2012 MTNA Conference – Monday Morning – Energizing Your Students’ Musical Adventures with Randall and Nancy Faber

Randall Faber greeted the early morning audience by asking us to imagine that we are sitting in our home studios getting ready to teach the fourth student of the day. There are four more after him. It sounds wearying already. Because for us it is like the 4,000th lesson. But there is value in routine.

The problem with routine is when we disengage. We have to use the tools of routine and learn to focus our attention for maximum engagement. Use flexibility to find novelty, to look at something routine with new eyes.

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With that introduction, Randall explained to the audience that the 2nd Edition of their Piano Adventures series is designed to allow for better flexibility with the familiarity of the first edition. He had everyone take out and follow through the complimentary Sightreading Book Level 1 that correlates with the Lesson book.

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[Here’s our packet of free materials!]

Randall discussed some of the latest research in the brain. He referenced the distinctions made between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. He said that the reality of the difference is as follows:

* The right brain is processing the novelty, things that are new.
* The left brain is storing the routine.

The goal is to move patterns and routines from the newness in the right brain to the storage of the left brain. This is part of the benefit of exercises like the Sailing in the Sun variations in the Sightreading Book. As we play the routinized patterns, our brain is processing the sound, the sight, and the movement all at once.

Next, we moved into an overview of the second edition of the Lesson Book. Randall said that sometimes we have the mistaken view that “we teach, therefore the student learns.” This is not always the case. We have to keep reinforcing it until the student really knows the material and absorbs it into their being. That’s what it takes to be an excellent musician. Here is what the process looks like:
1. Teach
2. Learn
3. Know
4. Absorb

Some of the pieces have been moved around a bit; others have been added, including a theme from Bach and one from Brahms. This is in keeping with structure and approach from the My Very First Piano Adventures series for very young students.

Several video clips of Nancy Faber working with students were shown. In one where a student first scoped out and started practicing the hardest part in the piece she said, “Your fingers have to be taught and you are training them!”


A fun video clip of Nancy and a student playing Jazz Blast from Lesson Book 2. There is an additional page now that encourages the student to improvise on the pattern. Students will love this!

After finishing the Level 2 overview, Randall skipped a few levels and moved into Level 4. He said this is critical because at this point we are helping students move into an intermediate level of playing. He discussed important technique concepts of alignment and the necessity of building the bridge in a student’s hands so that they learn to balance the weight properly and not just play with a curved finger gripping the key.

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He continued to emphasize using the arm weight as he went through the remainder of the technique secrets in the Technique and Artistry book of level 4. You can see from his demonstrations how it is so important to give students the technique tools and understanding so that they can play any piece beautifully by implementing the appropriate gestures. This sets students up for success as musicians.

We turned to the back of the book where a “wheel” gives a handy layout of which books are used simultaneously and what books are designed to be used as a supplement to the series at each level.

Randall concluded by advocating that students be given music and skills that are functional. He said that for those at this intermediate level their motivation is closely tied to their social spheres. As teachers, we should help them succeed in this sphere by giving them what they need in order to bring music into their social spheres in a utilitarian way, not just working on one big piece a year for a competition. And we certainly don’t want them to end up in the situation of having only the Chopin G-minor Ballade to play at their sister’s wedding! 🙂

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