The P Plate Piano launches began on Sunday with an event at Coffs Harbour (for those unfamiliar with Australian geography, a seaside town roughly halfway up the coast between Sydney and Brisbane) with a small number of piano teachers in attendance. Notice had been short and, in any case, there are not a large number of piano teachers in smaller centres like Coffs Harbour (population, an estimated 66,000).
Having a small group meant that we could run the launch event a little more like a conversation, or a discussion group, and I took the chance to ask the teachers attending about the choice of method book they make for their current students. P Plate Piano Book 1 starts at about the place most method’s book one finishes off, so the discussion was highly relevant to the music we were about to look at.
Astonishingly, no two teachers used the same method. Maybe less surprising was the consensus that none of the methods already tried by the teachers had been quite right, and whichever method they were using was in some number of ways a compromise.
But when I asked the teachers in Coffs Harbour to explain what it was that they wanted in the methods that they weren’t already getting I was met with a kind of frustrated silence that I’m sure would also be forthcoming from most other groups of piano teachers anywhere in Australia or, for that matter, the world. It’s one thing to be dissatisfied, but quite another to be able to articulate what one wants.
Of course, we didn’t end up dwelling on the question, and I’m sure that with a little more time we might have ended up with a bit of a wish list. But it made me think it was worth asking teachers who read this blog – what do you look for in the first book of a method?
First and foremost I look for experiences that do not centre on middle C. I also look for opportunities for students to learn in ways other than simply by reading from the page. And I need the pieces, no matter how teensy-tiny they might be, to sound sophisticated and contemporary (in the sense of not sounding arcane) in their harmonic language and rhythmic realisation.
Next up, I look for a method that uses pattern recognition rather than label recognition in teaching reading. And ideally, I would be looking for a method that is well-pitched for the age group and maturity level of each beginner starting with me.
What about you? What attributes do you look for when choosing a method book to work through with your students? And what aspects would be most off-putting, and prevent you from using a particular method book? Do you look for plenty of additional repertoire? Is the range of written activities important for you? From the mundane to the momentous, what would you most like to see in a method book, that maybe you are not finding already?