In the belief that every music student, whatever his major field of study, should have a modicum of keyboard facility, many conservatories and schools or colleges of music require that all students receive piano instruction. While such a project is educationally desirable it presents economic problems. One solution is to provide class instruction in instruments other than the student’s major instrument. In addition to the obvious savings in time, money, and the use of studio space, there are other advantages to this plan. Students gain satisfaction and encouragement from the opportunity to measure themselves against their peer group; an atmosphere of healthy competition spurs them on; they learn to play before one another; and they establish a foundation for ensemble playing.
As the physical and psychological circumstances of class instruction differ from those of private instruction, so also do its aims—particularly in college situations where course content must be tailored to the needs of degree-oriented students, many of whom are majoring in music education. In the case of piano skills these special aims have come to be expressed collectively by the term functional piano, which simply means “useful piano.”
In functional piano the student learns to sight-read simple piano pieces, accompaniments, and vocal scores; he learns to transpose, play by ear, harmonize melodies, improvise an accompaniment, and modulate; he understands the underlying principles of good fingering, pedaling, and touch; he is at home in all keys and can apply at the keyboard the knowledge of chords and their uses which he has gained in his theory class. And, hopefully, he acquires sufficient digital dexterity to handle all these useful matters fluently and musically.
Most private teachers would agree that such skills are a desirable part of any pianist’s equipment. Preoccupied with the individual pupil’s repertory, style, and technic needs, however, few teachers have time or inclination to include strictly “functional” items in the private lesson.
Since the objectives of what might be called “artist pianism” and functional piano are dissimilar, it follows that much of the material used and the manner of using it must also be dissimilar.
In determining the suitability of materials for class instruction two requirements are of the utmost importance: 1) everything should be playable by the class as a whole (hence the duets, the limited-range drills, and the avoidance of multiple-choice solutions in chord progressions), and 2) everything should be capable of being fragmented, or reduced, to its smallest and most basic components so that it may be presented, comprehended, and mastered in easy and logical steps. To ignore the first requirement means something less than total class participation, which not only wastes time but may invite disciplinary problems. To neglect the second requirement will result in uneven or delayed progress by the class as a whole—the bright students taking several steps at a bound while the slower ones hesitate, befogged. For these reasons, with the exception of improvisation and the more advanced solos, everything in the book has been planned for performance by the class as a whole.
Two things which all college music students have in common are: 1) some prior knowledge of music, however rudimentary, or else they would not have been admitted to a conservatory or college of music, and 2) greater-than-average demands upon their time, because, in addition to the usual academic and professional subjects such students must put in long hours practicing instruments and voice. So, these considerations also have a bearing on the choice of materials and their use.
In the first instance the student has a distinct advantage: he already knows how to read music—at least a little; he understands note values and time signatures; often he has had some training on another instrument and sometimes he has attained a high degree of proficiency on that instrument. Every bit of this knowledge can be utilized, and means that the student, although approaching a new instrument, is not obliged to begin at the very beginning musically.
The second circumstance—limitation of time—means that the greatest possible benefit must be derived from every class and practice activity. It is not enough for a five-finger exercise to help the student gain finger independence; it must also be used to teach him half steps and whole steps and how to recognize them rapidly in all keys; it must teach him the difference between major and minor modes; it can give him the feel of the perfect fifth, so essential when not looking at the keys is a “must”; it can lay the groundwork for triads, seventh chords, and scales; and it will give the student something which he can soon harmonize either by himself or with his piano partner—thus gaining experience in two-hand coordination and ensemble. This is what is meant by multiple purpose drills and this principle has guided the author in the construction of all the drills, or warmups as they are called in this book.
During the past twelve years, piano classes at Boston University have varied in size from three to thirty students and have been conducted in rooms equipped with from one to twelve pianos. Many texts have been used; but while each was admirable in its way, none was found to meet all the requirements as outlined above. Those books which were primarily keyboard-harmony—oriented were only practicable in small classes where the instructor could give individual attention to the individual student in working out the assignments. Those collections or methods consisting mainly of carefully graded pieces and exercises were generally not adaptable to more than one player at a keyboard. Other texts, assuming no prior knowledge on the part of the student, began with the most elementary information, thus necessitating a somewhat pointless review or a plunge into the mid-portion of the text. Very little of this material could be made to serve more than the one ostensible purpose for which it was designed.
Thus came into being the present volume. The methods of presentation, as well as the materials, have been tested and retested. They are the result of trial and error, of discard and revision, and of proven practicability—in large classes. For it is axiomatic that what may be taught to a large class may equally well be taught to a small class, but that what may be taught to a small class is not always successfully taught to a large class.
So much for overview. In the Introduction are set forth the structural plan of the book, and suggestions for adapting it to specific class needs and teacher preferences.
To my colleague, Dr. Eileen McMillan, I wish to express my grateful thanks for her valuable suggestions and criticism; to my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Eleanor Hall, appreciation for help in translating from the original German to English the words of the Mozart Lullaby, and finally, indebtedness to my husband, Whitney Hall, without whose cheerful stoicism in the face of neglect and added burdens this book could not have been written.