By Dr. Julie Knerr

We had a terrific time in Baltimore! Thank you to all who came to our sessions and visited our booth. It was so much fun to meet new teachers and see familiar faces!

One of the highlights was meeting Sally and Angie from the UK in person (and their red elephant). They are from the Curious Piano Teachers, and if you haven’t gotten to know them, check out their site and join this exciting learning community!

Katherine and I presented a session called “Rote is Not a Four-Letter Word. The Role of Rote Teaching in the Development of Reading, Technique, and Artistry.” Some teachers asked if we could put a brief outline on our blog, so here it is!

We presented our new paradigm for rote teaching, to replace the reputation rote teaching has sometimes had as a four-letter word.

A New Paradigm for Rote Teaching

Rote teaching should be:

  • Used with beginners
  • Pattern Pieces only. Not every piece is a good Rote Piece!
  • Used to teach elements of technique, keyboard orientation, musicality, style, rhythm, and creativity
  • Used simultaneously with instruction in reading notation
  • Indispensable to a well-rounded musical education where students gain:
    • Visual Music Literacy (Reading)
    • Aural Music Literacy (Rote)

Four Questions About Rote Teaching

1. What do we mean by rote teaching at the piano?

The systematic introduction of musical and artistic concepts that are best introduced by modeling rather than from the notated score. Music is an aural art and thus transcends notation.

As Frances Clark said, “Sound before symbol.”

2. Is poor reading the direct result of teaching by rote?

Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps it is a problem with the instruction in reading.

3. Why is it assumed we have to teach only by reading or only by rote?

We don’t! The best results come from a combination of:

  • Pattern Pieces taught by rote (develops Aural Music Literacy)
  • Reading Pieces and Sight Reading Cards (develops Visual Music Literacy)

Students only taught by rote may always be handicapped in their ability to read

Students only taught by reading may never fully develop their aural abilities and creativity.

4. Are there any benefits to rote teaching!

Yes, we have identified 10:

The Ten Benefits of Rote Teaching

  1. Motivation. Students want to play interesting sounding music from the beginning of study. Playing pieces by rote allows students to do this. The pieces need to be very patterned in a way that makes sense to a beginning student.
  2. Concentration. Rote Pieces are generally longer than Reading Pieces, which helps a student build concentration.
  3. Confidence. Students can walk up to any piano and play a great sounding piece without having to have their notated music with them.
  4. Keyboard Orientation. Pieces based on keyboard patterns help the student develop a sense of the layout of the keyboard.
  5. Pattern Recognition and Form. Since the pieces we teach by rote are very patterned, students learn from the beginning that music is created in pattern and form. It is not a random collection of notes.
  6. Rhythm. Rhythmic ideas are best taught by rote at the first presentation because relating this to the notation. In this way, students can play syncopated rhythms early on. They can also develop a feel for compound meter in 6/8 more easily when introduced to it away from the score.
  7. Technique. Students who are playing by rote can focus solely on the motions their arms, hands, and fingers are making without having to simultaneously decode a score.
  8. Reading. Yes, rote teaching helps students learn to read! This is because the technique is already automatized. So the student can concentrate on decoding a score, and the hands will automatically play.
  9. Artistry. Pieces in a variety of moods and styles can be taught by rote, which might be too difficult for the student to learn by reading. Students can develop a sense for phrasing and rubato.
  10. Creativity. Students use patterns they have in their hands that they learned in their Rote Pieces when they improvise and create music.

The last night of the conference, I returned to my hotel room to find Larry the Lion sound asleep.

I could relate! Conferences are tiring, but definitely worth it. They are like summer camp for piano teachers, only in a nice hotel with nice food, and not in the summer!! I hope you might consider attending a conference when one comes to your area if you have never been to an MTNA Conference before.

Here is the Piano Safari team at sunset by the water, on our way to dinner!

Christopher Fisher, Katherine Fisher, Wendy Blackwood, Julie Knerr