Introduction by Dr. Julie Knerr

We are pleased to announce the release of two new books, Diversions Books 1 and 2 by Juan Cabeza! Juan is from Spain, and last year he emailed us to express his delight with Piano Safari, as he had begun using it in his teaching. As a thank you gift, he sent us Piano Train Trips, which had been inspired by his use of Piano Safari. We were pleased to meet such a gifted composer and teacher and have been privileged to make his books available in the U.S. and around the world.

As you will see as you listen to and peruse his new books, Diversions Books 1 and 2 are an ideal supplement to the late elementary and early intermediate student’s study. The student can be a detective by discovering the technical and musical patterns that are featured in each piece. This will increase the student’s confidence in reading, since a complicated-looking score can be easily decoded and played immediately. The result is appealing music that sounds more difficult than it is. Diversions are very pianistic and are based on common keyboard patterns that increase a student’s technical, as well as reading, ability.

Diversions are also well suited to a student’s first introduction to playing a set of pieces in contrasting styles. For example, a student could choose three of his favorite contrasting Diversions to play at a recital. This is great preparation for later study of multi-piece sets by Schumann and Prokofiev.

We have asked Juan to write about how he came to compose the Diversions.

By Juan Cabeza

Since I discovered Piano Safari, I have completely changed my way of teaching piano. Besides the very useful and fun animal techniques, I learned how well the combination of rote teaching with the intervallic reading approach works. The best way to combine these two approaches is to use patterned pieces as Piano Safari does.

The music is composed using harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic patterns. When students learn and understand a pattern, they can play it easily each time they see it in other pieces. Once they learn how to play a certain pattern on the keyboard, they can further recognize how it looks in the score.

Therefore, finding patterns became my goal. I began looking for patterns in common pieces and extracting them. The next step was to look for pieces with a single recognizable pattern that work well with my students. However, I found very few interesting pieces like that fit this category, so I began writing my own compositions. This is how I began to compose my first book, Piano Train Trips, and this is also the reason I have just written these two new books, Diversions Book 1 and Diversions Book 2.

Diversions is a collection of 42 patterned etudes for piano divided into two books of 21 progressive pieces each. Each etude focuses on a single technical pattern that students may encounter in the early stages of piano study. These include scales, arpeggios, chords, repeated notes, intervals, and other common pianistic patterns. Most of the etudes are transposable to other keys to allow students to assimilate each concept in a deeper way. The etudes included in the two volumes of Diversions range in difficulty from elementary to early intermediate level.

I use these pieces with my students in private lessons and also in group lessons. First I play the piece and ask the students to find the pattern. For example, I ask, “What pattern does the left hand play?” “What pattern does the right hand use?” “How many times are the patterns used?” “Are they used in the same position or in different positions?” Then we look at the score to find these patterns and to see how the piece is composed using the pattern. These pieces are designed to be used as rote pieces or as reading pieces. First I have the student play the patterns separately in the various keys that it appears in the piece. They then play the piece as written. Once the student is comfortable with the piece, I ask the student to transpose the piece in a different key. Possible transposition options are suggested in the book.  The goal is to provide enjoyable and fun music for the students to play that shows them how music is composed as a set of logical patterns. Also, they can gain experience playing the patterns technically, and in reading and discovering the patterns in the score.

For example, Diversion 7 is based on two patterns.

  • First I have the students listen to the Audio Recording.
  • Then I play the piece twice while they listen.
  • Then I ask the following questions:
    • How many patterns are in the right hand?
    • How many times is the pattern played?
    • Is the pattern always played in the same position?
    • What scale is being used?
    • Do you see patterns in the left hand?
    • What is the pattern based on?
    • Are there some exceptions to this pattern? Where?
  • Then we look the score and try to find all the patterns we have talked about.

RH Pattern – Mainly a descending A Minor Pentascale, except near the end, where it changes direction.

LH Pattern – Intervals of 2nds through 5ths

  • We analyze the score and circle the patterns.
  • We then play the patterns hands separately and then hands together. If a student has difficulty playing RH legato and LH staccato, I assign some simple exercises to work on this skill of mixed articulations. Finally the student is ready to play the piece as written.
  • If this process is completed successfully, the students will easily be able to play the piece as written and also to transpose it to the suggested keys.

All the pieces in Diversions Books 1 and 2 can be introduced through a similar process of steps. I hope you enjoy Diversions and find it useful in your piano teaching.