Shelly E., Utah
I have a quick question about the Arrangements program. Will every student eventually learn all of these? I know that the Foundation songs are absolutely ALL essential for learning and knowing but what about the arrangements? I thought they were but some how I got confused the other day when doing some “training.”
Robin T., Tennessee
I would have to say that the arrangements are some of my favorite pieces. It does take a while for the students to understand because there are no notes for it. But, I just teach a small piece at a time. I do have some students that I have held off teaching it to, simply because they are struggling with the foundation (mostly a PRACTICE issue). However, when I teach the arrangements, I always emphasize that the “progressions” can be used in so many other things. It opens up a whole world in terms of composition and improvisation. I have to say that my absolute favorite (and many of my students) is Night Storm1. And, they are so excited to see that they take the same concept to create the Fur Elise arrangement as well.
I have acquired a number of people from the music industry (being here in Nashville) and these are their favorite songs. They take them home and start writing their own stuff. Just changing the key, mixing the progressions, etc. In fact, I have a somewhat famous (Grammy Winning) artist that I’m teaching and she actually tried to talk me into letting her take home the teacher music book! I scolded her, of course, and said she knew them and didn’t need the music. But, she plays for hours and has written some new stuff based off of the arrangements. I think if you show it to students in that aspect, they really embrace it!
Cindy B., Illinois
Shelly, my goal is to teach them all to every student, but realistically some won’t share my goal. For instance, in a shared lesson, I have one boy who has forgotten several arrangements – I may never have the opportunity to re-teach those, as his lesson mate has retained every arrangement we’ve learned. In another lesson, it has taken 1 year to teach Dreams 1. Lady in her 70’s who is a worst case scenario as far as bugging me for extra notes etc. I continue to refuse, and she continues to have trouble. But – aim to teach all of them – even when it seems that an arrangement is just like another, and could be considered expendable – the mere fact that TWO beautiful arrangements can be done using a simple technique has its own value in teaching a student that the tools they learn are valuable forever with any song.
I agree with Cindy’s sentiments and teach every arrangement to every student . Every student or group of students may not learn them at the same rate, or necessarily in the same order.
I look at the arrangements (along with all of the other supplemental programs) as the branches, leaves and seeds of the SM program, with the trunk of the tree being the Foundation program. The fruits are the student’s ability to self-generate. The extent to which the parts of the tree are developed directly relate to the fruit of the tree.
It may be a little too philosophical, but it is the best I can come up with *LOL*
Victoria S., California
Yes, everyone eventually learns all the arrangements, but students will go at different paces with them. I weave them into the classes along with the foundation songs from the very start. I don’t worry about how long it takes them to learn the arrangements and I let them know that they are going to forget as there are no support materials, that this is by design, and that their memory will expand like a muscle that starts out weak but gets stronger with use. If they are having a hard time with a particular one, I back off and come back to it later. Eventually, they do get it.
Mark M., New York
I’m curious to know what notions people have about this particular sub-topic that’s come up, the notion that some students may remember certain arrangements while others forget them. Cindy mentions possibly never having the opportunity to re-teach them to the students who’d gotten behind.
Perhaps this is okay, because the main purpose of arrangements/variations is memory stretching while their function as repertoire builders is incidental and therefore dispensable?
Even if it might be okay to let them slide but especially if we may think it’s not okay, perhaps there are some strategies for “getting them back” so that all students in the end might have them all? E.g., supplementary private lessons, or having the other students take on teaching them to their fellow students between lessons, etc. Thoughts?
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
What I like to do is have fellow students re-teach them at the lesson. The teaching student gets to exercise their playing-based muscles by reverting back to how he learned the piece. It doesn’t have to take up much lesson time – just review a small portion of the arrangement. Often if it is an arr. that was learned, then forgotten, it will come back fairly quickly anyway.
A supplemental lesson (at extra cost, of course) is always an option, and a motivator to stay on top of things in the first place.
Sue C., Australia
Before beginning an arrangement the students should be playing the foundation song and any variation/s easily. The arrangement will not become part of the student’s repertoire until it is a single thought process following after these two prior steps. In a private lesson this is easier to handle, but in shared lessons, the slower student will be expanded just by observing and enjoying others playing arrangements. A suggestion is to get the slower student playing the foundation song while a student who can play the arrangement plays along accompanying the foundation song where this is appropriate. This way even the slower student can be part of the process.
I don’t have to ride a motor bike in order to appreciate the experience to a lesser degree. Maybe after several simulated rides, I would be prepared to get on a bike.
Mark M., New York
I really appreciate these thoughts. I feel like maybe I’ve heard this advice before but maybe it didn’t quite sink in just how useful it is to wait on arrangements until after both the regular and variation pieces are in good shape first.
When I started my first batch of students, I feel like I waited too long to start arrangements — near the very end of Level 1. With the second wave in February, I’d acted on advice to start them very early and feel like it was probably too early. I’d recently made the decision to hold off for a middle ground now with my third wave that just started, and your advice here really makes things click for me.
Dreams Variation on D is the ideal first variation to do, of course, because it’s identical fingering and so actually reinforces the
original piece even as it slowly moves students into working on memory pieces. I think I’ll be starting the first arrangement after
Honey Dew with this third wave of students. By then, I’ll have taught Dreams, Storm and Honey Dew along with their variations, so Dream + its variation will be very solid, the notion of memory pieces in general will be familiar with those initial smaller steps, plus there will have been the chord work on Jackson Blues and Honey Dew, and the accompaniment together-right introduction with Honey Dew. I feel like all of these factors combine to make Dreams Arrangement #1 a very natural extension at that point.
I totally get there are no right answers to when to start arrangements, but at least from my experience and at least with typical students, this feels like a nice balance creating a natural path into starting arrangements.
Kevin M., California
Hi Mark, two things come to mind as I’ve read your emails regarding arrangements. Number one, if you haven’ already purchased Gordon’s Teacher workshop series TW Arrangements 1 & 2, I highly recommend it. Without exception this tool will be invaluable in not only answering some of the questions you’ve written lately, but will provide an ease and confidence and enormous success in teaching the arrangements yourself.
Also as with any song the Playlist is the key! Obviously if the teacher is keeping on top of the play list, checking it visually on a
regular basis and of course hearing the songs, including arrangements played during the lesson, there will never be a case where a student has learned a song or arrangement and later forgotten it.
Hope this helps, good luck, the arrangements are an invaluable part of the program and make a huge difference in the later levels, four and up on the students ease of learning more complex songs.
Shelly E., Utah
I actually think that Dreams A2 is a great first arrangement piece to introduce. Even my younger students, ages 6-8, have taken to it very easily for the most part, and had it down in about 3 weeks. I introduced it right after Honey Dew. There is no new learning in the RH because it’s just Dreams variation in d. And the “together, Right, together, right” is just like Honey Dew. Dreams A1, I think, is much more challenging to many students (especially younger ones) because of the awkward Rh chord when the fingers need to stretch. I think Honey Dew A1 will likely be the next one I’m going to teach, and now looking at it, it’s probably the one of the most simplest of them all.
Which arrangement do you all like to introduce first?
Barbara M., New Jersey
Here is the order I usually use: (all the Level 1 Variations first)
Jackson 1 Humpty Dumpty
Fur Elise 1 and 2