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#27767 - 06/26/04 05:18 PM My Plan
HopkinsHarmony Offline
New Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 14
Loc: Minnesota
Hello all,

Well, I've taken into consideration what all of you contributed in our last topic about whether or not finger numbers are necessary. I think I've come to the conclusion that, while they are not absolutely necessary at the Primer level, I'd better use them anyway, at least most of the time on most songs/exercises because they set the way for all further levels. As much as I don't like when my young students ask "what finger should I use?" or are overly concerned with using the right fingers (even at the expense of playing the right notes), I also don't like when my older students just ignore fingering and I can't seem to correct it at all. So, I think I'll wait and see what happens with that in Primer and if the students are grasping it, I'll stress it. If they're having a hard enough time playing the correct notes, with the correct hand formation, and counting correctly, I don't think I'll stress fingering too much. I also don't think it's absolutely a good idea to teach that a skip always skips a finger and a step goes to the next finger because when we get to 4ths, 5ths, and beyond, they won't always just skip 1 finger for a 3rd or 2 fingers for a 4th. (Example, Middle CEG isn't 135 if the next note you have to reach up to is high C. In this case you'd need to use the fingering 1235 or something like that. But, of course that's an arpeggio and those aren't taught until several levels later.

This is my plan after thoroughly studying the four books of the PA Primer level. I think I will start at the very beginning and cover things such as note values, the music alphabet, finger numbers, and how to hold the hand. I think I will skip all of the pre-staff material however. This is because I don't think any student should learn to "play-by-finger-number" such as on the black keys. The only way they should know what note to play is if it gives you a letter name or a location on the grand staff. Whenever I start my students on the pre-staff stuff, they're always confused and frustrated when starting the staff because they think the old way was just easier. (They have no idea at that point that 99% of the world's music is played by using a staff and not black keys and finger numbers.

And, when my students do get to the staff, I'm going to cross off any words that say "C Position" or "Middle C Position."
I think it's one thing to know the names of the notes on the staff and then put a certain finger number on each of them at different times. But, it's another thing for students to turn to me and ask "what position is this in." It doesn't matter what position it's in, it matters what notes are used. And, if they can't recognize individual notes (even if they can't name them outloud), how can they go beyond "C Position."

Hope I didn't get too preachy! I really am interested in hearing what everyone else thinks about my ideas and I love hearing all of yours! I spend a great deal of time on this board and I try not to post too much! Any comments about this post?

Amy

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#27768 - 06/26/04 09:28 PM Re: My Plan
unreal Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 06/23/03
Posts: 945
Loc: CA
Sounds like a great plan to me! And you sound flexible enough to adapt to each student's needs.

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#27769 - 06/28/04 05:36 AM Re: My Plan
pianoc Offline
Star Member

Registered: 08/14/03
Posts: 1088
Loc: Goshen, Indiana
Most of us learned to play the piano without all that pre-staff stuff, but there is a reason that many method books use that - and before throwing it all away you might want to make sure you understand the purpose of it so you know whether or not your student is OK with skipping it.

Even my older/adult students get to start there - if for no other reason then to make the point that music is directional. They may not need to play it for a week, but they get to play it in my studio before we look at the assigned pieces they do get to practice at home.

I wouldn't get too hung up on teaching kids something that will get them stuck - like C Position, skips being only between finger 1-3, etc.

I like to have my students look at the music at the end of the book - talk about how by the time we get there they will understand what everything on that page means. But for now - let's go to the beginning and just learn a few things at a time. They are usually relieved.

Taking the time to look at - what finger do I start with - what position do I play in...it could get someone stuck into thinking that you always play in one spot.

It can also be a way of setting up a habit of looking at your music - knowing the time signature, the key signature (major/minor), looking ahead at any possible fingering difficulties. All that stuff that most students would like to skip - they just want to start playing. But if they aren't used to getting set up first, they will have to play at least the first 4 measures over again - if not half of the song - because "they forgot" something.

If you're worried about them not being able to play out of the C position - teach them all the major 5 finger patterns. By the end of the primer book - most of my students know at least half of them, if not all of them. By the end of Level 1 - they all know all of them. Anytime they play a song that is stricly a C position song - they can also play it in any other key that they can play 5 finger patterns in.

It's just teaching layers. We teach our kids to read by reading to them. The more they've been read to - the better readers and writers they become. They learn individual letters - in order - even though we don't need to know that L comes before M in order to read with it. We learn letter blends - even though most of us don't use that anymore to read. Eventually you learn to recognize words without sounding it out, and then you get so that you read 2-3 words at the same time without realizing. If you're going to be a fast reader - that is.

My son learned how to read - it almost seemed by himself. He just breezed through all the steps and was reading books before I blinked an eye. My daughter - we were ALL aware of every single step in the learning process. They both went through all the same steps, it just took one longer at each step so we were aware of how important it was. I don't think the steps were any less important to my son - we just didn't need to stay there very long.

I am getting preachy - but I think it's really important to understand the purpose of something before you decide to disregard it.

If all of your students are as smart as my son - and musically gifted - and have parents that will sit with them for every practice session to make sure they have their hands in the correct position - then you won't have to worry very much about a lot of it.

But if you have average, every-day kids from busy families - you will have to worry about it. You'll have to teach, reinforce, and you'll be glad that people have spent as much time as they have studying the learning/teaching process and put the steps into method books for the rest of us to use.

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#27770 - 06/28/04 07:12 AM Re: My Plan
Susan Offline
Star Member

Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 2168
Loc: Texas
Amy, as someone who has taught piano for over 30 years and have taken many students from 1st grade to 12th, I think you're worrying too much about things that just come naturally as a student matures. I can't tell you how many students have driven me crazy asking "where do I put my hands?" "what position am I in?" Each time I patiently say "What is the note, what is the finger number. Let's figure this out." Gradually the students mature and these questions go away and the students learn their pieces at home without you playing it for them. IT HAPPENS! Don't worry about playing chords with 135 and then having to relearn 1235. When the student is ready, s/he will learn it naturally.
As far as pre-reading goes, if you don't see a need for it, if you don't realize how much it helps to develop a free arm and a good hand position,how it frees up the body and helps them to develop a natural style, rather than being all tight, then it might now work for you. IMO, if a teacher does not see a need for a teaching tool,(positional playing, Kolday syllables, counting, metronome, the list goes on and on) then they might as well not use it, because they are not using it in the way it is meant to be used. And if your students seem all confused and stressed when they get to note reading, you might be unable to help them make the transition because you didn't see a need for it in the first place.
I think beginning teachers worry too much about things that don't make much of a difference in the long run.

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#27771 - 06/28/04 08:26 AM Re: My Plan
HopkinsHarmony Offline
New Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 14
Loc: Minnesota
Hello,
Thank you to all three of you for your replies! I appreciate your comments and will take a closer look at the pre-reading material because it sounds as if it's more important than I thought. I wanted to comment on one thing though as far as the pre-reading stuff. PianoC, you mentioned that it teaches direction or contour I believe. Can't this just as well be taught using the notes on the staff? Maybe you just meant you thought it was better to teach them that before they learn the staff.

Also, just a couple of other comments. Firstly, yes, I probably am worrying too much about the little things. I think it's because, I started teaching when I was 15 and for the first 5 years or so, teaching wasn't a big deal to me. It was a job at the very most. I didn't plan students' lessons, I didn't care too much what books they used, etc. But, in the last 3-5 years or so, I've begun realizing just how big an impact I have on these kids. I never should have started teaching by teaching beginners. That's obvious to me now and I've read that advice over and over again when it was given to other teachers on forums, message boards, magazines, etc. But, no one told me that in the first place (even my very advance piano teacher). In hindsight I shouldn't have started beginners because I didn't know enough. I knew piano, but not much about teaching it. Now that I've been teaching for almost 10 years, I feel I'm a bit more ready for beginners but I've started changing things, fixing flaws in the method books, altering the order in which I teach things. In the past, I knew nothing more than to just go strictly out of the method book (and teach positions and things that I now don't like). So, I think I'm just going through a very important step in my teaching career and trying to start the kids off on the best track and correct past mistakes.

The last thing I wanted to say was about correcting past mistakes. See, I guess I'm not so worried about my new students because I'm using the PA series, I'm being much more careful, drilling on individual note-names, etc. But, the reason I keep worrying about the problem of "hand positions" is my current students. I have students who have been with me for several years and are now entering Bastien Level 3 (yellow). When I started them, I taught them hand positions and was very specific about what finger to use for each note. There was no talk about the notes outside these positions or what finger you would use. I didn't drill on note names or talk about steps and skips. And, of course, these students are having trouble. Not so much that they can't play, because they actually grasp everything else (rhythm, slurs, stacattos, sharps and flats usually. But, they cannot name notes, they can't play anything unless they know what position it's in. I'm really worried for these kids. I've tried many, many things to get them out of this thinking. I think Susan, you commented on "don't worry, these things are natural steps for students to go through... it will pass." Yes, that's true. And, I wouldn't worry about it so much if these were problems only my first or even second-year students were facing. But, many of my students are going into their 4th year of lessons and cannot name very simple notes on the staff (let alone ledger lines). This is where I get worried. How long do each of you normally notice that your students rely on position playing? I hope you can see a little bit more where I'm coming from now that you know it's not just my very beginning students. I think I have a good reason for being a bit concerned. Any suggestions?
Amy

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#27772 - 06/28/04 11:19 AM Re: My Plan
Lisa Kalmar Offline
Star Member

Registered: 04/10/00
Posts: 4277
Loc: KC
The situation, as described, makes complete sense as something to be concerned about. While I respect the old adage, "The method is in the teacher", I also feel strongly that it is also a total crock of hooey when taken out of context.

Methods such as Alfred and Bastien essentially ask the student to drive in a nail using the head of a screwdriver instead of a hammer. Why would you do that if you have a choice to give them a proper tool?

PA, fortunately, does not get 'em stuck with that Total Dependence Upon Positions stuff. Although there are several teachers who post here who claim it will, you will also find that they do not even use PA at the early levels. And I think Susan brilliantly explained why - they don't understand (or refuse to understand) that there is pedagogical validity to using positions within a course of study.

Once a person recognizes and understands the validity, they will then be able to teach appropriately. if they fail (or refuse) to recognize it they will probably fail - i.e. the Law of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

Excellent posts, Ruthc and Susan. I'm still wondering about Socks, but I like the discussion anyway! \:D

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#27773 - 06/28/04 12:53 PM Re: My Plan
unreal Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 06/23/03
Posts: 945
Loc: CA
I don't use the pre-reading stuff. But I have developed my own course to cover the things mentioned in the above excellent posts. Yes, all of that can be taught in the context of reading notes on the staff, but I don't know of any method that does that, so I made up my own. It starts out with a clefless staff so the starting note doesn't matter, and gradually develops to where the starting finger is important because of the contour of the upcoming phrase, and as soon as you put a clef on the staff the starting note becomes fixed. Soon after the clef shows up in the little songs I wrote, we dive into PA Primer in the middle of the book. Smooth transition, no problems so far, and sometimes kids are curious and go back through the first half to check it out. I prefer going from general reading to the specific 5-finger patterns, rather than starting with a specific 5-finger pattern and working away from it. But that's me. I just never liked pre-reading notation, but always used it until I came up with something specific to take its place.

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#27774 - 06/28/04 02:21 PM Re: My Plan
NancyK Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 03/27/03
Posts: 644
Loc: North Dakota
Just to make myself clearly understood....I am not totally against positional playing. I do think students can get "stuck" too soon though and I hate when I see they equate certain fingers as always playing certian notes/keys. AUGH! I DO teach 5 finger patterns very early on and also some scales early. My students are usually ahead of the books in this regard and I kind of do my own thing with them...following the C.M. guidelines too.
Also...for the record. I DO love PA and I use it very much. Method and many of the supplementary books. I am just not a one method teacher though and find value in other methods and many things I like. There are some I will not use at all and I have mentioned them before.

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#27775 - 06/28/04 09:48 PM Re: My Plan
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
 Quote:
Originally posted by Lisa Kalmar:
Methods such as Alfred and Bastien essentially ask the student to drive in a nail using the head of a screwdriver instead of a hammer. Why would you do that if you have a choice to give them a proper tool?

PA, fortunately, does not get 'em stuck with that Total Dependence Upon Positions stuff.


Exactly.

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#27776 - 06/28/04 10:34 PM Re: My Plan
Susan Offline
Star Member

Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 2168
Loc: Texas
Amy, after reading your last post in this thread, I would like to say I admire you. You see something you would like to improve upon, and you are obviously trying hard to do something about it.
I have to admit I didn't really know your situation when I first started responding to you.
I have sometimes had students reach level 3 and for reasons unknown to me, (unless they were transfers, another story!) be very unsure of note names. [I complain about them a lot]. There is hope, but your students may be a little uncomfortable for a while. You need to put them back into PA 2A or 2B depending on the student. You need to get them a beginning sight reading book and make them PLAY and SAY the notes. All the while use a lot of positive reinforcement and tell them that the level number on the book doesn't matter because all books are leveled differently.
If it makes you feel any better, long before PA my daughter used Bastien with her very fine teacher and played quite beautifully and learned all her notes. I used Bastien and Alfred before PA and some of those students majored in Piano. And I like some of the music in Bastien Level 3, especially because it gets them playing in lots of keys. But it sounds like it is just too much for your students right now. They're not ready, which is why I suggest going back. I'm sure the fine teachers on this board will agree with me.
There are a lot of quite good teachers who do not like pre-reading. Do some more reading up on it, and then make up your mind.

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