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In January I began teaching my niece, who is 15. Over the years, I'd given her "occasional" lessons, usually at Christmas time. I tried to talk her into regular lessons, but my niece wasn't interested. Finally this year she decided she was ready. (She is also a percussionist in the high school band.)

She practices non-stop, to the point where her parents have to kick her off. (The piano is in the same room as the TV, and their priorities are not hers.)

I started her at Level 2 Piano Adventures, which she knocked out in about 6 weeks. I skipped 2B, and went to 3A, which she has just finished. I also gave her Faber's Developing Artist Book 2, which she is working through. She played Beethoven Sonatina in G and Pezold (formerly Mozart :)) Minuet in G in the spring recital.

I also put her in a scale book. She learned all the major scales one octave with cadence chords, and now I have her working on two octave scales and relative minors with cadence.

She enjoys most of what I've given her out of my old stash - William Gillock "New Orleans Jazz Styles" or "March of the Dominoes" or "Linus and Lucy." (She thought she might be interested in pop, so I let her borrow some of mine that she knew. She took it eagerly enough, but came back the next week and pronounced it "boring.") I just gave her a Sonatina book this week.

I've talked to my sister, and explained that my niece is ready for a different teacher, but they aren't willing and I see their point. My niece is taking high level academic courses in school, and is a competitive gymnast (level 7 or 8). Therefore, she needs a flexible teacher - like me. Someone who can let her come sometimes outside of studio hours, or who will let her skip a week, or understand when she has a busy week. So my sister has said, "Just do the best you can. Take her as far as you can, and then we'll quit." At this point, my sister is indulging my niece's interest, but doesn't see it as long-term.

Level 3 is usually around the time I begin transferring students to other teachers. I am much more comfortable with beginners.

So, given all that background, do you have any recommendations for me as to the best way to help my niece? I'm thinking to keep her in Piano Adventures because I like the "help" I get with the logical progression of theory, etc. What kind of supplements would be good - both in terms of pieces and technique / exercises?

The weaknesses I've noted have to do with touch, noticing legato, or dynamics, or phrasing, for instance - coming from her percussion background, I think. She has excellent rhythm, but has to be reminded to be musical. She - like many of us - doesn't pay as much attention to technical exercises as to her more melodic pieces, although she works hard on scales. Her fingering isn't always correct, but I'm kinda picky about that, so she's getting better.


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If you have her in Dev Artist Book 2, you could add more pieces from Bach's Anna Magdalena's Notebook. Burgmuller is also a great choice but may be too advanced for her; try Streabbog first. Clementi sonatinas are a must too.

For more supplemental music around that level I would suggest:

Melody Bober's 'Just For Fun' Bk 1 & 2 (girls usually love her lyrical music). Also check out some of her sheet music solos like 'Shadows on the Moon'; basically anything in the 'early intermediate' level.

Robert Schultz's 'Jazz and Blues' Bk 1

Christopher Goldston's 'Fantastic Fingers' series (maybe Bk 3)

'Meaghans' Melody' by Jennifer Linn

'Merlin's Dream' by Peggy Otwell


If she's 15, what about pop music? There are 'big note' and 'easy piano' versions of most current songs, including folios by Enya, Mamma Mia soundtrack, Phantom of the Opera, etc... Does she go to church? She might like to learn contemporary worship songs; again, available in easier versions.





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These are very helpful ideas. Thanks for taking the time to write them out for me. I have some, like the Bober books. I have some random Streaborg and Burgmuller - I'll have to look for them. I'll check out the rest next time I'm at a store.

I did just assign a Clementi Sonatina this past week. I saw on her piano at home some Big Note books (eg Phantom of the Opera), so I think she enjoys playing around with them. She hasn't brought them to lessons. We tried Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles", which is the one she thought was boring. I asked her if she wanted to try others, and she said maybe just stick with classical and jazz for now. (This is jazz by reading, not jazz by ear.) She does enjoy playing fast! I assigned her "New Orleans Nightfall" just to make her play something slow.

She does go to church; I'll have to think of some contemporary Christian music she might like that is doable (ie more than two chords...) She likes 10th Avenue North. She also loved learning an arrangement of Amazing Grace that I gave her.

Any suggestions for technique? I've used Fabers correlated books till now, but wondered if I should switch to something else. I learned on Hanon and Czerny, but not sure what is considered up to date.

I will keep her in the Faber lesson and theory books, but probably not use the others anymore. I do pull in my son when he is home, to help explain theory, since he is so much better at it than I am. Last time he was home, he showed her how to analyze a piece she was working on, using the circle of fifths, and explained relative, harmonic, and melodic minor scales to her - things I have learned, but tend to mix up when explaining. I'm trying to encourage her to take AP music theory at school next year.


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Lollipop, I have been fortunate enough to have a mentor and I've started back to lessons myself. Maybe there is someone in your area who teaches intermediate and advanced students who would let you take lessons and be your mentor. Anyway, it's great opportunity if it's available.


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Hi Lollipop,

Every girl should be lucky enough to have a generous and concerned aunt like you!

My favorite books for technique at the moment come from the "Pathways to Artistry" series by Catherine Rollin, published by Alfred. There are three levels, and each level has three books: technique, repertoire, and masterworks. The repertoire and masterworks books allow the student to apply the specific technical skills learned in the technique book with short, usually one-page pieces.

I've been tempted to skip Level One with non-beginners like your niece, but find there are gaps in learning if I do so. Level One would probably be sight-readable for her which is great, because then she can focus on the details. And the pieces are short enough and simple enough that they address the technique without taking up too much valuable lesson time.

I also recommend Reinagle's 24 Short and Easy Pieces and usually introduce Reinagle before the Clementi Sonatinas.

Best of luck!

Heidi

-----------

Edit - To help her hear herself better, do you have a way to record her playing?

Last edited by heidiv; 07/18/11 03:28 PM. Reason: Add a thought
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I only have a mini voice recorder that I use during lessons sometimes to help students hear rhythms and "audible" problems - like vocalizing during a piece, or starts and restarts, etc. Quality isn't great (grimace inducing to me; most of my students don't mind it) so it probably wouldn't work for artistry. But I like your idea - will have to think on that one.

Last edited by Lollipop; 07/18/11 03:49 PM.

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I really like the Faber series. To be honest, I'd consider switching her to the Adult All-In-One at this point (or near this point). The music store where you get your books may have a chart. I know one's available. I've seen it. It marks exactly what level in the book-at-a-time series parallels the adult series. Fourteen/fifteen is right on the cusp, for me, for when to move from the lesson books to the adult series, but if she's in AP classes, etc., then I think it's appropriate.

Past that, for more repertory, I've browsed the Celebration Series from time-to-time. Reviews here seem to be mixed, but it does offer a teacher companion AND a workbook, which would ease, I think, some of your discomfort for teaching the slightly higher levels. The repertoire is varied, and a little skewed towards contemporary/modern works, but interesting at least. (It looks like the books are basically divided into quarters - 1/4 baroque, 1/4 Classical, 1/4 Romantic, 1/4 Contemp./20th century. While a logician would tell you that's evenly distributed. I think most teachers would say that's a little heavy on the modern side.)

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Lollipop,

What a pleasant problem to have!

You have suggested that she find a teacher who is more accustomed to advancing students, and she has refused. Her refusal seems perfectly sensible, given her other activities and academic pursuits. So, she is not planning to be a professional pianist, but she wants to continue learning. Also, she seems to be a bit of a sponge, soaking up material faster than the norm. All to the good.

If she rapidly took to scales, why not introduce more advanced technical material. There are good exercises that would improve her technique, and if she likes these things (as a sort of game) then she could make very rapid progress indeed. There's the old McFarren scales and arpeggio manual, the Isidor Phillip exercises, and the tried and true (and often reviled) Hanon and/or Czerny. Hanon actually might be a very good coordination drill if used in .... moderation.

Why do you still need method books, except for occasional theoretical points? Why not plough into the literature?

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When I first started teaching her, I used an Adult book I had on hand - I think it was Alfred, along with the Faber. Mainly because I knew her background was choppy - she knew treble clef well from percussion, but was pretty clueless on bass. It took me awhile to figure out which things she knew, and what she didn't. Starting at the beginning of the Adult book and at least talking through things, even if they weren't assigned, helped me give her a broader base.

But along the way, I think we discovered she liked the set up of the "kids" books better.

I do want to move her into more literature, and she wants that, too. She wants to play showy stuff, so sees the lesson books as mostly a necessary evil. But the pieces are nice enough, but also short and manageable, and introduce technical issues bit by bit. Too, they help keep me from using a more shotgun approach, which has a tendency to leave messy holes! And the other nice thing about the Faber (or any method) books is that she can see progress. Moving from one level to the next tells her that she's learning - not just one more piece, but more skills.

And honestly, my knowledge of literature centers mostly around what I like, and what I enjoy playing. I haven't had reason to go outside of that very much for many years.

That aforementioned Alfred book had a single Hanon in it that gave her fits. But makes me think some more Hanon might be good for her. And she does like to play fast wink . I shall have to dig out my stack of Schirmers.


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she may enjoy an electric piano in her room. I like the adult all in ones. I love Hanon.. advanced hanon like lesson 60 in the 3rd book.. It's way cool, and builds up excellent sight reading and strength quickly... if explained.

I like the way old fashioned Thompson books introduce classical literature.


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I like Ann's suggestion of using this situation as an inspiration to do some exploring and developing yourself. If you find someone that you will enjoy studying with you may be able to introduce your neice to this mentor as well, maybe there will be some group classes that she could join. That way she can enjoy the best of both worlds, and you can enjoy the thrill of having someone listen to YOU for a change.

A while back I had a new student ask for lessons who was not a beginner. When she played for me in the first meeting I was bowled over. She played Beautifully! The crux of the matter was that the piece was more advanced than my most advanced student at the time, and she and parent were asking me to start at that point. After a quick internal dialogue I decided to admit "Um, I think she plays better than I do. I don't think I've ever played a piece quite as beautifully as that." Their response was "We really need a NICE teacher, you could improve her reading perhaps? She got to the point of HATING lessons with a perfectionist teacher, leaving was traumatic, we want something enjoyable, relaxed."

I realised that although my pianistic experience was a poor match for this student, at this point I was the right person to help her learn to love many aspects of lessons and learning blackened by negative experiences.

Sometimes you are the right teacher in spite of contraindications. Sounds like you and your neice are doing so well, all the best to you both smile


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I admire her passion. Mine has been slipping and that TV screen has been all mine most disappointingly. Now I pay the toll. Everything is off for me and now I have to quickly get back up on my feet to fix it. I don't know where my head went this summer but I am disappointed in myself. I never did care for piano adventures though. I am on the second book of the older beginner selections. Almost near the end of the book.


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Seconding the Rollins Pathways to Artistry.
Also - Christopher Norton's stuff is great - the Connections series looks really good, in particular. (I am also keen to start using the Repertoire and Etudes books in teh American Popular Piano series because they help a nervous teacher like me to teach improvisation in a logical and fun way appropriate to the student's standard). Unfortunately I have only just started using the Piano Adventures books myself (I susually teach from Alfred Premier Piano) so I'm not sure how the standard maps onto the books I've mentioned.

Good luck, it sounds like your niece is very lucky to have you for an aunt! laugh


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Originally Posted by Lollipop
She practices non-stop, to the point where her parents have to kick her off. (The piano is in the same room as the TV, and their priorities are not hers.)


Sounds like she could do with a digital piano & headphones in addition to the acoustic. Assuming her parents are able to spare the cash, it'd be useful for any repetitive exercises and give them extra TV viewing quiet time wink


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She very much wants a keyboard for her room. I've sent her a bunch of info. We are just working at getting her expectations down from digital piano (which is too expensive and won't fit in her room) to something more workable.

They have a bunch of TVs. One in the basement rec room, one in parents bedroom, etc. But for some reason, it is necessary for everyone to watch the one in the living room.


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She can go to Guitar Center and try out some cheap dps and get a passable 88 key Casio for $3-400 dollars. I have a cdp-100 at work under my desk and it does not mess up my playing on my acoustic.

Make sure they dont get her a nonweighted keyboard. Have her ask for birthday and Christmas money and save up or something.

Old stuff around the house etc. Can add up on Ebay too. I wish her the best.


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Yes, we have one of those Casios. (Son has it with him.) $3-400 is not necessarily pocket change for her - I think it is the direction she is headed, but it may take awhile.


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craigslist with patience (and a car). I've gotten such incredible deals.


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Lollipop. Glad she has you looking out for her. Reminds me of the movie "Matilda" wink
(Child in the movie is an overachiever, parents don't appreciate her talent/drive, benevolent teacher comes in and mentors her etc.) Not bad-mouthing her parents. I wish I had an aunt like you as I wanted to take lessons as a child and my parents said no because piano lessons would "turn me gay." (We were too poor for lessons or a piano, lived in a trailer-court, etc.) Consequently I didn't start lessons until age 37 in 2009.


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I feel like I'm getting too much praise for something pretty easy to do. I spend 30 minutes a week one on one with my niece, whose company I enjoy, sharing one of my passions with her, which she absorbs willingly. What's not to like?

My sister and her husband are both highly educated and well-enough off. But they tend to pursue athletic hobbies. Gymnastics, tennis, shooting range, gym.... those are all good. My niece is also bright and athletic. Gymnast. Can shoot with the best of them. Just happened to get the music gene, too. My sister had piano lessons growing up and did well. She remembers nothing. She rarely practiced, but was bright enough to make it look like she did. I think she's really rather proud of her daughter, but just doesn't understand it and isn't ready to switch gears so drastically. Bringing her to me once a week is sort of a compromise.


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