Piano Safari has been a method on my radar since the first version of the books came out. I've known about it since (I'm guessing) 2008. Julie Knerr, one of the authors, went to grad school with a girl I did my undergrad studies with (they may have even been roommates-I can't remember for sure). My friend told me about the method, and I haven't looked back.
I was drawn to Piano Safari due to my disappointment with the technique books on the market. I hated them to be quite frank. I didn't feel they were effective and they were...well, what they were - exercises - and boring to boot. Even though most technique books do correlate with what the students are learning in the lesson book, I never felt the transfer of learning happened.
It wasn't until 2013 that I started using the method heavily. With the increased use came the desire to maximize the "fun" of the safari theme more with stuffed animals.
Building up my safari-themed animal collection was a bit of a chore! I remember asking the authors where they got theirs but mostly I was on my own finding them. Today, I hope to help YOUR search a little easier than mine.
I'll be sharing not only where I purchased the animals but why they're a good investment, how I use and even store them.
Why The Prop?
Using the stuffed animals adds not only to the fun (kids can't resist squeezing the heck out of them!), but they're a hands-on/visual way to reinforce technique.
I use the animals in several ways.
- Directly demonstrate the technique motion. For example, have the monkey take a swing on their arm or use Tree Frog's feet to play legato on their arms.
- Animal "plays along" with the student. As they're playing the exercises, I make the kangaroo bounce lightly on the keys next to them so they have a visual of having a gentle, bouncy arm.
- Animal "talks" to the student. A.k.a. me making silly voices about how happy Zechariah is with their firm fingernail joints or how sad tree frog is they didn't make their fingers sticky that time. The kids love this.
- Lesson visitor. Animals are often silent observers of the student during their lesson. Sometimes the student will suddenly stop and say "I think Mr. Kangaroo is tired and is ready to go back home" and they'll put him away.
Goals In My Quest for the Best Helpers
When I began the search, I had a few goals in mind:
(1) I didn't want to go out and spend $100 purchasing a bunch of animals. I did end up spending that or maybe a little more in the long run but it was over the course of the last 2-3 years.
(2) At first, I searched local stores and ended up with some larger stuffed animals. I found them too bulky to work with, though, so I went online to find smaller sizes. I should have done this upfront as randomly chasing down specific stuffed animals of specific sizes in stores was not fun!
(3) I really wanted to keep the cost under $10 apiece although $5-$8 made me happiest. In some cases, I ended up going $10-$15.
(4) I wanted the animals to look as authentic as possible. Some of the stuffed animals out there look nothing like the actual animal. I didn't want a cutesy-looking animal. Let's keep it real. For example, I would have preferred a smaller giraffe, but most of the small giraffes out there had no neck, and since the point of the tall giraffe technique was to think of their long neck, I had to go with a 12" giraffe.
(5) My goal was to find an animal for each technique exercise in book 1. (Lion, Zebra, Giraffe, Tree Frog, Kangaroo, Bird, Monkey) However because the Charlie Chipmunk and Herbie Hippo rote pieces are so popular, the kids were always asking for Charlie and Herbie, so I decided to get them too.
My Winning Fuzzy Friends
If all else fails, let the student bring their own prop! In book 2 there's the Flamingo Dancers rote piece. While this isn't a technique exercise, the animal theme lends itself beautifully to a fun prop. This couldn't be displayed better than the day one of my sweet students walked into lessons with her flamingo headband. Too fun.
Storing the Stuffed Animals
In my studio, all these furry friends sleep in a cube storage bin right next to the piano. The students love to go digging for them when it's time.
On ONE occasion, I let one of my students play with the animals during her music lab time. She loves them so much, I couldn't resist.
What's one 30 minutes lab in the long haul anyway? It brought her joy and she had a blast while her sister had her lesson that day.
*Note: this photo was from when I had mostly large stuffed animals, but I've since found I prefer to work with smaller ones. It was just too cute of a picture not to include!