08 December 2011

Review: PianoPhonics

It will be one year next month that we commenced using PianoPhonics. There are a number of reasons why I chose this curriculum, and I intend to juxtapose those reasons with the results I'm seeing. This seems to me the best way to communicate whether PianoPhonics is meeting my requirements, and will also allow those of you who have inquired {you know who you are!} to see whether it will fit your own situation.

It could be, after all, that you are looking for something a little different than what I was looking for.

As a disclaimer, I am only using this with our oldest. He was eight-and-a-half when we started. I have told my other children {who have requested lessons} that they must be eight in order to begin. This isn't anything suggested by the curriculum, but it is my decision. The book progresses quickly, and I think little ones would have trouble moving along as things get more complicated. I have difficulty "making" a child younger than eight practice daily, and yet I know that daily practice is imperative. I also have trouble envisioning a child younger than eight practicing correctly, and I have no wish to babysit practice times. But poor practice does not develop the player; it is a complete waste of time and detrimental over the long term.

Here is what I was searching for when I finally found PianoPhonics:

  • We didn't want to pay for lessons when all I needed to do was learn to teach. I took piano lessons for years, and I briefly majored in music in college {piano was my secondary instrument; voice was my primary}. I am not an amazing pianist by any stretch of the imagination, but I can read music and play, and I think I know enough about it that I have something worth passing on to my children. We do not really have the money for music lessons, especially when I consider eventually paying for lessons for all of the children. I would rather save our funds to pay for things we cannot teach ourselves, rather than things we should be able to figure out. What I like about PianoPhonics is that the website includes hints for "self-teaching"--it is these hints {combined with other information in the book itself} which have slowly made me into a piano teacher.
  • We wanted him to learn to play "real" music, not silly children's songs. My poor parents had to listen to me play uninteresting versions of Mary Had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star over and over for at least seven years before I played anything worth listening to. Some of this is unavoidable when you start a child at the age of three, as my parents did {and I'm grateful for that, by the way--I do think there is a place for starting young children, depending on the goals you have for your children}. But some of this is because most basic piano books are silly. Mystie's family also uses PianoPhonics, and when I asked her about it, she said that Alfred's, for instance, was more "fun" than "real." In a lot of ways, this situation is akin to the Charlotte-Mason-versus-Almost-Everybody-Else debate in the world of reading. Some folks want children to have fun while reading, and they drag out the Easy Readers and related twaddle over years and years. In the Charlotte Mason philosophy, yes, we learn the basics--one must, after all. But the goal is to get the child to real books containing living ideas. In the same way, the point of teaching a child music is not for them to play simple, fun pieces. The goal is for them to slowly master the liberal art we call Music. I could go on, but for the sake of this review, let's just say that PianoPhonics {in my opinion} is more liberating in that it frees the child up to begin to play--and think--as a musician ought.
  • We wanted him to learn to read music. This is a huge bonus--my son is already reading real music. Each new piece adds a concept or two. First, we add proper notes to a staff. Then perhaps we add a sharp or a flat {not at the same time}. We vary the notes so they have different beats. We learn about first and second endings. And so on. Each piece builds a little upon the old. It is a lot like teaching reading in this regard.
  • We wanted him to learn to play properly from the very beginning. The emphasis upon proper fingering is something I was really excited about. As a child, I developed bad habits that later teachers had to un-teach. I am unsure whether this was the fault of the books I was using, or the teachers themselves, but either way I know from experience that learning to do it correctly--and practicing it perfectly--is like anything else: much easier over the long term. Again, I tie this to the Charlotte Mason approach to learning--let's take writing. Instead of allowing them to write sloppily for years on end, we teach them to write perfectly only that of which they are capable. When they are tiny, that means a single stroke. But rather than attempting to unlearn poor habits {which some of us never can do}, they build good upon good and attain to virtue in writing.
PianoPhonics not only fits our family and our goals, but it also fits our pocketbook. I hope Mr. Freer completes the second book soon, because we'll need it in a few more months! The website says that the second book will end where Bach's Two-Part Inventions begin, and that is something I look forward to! So far, I have no reason to think that any of my children will be professional musicians, but I do hope to enrich our family with music--something easily accomplished, I believe, with this curriculum.

10 comments:

  1. I took piano for 13 years - most of those using Alfred's.

    Now I teach my children using Alfred's. (I do not have any "outside our family" students right now.) I do not see it as more "fun" than "real". I see it as thorough and enjoyable. Of course I do supplement with "Real" Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern pieces so I guess that could be why. But I would do that with ANY piano curriculum.

    All that said, I'd be interested in looking at Piano Phonics some day.

    I think everyone should learn piano although I'm perfectly willing to admit I'm biased. ;)

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  2. Karen,

    I have no experience with Alfred's, other than looking at the first volume and not really liking it, but I know that I cannot judge an entire series based upon a few pages of an introductory book!

    I grew up on the Bastien books, and though they can be started with children younger than PianoPhonics {in my opinion--I don't know what age Mr. Freer thinks is appropriate}, the progress with them is so incredibly slow that even though I had been playing for five years by the time my son was just starting, he had completely passed me up within a couple months of lessons, and I think this is due to Mr. Freer's books, rather than some sort of natural talent. {Well, this child is also extremely self-disciplined, which also helps.} At this point, my 9yo, with less than a year of lessons under his belt, is playing at about the level I did at age 12 or 13, with almost a decade of lessons!

    I am tempted to agree with you on everyone learning piano, though I try not to say so out loud. :) Within our faith, singing is so important, and piano aids singing amazingly well, not only from learning to read music, but also because of the ability to play chords. Most other instruments play one note at a time, so harmony is not experienced when playing alone. I think the piano's {and organ before her} influence upon the church has been wonderful, and I hate seeing it overshadowed by the guitar, which is what has happened in the last 10 years or so.

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  3. Sounds great! Thanks for finding and testing it for us. After having a look at the site I'm wondering if I should buy it for me now as a refresher 16 years after stopping lessons... I could use some "back to basics" help I think. I also started piano lessons when I was 8, and used a combination of Alfred's and Bastien for the first several months or maybe year, but not long. I doubt they would have held my interest for much longer than that. I agree with the goal of playing "real" music early in accordance with Charlotte Mason principles, so this course sounds very attractive.

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  4. Brandy,
    Thank you for the very thorough review. I appreciate your thoughts and your experience very much. We have used John Thompson's book for this first year. And we are almost through the first grade book. Do you have any experience with his books?
    Julie in St. Louis

    OH, and we had our Neuro Link appt. today. It was FASCINATING! And we LOVED the doctor. I am really hoping this works. I really thought it was neat. Thanks again for the recommendation.

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  5. Heather, Your comment makes me wonder if part of this is the benefit to starting OLDER! I know that in learning to tie shoes, for instance, I can go insane working daily with a 4yo for a year, or I can teach a 6 or 7yo in 10 minutes. A more mature brain really does help when it comes to learning...

    Julie, Glad I could help! I am sorry that I am unfamiliar with John Thompson. Most of the books I looked at when I was searching were whatever my friends' children were using with their own piano teachers. I don't remember coming across those, but I AM surprised at how many different children's curricula there are out there!

    I know on the AO Yahoo group there were recently a group of moms highly suggesting Suzuki. I had thought you could only get the books from trained Suzuki teachers, but apparently they are on Amazon! :) The Suzuki method is highly thought of for violin, but I don't know anyone who has used it for piano. With that said, I really like what we are doing, so I'm not in the market for changing. :)

    Glad you had fun with your NL doc! :)

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  6. Adding my thanks for this review. I also took piano lessons for many years, but felt inadequate to teach my own children. I also wanted them to have experience with someone else besides Mom as the teacher for some things. :) But lessons are expensive, even with only two children taking them so far, and I'm wondering whether it would be wiser to teach them myself so we could use those funds for other things. We do like our teacher, but I've not been so pleased with some of the materials and methods used in the lessons.Currently, they are doing a combination of the Suzuki and Celebrate Piano series, and while I love the quality of the Suzuki pieces (after you get past Twinkle, Twinkle!), the other books seem more "twaddly", and I'm not seeing much progress with learning to read music, especially with my dd. Also, there seems to be a push for the kids to compose their own music (kind of like the push for " creative writing" in schools), which gets a little stressful when the kids don't have the tools yet to actually read and write music! Your review makes me think Piano Phonics might be what I need to teach piano myself. :)

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  7. MHA,

    WRITING music? At this age? That would make me uncomfortable, too. At least, giving it as an assignment would. Most children do not understand the forms well enough yet. Sigh.

    I understand the appeal of having other adults have input into a child's life. Actually, I didn't mention this, but I'm now using PP at our co-op. I teach piano, and the other mom teaches handicrafts. It's been a wonderful trade-off for us.

    I *definitely* think you could teach piano using this, if that is what you wanted to do.

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  8. I think there's definitely a point to be made to starting with an older student.

    My teacher for ten years would only accept second grade or older students. I have made this my rule as well, when I have "outside" students.

    My oldest daughter (9 almost 10) is learning now and I do not have to remind (read: nag) her to practice. My 2nd grader wanted to start but didn't keep up with the practice so I think it's a maturity issue. We'll try again when she's ready or when she's 10, whichever comes first. ;)

    (Guess I should also mention that I was homeschooled K-12 and my piano teacher served as a wonderful guide and mentor which was almost worth more than the piano lessons - and I speak as a piano teacher / church pianist!)

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  9. Are you still happy with this product? If the parent has pretty much NO knowledge of music other than EveryGoodBoyDoesFine and FACE and where to place your hands, would this be a good program for us? Our boys (12, 10) do WANT to learn.

    Thanks,

    JoyH

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  10. Hi Joy!

    Yes, I really am still happy. There is some information on the website concerning self-teaching. My son is, in many ways, learning piano using this curriculum via independent study. I am always around and correcting, but he's been figuring it all out on his own, and if your boys are that motivated, my guess is it would work well like that for them, also.

    I don't know for sure, of course, because I came to the table as a trained musician {who didn't know how to teach it}. I think there are also some things online that CM used -- Curwen/Curwin 's piano method comes to mind, that you could look into that might supplement. I haven't looked at that, but it's a thought I had.

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I absolutely adore hearing your thoughts, but...*please* remember to play nicely!