Friday, March 17, 2017

Beginning Voice Students and Piano Lessons, Part 1 - Kids (under 10)

I know... this is WAY off from my usual topics about performing! I thought I should take a minute to talk about this, since it is so so very common. In full disclosure, I am using Amazon to display these books and have an affiliate link. You should not be discouraged from visiting your local music stores, though! I plan to break this discussion into a couple parts so I can look through more books. Here is the 1st part: KIDS!

 I have been a voice teacher longer than a piano teacher, but I have been playing since I was 6. I enjoy it, I didn't take it very seriously in high school, as I had turned my focus to singing and performing on stage, rather than piano. I don't play advanced repertoire, but I learned to sight-read very young and have been getting away with my nonsense ever since. I have also taught Music Together, and highly recommend that for a student up to 4 years old. I get calls from parents for 3, 4, and 5 year olds wanting voice lessons. I suggest a hybrid piano + singing, or MT for the very young. A great way to get them motivated, but not doing something developmentally inappropriate.

Personally, I am very big on pushing musical literacy. I did a project on Gordon's music literacy studies and the similarities with verbal literacy in grad school. It's important to know what is developmentally appropriate for the student's stage of learning. As voice teachers, we often recommend that our students take some piano as a primer to their voice lessons, hoping this will promote note-reading - sight-reading is so important and we want it to lead to self-sufficiency!! Of course we do! Here's an issue though - many of our students are getting very good piano lessons, teaching them some great techniques to become fine musicians. But they aren't learning to read the notes well. This is not to say these skills are not valuable to a pianist! You need to have rote-learned finger technique to achieve the technical skills to create music as you advance.

Since I started teaching piano, I've learned some of the reason note-reading skills have such a huge disjunct with what voice teachers have come to want and expect from this "pre-requisite" so to speak. This is my opinion of these books for these age levels. Keep in mind that it's important to know your students and their reading levels. If they are having any academic issues, the music teacher should chat with the parents and find out if there are ways to help. Some kids are really fast learners and will need more advanced books, too.
 1. Best for Nursery & Preschool Age: Piano Adventures - Pre-reading level. (Yellow Book). This is a great way to introduce your pre-schooler to sounds on the piano, simple songs, and movement of the index, middle, and ring fingers. The games and songs are intended to build finger-technique and encourage children to explore high-low and loud-soft sounds. Developmentally appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds. Parents need to work side-by-side with these kids to talk through the exercises on a regular basis (I have seen second and third graders walking into lessons with this book, and that is NOT the developmentally appropriate book for that age. If they are old enough to read, they need a higher level).
2. Best for 1st & 2nd Grade: David Carr Glover Primer (Green Book) This is what I started with 25 years ago. These books introduce the grand staff and bass and treble notes immediately. I really like that, personally. It's like introducing "A - alligator, B - bear, and C - cat" to the kidergarten age and above. The print is fairly large, but a second or third grader would not be offended. It's less colorful and less cartoon-ish than Piano Adventures, so for the more serious little kids, this is a great start.
3. Best for Reading Level Preschool, Kindergarten & 1st Grade: Music for Little Mozarts This book also introduces notation right away. They have a lot of drawings including the piano keys, so it's aimed at a little bit younger student than the Glover. I don't own this set, but I have incoming students who have brought it in. Many parents feel this moves too slow and want their child in a more rigorous piano study. I think it could be an ideal book for potential voice students to learn to read. You can easily incorporate solfege exercises and sing all songs. It is worth investigating more.
4. Best for Grade School 2nd - 5th Grade: Piano Adventures Level 1 (Red Book?) This is very different from the pre-reading, although still has similar songs. The Piano Adventure books all have supplemental theory and writing books (you have to purchase separately). You are not going to be introducing one note at a time, they get students comfortable using notes all up and down the keys, so again - heavy focus on the hand technique and building muscular and technical skills for later work in classical piano repertoire.

5. Best for Grade School 1st - 3rd: Schaum Series - Pre-A (The Green Book) Schaum has a lot of sight reading supplements and theory supplements. Introduces the staff notation right away, but also focuses on finger technique for 2-3 notes at a time at first. They are good about highlighting the picture of the keyboard so that kids can practice at home. This is a great starter for the piano-voice hybrid, because they can sing the song the range written for the most part (because they introduce bass clef, there are some low g's which most kids cannot reach, but the teacher usually can).

Everything stays in C long enough to grasp the solfege concept, and you can create a hybrid lesson with a little creativity. As they go along, Sight-Reading Book 1 can add some fun songs to sing & play for said hybrids! For now, this concludes my discussion of piano books. I hope some of these ideas are helpful as you pick out music, or send your voice students to other instructors.

Feel free to check out these and other books through my Amazon shop. Click Here 

What do you use for your voice/piano lessons? Comments are welcomed below!

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