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Hello all,

I thought other piano teachers would find this interesting, a thesis from the same University I did my Bachelor of Music at - there is a strong presence in piano pedagogy there owing to the research laboratory that was installed during my degree roughly a decade ago.

http://web5.uottawa.ca/www9/pianola...ions/Methods/Lu_Yuanyuan_2012_thesis.pdf

For those curious here is a link to the lab itself.
http://web5.uottawa.ca/www9/pianolab/?page_id=180

I am curious to know the impressions of others, as, having a knack for software development I discovered during that degree (leading to a 2nd degree in computer science), I am developing new piano learning software that is being designed to be the ultimate methodology in efficiency and interactivity.

I am curious as to the opinions of other teachers as to what the "ideal piano method series" would look like. I am aware that pacing is probably the primary issue, as many of the old methods did not have this quality and would jump in complexity without warning.

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Different curriculum works better/worse with different students. I don't think there is a single ideal because there's not a single uniform student. So in your software pace would need to be changeable if you want to mirror what teachers are doing with their students. Otherwise you can target the broad middle and just decide that your software isn't for the really smart or really slow students.

I think great teachers (whether they realize it or not) are actually designing the curriculum for each of their students, often using commercially available method books. I think most good teachers could do without the method series altogether. It would, however, be more work and I'm not sure what the gain would be - so it makes sense to use them.


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Originally Posted by musicpassion


I think great teachers (whether they realize it or not) are actually designing the curriculum for each of their students, often using commercially available method books.


Lovely observation! I think we are all too rooted in method books, though they serve a purpose. And give the beginner a sense of progress.

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Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
Originally Posted by musicpassion


I think great teachers (whether they realize it or not) are actually designing the curriculum for each of their students, often using commercially available method books.


Lovely observation! I think we are all too rooted in method books, though they serve a purpose. And give the beginner a sense of progress.
Thanks! And I agree they serve a good purpose. I always use them with beginners, and I also use them strictly sequentially. There are some teachers who successfully teach beginners without them, but most of the time when I take a transfer student that didn't work in a method series (or skipped around too much) there are some serious gaps to address. If someone is going to teach without any method series they would need a very strong understanding of the desired scope and sequence (whether they call it that or not).

I'm teaching a beginning student right now who is significantly outside the box - not in a bad way, but this has made me learn more about what I'm actually doing while I'm teaching. I find there is a whole lot underneath the decisions we make.


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Originally Posted by musicpassion
There are some teachers who successfully teach beginners without them, but most of the time when I take a transfer student that didn't work in a method series (or skipped around too much) there are some serious gaps to address.

I've noticed the same problems among the horrid transfer students. This is actually a rampant problem, mostly due to the proliferation of "music schools" that hire underqualified teachers to teach beginners.

Originally Posted by musicpassion
If someone is going to teach without any method series they would need a very strong understanding of the desired scope and sequence (whether they call it that or not).

I completely agree.


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Originally Posted by kcoul058
I am developing new piano learning software that is being designed to be the ultimate methodology in efficiency and interactivity.

There is no such thing as the "ultimate methodology." You might write a computer-based method series that highlights efficiency and interactivity, but I would never call it the "ultimate methodology"--that just sounds bad.

Originally Posted by kcoul058
I am curious as to the opinions of other teachers as to what the "ideal piano method series" would look like.

One that has interesting music all the way through. No clunkers.

Originally Posted by kcoul058
I am aware that pacing is probably the primary issue, as many of the old methods did not have this quality and would jump in complexity without warning.

No, pacing is by far NOT the primary issue. That's why good teachers stop using those old methods. Among the more recent methods, pacing is more or less the same. Talented students can speed through any method book series, while the average students can benefit from having several supplementary books at each level. In fact, the sheer volume of available music at each purported level means that the slowest of the slow students will have an abundance of interesting music to play, for many years, even if they never advance past book 2A.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
One that has interesting music all the way through. No clunkers.

+1


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Thanks to everyone for their fantastic replies. I remember there being some great minds here back when I was a regular haunt during my undergrad days, glad to see that hasn't changed.

I agree that my terminology was probably a bit over the top - I meant "ultimate" more in how I hope to have the software/methodology evolve over decades to come, certainly not how it will start out. I want to leverage the advantages of software by making an adaptive method that challenges the brightest students and provides additional material to weaker students.

As someone who has historically talked endlessly about my plans for things before they are anywhere near complete, I'll leave it at that for now. I've almost finished the Primer method so I want the work to speak for itself.

I look forward to sharing a link to these digital method books once they are finished. I hope they will be unlike anything I have found on the market so far.

PS: Regarding the consensus towards interesting music inside the methods - I am planning to compose a fair amount of the pieces myself, coming from a background in composition. I feel like modal music is terribly under-represented compared to the usual major/minor fare, although methods like Piano Adventures are at least a bit more adventurous (pun intended) than the old standards like Alfred.

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I highly recommend not composing too many of the pieces, despite what may be an excellent background in composition. Rather, I would ask other composers to collaborate.

Otherwise, the book risks sounding monotone. I know it will help to vary the meter, rhythm, or other aspects of music, but your voice will eventually tire the student.

Ideally, each composer would only compose four or five pieces in a primer.



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Originally Posted by kcoul058
PS: Regarding the consensus towards interesting music inside the methods - I am planning to compose a fair amount of the pieces myself, coming from a background in composition."


I certainly encourage you to compose, but I have found my attempts to compose elementary pieces for children to be the most difficult compositional endeavor of all. Almost no one has succeeded at this, and every publication on the market provides the awful truth.

And I encourage you to 'test drive' each of your compositions (no exceptions) on at least a dozen students before publishing. To my consternation, I have found that tunes I thought children might find interesting do not interest them at all. Or what I am certain is easy to grasp for smaller hands has other hidden problems for them I did not foresee: the only way to find out is to put it to the test several times over.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I find the "Easy Piano" books have the most awkward keyboard writing to be found anywhere in the literature. Very often a simplified version of a composition is more difficult for a hand to grasp than the original. The majority of dumbed-down arrangements present the beginning student with strange hand positions, hollow gaps in voicing due to eliminating notes, and a general dullness of overall effect.

Publishers do not always 'get it' that fewer notes on the page does not necessarily make a composition easier to play. Classic example: students and publishers who presume that Satie's three Gymnopedie must be very easy to play because they are so spare and slow moving. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A common and spectacularly stupid mistake I see arrangers continually making is to put both melody and supporting chord in the right hand (with maybe only a bass note for the left hand) thus requiring the right hand to jump from one position to another with every note of the melody. I am left to wonder if the publisher might be W.C. Fields or some other sadistic comic.

Another annoyance in the elementary stage is when arrangers take a melody and redistribute it between both right and left hands that complicates the left/right brain coordination with which they are already struggling. There is no sublime teaching wisdom in this approach; it is flatly inane.

As you can see I am on a rant about this, but when I go through the hopeless search for new teaching music I encounter these same problems hundreds upon hundreds of times over and it is truly tiresome.

But my complaints about publishers aside, I wish you all success in your enterprise!




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Originally Posted by Jonathan Baker
Another annoyance in the elementary stage is when arrangers take a melody and redistribute it between both right and left hands that complicates the left/right brain coordination with which they are already struggling. There is no sublime teaching wisdom in this approach; it is flatly inane.

I originally thought, too, this was the dumbest idea in the world, as a transfer student came to me with one of these arranged books and couldn't play his way out of the forest. But that was because he was so poorly taught in the first place, and that his previous teacher used this book's interesting melodies to "motivate" him to play piano.

On the other hand, some of my other students are really enjoying these arrangements! I think it depends on the reading level of the kid. There is definitely a place for these popular arrangements.


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To the OP:

Please don't compose more stuff for beginners. Yikes. There's already an ocean full of beginner stuff out there, and most of it is utter, utter, utter garbage. Even a superb composer like Kabalevsky is hit-and-miss when it comes to writing for children. If you want to write more stuff for kids, it'll be just another drop of water in the ocean.

It's HARD to write good music for children.

You might want to sample what's already out there. Go through all the major method book series, and then dig up some out-of-print stuff from the library as well. A more worthy endeavor for you might be to pool together all the GREAT stuff that's already written and compile a worthy, computer-based anthology.

But, again, that anthology idea has been done before.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano

On the other hand, some of my other students are really enjoying these arrangements! I think it depends on the reading level of the kid. There is definitely a place for these popular arrangements.


I agree, most definitely. I am delighted to teach any style of music as long as it helps me guide the students into forward motion.

Although I am identified as a 'classical musician' I am an unabashed fan of all manner of 'pop music' of every decade of the past hundred years.

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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
T
Please don't compose more stuff for beginners. Yikes. There's already an ocean full of beginner stuff out there, and most of it is utter, utter, utter garbage. Even a superb composer like Kabalevsky is hit-and-miss when it comes to writing for children. If you want to write more stuff for kids, it'll be just another drop of water in the ocean.

It's HARD to write good music for children.



Have you heard the pieces of Khachaturian?

 http://asmolovskiy-sergey.narod.ru/music/Elena_Filonova-Childrens_Albums/CD3/21._Sonatina_Allegro_giocoso.mp3

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Originally Posted by Nahum
Have you heard the pieces of Khachaturian?

Yes.


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This is also excellent advice. Indeed, like other methods you find out there, I would probably limit myself to composing no more than 5-10% of the total material.

What I would like to do is secure rights to some game/anime/etc music that also breaks out of that traditional stylistic trap, and reinforces how I'd like to make the methods more relevant to modern music enthusiasts who don't identify with the traditional songs as much any more.

It would lead to extra overhead, but I think the rights to some older media would be fairly inexpensive to license/pay royalties for compared to current/recent pop/rock/movie music that many publishers end up using.

At any rate, I have a fair bit of work to do before I worry about the details of the content.

That said, I wouldn't think of putting in simplifications of more complex music at all - like with simplified versions on Guitar Hero or Rock Band, for a musician who knows the full version, having all these gaps makes it almost harder to play than the full version.

All the included content should stand by its own right, even if there is auto accompaniment to make it sound more complete.

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Originally Posted by kcoul058
What I would like to do is secure rights to some game/anime/etc music that also breaks out of that traditional stylistic trap, and reinforces how I'd like to make the methods more relevant to modern music enthusiasts who don't identify with the traditional songs as much any more.
Launching a grass roots project (which is what this sounds like) could take many years before you have any market penetration (if that ever happens). My point is this: the student you are writing for hasn't been born yet, so if you pick something that is new and "trendy" now, it will be ancient history by the time your target student gets their hands on it.


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Thanks for the accurate reply.

What I am working on is not quite a grassroots project at all, but something a little bit different. The idea is to do away with the "fixed" nature of method books in general and use a modular approach that stays relevant by treating pieces of music as a type of data.

This means that there are quite a few pieces of music that are equally suitable for teaching a first lesson on half notes, 6/8 rhythm, or whatever lesson topic you'd like to introduce.

The better teachers already do this sort of thing anyways - tailor personalized methods to students to meet their relative strengths and weaknesses.

What I am talking about here is a design for an intelligent method book system that is dynamic in nature and makes the best possible use of data science.

It would have been a difficult problem to solve in the past but is becoming increasingly feasible with advances in music technology.

When talking about such ideas years ago before this became evident, I met a lot of resistance from very traditional piano pedagogues while taking my Bachelor of Music degree.

The understandable reaction was that technology would be creeping in somewhere it doesn't belong - a long established and human tradition of teaching music. No matter how inefficient it could be proven to be, why change something that works reasonably well?

Anyways, I've gotten a lot of good feedback here already, the original topic I suppose was meant to see if others were interested in reading the thesis and discussing the relative merits of different methods. I'm still trying to tackle the fundamental problem of what exactly is the very most efficient way of teaching music to beginners, but since the time of opening this thread I've been able to form some strong conclusions in that regard.

One thing it's not - is what I saw many other teachers do at the less serious music schools I used to teach as a part time job during my degree - presenting a "grab bag" of pieces somewhat increasing in difficulty and hoping the student "gets it". I saw lots of failures in recitals due to pitfalls in pedagogical approaches such as this.

I think one conclusion that's for sure - if not done properly, a technologically-assisted way of learning piano can be much worse than the traditional way of learning. If done, it has to be done exactly right.

So what this project actually is, is something that has been in development for nearly a decade but has laid low since there was no way of doing it right until various things came along (tablets, low latency hardware, fast real-time computation, and above all, good methods for data science).

Hopefully one day soon we could have an open library of intelligently-rendered public domain sheet music that is accessible to all, and a way of accessing the library from a wide variety of digital and digitally-enabled acoustic pianos.


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