By Dr. Julie Knerr

This past week I had two young students play the Improvisation Piece “Thunderstorm Over the Prairie” found in Piano Safari Level 1.

They both came up with great, but extremely different, improvisations.

Thunderstorm Number 1

The student below is 6, almost 7, and she recently started studying with me as a transfer student. She had not done any improvisation before, so was a bit hesitant to create music for the beautiful art she colored at home:

But as you will see from the video, by the end of the piece, she was starting to understand that she can create sounds at the piano to create a great sounding piece.

Thunderstorm Number 2

The second student is 6 years old. She has studied violin for several years and started piano in October. She is extremely …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

Although it is fun to try different methods with different students, there is something very satisfying about mastering a single method. I find that when I teach the same pieces to dozens and dozens of students, I am better able to hone the art of teaching than if I am constantly teaching different pieces (although I enjoy that too).

Before my 5-year-old student came today, I gave some thought to what I wanted to accomplish. It’s amazing how even three minutes of actual deep thought can make a lesson so much better! I decided that I was going to try a new way of breaking down “Ode to Joy” into manageable chunks, because after teaching a piece to dozens and dozens of students, a teacher can begin to know the pitfalls of …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

Since we created Piano Safari over ten years ago, we have gradually refined our teaching strategies and added new ideas in our own teaching. One of these “add-on” ideas relates to rhythm.

We have discovered that students read music better when they see the patterns and contours of notes in groups rather than reading one note at a time (See the Super Awesome Sight Reading Series for an in depth look at reading). In a similar way, students gain a better sense of rhythm when they see groups of notes as rhythm patterns as well, rather than counting note by note.

Here are the Animal Rhythm Patterns we use in Piano Safari Level 1:

We begin teaching these Animal Rhythm Patterns from the very first lesson. We have integrated these patterns clearly in the Sight …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

Decorating the Piano is one of my favorite activities for teaching White Key Names. This can be done in Private, Partner, or Group Classes, and at the end of this post, I will tell you about a way to make it a self-directed activity specifically for Partner Lessons or Group Classes.

I usually do this activity at the interview or very first lesson. Through this, I gain information about the child, including:

Whether the student knows the letters of the alphabet
How the student responds to my directions
If the student can distinguish between groups of two and three black keys
If the student has the attention span to decorate the entire piano.

I can use this information as we move forward with piano lessons.

Materials You Will Need for Decorating the Piano

8 bouncy balls
8 plastic …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

In this blog post, I will focus on #3 of the four ingredients that lead to confident and fluent music reading, Rhythm:

Ingredient #1. Patterns and Theory
Ingredient #2. Contours and Intervals
Ingredient #3. Rhythm
Ingredient #4. Note Names

I have long had a hunch that rhythm was an important component for good sight reading. All the good sight readers I have ever known have an excellent sense for rhythm. I am blessed to be included in this camp. I don’t know how it happened, but I have always been able to understand almost any rhythm immediately. In fact, when I was 8, I was in a weekly theory class with three other little girls. We had a book of rhythms to tap, and we were supposed to practice them ahead of time before …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

In this blog post, we will focus on #2 of the four ingredients that lead to confident and fluent music reading, Contours and Intervals:

Ingredient #1. Patterns and Theory
Ingredient #2. Contours and Intervals
Ingredient #3. Rhythm
Ingredient #4. Note Names

Intervallic Reading Approach

Piano Safari uses an intervallic reading approach. This means that students are trained to read the intervals and see the relationships between the notes, rather than reading by note name one note at a time.

We have found that of all the reading approaches, the Intervallic Approach produces the highest percentage of students who become confident and competent music readers.

In Piano Safari Level 1, students begin with pre-staff reading (the importance of which will be discussed in another blog post), and then move onto the staff.

2nds, Unisons, and Landmarks

After the pre-staff …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

In Part 3, I presented the four ingredients that lead to confident and fluent music reading:

Ingredient #1. Patterns and Theory
Ingredient #2. Contours and Intervals
Ingredient #3. Rhythm
Ingredient #4. Note Names

From the beginning of a student’s piano study, we need to establish the idea that music is not a random collection of notes. Instead, music is made up of logical patterns.

In the beginning of study, this is accomplished by teaching students Rote Pieces that are related to patterns on the keyboard. This may seem strange to say that teaching Rote Pieces actually helps students learn to read, but it is true! Students who have been taught patterned Rote Pieces at the beginning of study look for patterns in their Reading Pieces and Sight Reading Cards, because they are trained …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

Part 1 addressed how long it should take for students to become confident readers.

Part 2 addressed false assumptions on the part of the student and teacher.

Part 3 will present the four ingredients that we believe combine to lead down the Long Road to reading mastery.

I say it is a Long Road, because it is true that there is a Short Road.

First, let’s take a look at the Long Road.

Think about how you, as an advanced pianist, read. When you look at a piece of music, do you see the note name of every single note in your mind? Or do you see shapes of chords and contours of melodies? Hopefully, you see the latter. As music becomes more complicated, it is almost impossible to think of every …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

In Part 1 of this blog series, I presented the idea that it takes about three years of persistent work for a student to become a fluent reader. The remainder of this blog series will focus on what we should teach in relation to reading in those important first three years.

I believe that teachers, and method book creators, often do not think enough about this important question: How should students think about reading notation?

In my opinion, many method books do not provide a systematic or thorough enough approach to reading. Too often, a method book will have a page or two of the interval of a 2nd, introduce some letter names on the staff, have a page of 3rds, a few more letter names, and then put …

By Dr. Julie Knerr

When Katherine and I began writing Piano Safari, one of our goals was to provide a successful approach for teaching children to read music notation.

Sight reading has always been one of my strengths, so throughout college and graduate school I was dismayed to be surrounded by truly fantastic pianists who were very poor sight readers. How could this happen? How could I prevent this problem from happening to my students?

Over the years, we have come to see that teaching students to read music notation requires:

Understanding what concepts are necessary to be a good reader
Providing systematic instruction in reading
Believing strongly in our chosen reading approach and teaching it wholeheartedly
Providing large amounts of reinforcement for each reading concept over a period of several years

In this series of blog posts, I would …