Reading projects in the Development levels
Darla H., Kansas
I am about to start teaching level 10 to a group for the first time. (I taught up through level 10 in a private lesson to an adult woman who already had piano experience, so this was a completely different experience.) I am curious how some of you have managed other reading projects at this point. Do you continue to have an outside reading project going at all times in levels 10 and on?
How important is it for students to bring in their own reading projects? My groups rarely bring in their own music. If I want for them to have some choice, I pull out my own books and they look through and choose.
A couple of students in this group really prefer to do all reading projects together as a group. Is it important to assign individual songs that they work on and learn themselves as well??
I’d appreciate any advice about getting into the development levels!! Thanks!
Robin Keehn, Washington
The Development levels are probably my favorite part of Simply Music! Let me give you an example of what my group lessons look like by this time. First, I have established this way of working after we complete Time For More Music so my students are very used to it. Perhaps I should start there.
After TFMM, I routinely have students use ‘60 Progressive Pieces You Love to Play. It is about $12 from Hal Leonard and it has pieces that range from quite simple to much more challenging–primarily classical. We may be working in Level 5, 6 or 7 at this point so we have a number of projects in play: foundation piece, accompaniment 2 maybe, comp and improv, and a reading project. When we begin the “60 Pieces” book, we are working together on one, shared reading project. However, my philosophy is that students need to be playing pieces that inspire them to get to the piano so after a few pieces it is very common for some students to request a different piece.
Here is an example of how this might work.
Evan prefers jazz style pieces so we find something for him. Eli prefers to work on “The Spinning Song.” Audrey likes Cold Play and has a P-V-G book of their songs. Josiah prefers blues and rock. Each of them is encouraged to find something to work on independently IN ADDITION to a piece that we all are working on in common.
The way it happens in class typically is that I ask Evan how his jazz piece is coming. He says great, no problems. I ask him if he’d like to play a bit of it for us and he does. Great–move to Eli. Eli is struggling with a particular measure in The Spinning Song so he brings it up to the piano and we all gather round. Everyone looks at the measure and I ask if anyone has any suggestions–what do they notice in that measure. Someone says, “Well, it’s just a together-right, together left.” Someone else says, “It looks like an inverted F chord in both hands.” All of the students are encouraged to help Eli sort through that measure (or line or whatever it is). When Eli has some new ideas, we move to the next student. In this way, students contribute to each other’s learning and learn something themselves.
I love this way of working with students. It is problem solving in the best way. Students have ownership of their music and make great progress. They always learn from helping their classmates figure things out.
Another thing–sometimes the piece we all have in common is used only as a project. I may not have students even complete the piece. We work on it for a week or two and move on. Not every piece (outside the curriculum) has to be loved and played forever. I base my decision on the group and their interest in the piece and motivation to learn it.
By the time I am in Level 10, students are expecting to have a Development piece and their own pieces. We continue to work on more advanced accompaniment, composition & improv, and we may come back to Jazz (I usually do the Jazz program in Level 8 or so because their reading skills can support it).
One last thing—I always start developing the generative skills early. In TFMM I routinely assign students a line to teach in class the next week. This continues in the Development levels.
Please let me know if you have questions, Darla. This is a very exciting time!
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
My approach is very similar to Robin’s. I encourage students to find a piece they really want to learn, and bring it in. I like to play through a portion of it in class so the other students can decide if they would like to work on the same project – if so we just make that a group project. If not, then it’s an individual project.
One student brought in a Lord of the Rings soundtrack book once, and everyone loved it. Of course each student has to purchase his or her own copy. We might start a project from the Development book and also work on an ‘outside’ project concurrently, depending upon what other projects we have at the moment.
If students are not bringing in their own pieces or don’t know what they want to work on, I give suggestions from my own collection of music. Many students enjoy continuing a piece they started in a foundation level. For example, I have a class that learned the next section of Mozart’s Sonata in C. Now one of them wants to move on to the next (minor) section, so she is going to do that.
I have another student who wanted to learn the next section of Canon in D (after what she learned back in Level 7). There are a million arrangements out there, but I chose to just create one that was fairly pattern-y in the LH. I taught it playing-based but now the class is transcribing it as a project. They are practicing valuable self-generative skills and will then have the written music to use in the future. It’s been a fun project.
A few years ago, a different class had a similar project, but it was based on one of the student’s original compositions. She taught the class her composition (playing-based), we transcribed it, then added guitar chords and a bass line. We just worked it out as a class project. Her dad played the guitar chords, and another student in the class was learning electric bass, so he brought it to class and they just took turns jamming together on her composition.
So many cool projects can come out of all the skills our students have learned by the time they get to the Development program!