I think will make singing easier, more beautiful (according to my aesthetic), or more efficient. Their experience belongs to them, and I cannot take them to their destination.

I look back now and realize how much time I spent trying to squeeze students into a framework that I created. I thought I was guiding them down the path, but it turns out the path was all in my mind. I started listening to what THEY wanted, and honestly trying to help them achieve it, even if the goal is not the one I would have chosen. Sometimes this means I have to tell them I'm not the right teacher-- but more often we end up making unexpected discoveries together.

I don't know that any of this applies in your situation; my students are mostly teens and adults. I just saw the title of your thread and had to respond.
Nope, totally makes sense. My degree was in voice, and I had a teacher in college who kept trying to make my voice something it wasn't. I hated it, but I was committed to singing - I can't imagine how I'd feel if I was a beginner.

I've had students who come to me and say "I want to play piano like Ben Folds" or "I want to sing like Mariah Carey." So we start there. Eventually, students get bored with the single-facet, and when I see that starting to happen, I can talk to them about Bartok and Schumann. By this time, they're engrossed, and willing to explore outside the box.

I think you've learned something really valuable!

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: "I am the very model of a modern vocal pedagogue..."
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#6 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 01:35 PM
 
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Thanks for this post! I was just pondering whether to start my 5yo DS in piano lessons. I took lessons for 10 years (plus violin for 9), so I obviously could teach him SOMETHING myself. However, I had it in my head that music requires some sort of methodical process that I don't know about. Which got me wondering, why do I think that about music and not about learning anything else?

He has a beginning piano book that goes over how to read music. I taught him Frere Jacques and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which he plays with one finger. He's started playing them on different octaves, or starting on a note other than C to see how it sounds. He also plays around with pushing two keys at once, up and down the piano.

I started to worry about 'wasting' any musical talent he might have, then wondered again why I think it can get 'too late' to learn a musical instrument, but not too late to learn anything else?

Anyway, your posts just made me feel better about letting him play around if/when he wants to, and maybe occasionally reading his piano book with him. If he wants more, I am certain he will let me know . Plus, that will save us $50 a month! Yay! (I was looking at Suzuki method lessons, which where we live are more expensive.)

Incidentally, any music/piano books anyone would recommend? Or a book on teaching music to young children?

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#7 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 04:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I like the Alfred series. Before I get flamed (because they're soooooooooooo overused and mis-used), here's why.

They build one thing at a time, so it's easy to skip things you already know or skip around.
The melodies have words, so you can sing them together.
There's usually a teacher's melody so you can play together.
It's colorful and cute, and I think it builds well.
There are like 5 different concentrations for each level - theory, basics, performance, etc, so you can mix and match your curriculum.

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#8 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 05:42 PM
 
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However, I had it in my head that music requires some sort of methodical process that I don't know about. Which got me wondering, why do I think that about music and not about learning anything else?
Well, I think there's some truth to this, particularly in the case of bowed stringed instruments. Less so for piano and voice, somewhat less so for winds and guitar. Here's why ... (my experience is on violin / viola, so I'll refer to that in my examples)

Progress on violin requires not just one set of skills in one area of brain development, but parallel development of many sets of skills using all parts of the brain. Unlike, say, learning to play badminton, or to do multi-digit multiplication, or to knit, learning a stringed instrument is not the sort of thing that lends itself to organic spontaneous bursts in development and leaps in cognition. That's because the component skills are dependent on each other's timely development and refinement. Suddenly developing the fine-motor ability to do vibrato on the violin, for instance, is not at all helpful if you haven't already developed the accurate auditory discrimination necessary to 'center' the pitch properly. Learning to decode complex written music is a useless skill if you don't have the kinesthetic body-balance / posture habits that allow you to play comfortably without physical tension. It's extremely difficult to develop good tone unless you have developed your auditory-sequential memory ability to the extent that you can play easily from memory and put your entire focus on the quality of your sound. Without diligent, somewhat prescriptive development of component skills, violin students tend to have gaps in their learning that eventually greatly impede ongoing progress.

I have a young friend, almost 16, who is unschooled and began studying violin with me at age 11 in the sort of unschooling-inspired manner that I think is being alluded to in this thread. I advised and guided where my advice and guidance was relished, and when it wasn't, he and I worked together to find something else that did inspire him. At first it seemed to work beautifully, but after 3 or 4 years it became apparent that he's kind of stuck, and that to get past the wall he's up against would require a lot of backtracking and remediation of his aural and kinethetic skills. He's frustrated and demoralized and though he knows what would be necessary to remediate his deficits, he's not really passionate enough about violin to do all the back-tracking and heavy-duty work on basics. If backtracking weren't necessary I think he'd have plenty of interest in continuing, but he knows that the students who started with him four or five years ago and did that systematic work at the outset have now left him in the dust, and going back to early basics is just not appealing. He is not at the level where he can enjoy playing in orchestra and ensembles with his peers -- he plays with them sometimes, but he struggles and he knows that because of his gaps he is kind of a liability in ensembles, and feels stressed and guilty.

I have a 14-year-old unschooled student who began studying with me at age 5, and I told her "I only know this way to teach the violin [i.e. with prescriptive work on basic skills], so if you want to study with me, you are going to pretty much have to learn the way I know to teach. Otherwise I don't know how to teach you." She agreed and though she struggled with a few learning areas in the first year or two, she kept plugging away, mastered them before moving on, and is now a fantastic player. That's not to say that I taught in a rigid unresponsive fashion -- we did lots of pretty creative things and did our best to capitalize on her strengths and interests -- but we agreed to expectations like "it is reasonable to expect that the intonation in this piece be firmly mastered before moving on to the next" and "this bad thumb habit needs to be fixed soon!"

My own kids are unschooled, and are rapidly advancing young string players who have followed a prescriptive approach to their instrument studies (with "outside teachers"). It has worked very well for them, and their efficient mastery drives their continuing motivation.

Edited to add: I see much less problem with self-teaching, child-led exploration and interest-based learning on piano, because that instrument has much less of a house-of-cards skill-set (where one missing piece causes the whole thing to collapse). Self-guided learning on piano is actually working very well for my middle dd, and my youngest, who has recently opted to start formal lessons, started off with an already very solid foundation thanks to her interest-led piano explorations during the previous year.

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#9 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 08:28 PM
 
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Sara, no flaming here for suggesting Alfred. My piano teacher friend also suggested that one, along with Music Tree (I think?).

Moominmama, thanks for your thoughts on strings vs. piano. Since I'm also a student of both, I can definitely see a difference in the multiple skill sets needed to learn violin. And, it always nice to hear real-life experiences.

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#10 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 08:53 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Miranda, I can see how it would seem like that. And I just want to clarify that this "unschooling" for piano also includes HEAVY basics. We do technique work, scales, chords, etc, and then we get into the "whatever moves you" part. I'd be interested to know what this student would have to go back and learn to catch up with his peers. My learning of cello was VERY unschooled, and I'm wondering if maybe his approach to music just needed to be more structured. Like, for me, when I studied cello, I didn't want to learn the positions. I just wanted to PLAY. But my teacher told me that I would be playing incorrectly if I didn't learn them first, so I learned them in order to be able to play what I wanted. I agree, though, there's a fine line.

To me, it's all about bartering. With my voice students, for every piece that I think has ZERO musical value that they want to sing, I have them pick a piece that I think is loaded with musical value. A lot of times, we've abandoned the Amy Grant songbook by 6 months into the lesson and are full into art songs and music history.

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#11 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 11:17 PM
 
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I'd be interested to know what this student would have to go back and learn to catch up with his peers.
Mostly aural / mnemonic skills, as they pertain to both pitch/intervals and to rhythm. He learned new repertoire quite quickly in the early stages because he learned entirely by note-reading ... but he learned intellectually and then wanted to move on before he'd fully internalized the music itself and the kinesthetic patterns of playing it. He's learned a lot of repertoire, but he never wanted to polish it, internalize it, delve deeply into the heart of it, never wanted to take things to performance level. He grazed extensively, but never went as deep as the roots. And so he's now in a situation where his repertoire is getting more complex and he doesn't have the tools to make sense of it. He doesn't feel cadences, doesn't recognize rhythmic motifs he's played before, doesn't chunk music down into form and sequences, doesn't recognize a phrasing unit. As an example, he doesn't easily recognize the sound or appearance on the page of an arpeggio unless you ask him "what's this little melodic unit?", and then he can't tap into a kinesthetic memory of how to play one ... each time he encounters one he has to teach himself the note and finger patterns de novo.

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To me, it's all about bartering
See, I wouldn't have included bartering in my conception of unschooling. I guess it's semantics. I do a lot of bartering with most of my students... or, as I'd rather describe it, agreeing to respect each others' priorities. With B., he was clear that he didn't want to do things that way, so we didn't.

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#12 of 12 Old 11-10-2008, 11:23 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Mostly aural / mnemonic skills, as they pertain to both pitch/intervals and to rhythm. He learned new repertoire quite quickly in the early stages because he learned entirely by note-reading ... but he learned intellectually and then wanted to move on before he'd fully internalized the music itself and the kinesthetic patterns of playing it. He's learned a lot of repertoire, but he never wanted to polish it, internalize it, delve deeply into the heart of it, never wanted to take things to performance level. He grazed extensively, but never went as deep as the roots. And so he's now in a situation where his repertoire is getting more complex and he doesn't have the tools to make sense of it. He doesn't feel cadences, doesn't recognize rhythmic motifs he's played before, doesn't chunk music down into form and sequences, doesn't recognize a phrasing unit. As an example, he doesn't easily recognize the sound or appearance on the page of an arpeggio unless you ask him "what's this little melodic unit?", and then he can't tap into a kinesthetic memory of how to play one ... each time he encounters one he has to teach himself the note and finger patterns de novo.

Miranda
Ah, I can see now. That WOULD be frustrating.

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