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Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
#1595231 01/11/11 10:46 AM
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I started teaching using the Music Pathways method because a 90-year-old, wise, wonderful teacher I knew told me they were the best books out there. She said that she had taught for fifty years using the standard approach she learned at Juliard, and her students always had the same problems: difficulty playing in keys other than F, C, and G, difficulty moving around the piano, and greater skill with the right hand than the left. Finally she discovered these and had been teaching with them for the past twenty years. Her students were better readers, more comfortable all over the piano and in all keys, and strong in both hands. I have been using Music Pathways now for 2.5 years, and while I agree with her assessment in large part, the method has weaknesses too, as many do. I've looked at some other methods and wanted to compare them for anyone else who may be interested, and I was also hoping that some of you would add to my list by reviewing methods I haven't tried yet.

Music Pathways

Strenghts

Teaches a wide range of notes almost immediately, from the F below low C to the G above high C (pretty much any note they'd need to read without an 8va attached). Teaches almost all keys around the circle of fifths in the second year, so that near beginners are learning songs in A flat major, for example. Teaches kids to play with hands in various positions around the piano, with hands close together or very far apart at turns, so they don't ever get used to thumbs on C. Effectively helps kids become comfortable using both hands, to the point where one of my students can read better in the bass clef than the treble. Hahaha.

Weaknesses

The songs are not very exciting. As soon as I can, I start supplementing with other music to keep kids interested. My biggest problem is that kids will come to their lessons having practiced one or more of their fun supplemental pieces to near perfection while not even cracking open their lesson book, which means they aren't really benefiting from it. It's easy to see why: the songs in their lesson book are shorter, harder, and sound less showy—in effect, they sound like beginner songs but are harder than anything else they're playing. Further, the C and D books don't teach enough that's new, and don't introduce chords and other typical LH patterns early enough. I have ultimately decided that I want to transition to another method after my students complete the B books, armed with note-reading skills and ability to play in different keys. They can learn more difficult counting just as well with better-sounding songs.

Alfred

Strengths

Gets kids playing songs that sound good almost immediately, which sparks their interest and keeps them practicing. Pretty pictures and fun songs keep coming as students advance. There is tons of repertoire here, from Fun Books to Recital Books and on and on, making it easy for the teacher to find something for everyone without leaving the method. My students all love the Fun and Recital books.

Weaknesses

Does the dreaded thumbs on C thing for way too long. Stays in C, G, and F way too long. Basically, Alfred follows the method that the 90-year-old teacher I knew was reacting against. Kids sound good right away but have a hard time transitioning to more difficult music as they age. I have not been impressed at all with the way the Alfred books teach the material. I do use the Fun and Recital books for kids who are a bit more advanced.

Bastien

Strenghts
I think I largely learned on Bastien. I moved and thus switched teachers a bit, so I may have had a hodgepodge, but I remember vividly some of the songs in levels 3 and 4. These are songs that kids love, and what's better, they're really educational as well. I love "Camel Caravan" for teaching minor scales, for instance. The pictures are cute, and the material is presented in logical order and manner. I love that by level 3, the songs are in many different keys and styles.

Weaknesses

I haven't been as impressed with Bastien's earlier levels because they approach things in a very similar manner to Alfred.

The Music Tree

Strengths

Like Music Pathways, the Music Tree method teaches note reading by teaching a few landmark notes and then introducing the concept of intervals so kids can learn how to navigate a wide range of notes early on. Better than Music Pathways, it gives kids actual note names of notes other than C right at the beginning of level 1. I love that they learn C, F, and G right off the bat, even if it does make the songs sound a little weird for a few weeks. Kids seem to latch onto the concreteness of it. I also like that they don't always use the same fingers for C and G, for instance, so that kids learn the note and not the fingering.

Weaknesses

I haven't used the Music Tree past the first book yet, so I'm not really sure about this, but I have read that it's weak at teaching keys with lots of sharps and flats, not introducing keys like A flat major until the fifth book! That alone makes me nervous about using this method, even if I do really enjoy the first book.


So how about you? Do your experiences corroborate mine? Are there any other methods you love?


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595434 01/11/11 04:37 PM
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Thanks for sharing your ideas! This topic has come up at least two or three times per year. You can search through old threads to find more info.


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595461 01/11/11 05:24 PM
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Thanks Brinestone. I hadn't come across Musical Pathways, so I appreciate your analysis. There have been other threads, but I'm not sure there have been any that attempted to systematically compare all/most of the available methods. Or maybe I've just missed them. smile


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595526 01/11/11 06:55 PM
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In addition, Keyboard Companion (or what ever it's current name is) is running a series doing just this, on a very comprehensive basis. All piano teachers should be subscribers, but too many teachers all ready have all the answers (which is why they are teachers, I suppose) so don't keep up to date! JMO.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA
Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
John v.d.Brook #1595636 01/11/11 10:34 PM
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Yeah, I'd seen some threads about this topic before, but they usually discussed one or two methods, and usually ones I knew about, and not in enough detail. I hoped to put it all together. Maybe I'll try to dig up old threads and link to relevant posts here.


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595719 01/12/11 01:28 AM
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I use Music Tree frequently. I find the students become excellent readers with ease of technique and good musicianship. I have a 2 students currently in level 2A and the are learning major and minor 5 finger patterns and triads and tonic and dominant.

One of the really great things you can do with these pieces when they are learning these skills is transpose. This way the students are getting the experience of the keys without having to struggle with reading in the keys. The experience precedes the reading, which is really the way this course works throughout. Once they get to the stage where they have to read in the key, the feel of it is already in the fingers, a tremendous benefit.

I find this course to be one of the most well-rounded and I can use almost any supplementary book. One of my students is using Fantastic Fingers Book 1 by Christopher Goldston and the other is using Audience Pleasers Bk. 1 by Lynn Freeman Olson.

I also have used Music Pathways. One of the authors, Marvin Blickenstaff, suggested at a workshop that teachers create their own duet parts for pieces that didn't have them. I think the pieces are pretty musical and the duet parts that are there are really effective.

I tend to leave method series after level 3 or so anyway, so I don't care about the upper levels anyway.


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595764 01/12/11 03:01 AM
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To the people who use Music Tree, don't your students find the pieces a bit dull/uninspiring? (first book)

I'm so bored by them that I can't begin to imagine how I would conjure up enthusiasm that is spreadable, even though I think the pedagogy in them is sound.

Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595874 01/12/11 09:25 AM
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The Clavier Companion method review is great... Each new issue a new method under review - fantastic effort from the editorial team.

Brinestone, the criticisms you make of the Alfred method are not true of the more recent Alfred Premier method.... Does anyone use the original Alfred method any more? Is it still available for purchase?


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
ToriAnais #1595934 01/12/11 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by ToriAnais
To the people who use Music Tree, don't your students find the pieces a bit dull/uninspiring? (first book)

I'm so bored by them that I can't begin to imagine how I would conjure up enthusiasm that is spreadable, even though I think the pedagogy in them is sound.



I haven't had any problem. You MUST do the duets and you must be working every aspect of playing while the pieces are still so simple. I love the fact that you can play them in any octave that fits the title. Sometimes we change the title and play the piece in a different octave (In a Garden becomes In a Dark Cave, for example). This is where imagination comes into play!

I also do some rote teaching and improvising, so students do experience other sounds at the piano.


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Elissa Milne #1595942 01/12/11 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Elissa Milne
The Clavier Companion method review is great... Each new issue a new method under review - fantastic effort from the editorial team.

Brinestone, the criticisms you make of the Alfred method are not true of the more recent Alfred Premier method.... Does anyone use the original Alfred method any more? Is it still available for purchase?


I don't know whether what I've looked at at my local music store lately was the Premier method or not, but it definitely still had the problems I'm talking about. Which is sad because the pieces are just so dang fun to play. I wonder if my local music store, in a smallish town in Utah, just hasn't gotten the new books yet? They look pretty modern, so I'm guessing what I'm looking at was the new method.

I take it my criticisms haven't matched your experience? I'd love to hear from a teacher how your students progress on it. I'm becoming a bit dissatisfied with Music Pathways because it does seem like the kids avoid practicing those pieces to some extent.


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1595949 01/12/11 11:24 AM
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I like Faber Piano Adventures at least for the Primer and Book one level, but I, like you always have a problem with the thumbs at Middle C position.. There really is no such position, but basically invented to orient the student (for too long in that fabricated universe). As music learning plays out, beyond method book exposure, that middle C thing has very little relationship to the demands made by the piano repertoire as it advances. The other thing is that as progressive as starting on Black notes is, where the student has the floating notes on double and triple blacks, those experiences quickly evaporate and we're back to middle C "itis".. meaning like arthritis, conjunctivitis. I hope I don't get slammed for borrowing the suffix.
Just as a side bar complaint.. In the Adult Accelerated Faber series, I find that there's a problem with the Boogie Woogie inserted pieces, right next to say the Mozart A Major theme, transposed to G (Ugh) I have a student who wants more classical based repertoire, and we have to skip over the boogie stuff to keep things in check but naturally, if we don't adhere to the program in the order of progression, we might miss out on the TIE or whatever. I was going to write to
Mr. Faber, asking why he can't produce an adult beginner book without boogie woogie stuff and some of the other allied materials that for SOME, and not all, become a burden. Now there will be students who eat up the jazzy arrangements, and want to cast asunder the Minuets, classical themes, etc inserted, so I realize that you can't please everyone. I just know after I get through that adult book with my students, I run in the direction of finding the real literature in its purest form..example The JC Bach Preludes, Kabalevsky op. 39, some Album for the Young by Schumann. I should add that Randall Faber does put out an excellent collection of classical repertoire in early and late Intermediate form. That's where I source the JC Bach works, as well as a delightful Mozart Dance in F, etc. so kudos in the Fabers direction.

In summary, if I had to rate what's out there, I would still start the kids on the Primer Faber Adventures, and run to supplement as soon as I could. I have one 8 year old, incidentally, who is now in Lesson Book one, and I supplemented with Accent on Solos, by William Gillock (what a fabulous composer for young people) She's studying "Little Flower Girl of Paris" (a beautiful two page composition) I also love Gillock's FLAMENCO as the student advances.

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/0...inger-warm-ups-in-major-and-minor-video/

Last edited by music32; 01/12/11 11:45 AM.
Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1596000 01/12/11 12:17 PM
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I think every method has its strengths and weaknesses, as you have discovered. You may also want to look at Piano Adventures and Hal Leonard for beginners. I really enjoy PA up through about book 2B, then I switch them over to Celebration Series. I really like CS's editions and while the books are a bit expensive (I just use the repertoire and etudes books), you do get a lot of music in there. I also supplement with other pieces and use a different theory book.

Every method has a few clunkers in there that a student may not like, but for the most part there's a little of something for everyone in PA. HL has a few that no one likes, but I really like their approach outside of 5 finger patterns (or seemingly). It's good to have a few different ones you like to work out of, especially if you tend to have younger students. It's very easy to get sick of the pieces if you use only one method, and you don't want that to rub off on the students.


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1596177 01/12/11 05:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Brinestone
Originally Posted by Elissa Milne
The Clavier Companion method review is great... Each new issue a new method under review - fantastic effort from the editorial team.

Brinestone, the criticisms you make of the Alfred method are not true of the more recent Alfred Premier method.... Does anyone use the original Alfred method any more? Is it still available for purchase?


I don't know whether what I've looked at at my local music store lately was the Premier method or not, but it definitely still had the problems I'm talking about. Which is sad because the pieces are just so dang fun to play. I wonder if my local music store, in a smallish town in Utah, just hasn't gotten the new books yet? They look pretty modern, so I'm guessing what I'm looking at was the new method.

I take it my criticisms haven't matched your experience? I'd love to hear from a teacher how your students progress on it. I'm becoming a bit dissatisfied with Music Pathways because it does seem like the kids avoid practicing those pieces to some extent.

I have no experience teaching the Alfred Premier method.

One of the major points of difference between the Premier method and the previous Alfred method is that students are NOT stuck in right-hand-thumb-on-tonic hand positions, and great effort has been put into having the hand position move around the keyboard. The criticism you make about the Alfred method is valid. But it does not hold for the Premier method.

I'm sure there are other criticisms that would be valid, just not that one!


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Re: Strengths and weaknesses of various piano methods
Brinestone #1598764 01/16/11 05:44 PM
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Clavier Companion

Perspectives in Pedagogy Editor, Rebecca Johnson
September/October 2009, Vol. 1 #5

Title:There’s a new series in the music store - how should I evaluate it?

While planning for the evaluations in the upcoming series of articles on method books (see this issue’s article A new look at current method), I reviewed how three pedagogy textbooks approached evaluating piano methods.
``````````````````
I'm new to the Pianoworld.com forum. Thanks for mentioning these articles!

I think one has to be willing to use the method which suits the students. Some have had note reading experience in school, so they will be able to handle a method which advances more rapidly.

I have one student which is in the old Alfred, and it is working fine for her, but she is developmentally delayed (in special ed). I'm not sure what I'll do after she finishes book 2. Maybe move to another series, but the same level?

I tend to gravitate back to Faber. I like the way theory and technique is woven into the Lesson book pages; good reinforcement. The supplemental books are pretty good and they've come out with a few new ones lately.

Music32 wrote, in part:
Quote
Now there will be students who eat up the jazzy arrangements, and want to cast asunder the Minuets, classical themes, etc inserted, so I realize that you can't please everyone.


I have an able 12 yo who tend to disdain the jazzy stuff, but I make her do one once in a while. We do need to be exposed to all kinds of styles, don't we, whether we 'like' them or not. I've been teaching her for 4 months; her former piano teacher did not use a method with her, and theory was neglected. So I am using Faber for that as well as a Lesson book, just to expose her to a variety of things.

Music Tree has been recommended by a few & I may get the books just to review them.

Cheers,
Musicmanic
Private teacher in WI



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