A Broad & Comprehensive Curriculum
Over the past couple of decades, my focus as a teacher has been to go beyond creating just performers of classical music. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s Mother Tongue teaching philosophy has proven itself when it comes to teaching incredibly young children to perform difficult classical music. My goal is to apply these principles in an effort to nurture versatile Contemporary Pianists. Together, the following traits lay a strong foundation for musical success.
- To have the ability to interpret and perform repertoire ranging from the standard classical repertoire to contemporary genres. (jazz, blues, rock, pop, new age, etc.)
- To have the ability to read music effortlessly and fluently.
- To have the ability to easily internalize music with with a highly-developed, "educated" ear.
- To have the ability to be able to improvise in various musical genres fluently.
- To have a deep working knowledge of the theoretical elements of Contemporary Music.
- To have the ability to translate musical knowledge into original compositions.
- To have the ability to have spontaneous musical conversations with other musicians.
When I set out on my quest to expand Mother Tongue teaching beyond the performance of the classical repertoire, I soon discovered there were no existing materials geared towards presenting these concepts to young children, so I had to create my own. The 2019/2020 term saw the culmination of years of experimentation and refinement, the result being the completion of several volumes of materials.
The purpose of these materials is to teach the fundamentals efficiently, through small, attainable exercises. I was extremely pleased to discover that these exercises seamlessly translated to online studies.
The Anatomy of the Contemporary Pianist
"How can we have an entire industry dedicated to "teaching music," and never get around to actually showing anybody how to create music? I believe that the answer to this question lies in the European origins of our most basic ideas about what it means to "teach music." Remember, for centuries the primary goal of classical music education was to produce performers capable of reading a sheet of music and correctly playing the composer's ideas. And this is no small task. It requires both a formidable control over one's instrument and also a very high level of skill at reading complicated musical phrases on a written page. It also requires great sensitivity and expressive power. However, in the European classical tradition, the performer's role is not to understand how to create music but how to execute it."
..... David Reed (author of "Improvise for Real", "Understand the music you hear. Play the music you imagine")
The Traditional System of Musical Education
Back in the days of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, the ability to read, perform, compose and improvise were considered to be of equal importance. The technical/visual (performance) was combined with the creative, (composition/improvisation) to produce multi-faceted musicians. When, the conservatory-based Traditional Musical Educational system emerged, the emphasis was placed on performance, and for whatever reason, the creative elements were eliminated.
It is Only in Music that the Creative Process Remains Shrouded in Mystery
In every other art form, students begin to practice their own creative expression right from the very first day. Painting, drawing, sculpture, poetry, drama, and creative writing classes all give students the opportunity to experience the creative process as a normal part of their learning.
The Mother Tongue Method
The Mother Tongue Method of musical education involves teaching a student to play the piano in the same way as they would naturally learn to speak their language through listening, imitation and repetition, which develops a strong ear, superior concentration and excellent memory.
Musicians have been learning in this way for centuries. The early composers were raised in a musical environment where performance, improvisation and composition were all part of their education.
The world of music has always contained amazing musicians who have had little or no formal training at all. I used to wonder, "How did these people attain such musical prowess..... such advanced musical ears..... a strong working knowledge of the elements of theory..... the ability to improvise..... the ability to compose..... the ability to have musical conversations with others?" Musicians such as these are often categorized as "naturally gifted." While I don't deny this, I also believe much of their knowledge was attained through Mother Tongue learning.
Did You Know?
Many classical musicians are lost without a piece of music in front of them.
Many contemporary musicians, (jazz, pop, rock, etc.), with fantastic musical ears are lost when they are confronted with a printed score.
Contrary to popular belief, Traditional Musical Education is not comprehensive. Its curriculum is centered around Western classical music's major/minor system, not touching on a vast number of elements essential to the Contemporary Musician.
The elements of contemporary music such as jazz, pop, rock and improvisation are considered to be too difficult for young students by many educators, and those wishing to study these must often wait until they can attend post-secondary educational institutions to do so.
Asking many musicians to improvise often produces a reaction of sheer terror because they have grown up learning to only play other people's music, but have never been taught how to "speak" themselves.
It Doesn't Have to be That Way
I have spent the greater part of the last two decades experimenting with my students to find ways to incorporate Dr. Suzuki's Mother Tongue techniques into the teaching of a curriculum, which includes skills necessary for today's Contemporary Pianist. As there are no existing "methods" pertaining to teaching these things to young people, I have had to carefully build my own.. The challenge has been to marry what I consider to be the strongest components of Traditional Musical Education, the "unschooled, self-taught" movement, and contemporary disciplines, (jazz, rock, pop, blues) into materials which can be presented in a natural, easy to digest "Mother Tongue" way.
To provide my students with the opportunity to obtain a diverse and comprehensive musical education consisting of the building blocks necessary for today's Contemporary Pianist - to nurture each student with respect and positive reinforcement - to never compare, never judge, but always support.
Strong performance skills are paramount to any musician. These include superior tone, fluid technique, musical sensitivity, and mature interpretation. There is always much value in experiencing the repertoire of the great classical Masters, but there is also a wealth of music by contemporary composers in various genres with much to teach. The versatile Contemporary Pianist should be equally comfortable performing the genius of Bach, the passion of Beethoven, the cool swing of jazz or the melancholy melodies of the blues.
When it comes to the teaching of note reading, there are major differences in the way it is approached by Traditional Musical Education as compared to the Mother Tongue Method.
Traditional Musical Education is based on the VISUAL.....
In Traditional Music, note reading is the emphasis right from the first lesson. By focusing so strongly on the visual and abstract concepts of notation, the development of a truly musical ear is often compromised. In addition, participation is often restricted to children at an older age.
The Mother Tongue Method is based on the AURAL.....
This discipline teaches the reading of music in the same way children learn their language. They hear their language first, and begin the abstracts once they can speak fluently. This, more natural approach to learning promotes the development of strong musical ears as well as eyes. It also allows children to begin their musical studies at a much younger age.
“Historically, the Western classical music tradition has been based on the process of learning new pieces from musical notation, and hence playing by ear has a lower importance in musical training. In the West, learning by ear is also associated with the genres of folk music, blues, rock, and jazz..”..... Wikipedia
Music is"The Language of Sound", so the development of the ear should be a priority. Often, ear training is limited to very basic hearing exercises in preparation for musical examinations. This does little to build a truly musical ear.
A musician's hearing skills should include the ability to hear tone, dynamics, scales, chords, modes, progressions and anything else that would provide the tools to be able to have a fluent musical dialogue.
Hearing in music is an ability - just like any other ability, it can be nurtured, honed and expanded. The earlier this process begins, the better. The Mother Tongue approach is the perfect vehicle for this.
Asking many musicians to improvise could result in a reaction of sheer terror.
Those who do not understand often categorize the ability to improvise as some sort of mysterious "gift from above". In reality, just like learning a language, improvisation is an ability nurtured through a healthy learning environment.
Children grow up learning their language in a simple, natural way. They hear it, they imitate it and they repeat it. Grunts and groans morph into words and phrase, which eventually are joined together to form complete sentences, resulting in spontaneous conversations.
Improvisations are spontaneous musical conversations. My faith in Mother Tongue learning inspired me to devote many years experimenting with students, beginning with teenagers and working my way down to children as young as seven years old, to determine if they could be taught to improvise in an easy, natural way. The results have been amazing.
The ability to improvise goes hand in hand with a strong musical ear. As sounds become part of a musical vocabulary, they too will emerge as short phrases, becoming complete sentences and spontaneous conversations.
"Improvisation should be at the core of the music curriculum. It should come first and should remain at the core of music education throughout the later years of increasing expertise. Musicians educated with improvisation at the center will have a better-developed ability to think musically – to deeply understand music as well as be better prepared to interpret written scores."
..... R. Keith Sawyer
A strong working knowledge of Theory is another component in the building of a solid musical foundation.
Being comfortable in the practical application of theoretical elements at the keyboard is "musical gold". It can go a long way in supplying a better understanding of the printed score, being comfortable with the elements of improvisation, and providing the building blocks of musical composition.
Learning Music Theory as a separate subject away from the piano is often of minimal value.
Music is"The Language of Sound", so the development of the ear should be a priority. This is not the case. Ear training is often limited to the preparation for basic examination hearing tests.