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The Music Curriculum

Music Moves for Piano

By Marilyn Lowe

Before Music Moves for Piano presents a revolutionary, new piano method that applies the music learning theories of Edwin E. Gordon to beginning piano instruction. For Gordon, music learning theory and audiation are synonymous. Audiation means, in the simplest terms, hearing music with understanding when the sound is not physically present. The ear and mind must be trained before the eyes can read music notation with comprehension. The goal is music literacy.

All children have the potential to achieve in music. This potential to achieve is called “music aptitude.” Music aptitude is a product of innate potential and environmental influences. Music aptitude is developmental until age nine, when it stabilizes. An early environment of appropriate listening, singing, chanting, and rhythm and tonal pattern instruction affects the level of a child’s music aptitude. Regardless of their musical aptitude, all children can learn to audiate.

Gordon's research about how children learn music provides answers to many common questions:

  • Why can students play difficult repertoire and yet be unable to play Happy Birthday without music?

  • Why can some students play cadences fluently and yet be unable to improvise on tonic and dominant chords?

  • Why can many adults, after years of study, only play a few pieces that they learned in high school?

  • Why are so many adults unable to read unfamiliar music or accompany singers and instrumentalists?

  • Why do creating and improvising seem impossible to many adults who can read music?

The answer: These people do not know how to audiate. Before Music Moves for Piano teaches piano students how to audiate. This method reverses the traditional music teaching process and produces dramatic results. Because music is an aural art, children should learn music the way they learn a language. Children listen and speak before they learn to read and write. Likewise, children should first listen to a wide variety of music and chant or sing (or perform on an instrument) appropriate rhythm and tonal patterns that are within the context of a meter or a tonality. Students should acquire a large music pattern vocabulary along with specific skills. Then they apply this vocabulary to the listening to and performing of music.

Music students learn tonal and rhythm patterns in combination with specific skills, such as learning labels or names, association of rhythm and tonal syllables, improvising, and reading and writing music notation. These skills serve as a foundation for all other music learning. Teachers use imitation, or rote teaching, and then help students learn how to apply audiation skills. Students learn to read music notation when they have a large music vocabulary, sufficient playing skills, and are mature enough to understand the printed page. Students who learn from this method become very good at reading music.

Before Music Moves for Piano, no piano material existed for teaching audiation skills. During the past eleven years, the techniques and exercises evolved into the Teacher Lesson Plans Lesson Plans that are available for Before Music Moves for Piano. Students were integral to this process. They helped to explore and discover music in a new way. They laughed at mistakes, and they learned quickly. Piano lessons were fun. Using Gordon’s theories of audiation to teach piano proved possible. When students engaged in creativity/improvisation activities and acquired a pattern vocabulary, they developed musicianship and became confident performers.

Understanding something that is a departure from an established, comfortable traditional requires effort. Teachers may wonder if this new way of teaching is worth this effort. It is if piano lessons for the masses are going to survive in the twenty-first century. This music learning process guides the musical growth of students so they enjoy lessons and want to continue with music because they know they are learning to understand music. Teaching audiation skills continues to provide insights and revelations into how music works and why music sounds the way it does. Music becomes alive, and one intuitively knows that music is intrinsic to the human spirit.

Before Music Moves for Piano will be a piano series of six student books, five teacher’s guides/lesson plans, one Pattern CD, and eleven supplementary books. Music in the piano series and accompanying supplementary books is sequenced for advancing audiation and performing skills. Most of the repertoire in the six student books consists of folk songs in a variety of tonalities and meters. The folk song repertoire is sequenced to advance technical and musical skills. They also provide a common repertoire for future improvisation activities. Books 3, 4, and 5 can also be used to teach creativity and improvisation to transfer students and adults.

The supplementary books include original music for ensemble and improvisation, standard piano repertoire, and Christmas music. These books are introduced at specific times during the piano series, both for variety and for enriching the learning process. Supplemental books include Music Moves for Two: Books 1 and 2, Boogies and Blues, Christmas Music: Books 1 and 2, Tone Colors for Piano: Books 1 and 2, Repertoire for Piano: Books 1, 2, and 3, and Reading and Writing Music Notation.

All books, except the repertoire series, have accompanying CD recordings. CD recordings for Music Moves for Piano: Books 1–5 include the “Song to Sing,” performance pieces, and rhythm and tonal patterns for the performance pieces.

Rise to the Challenge

Teaching piano in a non-traditional way with non-traditional curriculum is challenging. However, the impressive results warrant serious consideration of this new approach that applies the teaching of audiation skills.

After using this approach, teachers will find:

  • Students enjoy piano lessons.

  • Parents will encourage their children to study piano and to continue lessons because of the lifelong musicianship skills they are acquiring.

  • Students learn and remember music with ease.

  • Students become confident performers.

  • Students are aware of their physical playing mechanism and take care to avoid tension-producing movements.

  • Students benefit immeasurably from experiencing creativity and improvisation activities. Everyday music activities should include some kind of creativity, just as language does. Improvisation complements performance, both with and without music, and enhances the learning of standard piano repertoire.

  • Students apply audiation skills to the music they listen to, read, write, and perform. They identify and recognize patterns in unfamiliar music and recognize and label different tonalities and meters.

  • Students retain the music pattern vocabulary they have acquired and continue to build on it. They audiate rhythm and tonal patterns, and chord changes. They hear and perform music with understanding.

Teaching skills in a creative way leads both teachers and students into a wonderful, magical, aural world that reaches deep inside the human spirit. This world renews and heals and delights.

Lesson Content and Structure

The lesson format and folk song content of the Before Music Moves for Piano method include activities to teach audiation skills. This differs from the traditional approach of coaching pieces and teaching students how to decode the printed page. The concepts and skills that students learn are applied to the teaching of repertoire. Creativity and improvisation activities are a regular part of lessons. Students sing and move during music activity games that take place away from the keyboard. Many times, students arrive tired and leave filled with enthusiasm because of these kinds of activities.

Rote teaching, folk song curriculum, pattern instruction, and improvisation activities start students on a path that prevents a piano studio from being “a house of corrections.” Students learn to:

  • Observe good fingering choices.

  • Sing before playing.

  • Play the rhythm.

  • Establish meter and tempo before beginning to play.

  • Feel the rhythm in a continuous fluid manner while audiating underlying macrobeats and microbeats.

  • Use performer controls, such as dynamics and different articulations.

  • Apply efficient study skills to new music.

  • Listen for, label, and play chord changes, first using single-tone root harmony for clarity.

  • Recognize or identify meter, tonality, and patterns in music they hear.

  • Approach music notation through audiation rather than by decoding the score

Students use both hands, separately in the beginning, and engage the large motor movement of the arm in the first keyboard pieces. Arm movement and arm balance are intrinsic to coordinated playing. Teachers ask students to use a separated touch to engage the arm in playing. Students learn to observe the physical mechanism for efficient movements, avoiding tight, twisting, reaching, and stretching movements. They learn that the keys are depressed by the weight of the arm rather than by the fingers. This helps students avoid playing with tight or curled fingers.

Folk song repertoire sequences finger movements and shifts. Students are asked to play melodies with each hand alone, thus providing the left hand with some active playing.

Students learn, from the beginning, to use the whole keyboard for playing. They become familiar with both black and white keys as well as the sounds of the different registers of the keyboard. Students learn scales, cadences, and arpeggios in all keyalities and tonalities, and become comfortable with keyboard geography. This kinesthetic sense provides a foundation for fluent reading.

Getting Started

To become familiar with Before Music Moves for Piano, listen to the CD while looking at the corresponding pages in Before Music Moves for Piano: Book 1. Next, briefly glance through all of the “Lesson Time Objectives” in the Teacher’s Lesson Plans: Book 1. This provides an overview of the lesson content and student assignments. Then glance through each of the sections of the Lesson Plans, one section at a time, to get an idea of the teaching activities. For example, read the “Keyboard Geography and Technique” section for every unit.

Questions will arise. Some can be answered by asking the author and other teachers using this method via the Web site www.musicmovesforpiano.com. Teachers can also send questions to the author via e-mail at info@musicmovesforpiano.com. Other answers will become clear after teachers begin working with students. Year after year, teachers continue to gain insights and new ideas from teaching this method. Learning music is a spiral pathway—students will circle the same concepts over and over, each time at a different level.

Preparatory Piano Groups

Music Moves for Piano: Preparatory Book Teacher’s Guide is a resource of ideas for teaching a small group of kindergarten-aged children. A class for children this age bridges preschool music classes and formal piano instruction. Most young children who complete the Preparatory Book are ready to begin Music Moves for Piano: Book 1 near the end of their kindergarten school year.

Group activities—singing, chanting, and movement—are important readiness activities for children this age. The Music Moves for Piano kindergarten class encourages children to respond to patterns and directed movement activities in preparation for formal instruction.

The songs and patterns in this Teacher’s Guide prepare children for performances in later lessons. In the student’s Preparatory Book is a description of the curriculum, activities, teaching approach, and lesson plans Lesson Plans. Teachers and parents can find objectives for the performance pieces printed at the end of the student book. This provides parents with useful information for helping their children “practice” music at home.

Young children usually want to play the piano. The performance pieces are game-like and are written so children can enjoy music play at the keyboard. The pieces are short. They use both black and white keys in different registers of the keyboard. During keyboard creativity/improvisation activities, children explore the range of the keyboard and create using rhythm patterns, dynamics, and different tempos.

Set for Success

In these preparatory lessons, the goals are for young children to:

  • Chant rhythm patterns,

  • Sing tonal patterns,

  • Move using weight and flow,

  • Become aware of how to approach the keyboard physically,

  • Become familiar with the piano keyboard,

  • Think about the fingers to use,

  • Think about the piano keys needed to play a piece,

  • Play the rhythm,

  • Chant the rhythm and play with a steady beat,

  • “Think” a piece in their heads, and

  • Experience differences in levels or tempo and dynamics.

Time to Begin

Note: The following text is included in Music Moves for Piano: Preparatory Book.
This Preparatory Book is specifically designed for young children who are five or six years old. But teachers can adapt this approach for beginners of all ages and use this material to supplement Music Moves for Piano: Book 1.

The foremost goal of this book is to prepare students for formal piano instruction. At this stage, students can make music through music play at the keyboard as well as by playing music games away from the keyboard.

Keep the following concepts in mind:

  1. Music Aptitudes – The potential to achieve in music is called “music aptitudes.” Music aptitudes are developmental until age nine, when they stabilize. A rich musical environment for young children that includes singing, chanting, and rhythm and tonal pattern acculturation is important in influencing a child’s potential to learn music.

  2. The Tone – Game playing, absorbing music, movement, and singing are all fun for the young child. Simple keyboard pieces add to the excitement of making music. Though the young child can be very serious about playing pieces, “practice” at home should be enjoyable with adherence to detail carefully guided. Keep it light and move in the “right” direction. Remember that music is an aural art.

  3. The Lesson Content – Activity time includes echoing tonal and rhythm patterns, singing songs, and movement. All of these activities build a music vocabulary and develop audiation skills, or the ability to “think” music with understanding. The keyboard pieces develop a familiarity with the whole keyboard (black and white keys) and form a base for physical movement that is tension-free.

  4. Physical Movements at the Keyboard – Playing the piano is often a “come and go” affair for young children. Standing is permitted, and walking from one end of the keyboard to the other can be exploratory fun. Encourage large-motor arm movement, with freedom in the joints (shoulder, elbow, wrist, knuckles). Guide toward arm balance and arm movement. Show children how to keep the hand straight with the arm and how to keep the fingers together, not isolated. The pieces in the Preparatory Book were created to teach children these physical movements.

  5. Musical Expression – Experiment with different levels of articulation, dynamics, and tempos when playing keyboard pieces. Describing sound as “separated,” “connected,” “a little soft,” “kind of loud,” “not too fast,” or “very slow” will encourage students to think about and listen for contrasts and variety.

  6. Ensemble Playing – Making music with someone else is fun. The duet parts can be played by the young student, an older student, a parent, or the teacher. Make sure they keep the beat steady!

  7. Rhythm – Develop the habit of chanting a rhythm introduction before beginning to play. This establishes both meter and tempo. Have students chant or “think” the rhythm patterns of a piece while learning and performing it. Rhythm syllables are Du De (doo day) for duple meter and Du Da Di (doo dah dee) for triple meter. Movement activities guide the children toward feeling a steady beat and continuity.

  8. The Music Page – Pictures of hands and keyboards tell what is needed for each performance piece. Because the pieces are taught by rote, the essential information for playing the piece is shown visually in a way that young children can understand and remember.

  9. Creativity and Improvisation – Creating and improvising something new is fun and reinforces the concepts. The story pages encourage making up a story and illustrating it musically. Children choose register, dynamics, tempo, and rhythm patterns before they begin to improvise music. Encourage other exercises to foster creativity and improvisation.

  10. Nonessential Information – Looking at music notation, describing notes on the music staff, and teaching terminology (such as up or down, step and skip, high and low, right or left hand, or finger numbers) are not necessary in beginning piano instruction.

  11. Essential Information – The important concepts in beginning piano instruction include: rhythm coordination, rhythm patterns, tonal patterns, recognizing same and different, singing in tune, directions of movement, using the “right” hand/fingers on the “right” keys, and remembering “how a piece goes” along with its playing location.

Where to Learn More

The Bibliography at the end of the Preparatory Book Teacher’s Guide and Teacher’s Lesson Plans: Books 1 and 2 lists resources to learn more about Gordon’s theories on how children learn music. Many of the books cited discuss audiation and how to teach audiation skills. Use the glossaries.

Teachers can find additional learning opportunities at summer workshops and conferences that offer classes on how to teach audiation skills to students in different music settings.

Some of the following teaching approaches and exercises may be unfamiliar: rote teaching or teaching by imitation, pattern instruction, creativity and improvisation activities, movement and singing activities, and small group instruction. To get started, teachers should choose those activities they feel comfortable with and grow year by year with their students.