Assessing Experience; Lesson Content Ideas
Sheri R., California
I have a student who will be starting with 8 years experience, not a great reader, usually reads just enough to figure out a piece and then just plays it from memory. I need to know how to excel an advanced student. Does one still teach every piece, just more at a time? Can I start the reading sooner than level 3 or 4? Anything anyone can offer as far as teaching advanced students with traditional backgrounds would be very much appreciated.
Dorothy H., Australia
I have a few students who have played before, and I would firstly say that you should make sure they understand that they will be expected to begin with Level 1 (no reading) and proceed step by step, even though the early pieces might seem “easy” to them. This is because they are learning a “new way of learning”. They have to agree not to learn any songs from the ‘music’ book (you could offer to keep this book for them in case they feel tempted to use it!).
You should try to assess their reading skills (don’t go by what they tell you they can do!) – check sight-reading of very high and very low notes, rhythm (tied notes, dotted notes), knowledge of chords (put some sheet music in front of them, and see how they fare with the chords). Find out if they compose their own music, or improvise. If they do compose or improvise, you can make this a part of their lessons (ie. you listen to their compositions and add ‘complete’ pieces with titles to their Playlist). If they don’t, you could set them little composition projects from time to time, and help them to get started. From playing something for you, you can see if there are some issues that you could address to improve their overall playing (such as using the pedal), or to make them feel more comfortable at the keyboard. This way you get a good profile of the student, and you can devise a specific strategy for them. Neil has helped me several times in this way.
So in a typical case, you would probably cover the first 2 or 3 songs in the first lesson. Next lesson you can teach the Variations on these songs, a new song, and then play Dreams Arr. 1 and Night Storm Arr. 1 with the student as a duet, and teach him these. This student can then play duets with other students who come before or after him for lessons, and also at concerts. You can follow this approach, ie. a new song or 2, Variation of last week’s new song(s), and Arrangements of previous songs. When you begin Level 2, introduce the Accompaniment program too. There is so much material.
As I understand it, the Reading should only be introduced when the student has covered at least the first 3 levels. I am only now, after nearly 7 months of teaching, about to start teaching a couple of students the Reading Rhythm program!
Sheri R., California
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. What you wrote is very helpful. But I have more questions! Unfortunately I’m not a great reader (yet!), in spite of 6 years of traditional lessons. I can’t wait to increase my reading ability by learning the SM way of reading.
One of my worries with students with a number of years training is that I will give them songs to learn when we get further into the program and they can start reading some songs of their choosing and I won’t be learning the same songs due to time constraints, and I won’t know from listening and watching if they are hitting all the right notes at the right time, not to mention how to teach technique. (I’m thinking of taking lessons myself to learn how to teach that when the time comes). I’m through Level 4 and still more advanced than my most advanced students and haven’t had that problem yet, but I know it’s coming, especially as I begin to take on students with many years of experience. Basically I will be learning right alongside my students as they get further into the program.
How many years previous training has your most advanced student had and has it been a challenge at all to get them to stick with the SM method through Level 4 or 5? Does anyone ever want to go back to the old way because of the seeming simplicity of the pieces or at least to do it side-by-side? With previously trained students what issues have arisen and how have you dealt with them? So far I’m not having any problems with the total beginners but am clearly somewhat worried about my ability to contribute to the others.
I think bottom line is how much more advanced do I have to be than my most advanced student? If people have students that are more advanced than they are, how do you deal with the above described issues? Thanks again to anyone out there for taking the time, whenever you find it, no huge hurry.
Cathy H., California
I have 4 groups right now and am working on putting together 3 more. Each has a variety of students in it. Some with several years prior experience and some with none at all. Because the method is so different, I have had no problem with mixing levels of experience.
I have never had a student return to traditional lessons because they liked it better.
My most advanced student has had – believe it or not – 20 years of piano. She is quick to learn but doesn’t practice much, she’s in the program because she couldn’t memorize, so I work with her on that. I have another student with 8 years experiences and several with 1 or more. The interesting thing about all my students with prior experience is that their reading skills are all fairly poor and not one of them can read a rhythm track. To me that is a big concern.
I use the Arrangements all the time — they are a great for students with prior experience.