Development Levels


What to do with student who has completed Level 18

QuestionQuestion
Anna J., Canada

What do you do once a student completes level 18? I have one who is closing in on that milestone and it’s both exciting and terrifying! We still have lots we can do in Jazz, Blues Improv, and Accompaniment, but what do you source for more “regular” playing material? He’s a very bright and gifted player and is certainly keeping me on my toes. But we’ve also not explored much outside of the curriculum. Suggestions on how to navigate this transition?

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Cate R., Australia

I believe that at this stage he should be self-generating. What music does he like to play? Does he compose? Has he got music books at home he wants to learn from?

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Gordon Harvey, Australia

In all the years that the 18-level program has been available, I’ve never had anyone reach the end! That’s not to say you’ve done the wrong thing with this student. It depends very much on the student. I have a few students who would have reached the end of the Development program by now, except that they’ve worked on projects outside and alongside the curriculum for a long time. I think they probably started on that from around Development 11. That, of course, will make it a breeze when they do reach the end of the program – they’ll be used to sourcing their own material.

I don’t know if your student has already been working on outside pieces (in which case he’s a real star to have learned all the SM pieces and more), or he hasn’t ventured outside SM pieces. If the former, the transition will hopefully involve just doing what he’s been doing, but more of it. If the latter, you will need to encourage him to find pieces that he’s like to work on, or find some yourself. In any case, the key will be for you to know if the chosen pieces are at an appropriate level. If you play things right, it will occur very much like working through the Development program – a mix of relatively simple pieces that can be finished fairly quickly, and more challenging projects that will unfold over an extended time, in parallel with the simpler ones (and other projects as you’ve suggested). The trick will be to make the simpler ones not too simple (so they are not boring) and make sure the more challenging ones can still be completed within an agreed time frame. That time frame could be a long one (I have a student who has been working on one piece for the best part of two years). The main thing is that the student understands that it will take a long time, and that you are still guiding him in areas like choosing appropriate dosages, knowing when to move forward, etc.

I think the one difference could be that the student will have well and truly earned the privilege of focusing on musical styles he likes. If he’s into classical, he can look mostly for classical pieces, etc – but, as always, you have the final say on what he works on.

QuestionQuestion
Anna J., Canada

We haven’t done a great deal of repertoire outside of the curriculum…he’s been very motivated to “complete” the series. And frankly, I’ve found it easy enough to follow that lead and not have to source out other material. We’ve definitely discussed some ideas for future projects, and his interests lean toward classical repertoire. What sorts of projects have you and/or your students enjoyed working on at this level?

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Gordon Harvey, Australia

Mostly students have found their own material. The single most popular one would have to be The Entertainer. That’s good because if you hunt around you can find versions at different levels of difficulty. If they’ve reached the end of Level 18, they could tackle the full original version, but alternatively, you could start with a simpler version for a quicker result. If so, make sure it’s in the original key, because later they can build up to the full version.

If they’re into classical, a good source is the book Library of Piano Classics.

Another thing I love about this level is how you can draw things together. I have a current student who is working on Bohemian Rhapsody. The version he’s using includes the chords and a piano arrangement. He’s using his reading skills and his accompaniment skills to create his own hybrid arrangement.

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Laurie Richards, Nebraska

I’ve taken several students through Level 18, and there are plenty of projects to keep them busy throughout the Development levels and beyond. Really, Levels 11-18 are simply small repertoire books with 3-5 songs each. You can simply continue with new repertoire of their own choosing, or recommend some. Here are some things I’ve done with the other streams well into Development levels:

Jazz – you can never be ‘finished’. It takes a long time to get through Jazz Clues. After that, you can apply the same tools using Fake Books, and students can start creating their own solo arrangements.

Accompaniment – again, always stuff to explore. I’ve had students create solo arrangements here as well using lead sheets. RH plays the melody and adds some harmony notes underneath using their knowledge of chords; LH plays octaves or just a single bass note or whatever.

Comp & Improv – a million possibilities. One thing I’ve done is assign students to transcribe their own compositions. This can be quite challenging depending on the composition.

Blues & Improv – so many projects + 12 keys + improv component = infinite possibilities

Another fun area to explore is using Garage Band or midi keyboard to create some really unique sounds.

I know not everyone is comfortable with these kinds of projects. Before I started teaching SM, I wouldn’t have had a clue about anything I just mentioned. I only knew how to read really well and had an interest in music theory.

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Kym N., California

These reading projects (development level and students’ own choice) and Jazz will take lots of lesson time. I listened to the teacher audio resource regarding this area quite a few times but it is still a mystery to me how it works especially in a group setting, unless all the students are very motivated.