A Revolution In Piano Education
By Elizabeth Westlund
Greetings, reader! It is indeed bold of me to claim that my method is “revolutionary”. So I will describe how my educational approach differs from the norm in many significant ways.
LEARNING HOW TO READ MUSIC
The standard approach to teaching music reading at the piano is called the “Middle C” or the “C Position” approach. Despite the undeserved popularity of this approach, it is outdated, educationally unsound, and extremely problematic. It literally causes music reading problems in many students!
The truth is, the use of hand positions for teaching beginning music reading is entirely unnecessary. So I have completely dispensed with the entire concept of hand positions. In my method, the beginner’s hands are placed in a different stationary location on the piano for every song! As far as I know, there is no other method that does this.
With my method, students do not learn to associate a specific finger with a specific note. They never get stuck in C Position. Instead, right from the start, students learn each individual note, one at a time, as an individual unit outside the context of a song, a hand position, a finger number, or an intervallic pattern. This way, students learn to instantly recognize the notes in any song, any “position”, any interval, and no matter what finger plays them. This is true music reading and enables students to progress to higher levels of reading where hand positions don’t exist.
ONE AT A TIME
Other methods throw many concepts and skills at the student all at once- note names, white-key names, rhythm, finger placement, finger numbers, staff reading, etc. I once counted the items on the first page of the primer level book of a vey popular method series. It threw no less than ten new concepts and skills at the student… on one page… the first page! This is standard practice in the most widely used methods of today.
In my method, each new concept and skill is introduced and practiced all by itself… separately from all other concepts and skills. Then the mastered skills are gradually put together.
SCALES & CHORDS
There are two problems with how other methods teach scales and chords. Firstly, they use music notation to teach scales and chords. This means that a student’s ability to learn scales and chords is limited to whatever their music reading skills are. The truth is, students are capable of easily playing scales and chords at a level that far exceeds their music reading level. So why hold them back?
In my method, I use illustrations of the piano keyboard with dots and/or finger numbers on the keys to graphically illustrate exactly how to play each scale and chord. No music reading is involved! So students can progress as quickly as they like with scales and chords, even though their music reading may be progressing slower.
The second problem with how other methods teach scales and chords is that they significantly limit which scales and chords are taught…. usually just focusing on C major and G major and maybe a couple more. There are 24 major and minor keys. These are the building blocks of music. My method doesn’t limit students. It teaches ALL 24 major and minor scales and chords right from the very start. It includes graded charts to keep track of their accomplishments providing them with steady measurable progress in this all-important area of piano playing that is largely neglected by other methods. To be a skilled piano player, a person must have the basic patterns of music (scales & chords) fluently alive in their muscle memory, their brain cells, and their visual understanding of the piano keyboard.
The ability to fluently play scales and chords in a variety of keys is also extremely important because it gives students tools for other piano playing endeavors, such as improvising, playing by ear, playing chord progressions, playing lead sheets, harmonizing melodies, composing, and playing advanced repertoire.
SONGS FOR PERFORMANCE
It is simply not necessary to doom beginners to playing and performing uninteresting, overly simplistic, boring little melodies in stupid old C Position. (Can you tell how much I dislike C Position?)
The truth is, even the earliest beginners can play songs that sound big and impressive. I have composed a series of songs that are designed to make beginners sound much more advanced than they actually are.
I call them “Pattern Songs”. As the name implies, they are based on very simple little patterns. The patterns are then repeated all over up and down the piano keyboard, sometimes even with hand crossings. This is what makes the songs sound and look big and impressive.
These songs are far too difficult for beginners to read the notation, since the notation is intermediate level. So the songs must be taught by rote to non-music readers. To enhance the rote-learning experience, I have created specially designed illustrations of the piano keyboard showing the student exactly which keys to press. Each song also includes the standard music notation so that the teacher can see exactly how the song is played. The songs look and sound so complex that they are fun and engaging for even intermediate level students to play.
The valuable skill of improvising (making up your own music as you play) is not neglected in my course. I have created an entire instruction book devoted to learning how to make up your own music. It is a step-by-step approach that carefully guides students, even those intimidated by the freedom and creativity improvising requires. It can easily be taught by teachers who have never improvised themselves.
Thank you for reading about my piano method. The Westlund Piano Course has been developed in my studio during 33 years of teaching hundreds of students. I am happy to share it with the world. I hope to revolutionize the piano education field!