When I was carrying out my survey of UK piano teachers I was really surprised to find that no in-depth research has been carried out into tutor books in the UK. As they play such a vital part in early lessons this is surely a big omission?
I shall be writing quite a lot about tutor books over the next year or so but I thought I would start by outlining what to be on the lookout for when choosing books.
There are 5 main questions for piano teachers to consider when looking at tutor books:
- How does the book develop musical concepts?
- How does it develop pianistic skills?
- What is the book's approach to developing reading skills?
- How are pupils' expressive responses to music encouraged?
- What opportunities are provided for the pupil to engage in making music?
A well balanced tutor book should deal with each of the following points in fairly equal measure:
1. Development of musical concepts
Does it include the development of fundamental concepts such as listening, keeping a beat, understanding the difference between beat and rhythm, pitch matching and singing, recognising faster/slower, louder/quieter, higher/lower? These all need to follow the 'sound before symbol' principle.
2. Development of pianistic skills
How are the more technical aspects of piano playing covered for example, posture and body awareness, fingering, co-ordination, tone quality and keyboard geography?
3. Development of reading skills
What role does notation play? Acquiring the skill of being able to read music is an important part of becoming a musician however it should only be part of the process and not dominate lessons. Research shows that learning to read note patterns and shapes is the most effective approach.
4. Encouraging expressive responses
How are pupils' expressive responses encouraged? For example are they shown how phrases can go on musical journeys or how music is so much more than just notes? This is often best experienced without notation getting in the way!
5. Making music
Does the book provide students with opportunities to improvise and create their own music? Whether pupils are young or old many start to learn the piano because they want to be able to 'play' the instrument; only playing what can be 'read' is very limiting in early lessons. Using other stimulus such as pictures, poems and melodies that are already known will all help pupils to connect with making music from the start.
It is useful to keep these five areas in mind when choosing a new tutor book for a pupil. Although there is no such thing as a 'perfect' piano tutor book (nor will there ever be!) some books definitely come closer than others.
How does the book you prefer fit this criteria? Let the long-overdue debate begin........!