Music Moves uses Dr. Edwin Gordon’s Music Learning Theory, which codifies how the human brain learns music, as the basis for designing how musicianship can most effectively be taught. Music Learning Theory has previously been featured on Musicality Now, most notably in our interview with Professor Cynthia Crump-Taggart, President of the Gordon Institute for Music Learning. We’ve discussed several times on past episodes the idea of audiation, which is a word Edwin Gordon originally coined. Audiation has detail and depth that goes far beyond simply “imagining music in your head”. Marilyn brings a wonderful new perspective to audiation for us, as educators applying it directly in the context of teaching an instrument.
Drawing on ideas from Orff, Suzuki, Dalcroze, and Kodály, The Music Moves For Piano method incorporates listening, singing, movement, audiation, and notation, on top of the pure piano technique skills – and as you’ll hear in this conversation it develops the student into a fully-fledged and well-rounded musician – not just a piano player.
In this conversation we talk about:
- Why clapping, tapping or walking may not be the best ways to internalise the pulse and the rhythmic patterns of music.
- The specific rhythm and pitch frameworks which give students the “vocabulary” they need to improvise and be creative in music.
- Why the age of 9 is a turning point in music learning, and what that means for adult music learners.
A lot of the concepts we talk about here at Musical U are brought to life in this conversation. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to learn an instrument in a way that truly incorporates musicality training, rather than having it be off in its own separate area, this episode will inspire your music learning.
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Marilyn: Hi, I’m Marilyn White Lowe, creator of Music Moves for Piano and this is Musicality Now.
Christopher: Welcome to the show, Marilyn. Thank you for joining us today.
Marilyn: I’m glad to be here.
Christopher: So the more I’ve been learning about Music Moves for Piano, I’ve just been admiring the approach more and more. And I’m super curious to understand some of the back story to where this series of books came from and where you as an educator came from in terms of teaching piano. Maybe we could start right at the very beginning. What was your own music learning path like?
Marilyn: I always was playing the piano. My parents recognized when I was a baby that I was interested in music and they encouraged it. So I studied piano, have a master’s degree, worked on a doctorate in music theory, and have always taught piano. I have a passion for piano.
Christopher: Terrific. And one of the things that really marks Music Moves apart from other piano methods is that there’s a lot of creativity and autonomy and expression in the skills you equip the students with compared with a lot of the traditional methods that focus purely on technique and repertoire. And I wonder was that a natural part of your own learning where you, the kid who grows up just naturally playing by ear and improvising without thinking about it or what was your own piano musician identity like?
Marilyn: No, I tried, unsuccessfully. And it wasn’t until I heard Dr. Gordon speak in 1992 that I realized that I did not audiate. I had not learned the skills I needed in my head to be able to use them for improvisation in learning music.
Christopher: Interesting. So if someone’s watching or listening, who’s never heard that word audiate before, would you mind just explaining what does that mean and what was it that was explained to you in that year that suddenly changed your perspective.
Marilyn: I use this example with my students. I have them visualize something like a seed in their head with their eyes closed. And then I have them think something in their head with their eyes closed. And I tell them that’s going on in their mind. I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s there. We can audiate or think music in our head, in our mind. And I have them sing a song, happy birthday or a nursery rhyme, some music in their head to realize that audiation is what happens in the mind.
Christopher: Got you. And so with that example, probably it’s fair to say everyone can imagine happy birthday in their mind to some extent or another. But a moment ago you said that you realized you weren’t audiating or you couldn’t. So what was the distinction there that you weren’t able to do that you realized maybe missing?
Marilyn: So you audiate the song, you hear the song, what questions can you ask about the song? How would you describe it? What is the meter? What are some rhythm patterns in the song? What is the tonality? What are some total patterns in the song? What is the form of this song? Compare Happy Birthday, for example, with the Star Spangled Banner rhythmically, and you’ll find some of the same rhythm patterns. Knowing what it starts on, the starting tone, knowing that it is an upbeat pattern, knowing the harmony, the chord changes, all of this can happen in one’s head and if it does, then one can take it to an instrument and perform it.
Christopher: Amazing. Well that’s quite a payoff to give people and I know that a lot of people hearing that description will immediately understand, okay, I can hear happy birthday, but I’m not doing a fraction of those things in my head when I hear it. And I know that later on we’re going to get into a bit of the nitty gritty of rhythm and pitch and how you can do that kind of analysis in your head to the extent of being able to just pick up your instrument and play. But I’d love to dwell a little bit more on that kind of turning point for you when you heard, Edwin Gordon speak and this concept was introduced to you. What impact did that have on your own playing, learning, teaching?
Marilyn: It had an overpowering effect. I felt like concrete blocks were lifted from my shoulders. He described that triple meter was moving in three. We didn’t need to worry about whether it was in three, four, three, eight, six, eight, nine, eight, just feeling the rhythm, because rhythm is based on body movement. And so I went home after that one week and told my students we were changing the teaching approach and I removed music from all my beginners and told parents that I had learned something very powerful and was changing my way of teaching.
Marilyn: And they were welcome to go to another teacher because I was experimenting. And some stayed and some left. So it was a very good teaching situation that I had because the students were, and parents were excited about what I was doing. We were singing, we were chatting, we were moving. I learned that tonal audiation is based on singing. So obviously we had to sing, and I’m not a singer. And rhythm is based on body movement and I’m not a dancer. But, all of these activities were essential for the students to learn how to audiate and put these, elements in their mind and in their bodies.
Christopher: That was a brave move by the sounds of it to come back and have that to totally not 180 but to make such a huge change to your teaching practice was bold. I’m curious to know why were you so easily convinced? Like we’ve just talked through the idea of audiation and I’m sure people listening are like, that sounds cool. I can imagine maybe that would work. But for you to come home and be like, right, this is now going to be the heart of my teaching. But you mentioned rhythm there. Were there particular examples or experiences where you could immediately see the positive impact this would have?
Marilyn: Yeah. So I worked very intensely with my, very fine performers who were, 9th, 10th, 11th grade. We worked as a group and I actually had parents come in and watch. Some of the parents were reading teachers and psychologists and they understood everything I was talking about. They understood the language. We did not talk about these learning words in any of my music courses.
But one example, I had a student playing a Chopin waltz, and I had him stand up at the music stand and just sing and chant the piece. And we moved to it in three, (singing) like that. And then he went to the piano and played it and it was like night and day difference. So he realized it, I realized it, the parents realized it. And, the body movement worked, the singing worked. And I said, “We need to learn a vocabulary”. So you have music vocabulary to use just like you have your speaking vocabulary to speak. Improvisation. We improvise all the time with speaking, because we have a vocabulary and ideas and knowledge. So we can do the same with music.
Christopher: Interesting. And what did that look like to say we need to equip you with a vocabulary?
Marilyn: Well, we started with learning rhythm patterns. Gordon has a sequential, set of rhythm patterns and he introduces duple meter and triple meter side by side, so we’d get the comparison. So we know what, we can’t really know what duple meter is unless we know what triple meter is, what feels like moving in three. So, the six categories are, well, let’s talk about the big beat, which is we call it the macro beat, which we put in our heels and rock back and forth.
Marilyn: The big body movement gives us that feeling of consistent temple, which is our big beat. We feel that, and then we split that beat with our hands into two parts for duple meter. And, we use neutral syllables, Baa-Baa-Ba-Ba-Baa, and then we apply rhythm syllables, which are, Dew-Dew-Dew-day-Dew. And the exciting thing about this is that these syllables are not tied to notation.
Marilyn: So when we feel music, there can actually be differences. Some can feel a very fast moving macro beat and some can, very slow moving macro beat. So it’s how it’s felt, not as how it’s notated. Gerald Eskelin has a wonderful book called Lies My Music Teacher Told Me. Here’s… Oops, it’s backwards. But anyway, there’s the book. And he said that’s, if you want to sell it, is how you notate it. So in other words, four equal beats can be notated as four quarter notes, for eights, for 16s, for half notes and we can’t hear how it’s notated.
Marilyn: But, we want people to look at it and feel comfortable with it. Very often in duple meter four-four for example, I will feel the half note as the macro beat. It just feels better. If, for example, twinkle twinkle little star, I feel if they had written maybe four quarter notes, I would feel the half note as the Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Baa, which would be, Dew-Day-Dew-Day-Dew-Day-Dew. So the half note would be, the map would be as I am reading music. It feels better. You could actually feel the whole note is a macro beat if you want it to, Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Baa, it makes longer phrases.
Christopher: Got you. Well, I fear our audio-only listeners are missing out on a bit by not seeing how you’re moving with this. But hopefully the idea is still clear and-
Marilyn: my heels are moving.
Christopher: I think it’s a great illustration of the difference in approach and I think the language analogy is a really interesting one because from that perspective, improvisation and coming up with your own expression of your ideas is so obviously a big part of the end goal. Yet in music, we don’t quite have that same perspective traditionally. And I know that for us we have a Foundations Cours with which is based on the Kodaly approach, and we see that same interesting gray area where students who’ve come in from a very notation based background find it a bit funny at first when we say there isn’t necessarily one right answer.
Christopher: So you may be feeling it a half the tempo or double the tempo and that’s not necessarily a problem. And the important thing is to tune into that instinctive feel for the music and get a sense of how it works. And then later on you can worry about how you might choose to write it down.
Christopher: And so that was a little bit about the rhythm side. What about the pitch side if we’re talking about equipping students with a vocabulary to work with?
Marilyn: Well, this is interesting. We have tonal patterns that are in context and also everything is in context. That is perhaps one of the biggest, ideas about music that Gordon promoted that I don’t find talked about anywhere else. But it does matter if we’re in major tonality or for in minor tonality. So, we have tonal patterns which are harmonic. They’re functional like a tonic pattern, Do-mi-so or dominant pattern, so-fa-re-ti, in major tonality or the same in minor tonality.
Marilyn: We use moveable do with a la-based minor, which is fabulous because one can get into all the different modes this way and students, learn the three major tribes and the three minor tribes that we find built on a scale and changing tonalities. They just rearrange those triads with a new resting tone. Do is the resting tone for major tenacity. And re is the misting tone for do in tonality and so forth. La is the resting tone for minor tonality, but all the triads are the same. They’re just in a different order. And that is pretty exciting when you start improvising and know that.
Christopher: Absolutely, and I know that some longtime viewers or listeners are going to be right on the same page with us in understanding what you just described there. But if someone’s newer to the show where they haven’t immersed themselves in this idea of Solfa and particularly movable do, maybe we could just make it a bit concrete. Perhaps going back to that example of twinkle twinkle and you have a student who can hear it in their head, but you’re equipping them with the understanding they need to translate that onto the keyboard. How does the system you just described work in that context?
Marilyn: Okay. Well, we’ll talk tonally first, I guess. Tonally they need to know the starting tone. And if they know that twinkle twinkle starts on do, then there they have the ability to transpose it to any keyality they wish. So that’s the first step. Then knowing essential tonal patterns, which in twinkle, which should be do-so, they have to know where do and so is in the key they’re playing it in. So that is essential, All that is just moving from so to do, (singing) then do so again.
Marilyn: So those essential tonal patterns are filled in with passing tones and neighbor tones. And it’s easy to remember. We don’t sing solfege for the whole song because then it becomes words and we can’t sort out the essential tonal patterns which are basically tonic and dominant. Re-so is a dominant pattern. Do-so is a tonic pattern.
Christopher: Interesting. And if we bring things then a notch more concrete and talk specifically about your Music Moves for Piano approach, how does that manifest in lessons or in the book series? How does that feature into a lesson? If you were using twinkle twinkle as your piece for teaching, how would all of this work together to bring the student from zero to this kind of understanding of the song?
Marilyn: Well, I sing the song and have them move and I often, sometimes they just like to dance and they do their own thing. But I will give them special ways to move according to, Rudolf Laban’s four effort movements, time, space, weight and flow. Weight and flow are the most important for musicianship. And we always try to insert flow into all the songs, all the patterns. Music has to flow. It doesn’t stop. And that’s why we don’t clap or stomp or even walking.
Marilyn: Students have a hard time walking to a tempo, but they can move their heels to a consistent tempo. So, we will experiment, I’ll sing a song, we’ll sing patterns from the song. We’ll recognize the rhythm patterns for, twinkle… What are we doing? Twinkle.
Marilyn: Twinkle little star.
Marilyn: In duple meter and that there’s one rhythm pattern for the whole song, Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Baa, Dew-Day-Dew-Day-Dew-Day-Dew. And that rhythm pattern is used for the whole song. And, we listen for contrast. There is another song, Away in a Manger, the Christmas Carol, that has the tune, (singing). I know there are different tunes, but with that tune, there’s one rhythm pattern that’s used for every phrase of the song. So we compare that like we compare with patterns from Star Spangled Banner and Happy Birthday.
Marilyn: Always comparing, always contrasting. Lots of variety, because we learn by differences rather than sameness. We take the tune and this as students advance, this would not be four or five, six year olds. But as they advance, they take the tune and change the tonality, and they’ll sing it in minor. (Singing) And then they’ll change the meter from duple to triple, (Singing).
Marilyn: And making those changes, changing anything about a tune or piece is improvisation. So they begin to learn, they can make those changes with the folk tunes that they know. And then they can take the tunes and use the rhythm patterns to create something new at the piano.
Christopher: Wonderful. And I’m obviously a convert, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment and ask, because I know a lot of people watching or listening will be coming from the more common approach to instrument learning these days, which looks, a lesson might look something like student comes in, talk a little bit about theory, do some warm up exercises, run through some scales and spend a bit of time on each of two or three pieces working on problems, sections, getting them more fluid, correcting technique, that kind of thing.
Christopher: And we did a survey recently of music teachers in our audience in which we were asking them about ear training and how they develop oral skills with their students. And we asked them how much time do you typically spend on that with your students? And suffice to say, the vast majority recognize the importance but really struggle to make as much time for it as they would like. And so it’s very much crammed into a few minutes in a lesson.
Christopher: Now, what you just described is obviously an approach that has essentially ear training throughout. It’s baked into the method. But for one of those teachers or one of their students who’s hearing that and thinking, I don’t have time for all of that extra stuff. I’ve got enough work cut out for me just getting through the technique and repertoire. What’s the advantage? Like if we compare those two approaches and a student goes through it for say three or five years, at the end of it, what’s the difference in outcome for the musician who does a Music Moves like approach versus a musician who does a more theory and technique repertoire, traditional approach?
Marilyn: All right. My lessons are based on skill building. So, we do use repertoire, but basically I have them learn skills and use skills for improvisation. What I’ve discovered, if students can hear, sing, chant, have a vocabulary of rhythm and tonal patterns and use that vocabulary to create and improvise with, when they are able to think abstractly around age 11 or 12, that’s when that kicks in that thinking they’re excellent readers, musical performers and I can actually send home, rumors of Haydn’s thought of what basically sonatinas, shorter pieces that they can learn independently on their own.
Marilyn: I have one example of a student who started with me in my preschool classes when he was two, and homeschooled and studied with me until he graduated from both high school and college. Then went on for a master’s degree and on for a DMA. And at age 23, he received his doctorate musical arts in piano and has a job. So that I am thrilled with his success. He had the ability to do it all and was a hard worker, but it showed he had none of the traditional theory, I guess you would say theory books.
Marilyn: We did repertoire. We did lots of arrangements, lots of medleys, lots of creative work and a few other students, the same thing. They’re singing, they’re in bands. Music stays with them. It’s internalized and they’re using it like we use language. So it’s the same process. Students listen and learn, they imitate and then they use what they know in conversation, and in music they use it in improvisation, and in audiating and hearing music and they learn it quickly. They learn it without mistakes. That’s the thrill because they anticipate what would be coming next and they hear if it’s incorrect.
Christopher: Very cool. And I know whenever we use that word improvisation, it comes with a lot of baggage for people and a lot of people’s minds immediately jump to, okay, I’m going to compose a masterpiece out of nowhere on my own solo, or I’m just talking about jazz and I’m going to fill in, eight bars in the middle of a standard. I know that you use the term in a lot more variety and creative ways. You mentioned medleys there for example, or coming up with arrangements. Are there any other illustrations you could give of what you’re empowering your students to do that an approach that wasn’t based on Gordon’s audiation would lack?
Marilyn: Well, the music vocabulary is fundamental. Having the categories of rhythm, which I’ll just mention them, there’s the macro beat/micro beat, which is your tempo beat and your meter beats, duple and triple. Then there are divisions. The divisions are when the micro beat is split into four parts like, ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba. And then there are elongation patterns where you have, well, just think of dotted patterns, Ba-Baa-Ba-Baa, where a sound goes over a macro beat or micro beat.
Marilyn: Then they’re rests, and tie, and upbeat patterns. So with those six categories, students have a lot of, patterns to use for improvisation. They also have a lot of patterns to recognize in notation. They are familiar with our rest pattern sound. So they see rests in music and they know how it should sound, and they observe the rest from the ties and know upbeat patterns. So I have my students, even my fours and fives always improvise with a rhythm pattern.
Marilyn: If they can come up with one of their own, fine. If not, I give them one. A rhythm pattern has four. I call them four foot, heel moves or macro beats. So Baa-Baa-Ba-Ba-Baa would be four. Or Ba-Ba-Ba-Baa Ba-Ba-Ba-Baa would be four in triple. So if they can think of one, fine, if not, I give them one. But I insist that they improvise with a rhythm pattern. They can repeat the rhythm pattern two times three, but using this as a fundamental approach to improvisation, they begin to improvise in phrases structure. Their composition has form and structure.
Marilyn: They know that they can repeat a rhythm pattern and repeat also the melody pattern that they’ve used. Or they can do something contrasting. One of the hugest, ideas that, hugest that’s not a good word, but anyway, a good idea that I’ve used for improvisation is just random improvisation, random key, where they don’t worry about the particular notes, but they’re thinking about the rhythm pattern.
Marilyn: They’re thinking about the characteristics in music, dynamics, tempo, articulation, range, where to play on the keyboard. And they get very, very interesting sounds. And they will repeat a pattern or they’ll contrast a pattern, or change register. And it just gives a whole lot of freedom because they’re not worried about this sound going to the next pitch, isn’t quite what they wanted, so they have to fix it. So there’s no fixing, they just do it in a throw away. All their improvisations are throw away. So there’s no worry. There’s total freedom and they’re breathing. We work a lot on breathing.
Christopher: Terrific. And it sounds like you made this major shift in your teaching and introduced these ideas and it was kind of it just a success from the start by the sounds of it. But over the years and as you’ve continued working with students, are there any standout memories or anecdotes where you were like, yes, this really works, like this is empowering the students in a way that I wasn’t before?
Marilyn: Yes. well, I had a kindergarten student, I had him improvise with Ba-Ba-Baa Ba-Ba-Baa, and he played on the piano and looked shocked. He said, “That sounds like jingle bells.” So they relate. An older student was playing the Sonatina in the third movement and came to the slow middle part, and he jumped up and grabbed his iPhone, found John Williams’ theme from Hedwig. Or is that right? Hedwig is the-
Christopher: From Harry Potter.
Marilyn: Harry Potter. Score. And he said that reminded him of that theme, which they’re very similar in quality and in range and texture. So, the other day a triple pattern song, reminded a student of big band (singing), and that piece she was playing was (singing). And the seven year old brother said, “It’s backwards.” So he heard that and she made a medley of the two songs together, which was kind of fun.
Marilyn: So just that awareness of what they hear. I remember a high school student, with a pen, and she said, “I remember that sound.” And in orchestras kids would come and say, “We played a Dorian song and the orchestra teacher would say, ‘how did you know it was Dorian?'” So it makes a difference when this vocabulary is internalized and it only happens when they use it. I have a model they have to do it. They’re at work.
Christopher: Got you. And maybe this comes back a little bit to Gordon and the conceptual frameworks as much as it does to your own specific method. But a lot of people would take the stuff you just described as kind of you’ve got it or you don’t. I know for me, growing up in school, I can vividly remember wondering how people make medleys for example. Like I was listening to some kind of pop medley that had been recorded and I was like, “How does that work?”
Christopher: And I knew enough about theory to be like, well, maybe they’re just in the same key and they just swapped from one song to the other. I really didn’t have the mental frameworks to conceptualize how you could make two things mush together and sound good. And at the time I just assumed, the gifted perfect pitch musicians just could do that. And so we leave it to them and the rest of us just played from the sheet music. What’s your perspective on that? Clearly, you approach a lot of these skills as teachable. Are there natural limitations, natural advantages? What variety do you see across students?
Marilyn: Well, everybody is born with music aptitude and that aptitude, can be developed from birth. In fact, the ears is developed in the third trimester. So singing a special song or hearing special sounds to that unborn child is significant. And those sounds that they hear from birth to 18 months, that’s called the critical period. Is very important in music. They’re short songs in short chants without words. Words confuse.
Marilyn: And so in my preschool classes, our songs were without words, they were very short. We use tonal patterns and rhythm patterns using on a neutral syllable, (singing), that type of sound. And so gradually the developmental stage decreases. So at age nine, the music aptitude, like all other aptitudes are stabilized. That’s sort of an age goal. And at that point, students, are measured on achievement.
Marilyn: So we work with achievement and that depends on what a student likes to do. Some students love music and every once in a while there’ll be someone that really doesn’t care about music. So you deal with those differences. But everyone has a music aptitude that can be developed until age nine. And that’s one of my goals. I want students to, have their full potential realized for music and I want them to grow up to be music supporters, listeners in attending concerts and supporting music in schools. That to me is the goal of my teaching. And that happens when students internalize what music is all about and can do and use music themselves.
Christopher: And so what’s the ramification of that for say, an adult music learner? If we take someone who maybe didn’t grow up with music but they’ve been learning to play guitar for the last five years, they haven’t been learning in the kind of way we’ve described. So they’ve just been kind of playing the notes on the page, getting their technique down. They haven’t really tried improvising, audiating, playing by ear or anything like that. What’s the significance of the age nine aptitude to achievements, which in that context?
Marilyn: Adults need to have, go through what we call preparatory audiation where they hear the sounds of music. I guess compare it to learning another language, French, German, Russian. The goal is not to put a book in front of them and say, read and decode this language word by word or letter by letter, but to hear the words and learn labels for sounds they hear and then use them through improvisation.
Marilyn: So that is, I do take transfer students at different ages and they have to start at the beginning and they are, I tell them what we’re doing and that it’s important to develop complete music literacy so that they can create and improvise and arrange and do other, play in ensemble, play with others, for example. That is as important as reading music or maybe even more important. Sometimes I think reading is overrated.
Marilyn: I have an interesting quote from, an article written about sight reading. That was the purpose of the article about sight reading, which is reading new music for the first time correctly. And one of the quotes is, “Despite the belief commonly held by many teachers, students and music professionals that simply partaking in informal sight reading activities will improve sight reading performance. Little evidence exists to support this premise.” In other words, reading sight reading just on itself is not productive.
Marilyn: “A recent review of over 60 years of studies into sight reading highlighted that effective interventions to enhance sight reading include components such as oral skills, training, composition, improvisation and solfege, collaborative playing activities along with understanding the different styles of music and the importance of pattern recognition and prediction. All of those are shown to enhance sight reading.” So that’s quite a list. And actually all of those are included in the Music Moves for Piano instruction.
Christopher: Tremendous. And I know that’s something that our students at Musical U are sometimes skeptical of when we say, “Hey, all of this stuff you’re working on at Musical U in terms of musicality training, is not a distraction from getting better at your instrument and improving in this stuff you’ve already been doing. It’s actually going to have a huge positive impact.” And I think what you just described is a perfect case in point.
Christopher: At this point, anyone watching or listening, will understand. We’re describing something that has a huge range of benefits. And in one of your books for teachers where you’re describing to the teacher how to apply this method, you have some guidance on the advantages and how to communicate them to parents who might be used to a traditional approach or expecting more of a just notation based teaching approach.
Christopher: And you say children who learn music from an audiation perspective, develop musicianship. They can become functional literate musicians who can play by ear, improvise, compose and arrange music, listen to music with understanding, think music, play with technical ease, perform in ensemble, perform solo repertoire in a musically flowing manner, and read and write music notation. And I think we’ve touched on a lot of that in our conversation.
Christopher: But it kind of begs the question, why doesn’t everyone do it this way? And I’d love to hear your perspective on that. Obviously I have my own opinions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on, with all those advantages and the fact that most of those are missing from the mainstream instrument technique approach. Why isn’t this more common?
Marilyn: Well, it’s become traditional to have that 30 minute lesson or some teachers go to 45 minute now, and that structure seems to work. Many teachers are not familiar with ways to work with more than one student at a time. That is an essential part of learning. And I would quote from, the psychologist Sidorsky who, believes that collaborative learning strengthens learning. And he saw that, working with others built skills because students had differences and students could learn from other students in a way that they couldn’t learn from a one on one teacher approach.
Marilyn: I changed my outlook from being a teacher to helping students learn. And that made a huge difference in my approach. So, that 30 minute, 45 minute lesson time slot works, it’s convenient. Having a book that students turn the page and go from one page to another, is convenient. I asked, the person who established Alfred music years ago, why one method was discontinued, and he said, “Teachers couldn’t understand it. They needed another type of turn the page method.” So that perhaps is part of it.
Marilyn: Another part is that it does require singing and chanting and moving. And this can be done with one student because you’ve got the two of you. But it’s much more fun if there’s another student there. So with pairs or threes or fours, I overlap and sometimes with coming and going, I’ll have five or six students together and we’ll move and sing and they just have fun with it. And I let them do the leading whenever they can, which is a good way to learn.
Marilyn: And the singing, the chanting, the moving, the solfege, those are all, skills that took me a long time to incorporate. But I needed to do that because I needed to teach students to audiate. So that was important for me to learn the solfege, the syllables for rhythm, the syllables for total patterns and to learn the Laban movements, the strong, the light, the flowing, the boundness in activities where students would engage in those types of movement.
Marilyn: Now I will say that Krista Jadro has an online course called, Music Learning Academy, and she demonstrates all of this. This is using the keyboard gains materials, which are for beginners and students that are four and five use these materials. But I use them for any beginner regardless of age. It just gives them the freedom of not having to worry about all those things on a page. When we look at a page of music notation, think about what’s included, cleft signs, time signature, key signature, stuff lines, bar lines, pitch notation, rhythm notation, finger numbers, slash, tempo markings, dynamic markings, articulation markings, and so much more that it just makes it a very complicated activity.
Marilyn: So if we learn those things separately, we are much better equipped to understand notation. Really, we can only learn one new thing at a time. We cannot multitask. And even in reading music notation, I have had the experience that, I am a sight reader. I read difficult music easily, but I noticed that I was reading the rhythm, the meter, scanning that and then scanning the pitch, the movement of the melody and the harmonization. All those things were happening in a flash. And so I tell my students, they learn one thing at a time and then they stack them up and can do all of them, but still one thing at a time. They just get better and better at it.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, having said that this kind of approach is not nearly as mainstream as I wish it were. You have had fantastic success with Music Moves for Piano, and I’m glad you mentioned Krista’s course there. I’d love if we could talk a little bit more for those in the audience who play piano or are indeed piano teachers, about where they can learn more about Music Moves for Piano and that course you mentioned at the Music Learning Academy.
Marilyn: Well, dub dub dub Music Learning Academy, I think, Facebook, K. Jadro, K-J-A-D-R-O, that Music Learning Academy. The course is new this year and has over 60 members, which is really exciting for… A lot of the teachers are brand new to this concept and then some of the teachers have been using music moves for several years and they’re still taking the course and learning from it. She plans to do the student book one starting in January. So it will continue.
Marilyn: There are books… Gordon wrote a book of the way children, this is all backwards, I understand. But, “How Children Learn When They Learn Music”. That was one of his first books. And Eric Bluestine has a very nice book called, I love this, called, “The Ways Children Learn Music”. So there are, some easy books to grab ahold of to read about. It’s much better to go to a conference or a seminar.
Marilyn: I just, finished a two day seminar at Salem College in North Carolina where I talked with, graduate students in, music graduate pedagogy course, and that was a lot of fun. It was very exciting. Two days is enough to begin to make some inroads. It takes a long time and teachers tend to go over and over again to seminars and we talk and engage in conversation, through zoom and through Facebook.
Marilyn: And then of course, this is Gordon’s seminal book, which is thick and deep, but, its his basic music book “Learning Sequence in Music”. And it’s a contemporary Music Learning Theory, 2012 edition. He has revised it a number of times. So there are sources in the music moves, teacher’s guides, there are descriptions. And, I always say, take three years to try and learn something new. Take your time, get a book and listen to the audio files, which are free downloads, and look at the pieces and then read some descriptions about how to teach them.
Marilyn: Patience and time is necessary. And what you’ll find your students doing is exciting. First thing I do when students arrive is I ask them to play something for me. So they’re used to that. They never take music to the piano. They go and they play an arrangement of the folk tune they’ve made or a composition. “And I made up a new song,” they’ll say. And they always have something ready to play that’s original.
Marilyn: And I have some of those video clips on Facebook, to see on, www.musicmovesforpiano.com. There’s a section of video clips and they’re categorized according to improvisation and arrangements and solos. So, there’s over 100 there to look at, and then they’re on Facebook music piano teacher’s group also, which is a group of over 500 members which is quite nice. It’s international.
Marilyn: Find local teachers in your state, that may be hard. Sometimes there’s only one or two teachers in a huge state, but the word is spreading. There are some teachers in England now using the materials and China is… a teacher in Taiwan is finishing up her translation of 14 of the books and plans to have them completed by January. So, there’s a translation in Spain. No, not in Spain, in Italy, sorry.
Marilyn: Italy and one in Germany. And so it’s slowly gathering momentum. As teachers use the materials, they become more and more excited about what they’re able to do and what their students are doing. And like I say, they’re skill-building, sight-reading rhythm from notation, which is a thrilling way to learn new music. They will read from, I don’t know, heightened Sonata or other, repertoire, the rhythm only and improvise on the rhythm only.
Marilyn: And once that rhythm is solid, the pitch reading is easy. It’s kind of miraculous how that happens. So that’s my newest advice and my newest, skill that I’m working on in lessons now is reading rhythms, patterns from music notation, not just rhythm, pattern straight without notation, but it’s reading them from notation because that is the first thing we read when we read music.
Christopher: Tremendous. Well, I’m always so delighted when we come across an approach such as yours that puts Musicality right at the heart of learning an instrument. And so I highly recommend your work to anyone who’s learning piano or teaching piano. We’ll have links in the show notes to all the resources you just mentioned and thank you for including some books beyond your own. A hat tip to your modesty that you only just about mentioned your own books there at the end!
Christopher: But we’ll have links to all of those, and of course musicmovesforpiano.com in the show notes for this episode. I feel like I could talk to you happily all day. So I want to be respectful of your time today, Marilyn, and just say a big thank you for joining us on the show today and sharing all of this with our audience.
Marilyn: Yes, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.
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