Updated: Jan 31, 2019
What an inspirational event the Music and Drama Education Expo was! There were so many new and innovative ideas, mainly being pitched at those who essentially stick to a traditional format that has worked for music educators for many years. Here are my take-aways from the event:
1) Creativity in learning an instrument is key in so many ways but most particularly to nurturing an engaged and insightful musician. Too many people simply teach the notes on the page without really delving into the make-up of the piece of music, its meaning, how it develops, how it can be broken down, what the dynamics and articulation mean to the piece. Very few teachers give opportunities for composing and improvising. Even fewer would consider it important to play pieces of music and enable students to describe the music using a variety of musical elements - we often ask questions such as: "How has the composer made this piece of music sound like snow?" or "How are these two versions of the same folk song similar and different?"
2) Related to this is another point about teachers teaching the notes on the page and not the basic theory behind the notes - what is a bar line? What is a time signature? How many beats is this note worth? etc. Without really enabling children to understand the theory behind the music, they will struggle to learn new music in new contexts. They have to first have the knowledge before being able to apply it. We start every lesson with some theoretical context to our pieces and each lesson has two objectives: one relating to understanding and one relating to being able to do/play something. These are written on each worksheet so that students and their parents are clear on what it is they have learnt in the lesson.
3) Creating a community for learners and their families helps to build enthusiasm, share knowledge and tips, and essentially help with retention - piano lessons can be incredibly isolating/isolated, and playing with others or seeing others playing the same pieces as you can be incredibly motivating for children. Clearly the group piano set-up is brilliant in this regard.
4) Choice!!! There were lots of stalls selling hundreds of method books! There are so many different methods and books available it is a wonder that a piano teacher working on their own doesn't feel completely overwhelmed by the choice. In creating my own curriculum, I looked at many different books and the approaches completely vary. A very experienced teacher will use different books for different students, once they know how best they will learn. In our curriculum, I have used my experience as a classroom teacher, and my knowledge of pedagogy gained through my PGCE and MA in Music Education, to ensure that we engage all different kinds of learners.
5) Group piano is the way of the future! I have to confess to feeling very proud whenever the topic of group piano arose - there was a buzz around this new and innovative way of teaching the piano, but very few have actually delved into providing it. I think for a piano teacher it would be a daunting prospect indeed, but I have approached it from another direction altogether due to the fact that my background is in whole-class teaching (30 pupils at a time!) and my MA in Music Education has given me so much valuable theoretical and pedagogical knowledge. Many one-to-one piano teachers have no teaching qualifications at all and rely on their experience as a piano student first and foremost. The last talk I went to (whilst most of the attendees were listening to a presentation by Al Murray!), was all about the transformative power of group piano, delivered by the American professor who wrote, "Teaching Piano in Groups". He listed the benefits of the group piano setting and spoke as if to introduce this novice audience to the idea. I have listed most of the benefits in a previous blog, but the highlights are the fact that the setting develops confidence and communication skills, allows for limitless performance opportunities, fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills, provides a dynamic and motivational learning environment, ensures that music theory, history and appreciation are taught/learnt, and gives opportunities for ensemble performing. And that is all in addition to learning to play the piano as would occur in a one-to-one setting!
6) Finally, I also enjoyed a talk about being an arts entrepreneur. Most of us are familiar with what an entrepreneur is and within the arts the term is no different, but in what is often a very traditional world of learning, having an idea, seeing an opportunity that others don't yet see, and disrupting the norm is quite brave but incredibly exciting! I believe KeyNotes is spearheading the way into a change in how we learn the piano, the fact that it can be a social instrument, children can learn in a setting where they are at ease and love their learning. When we offer something different we have to add value for our customer-base.As if any more value needs to be added to a child simply having a love of learning the piano, we offer practice videos, online practice logs, termly reports, watching week and a rich and progressive curriculum which is made cohesive through the use of stories and topics.
If you're a teacher and would be interested in teaching for us, please do get in touch using the same e-mail address as above!