Review by Louise Harlow
This introduction to piano begins entirely on the black keys. It is aimed a young beginners using simple songs, musical activities and playing them on the piano. The pupil learns about pulse, rhythm, pitch and reading simple rhythms.
There are several sections throughout the book where the pupil learns to identify the black key groups and plays various exercises and songs using the middle 3 fingers. The pupil learns to play with each hand separately and works up to using both hands alternately. The end of the book introduces left hand accompaniment which can be played with two pupils or pupil and teacher.
Songs and Rhymes
The pupil learns a range of songs and rhymes which are used for used for learning to sing and learning rhythm in terms of clapping the pattern of the words. Some are very short, some are longer. These are learned away from the piano but once the pupil is confident to sing a song, they can then learn where to play it on the piano. The book includes a keyboard layout and indicates the keys to be used – the pupil can experiment playing in different parts of the keyboard.
After learning a number of songs, about 12, solfa is introduced with two pitches – initially so and la; secondly so and mi. Some songs in this section are familiar from earlier in the book, some new ones are introduced. Hand signs are introduced at this point and the piano keyboard layout also indicates which black keys are called so and la for the purpose of playing the songs. The same principle applies for so and mi songs.
Once the pupil has a bank of familiar songs, the book turns to understanding a steady beat and distinguishing pulse and rhythm. Hearbeat images are used to show the pulse and additional images show the rhythm where a beat has more than one word or syllable.
At this point, rhythm names ta and te-te are also introduced along with off stave notation – crotchets and quaver pairs. There are also writing activities in the book to draw heartbeats over the words for a familiar song. Later a similar activity is given to write the stick notation.
The book progresses logically along similar lines to the first half introducing some new elements along the way. By the end of the book, the pupil will have met the concepts of pulse, rhythm (including ta, te-te, ta-a names), pitch. They will have learned to sing la, so, mi, re, do. Additionally, the crotchet rest, minim, bar lines, simple 2/4 time signature (with a heartbeat at the bottom), a brief introduction to triple time at the very end.
Initially, I thought the intial focus on rhythm rather than pulse was rather back to front, as I would normally teach keeping a steady beat before introducing rhythm. However, I’ve found that this works well and the visual images of heartbeats, syllables and notation makes it very clear.
I do think that the book moves quite quickly introducing solfa, pulse, rhythms, then rhythm names (ta ti-ti) and notation. For pupils who have little or no prior experience of music or Kodály based classes additional songs and activities may be required to consolidate the elements.
I think the activities work well between teacher and pupil but I also think they would work well with two pupils – perhaps overlapping lessons with two similar aged pupils so they can do some activities with one song together. It would be easy to produce additional materials such as worksheets for drawing heartbeats over the words or writing stick notation.