Will teaching by rote keep students from learning to read music?

The answer to this is an emphatic NO. When rote pieces are presented in conjunction with our comprehensive intervallic reading approach, students actually become better readers (and overall musicians!) in the long run. They typically have a stronger ear, a better understanding of patterns and form, and a more developed technique than those who did not learn by rote.

I have already started students in another piano method. Do you think it would be helpful to assign some of the Piano Safari Rote Pieces along with this other method?

Yes, absolutely! Rote Pieces do not require prior knowledge of theory or reading and will complement any piano method. Combining Rote Pieces with a reading method allows students to gain all the benefits that come from studying Rote Pieces while also developing their reading skills. The Piano Safari Technical Exercises and Rote Pieces Book, with its companion CD, was designed for just this purpose. It contains the Rote Pieces from Piano Safari Repertoire Books 1 and 2 along with the Animal Technique Exercises from Repertoire Book 1. The pieces and techniques in this book can be assigned at the teacher’s discretion throughout the first several levels of any standard method. During the very first lessons, students can learn motivating pieces like “Charlie Chipmunk,” “Hungry Herbie Hippo,” and “I Love Coffee.” Gradually the pieces progress in difficulty to the late elementary level, such as “Flamingo Dancers” and “Stormy Seas.” These pieces may be assigned to transfer students in their second or even third year of piano study.

Why do you delay the grand staff in reading pieces until Repertoire Book 2?

We believe the intervallic approach is the best way for students to learn to read notation. Excellent sight readers do not read note by note, but instead, they are adept at seeing the contours of melodies as well as interval and chord shapes. This skill is best developed by a carefully sequenced intervallic approach, beginning with unisons and gradually expanding to 2nds, 3rds, 5ths, and 4ths (4ths are the most difficult intervals to read, which is why they are presented last.) In order to provide a carefully paced sequence for reading intervals, the Reading Pieces and Sight Reading Cards in Level 1 of Piano Safari are all written for one hand to allow students to concentrate on the intervals contained in one clef at a time. We introduce the notes of the grand staff and Reading Pieces on the grand staff in Piano Safari Repertoire Book 2. Despite the fact that students are only reading one hand at a time in Repertoire Book 1, they are playing pieces on the grand staff in their Rote Pieces and Folk Songs in throughout Repertoire Book 1. This provides the variety of sound and technical coordination necessary to prepare students to play Reading Pieces on the grand staff in Repertoire Book 2. Therefore, we delay reading on the grand staff, but we do not delay playing on the grand staff.

In comparison to other methods, is Piano Safari is a slow or fast-paced method?

Over the course of the past fifty years, American piano methods have become more slowly paced. In methods from the 1930s, such as John Thompson, the pieces progress quickly. By contrast, piano methods from the 1990s-2000s move more gradually.

We designed Piano Safari to progress slowly in terms of reading and quickly in terms of playing. In reading, one unit is devoted entirely to 2nds and another unit to 3rds before these two intervals are finally combined. This is a much slower approach than is found in other methods, where only a few pages might be devoted to each interval before they are combined. We feel that in order for students to become confident readers, this slow and careful approach, with additional reinforcement in the Sight Reading Cards, provides a solid foundation for learning to read notation.

In contrast, because children can play more complicated pieces than they can read, we include Rote Pieces, Folk Songs, and Challenge Pieces that progress at a faster pace. These pieces serve to pique interest and motivate students while they are studying the simpler Reading Pieces and Sight Reading Cards. The slow and fast pacing of various aspects of their piano study combine to foster confidence in both playing music and reading notation.

How long does it take the average student to complete Level 1? 

Most piano students take a full year (at minimum the school year) to complete Level 1. Repertoire Book 1 (119 pages) is composed of 6 sections (Introductory Unit and Units 1-5). The average student takes almost 2 months to complete each Unit. It is important to take the necessary time at the beginning of study to form the fundamentals: reading, rhythm, technique, and artistry. This stage should not be rushed.

Why do you teach eighth notes at the beginning?

We teach eighth notes at the beginning for several reasons:
Children enjoy fast rhythms. Fast is exciting!
Children are capable of tapping eighth notes from the beginning of study, so why hold them back? We do delay playing consecutive eighth notes until a higher level of coordination is developed, but fast repeated notes are not difficult for beginning students.
Using a syllabic counting system at the beginning of study enables students to play/tap more difficult rhythms than they can understand mathematically. The early introduction of eighth notes prevents problems with subdivision that may develop if they are delayed.
Compositionally, allowing eighth notes from the beginning broadens rhythmic possibilities. As a result, students have more interesting pieces to play from early in their piano study.

Why do you delay the introduction of metric counting until Level 2 of Piano Safari?

We direct students to count syllabically (with Ta’s) throughout Level 1 of Piano Safari because syllabic counting engenders an understanding of musical patterns and rhythmic inflection. If students are required to put numbers to the rhythms (metric counting) before rhythmic patterns are established in their ears, they may either become discouraged and confused when trying to say the correct number on the correct note, or they may become so focused on the numbers that they tend to count without musical inflection. Also, music already has many numbers to learn at the beginning (finger numbers and measure numbers). Syllabic counting takes away one set of numbers and makes music easier for young beginners to read.

Additionally, young children may not have the mathematical understanding to count metrically, especially if subdivisions, like eighth notes, are presented. We believe this may be one reason why most methods delay the introduction of eighth note subdivision. However, students can count and understand quite complicated rhythms if they count syllabically. If students have a firm grounding in counting complicated rhythms with syllables (Ta’s), then when metric counting is introduced in Piano Safari Level 2, students already understand the rhythms aurally and musically. This makes it simple to add correct metric counting to the rhythms they have already internalized.

How are the Listening CDs integral to the method?

The Listening CD for each level provides a vital link for learning the Rote, Technique, Folk, and Challenge pieces successfully. Students will learn these relatively difficult pieces/technical concepts more easily when their ear is already prepared. We intend that students listen to the CD as background music as well as more intentionally when a specific piece is on their assignment.

How are the Sight Reading & Rhythm Cards integral to the method?

We consider the Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards to be a core part of the method. They are essential for developing summary reading skills. Students learn the Reading Pieces in the Repertoire Books quickly because they are musically and technically easier than the Rote Pieces. As a result, students are able to commit these pieces to memory quite easily after a few days. The Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards provide brand new reading and rhythm examples for each day. Students who use these cards are provided with a way to extensively practice the identification and playing of intervals. As a result, they become summary and confident readers.

What is the purpose of the Technical Exercises and Rote Pieces Book and CD?

The purpose of the Technical Exercises and Rote Pieces Book and CD is to provide Rote Pieces for students who are using a reading method other than Piano Safari. We believe that Rote Pieces are vital to the development of a student’s musical understanding, ear training, memory training, and confidence. The CD allows students to hear the pieces before attempting to play the pieces. Knowing how a piece sounds makes it easier to learn. This book should be used with a standard reading method to enable the student to learn both by ear (rote) and by eye (reading).

Would Piano Safari be appropriate for teaching a group class? Do you have group lesson plans?

We have successfully used Piano Safari in many group classes! We considered writing group class lesson plans, but since every group is so different, we felt it would be easier for teachers to read the Teacher’s Guide and other materials provided at www.pianosafari.com and adapt the ideas for teaching their specific group of children. We receive this question so frequently that I have written a Mini Essay on the subject. See Mini Essay 22: Group Teaching under Pedagogical Resources at www.pianosafari.com.