Three-in-One: A Review of Little Gems for Piano 

(and an MLT-based Application)

As I was driving to my studio this morning I was thinking about the early years of piano instruction. While they’re often the hardest for parents and children to get through, the first few months and years are the most important for several reasons.

First, we must engage our music students in a way that fosters a love of and a successful experience at making music. Second, we must develop a healthy technique so they have freedom at the piano from the start. Third, we need to introduce students to a variety of sounds, tonalities, and meters so they can hear, think, and engage in music with understanding. 

That’s a whole lot of goodness wrapped up into a student’s first experience at the piano!

Today I’m to going to share my thoughts on a book called Little Gems for Piano and how rote pieces like these can cover all three of these critical areas in one. We will focus especially on the last one as it is part of the philosophy I am slowing working to incorporate in my teaching called Music Learning Theory (MLT) by the late Dr. Edwin Gordon.

*Disclaimer: I was given a copy of these books in exchange for my review. 


The Books

Author Paula Dreyer has three levels of Little Gems, the newest being the Primer Level.

Since I received copies of Level 1 and 2, I can’t speak specifically to the pieces in this book but you can listen to a variety of clips and see excerpts here.

Don’t you just love the beautiful covers? I think they really speak to the mood many of the pieces convey – often ethereal and somewhat minimalistic.


Volume 1 (Beginner Level) has 28 pieces. One thing that I noticed right away is that many of these pieces could be appealing to a variety of ages and would be good rote pieces for older beginners.




The accompanying images to each piece wouldn’t turn anyone away, as in this “windchime,” they are a simple and visually descriptive representation of the piece.

Each piece also includes a “Did You Notice?” section guiding the student through patterns and the focus study areas of each piece.



Volume 2 (Early Intermediate) includes a whopping 27 pieces. I personally found the pieces in Volume 1 (and even the pieces in the Primer from what I could see on the video) a bit more interesting than Volume 2.

Mostly, more than anything, I think it’s because I found the earlier pieces a good resource for teaching MLT-based rhythm pattern instruction. (A bit more on this below).


All books come with access to audio files on her site at She also has a YouTube Channel playlist with video recordings that serve as wonderful reminder videos for students learning the pieces.



Now, for how the pieces in these books can benefit students.

Ms. Dreyer has worked to make pieces that are interesting and, as the sub-title of the books state, pieces that “Motivate and Captivate.”

This speaks to our first critical area of focus in the first years of study:  fostering a love of and a successful experience at making music. Rote pieces are an extremely useful tool for helping students easily make music that gives them a strong sense of achievement and pride in what they’re playing and through the sounds they’re creating.

Pieces that I enjoyed the most include “Dream Waves,” “Sobrina,” “Carnival Celebration,” and “Mesmerize” in Volume 1 and “Minimalist,” “Into the Fog,” and “Moonbeam” in Volume 2.

I’ll admit, I’ve not yet taken the chance to use the pieces with my students as I have been experimenting with some other new materials this year, but now that I’ve had a chance to sit down and play through them, I’m looking forward to incorporating them.

Being that Ms. Dreyer has a background in the Taubman approach, the pieces lend themselves to our second critical area in the first years of teaching, healthy technique by developing balance of the arm behind the finger.

Lastly, and one of the first things I noticed in Volume 1, was that the highly-patterned pieces mean many of them focus on one rhythmic pattern. As soon as I was playing all I could think about was “MLT, MLT!”

One of the big areas in MLT-based instruction is rhythm pattern instruction. Many of these pieces use just one or two rhythmic patterns. For example, the first piece, Falling Stars is almost entirely a continuous 4-quarter note per measure pattern. Mirror Image, and Meet in the Middle also use this exact same pattern. If you’re using Gordon’s enrhythmic syllables as I now am, it would be heard as “Du-de  Du-de” or  “Du-ta-De-ta”. Since the tempo moves at a quicker pace, I would be much more apt to choose the latter.

“Dream Waves” uses the patterns “Du-de Du  Du-de Du” and “Du-de Du-de Du-de Du.” If you listen to the recording, you can hear it clearly in the opening phrase (2-measures):

Du-de Du   Du-de Du  |  Du-de Du-de Du-de Du  :||

You hear this for the first 4 phrases then the rhythmic pattern switches to finish out the last two lines of the piece using:

Du-de Du-de Du-de Du  :||

MLT focuses on rhythm in its simplest form of either duple (big beat divided into two 2/4, 4/4, 2/2 etc.) or triple (big beat divided into three: 3/4, 6/8, 9/8 etc). The Primer has seven pieces out of 20 in 3/4 and one piece in 6/8. Unfortunately, Volume 1 has only one piece out of 28 in triple meter (3/4). Volume 2 has a few more. There are several pieces within both Volumes that use triplets and mixed meter (7/4, 5/4).



How to Order

You can order hard copies of the books and/or digital downloads (one-time and unlimited versions) at



  • I have a couple of transfer students (brother and sister) who do not have good reading skills. Rhythm is fair, but often needs to be corrected. Practice habits are dismal. I have started them on some of these pieces, and they are very much enjoying them, even teaching them to their parents. My question is, where do I go from here? They need to eventually learn good reading skills, which I’m afraid will seem tedious to them, and might make them feel as if they are taking a step backward to play music at their reading level.

    • Hi, Mary Beth, I would highly recommend the Piano Safari sightreading cards as a resource for getting the reading skills back in line. The cards focus on one interval each level (2nds, 3rds, 2/3 combined, 5ths, 4ths). Each exercise is only 4 measures long so it doesn’t require a lot of concentration either!

    • Hello! I’m so happy your students are enjoying the Little Gems. That’s so sweet that they are teaching them to their parents! I recommend using the books as a supplement to whatever method you are using. It’s important to emphasize reading along side the rote pieces. I work on note naming, intervals and sight reading during every lesson. The Little Gems are like a bit of dessert in the musical diet. I use many of the pieces for recital repertoire during the beginning stages. By Volume 2, my students can read the pieces and I only teach part of the pieces by rote. It’s great for providing impressive sounding music that can be learned easily, usually within a week per piece. Hope that helps and good luck with your students!

      • Have you investigated the pattern instruction, from Edwin E. Gordon’s Learning Sequences, found on the Pattern CD and in print in the Rhythm and Tonal Pattern book from the Music Moves for Piano Series? Patterns are organized, sequenced, and functional. Providing the sequence and labeling of different kinds of patterns creates a learnable music pattern vocabulary for students. Random patterns and only a few of the same kind of patterns make it difficult to establish a pattern vocabulary. Sequencing, categories, and at least 8 – 12 patterns in each sequential category provide the student with enough patterns to internalize a pattern vocabulary. Patterns are learned through echoing, chanting, and improvising. Reading patterns happens after students hear and use the patterns and have acquired a personal vocabulary. Patterns are sequenced as rhythm patterns and tonal patterns, separately.

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