Leia's Corner: What's on Your Shelves?

IMG_2108 If you're new to 88pianokeys.me or need a refresher, click here for the history behind "Leia's Corner".

Leia has been incredibly patient waiting for the answer to this question (slightly abridged):

How do you choose repertoire?

Before I share my answer, I thought it fascinating what she told me about her experience in India:

"I struggle most with finding repertoire for my beginning students. It's even harder with my singing students because I don't use a method book with them, but even with piano students it's difficult. What supplementary repertoire should I use while they are still on the method books? When should I stop using method books? (A friend of mine makes her students complete every course from start to finish, but I like to move out of books once they've learned the basics and start working on stand-alone pieces.) What should come after the method books? 

 It's quite tough for me as quite a new teacher, because there does not exist a 'serious' music community where I live. While there are hundreds of piano teachers and music schools, the teachers are not very highly qualified (usually they learn how to play for 3-4 years and then decide to make a career out of it), their curriculum is highly centered around the Trinity exams, and they teach by having the students copy their fingers rather than teaching them how to read music. It's very frustrating for me, because I often get a student who has 4 years' playing experience, but I still have to teach certain things from scratch, and often have to undo quite a lot of mistakes!"

Won't go to the exam issue right now, later (whew...definitely another blog)!  My answer to her question concerning repertoire is completely dependent upon student preference as this is clearly connected to motivation levels. Read more about that here in my past blog.

A more specific question might be:  How do I choose repertoire for students that motivates and still provides the basics I deem "essential"? Better yet: What books live on my library shelves? Here's a sneak peek.

The "Beginner" Shelf

514Ua4eUwzL._SL500_AA300_Beginners use the Faber and Faber's Piano Adventures Primer Lesson Book, Technique Book and Theory Book to learn the fundamentals. I know some teachers employ a variety of methods to suit learning styles and I greatly admire this. The Faber and Faber series is wonderful as are many others but I stick with one series to keep my plans somewhat streamlined.

After the primer books are completed, pianists move on to Piano Adventures Lesson Books 1, 2, 3 and 4. If it appears that one needs more  reinforcement, I will also use the correlating Technique, Performance or Gold Star Books. Usually, I do not use the theory books as I employ technology-assisted instruction during the lab or would rather assign worksheets found online that focus on specific concepts. That way I can save paper as well (see past blog about the Notability iPad app).

During these formative years, method books are key for keeping me organized and introducing concepts in a sequential fashion--guiding me and the students on the "straight" path.  However, if I only stuck to these books for the first couple of years, I don't think I'd be teaching any more. I grow restless easily and I know my budding musicians do as well so I frequently add activities that explore music off the beaten track. Here's my blog about igniting creativity at the first lesson.

The "Basics" Shelf

kjgp455-1After Lesson Book 4 is completed, the transition to Book 5 of Keith Snell's series works well for most. I like the newer Essential Piano Repertoire series which includes a CD and provides a taste of all four style periods before the 21st century.

Most students move onward through the series up through book 10. Some never make it to book 5 as they find a unique path that yes, I let them follow. As a classically trained pianist it is important to me that every student experience at the very least a Bach Prelude, Invention, a Sonatina, a Sonata movement, and a Chopin selection for fundamental, solid technique and appreciation of past styles. Being a firm believer in equipping students with high-functioning skills needed for 21st century,  I integrate other styles and yes some never get quite the dose of classical I would prefer. There, I admit it, but you know what? I find these borderline students end up staying on my bench longer and remain happier.

The "Beyond" Shelf (my favorite section)

Ahh, now the fun really begins! Because it's my studio and I decide what happens I like to create themes or units that feature supplemental material. You won't be hearing about the details now--that's an entirely different blog. For now, here's an incomplete list of books that fill this section of my library.

Student Keepers and Pleasers

imagesRobert Vandall: the master pattern-piece composer.  I pull out one of his books or pieces and suddenly sleepy students wake up to the world of patterns and find they can sound good and even memorize with confidence.

Festival and contest lists: looking for a tried and true supplemental piece? Check out the list of festival pieces provided at PianoatPepper.com and other sites. This is such an easy way to find a winner.

Lab Assistants

Michelle Sisler has the corner of the market when it comes to providing what you need to keep your lab organized so my shelves house her Double Click Curriculum. These books correlate software and apps to method books which makes assigning lab tasks a breeze. Here's a series of blogs about my studio lab.

Hip Theory Books

Like I said, I prefer not to use theory books at least not until high school. This is a terrific time for students to fjhfjh1614assimilate all their knowledge. Completing units in TCW's Accelerando offers theory instruction and challenges in a fun format with reinforcement of a comprehensive theory knowledge. A blog about this book has been written as well.

More than One

Almost forgot, but there are plenty of duets and ensembles taking up room. Melody Bober and Robert Vandall books are always in stock along with the In Recital Series. These feature CD's which help sell a duet immediately.

Off the Page Inspirations

17416200Staples that get restocked immediately? Bradley Sowash's  That's Jazz Books 1-3 and Forrest Kinney's Pattern Play and Chord Play. Essential to my curriculum: confidence away from the printed page. Both of these authors provide resources I could not teach without. Read excellent tips about using Bradley Sowash's books here.


What I didn't include here? The pop music books which haven't even found their way back to the shelves yet as I'm currently designing a pop music unit. I'll save that for another blog. Oh, and holiday music, favorite classical editions, sacred music, jazz supplements...the list goes on.

Wow, I feel like I just shared all my life secrets. OK not really secrets but info that can only be acquired after years of trial and error. Wish I would have had access to a list like this when I was a rookie piano teacher. You're welcome :-)

One last thought: I teach a human being, a musician and not a method.

Interested in joining the 88pianokeys.me online book club? It's not too late. Read the latest post and comments here with another discussion question due out shortly. Thanks to all those who have contributed already, fascinating to read your thoughts and experiences!