Reading Rhythm and Reading Notes Expectations
Teri W., Missouri
The pacing question has come front and center in my studio as a parent of a private lesson student starting Level 4 (who will soon also begin Reading Rhythm) has continually worried about her son not reading music yet, despite how much she has loved all of the rest of the program and how well her son can play the piano. I now understand this better after she recently explained that she would love to have him playing in the Jazz Band at school next fall, but the first question asked is “How well can he read music?”
All of the Simply Music answers about reading chord symbols and understanding the foundation and patterns in music do not seem to get anywhere with the Jazz Band Director, despite the fact that this young man can really play the piano/keyboard very well. She left his lesson last week, planning to take a look at the curriculum plan, which will probably set very high expectations. Since I am just starting to teach RR and previously taught years of traditional lessons, I do not see him being a strong note reader by this time next year. Should I wait and see if I am surprised or come forward with my gut level on this?
Herein lies the problem of teaching and unfolding a new program–not knowing how that looks with my own pacing and student progression rate. I am confident he will become a great note reader in time, but am not at all sure if it is even possible by next fall (not that any of my past traditionally taught students would have ever been ready for playing in a beginning junior high Jazz Band after three and a half years of piano). The difficulty of the music a Simply Music student can play (in just a few years of lessons), is quite amazing, but I have no idea how this looks once the note reading is introduced.
I am open to ideas on how best to address this parent’s pacing expectations beyond “It takes as long as it takes”, which she knows and quoted back to me in our most recent conversation. Thank you for any help with how to manage/address this particular parent expectation.
Shelly E., Utah
I think this Mom has got to realize that this child would in no way likely be ready to play in the Jazz band in a year even if he had taken traditional or switched right now to traditional (I’m assuming he’s been taking about a year or so). That’s my experience as a teacher of SM and also of a traditional teacher for many years. I think it may be possible to set goals and work toward the effort of getting as far as he can in a year. If he completes the Jazz program (can be introduced around level 7 and will have had a some reading too), he should be equipped to play in a Jazz band.
Hope that helps. Let us know how it goes.
Darla H., Kansas
I have had quite a few of my students join the jr. high jazz band in my town. They have been at various stages of the reading program, but none of them were strong readers when they started out. However, we’re fortunate to have a band director who sees the value of what the SM students come with and is very willing to have them play from the chords rather than the exact printed music. He generally has 2 or 3 pianists in the group that take turns, and when it’s a piece that could use some piano improv in it, he always uses the SM students.
I’m wondering if you (the piano teacher) contacted the band director and talked to him about what he wants in a jazz pianist and what your students would have to offer, if he might reconsider and find benefit in allowing your SM student a chance?? I don’t know if he’ll listen to you, but maybe coming from a teacher rather than a parent, he would be more open?
Just a side note to all this: this year I have 2 guys (freshman & sophomore) in high school, both who have been in the jr. high jazz band since 6th grade on their trombones, and both started playing piano part time in 7th or 8th grade. This year they are in high school jazz band and will be the only pianists in the group. They have great plans for switching places (trombone to piano) in the middle of songs and having all kinds of fun!
Back to your original question of how to address this parent, I think it would be honest to say that it is unlikely that he will be a strong enough reader to play in jazz band if he must do it all by reading notes by next fall. I know some teachers go much faster than I do, but it takes my students at least 2 years after beginning reading rhythm to be where I think they’d need to be for reading jazz band music. (I don’t have any more confidence that if he would switch to traditional at this point that he would be ready either. Most students that are traditionally taught find the music very difficult as well. In my town, over half of the pianists in jr high and high school jazz band have been my students in recent years.)