In my initial lesson with adult students, I often will introduce the Basics followed by Dreams Come True. It has become a common theme that people really don’t understand that diagram; I am considering starting with the right hand of Ode to Joy. Sadly I have lost a couple of students, or their initial trust, because of their discouragement with Dreams Come True.
I say that the diagrams are just visual clues. They are visual representation of concepts related to the piece: melody, harmony, rhythm, patterns, sentence order, etc. The full instruction is the video, where Neil teaches the piece step by step like we learn at the lessons. It is imperative to watch the videos as soon after each lesson as possible and communicate this to the students.
I usually tell them that the arrows are 4 steps of sound. Arrow down starts from top (pinkie). Arrow up starts from bottom (thumb). Numbers are finger number. They first learn 4 steps of sound before adding the finger note for each sentence. I also have them sing the lyrics like below:
Sentence 1: (3) 4 steps of sound
Sentence 2: 4 steps of sound (2)
I find that some students, adults and coaches especially, tend to think the diagrams are some sort of code to play the piece. I have to explain more than once that they provide clues, not full directions. And if a particular diagram doesn’t speak to them, I move on and don’t dwell on it. It is a learning aid, not an end in itself.
I have gotten the most resistance to the diagrams and videos from adults who tend to be the most page-reliant. I’ve heard things like “What on there tells me that?” or “This is not helpful to me”.
It’s a process for sure, with lots of coaching, repetition, using the video correctly, and trusting the process and our memories. It’s really learning to become a good student of this program.
When teaching the Basics 5 steps of sound (5SS), I will also make it a game to have them figure out what 4SS and 3SS are, e.g. play 4SS from pinkie. Play 3SS from thumb. They will figure out there are two ways you can play 4SS (which will appear in Dreams Come True) and three ways to play 3SS.
Since they know about 4SS (extended from the Basics), when I use 4SS to teach Dreams, the learning for Dreams RH becomes very easy.
There were times when I asked the student to “draw” sentence 1 on a small white board from their memory (give them a chance to see the page before that). Then ask them to turn the white board sideways and have them tap their fingers under the drawing. When the diagram is placed sideways, you will see the number 3 in the middle before/above the arrow (pointing toward the left). SAme for sentence 2 where the 2 is after or under the arrow (pointing to the right).
The reference book is just a backup. It’s far more important that they understand the pattern in the hands. Make sure they are touching the fingers that they play and voice the instructions away from the keyboard.
We all learn in different ways. I tell my students that some people need to learn the words, some need to listen to the music, some need to watch the video, and some need the diagrams to help them learn the piece. Any or all of these can help them remember what to play.
You could ask them what they would write or draw to help them remember the piece. This in itself can help them remember it because it makes them think about what’s being played. The diagram is just a way to jog your memory when you first learn it. It’s not meant to give you all the information. Once you learn the piece, you don’t need it any more.
- I usually start the first lesson with five steps of sound and a chord. We do lots of the Foundation Session and only a little piano, and I try to prep them that this pattern isn’t what they should expect of all their lessons: “Later we’ll do a little talking and lots of piano, but today we’ll do lots of talking and a little piano”.
- I introduced Dreams by patterns and at the keyboard without showing the diagram or drawing reference to it. I make sure they have a decent grasp of the sentences, in both hands, before referring to the page. I also make a point that they are not reading the song off the page but just using it for reference. I point out that the LH is not there at all, and that the lack of LH diagram is by design. I make a bit of a big deal out of “learning a new way of learning”.
I never start Dreams in the first lesson for total beginners. I think it’s even more important with adult beginners not to dive in so quickly. That way they have some time to get their fingers working before trying a song. I can’t say enough about how important the Foundation Session is if you want to establish a strong, successful student base.
The way I have chosen to do it is spend half of the first 3 lessons on the Foundation Session, then the second half on content.
As an example, here’s the way I conduct the first lesson:
- First half: Foundation Session (portion), then
- Basics through 5SS (no chords)
- Improvise together (they only have to play RH 3-5 notes)
- Explain how to use the SHMs
- Watch the Welcome and Overview videos
- Review the Basics we covered, and practice them
- Improv on black notes
After hearing similar comments about not understanding the Dreams diagram enough times, I figured out that I need to take time in the lesson to just have a conversation about it. I explain that it is not a complete ‘road map’ like written music, with all the needed information. It is this way by design as we are learning a new way of learning and processing music. I ask them to trust me as they develop this new skill and to be open to the idea that their brains can handle this – it’s similar to body sculpting in that it takes some time to achieve a level of ease. I guess we could call it ‘brain sculpting’, eh?
This is a prime example of the importance of clear communication regarding *what to expect*. When what is expected doesn’t match the actual experience, the student will perceive it as ‘something’s wrong’.
Adults are typically quite nervous playing anything in front of others at first, and have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they will feel successful. These are important to talk about as well. I have a new adult student who, one week after learning Dreams and playing it almost flawlessly, shook his head in disappointment because there was a slight pause between sentences, and it wasn’t perfect in his eyes. So, we talk about it and I encourage him a lot; otherwise I know he will not last long.