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.
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 www.pauladreyer.com/videos. 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 www.pauladreyer.com/book.