By Dr. Julie Knerr

We thank everyone who attended our Piano Safari Summer Institute this past weekend in Athens, Ohio. It was a wonderful, pedagogy-packed event. We really enjoyed meeting teachers from OH, KY, PA, NC, NY, IL, VA, AL, and even Australia. If you missed it, don’t worry! We have another summer institute planned for Saturday, July 23 in Westport, Connecticut. Here is the Registration page. We would love to have you join us!

One of the topics we discussed at the Piano Safari Summer Institute was how teaching Rote Pieces in the beginning of study, alongside a systematic reading system, can enhance not only a student’s motivation and aural training, but also their Concentration, Confidence, Keyboard Orientation, Reading (yes, it’s really true!), Pattern Recognition, Rhythm, Technique, and Artistry.

In this blog post, I would like to discuss how Rote Teaching enhances Artistry in the realm of improvisation and composition.

When Katherine and I started teaching patterned pieces by rote, we discovered all the benefits of rote teaching. The link between Rote Pieces and our students’ creative compositions was a pleasant surprise. We discovered that students improvise and compose using the patterns they have played in their pieces. This means that if a student’s pieces are in Middle C position, it is likely that the student will improvise and compose only in Middle C position. In contrast, if a student has played patterned pieces by rote in a variety of styles, sounds, and ranges on the piano, the student will create music using these patterns. As you might imagine, this results in some beautiful music. Also, since the patterned Rote Pieces show students that music is composed in logical patterns, rather than being a random collection of notes, the students tend to produce music that makes sense in its form and patterns.

Below are three students who composed the following improvisations/compositions. These were completely created by the student, without any help from me.

First, a cute little 4-year-old student (who happens to be Katherine Fisher’s brilliant son). He had been working in Piano Safari Level 1 on pieces like Outer Space (which uses a glissando) and a variety of other sounds. He created this improvisation, which he called “Rocket Ship Going Up to Space.” (This was the abridged version!!)

Next, this student was studying in Unit 3 of Piano Safari Level 2, which introduces 5ths through pieces such as Flamingo Dancers. She was also practicing pentascales and chords for our school-wide exams. Notice the use of shifting 5ths and pentascales. Students compose patterns they have played in their pieces!

Lastly, this Piano Safari Level 2 student was working toward her MDP Prep B Exam. One of her pieces was Sherlock Holmes by Schoenmehl. She came to her lesson one day and said she had created her own piece. It had striking similarities to Sherlock Holmes in the walking bass, swing eighths, but was completely her own new composition. In this video you will see her perform Sherlock Holmes, followed by her composition.

Seeing students create music on their own using patterns they learned in their Rote Pieces is exciting. They are so creative! Be on the lookout in your own studio for creative compositions, and if your students compose pieces, please share them with us on Facebook.