Level 8 – Food for Thought
Robin Keehn, Washington
I have taught Level 8 to dozens of students over the past six years or so. I recall that the first time I was surprised by some of the songs–thinking they were not as challenging (at first glance) as I expected them to be. I actually think there is more to Level 8 than meets the eye and I think there is more to how students feel about it.
My real feeling about Level 8 or Level 5 or any level or project is that our attitudes are directly reflected by our students. What I mean is that my personal feelings about something tend to color my approach or my attitude. In a positive example, although playing by ear has always been my access to playing instruments, having gone through the Simply Music reading program has transformed my experience in reading music. I have grown to love reading because of all of the discoveries that are made when I apply my learning tools and strategies (from the Foundation pieces, arrangements and Accompaniment, especially). I see a new piece of music and immediately think, “What is going on here and how can I piece this puzzle together?” My point is that my attitude toward reading music is the same attitude my students have adopted. I’d say that 95% of my students approach reading with enthusiasm and enjoy their discoveries.
Conversely, my negative feelings or lack of enthusiasm are noted in the attitudes of my students, as are my strengths and weaknesses. If I really don’t enjoy teaching a piece, my students don’t enjoy learning it or playing it. Students or parents will complain, either verbally or with body language (arms folded across their bodies, no eye contact, shrugging of shoulders, etc).
We send a huge message to our students in our enthusiasm or our lack thereof. My thought is that if you, as a teacher, think, for example, that there isn’t value in the home audio tracks, you won’t assign projects to your students that use the audio and they will, in turn, not see it as a valuable part of the SHM. If you don’t think that arrangements are important, you will resist teaching them and when you do, it will be half-heartedly. You won’t remember to hear them on the playlist and they will disappear. You’ll eventually stop teaching arrangements because you don’t really like them and you don’t really understand how critical they are in the development of the musician.
Level 8, no matter if it’s your favorite level or least favorite, is a purposeful part of the SM curriculum. Each of the pieces has it’s own set of learning strategies. Some pieces are easier than others—which you will find in every level, including the Development Levels 10-18. Some present challenges that you won’t recognize until you teach them. As always, Level 8 will only be one part of each lesson. You will be working on reading pieces that you sources for your students, more advanced accompaniment (fills, variations, inversions), comp and improv, and possibly the Jazz program. Your students can be well into arranging music at this point, too.
As to the question of only five pieces in a book….this book will still take you three to six months to complete, especially if you are following the formula of teaching multiple projects. The value is in the whole experience, not just how many pieces are in a particular book. Your students should be engaged in a multi-faceted musical experience that builds their skills and broadens their musicianship.
My approach to any level is no different than any other level. Yes, I have my favorites to teach–and I certainly have a hard time hiding my enthusiasm when I’m teaching the second half of Canon in D. I think it’s natural to have some things that you love more than others and it will be the same for students. However, I am steadfast in my commitment to having a positive attitude toward everything I teach because I have seen the results of staying true to the method and it is worth teaching it as presented. The results are remarkable and that makes me happy to teach every arrangement, every part of accompaniment and every piece because I know that my students are going to be amazing musicians who are capable of reaching any musical goal that they have in mind.