This book is divided into chapters, each of which generally will include elements of theory, harmonization of melodies, transposition, technique, ear work, sight-reading, improvisation, rhythm drills, duets, solos, review questions, and suggested assignments. Thus the student’s knowledge and skill in several essential areas will be advanced simultaneously. Many of these elements could be omitted or the order changed. For example, improvisation might be deemed unnecessary; memorizing could be introduced at any point; and students should be encouraged to refer to the section on embellishments from the first appearance of a grace note.
The substance of each chapter can be covered in from three to six class meetings (five is average)—depending on such variables as size of class, number of pianos in room, aptitude of pupils, length of lesson periods, and homogeneity of class.
The author has been guided by certain basic philosophical concepts, foremost of which is the belief that students should be made to think for themselves as soon as possible, and to have confidence in and take responsibility for their own musical decisions when these decisions are based on sound principles. Correlative is the conviction that what is best remembered and assimilated by a student is what he has worked out—“discovered”—for himself rather than what has come via teacher-talk. Thus, once the fundamental principles of fingering are presented, the student is asked to determine, write in, and adhere to his own choice of fingering. Naturally, this is not accomplished without much time-consuming class discussion, experimentation, and challenge. Often, though not always, it is desirable for the class to use uniform fingering, but the teacher who achieves this by directive rather than by class choice is abridging a valuable element in the educational process.
For the same reason, expression and pedal marks have been omitted from much of the music and should be supplied by the student after experimentation and comparison. Editing, or absence of editing, in music by the earlier masters has been carefully preserved.
The three chief components of sight-reading—keyboard feel, reading ahead, and note-group recognition—are dealt with at an early stage. (The more complex phases of chordal structure and analysis, and of hearing the music mentally before it is played, are left to a period when the pianist has gained greater skill.)
Obviously, any sight-reading materials included in this volume will not provide true sight-reading because every normal student will browse ahead, thus familiarizing himself with what, to be of value, should be un familiar. The materials are intended, rather, to illustrate useful approaches to sight-reading and should be used first in this way—examining the music for key and time signatures and changes, chordal or scale-wise patterns of notes and their direction, similarities or variations in phrases or patterns, rhythms, ledger-line notes, repeats or da capos, page turns, and so on—all this before hand touches keyboard. The sight-reading exercises frequently incorporate the harmonic or technical topics currently being studied. At a later date they may be used for transposition and as models for improvisation.
Technique per se has been limited to certain fundamental exercises. Since there are many divergent opinions, each teacher will wish to state his own preferences as to hand position, finger action, pressure touch, and the rest. He may well wish to introduce supplementary technical work; but, if he does not, the warmups practiced in all keys will establish a reliable technical foundation while developing keyboard familiarity.
When scales are first introduced they are not considered in relation to technique, but rather as an essential part of good musicianship. This is the reason for the tetrachord presentation, which permits the student—with eight fingers over eight keys—to perceive the scale as an organic whole rather than as a series of isolated pitches. Many a pianist can play scales with flashing virtuosity but is at a loss when asked to play from dictation a simple diatonic sequence.
The Rhythm Drills are designed not only to develop understanding of rhythm but to develop two-hand coordination—an area which many students find most vexing—and later to aid hand-food coordination in preparation for syncopated pedaling.
The melodies which the student is first given to harmonize and play by ear are familiar ones, capable of being harmonized by the simplest and most frequently used chords. As his harmonic vocabulary and pianistic resources increase, the student can return to these early songs with greater sophistication of harmony and accompaniment.
Although the theoretical elements of the text are designed to parallel and reinforce the usual college freshman theory and harmony courses, primary chords are first introduced by rote so that they may be put to immediate and satisfying use. Since theory is only part of the total spectrum of pianism, it has not seemed necessary to belabor it. However, should the book be used in a situation where collateral theory courses are not available—as in private teaching—it will be found to provide ample explanation.
Perhaps the most serious deficiency among music students is their lack of what one might call “listening skills.” Many are unable to identify intervals, simple chords and their inversions, major and minor modes, the movement of a bass line, or various meters. From the very beginning such hearing-awareness is stressed and stimulated, for without it a student cannot hope to “play by ear” or improvise.
The repertory includes a number of vintage items which, though having served many generations, are fresh and useful to each new group of students and enjoyed by them. A wide range of difficulty and styles will permit the teacher to use those compositions best suited to the class needs and to make additional assignments to students with superior capacities.
Finally, although this text is self-contained, it is not intended for “do-it-yourselfers.” Much could be learned by the student attempting to teach himself, but in the final analysis a teacher to correct, guide, encourage, and demonstrate is the pupil’s best friend.