Found in: About The Method
Robin Keehn, Washington
Since my email last night regarding the “Swim Coach” reference to teaching students who play better than you do, I’ve had a couple of emails asking about what exactly “Self-Generating” or “generative” teaching or learning is.
What it means, in a nutshell, is the ability to figure something out on your own. Being self-generative could be as simple as developing the skills to improvise or compose. It could also mean that you have developed the ability to look at a piece of music and understand what is happening in it–specifically, seeing the rhythm patterns, the sentences, the chords, the relationship between LH and RH, noticing the shape of an unusual chord and having your attention on how you would remember it. This applies especially when you have students reading music. Your ability to see these things will help you guide them through their own discoveries.
When we have our FIS, we always talk about the four stated goals of SM, one being to develop students who can self-generate. I always clarify that because I know people don’t know what I mean. I say, “If I asked you to go home and read a book tonight, you could probably do that. If I asked you to go home and WRITE a book tonight, that would be a completely different thing.” We are so used to being told exactly what to do. In piano, it’s the same thing. Without learning the playing-based tools and strategies that students acquire in SM, they would be less likely to develop generatively. They might rely on a teacher to SHOW them what to do for a very long time.
With the learning tools and strategies in SM, students are given the tools to see for themselves what is contained in the music and the ability to figure it out for themselves–to self-generate. They learn the tools and strategies in the Foundation Levels. They apply them as they learn Arrangements. They apply them again when they are reading music.
Natalie L., Utah
I am a bit confused about sorting out in my mind all the things that fill in the “square” of teaching, around the “circle” that is the foundation program.
Right now I am training on the accompaniment program, the comp and improve program and the level 2 foundation and arrangements. I realize that the foundation level material in each lesson represents the circle and the other things are what fill in the square around the circle. However I am not understanding the difference or how to differentiate rather, the different programs. I have heard terms tossed around like special programs, streaming etc. I am trying to 1) clarify what these things are officially termed, so I can get it right, and 2) find out what I am supposed to be telling parents timing wise on how often to plan to pay for these “other” programs. Can you help me clarify those two things?
Robin Keehn, Washington
I think it is just a matter of defining all of these things.
The “streams” are all the projects that run along side of the Foundation Level pieces. The “streams” to which we refer are initially Comp and Improv, Arrangements and Accompaniment. As you progress into Levels 4-6, those “streams” also include Reading Rhythm, Reading Notes, Time for More Music, Accompaniment Variations (rhythmic in nature), the Christmas Accompaniment Program, etc… I used to call them “Special Programs” but they are each an integral part of the curriculum. I refer to them by name in class, never calling them supplemental or optional or special.
When I talk to parents about these programs at the FIS, I tell them that they can expect to buy new Foundation materials about every quarter and that a few times a year they will be purchasing other components of the curriculum that will cost around an additional $50-70 per year. I think that if you let them know before they ever enroll and it is clear that these programs are a part of the Simply Music curriculum, they will be on board.
You, of course, have to see the value and importance of teaching Comp and Improv, Arrangements and Accompaniment. You have to see that these components provide your students with a well-rounded, comprehensive music education that is going to develop them into capable, confident musicians who can do anything.
Shanta H., Minnesota
Just to chime in on this topic, Here is an email I wrote recently to a parent who put on an evaluation that she wanted more info on why Comp and Improv were important. She wasn’t being difficult, she just genuinely didn’t understand. This is a mom that wants to know everything about everything, which makes her a really great coach.
You were wondering about why composition and improvisation are important. There is some good information on this in the Curriculum Overview, and in my mind it’s the difference between being self-sufficient (with piano and sheet music eventually), and self-generative. To me generative means creating your own music as well as playing other people’s music well. Simply Music is truly a well-rounded music education and its stated goal is to produce self-generative musicians. If we go back to the learning music being like learning to talk metaphor, you expect someone with a command of a language to not only be able to read out loud and memorize lines, but to just talk and have conversations, or to speak about a particular subject without preparing lines to read (improvisation). You also expect them to be able to write speeches or stories or reports competently (composition). A person doesn’t have full command of a language until they can do all these things.
Being able sit down and just play an improvisation is a tremendous gift, an emotional release, a way to explore the kinds of sounds you like to create, etc. Composition goes hand in hand – you want to be able to preserve some of the stories you tell on the piano. Can you imagine a more precious gift than having a song written for or about you? Composition and improvisation also complement and feed other areas of the curriculum. Genres like the Blues and Jazz don’t work without a certain amount of creation involved – when did Miles Davis ever play something by rote? Accompaniment and reading lead sheets also requires comfort creating in the later stages – we don’t want to be playing plain ol’ 1:2 and 1:3 all our lives. Musicians playing baroque and classical music are expected to add in their own ornaments to spice up melodic lines – back in the day they were expected to improvise them on the spot!
Original discussion started June 14, 2012