Monday Mailbag – Teaching a Beginning Student Who Has Some Music Background

I have an 11-year-old student who has played in band for one year and this will be her first year of piano. She is familiar with the R.H. notes and basic musical notation. I’m debating whether to start her completely at the beginning of a basic method (considering her age) or should I try to find something that skips some of that beginner stuff. Do you have any recommendations for music/method for someone like this who is at this point in music?

The method that I usually revert to in situations like this is the Accelerated Piano Adventures for the Older Beginner by Nancy and Randall Faber. I’ve tried several adult methods, but neither my students nor I care for them very much. Much of the music in this accelerated series is the same as that in the regular series, so the students enjoy learning and playing it.

I’ve gotten to the point where I would much rather move quickly through an easy book and make sure there are no major gaps in the student’s understanding and skill than put them in something more challenging that could potentially frustrate them. In fact, I just started an 11-year old this fall who had taken piano lessons for a brief time once before. I actually put him in the Faber primer level book and told him that my plan was to go through it as quickly as possible and then move on to a higher level. He has absolutely floored me with his enthusiasm and progress! He’s almost to the end of the book and has established excellent rhythmic skills, good observation of dynamics, accurate note reading, etc. On top of that, he feels successful because he has been able to move at such a quick pace.

Depending on the student, I always try to have additional supplemental music for them to be working on that challenges them a bit more and capitalizes on other areas of musical strength. For some, this means giving them an Any Song assignment each week. For others, this means I teach them a piece by rote that is too hard for them to read, but is well within their playing ability (the student in the video on the above link loves learning pieces by rote and I’m currently teaching him Schubert’s Moment Musical this way!). And for some students, this may mean letting them painstakingly work through a printed piece of music that they really want to learn, focusing on a little bit at a time until they can play the whole thing.

The goal is for the student to eventually bring their music reading skills up to par with their playing skills, but while we work toward this end, incorporating some of these other learning approaches enables them to play music that they love!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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