Friday, May 20, 2016

The Connections Songbook: Every Graduate Needs One!

Your Orange Roots student is almost done with Let's Play Music classes forever.  First, grab a tissue and dry your eye.  After experiencing the joy and fullness of our classes and developing a tight bond with your teacher, it's a little sad to move on to a private piano teacher, but we know exactly what will help!
Connections: A Transition Songbook

Every graduate will get the Connections songbook to use with his or her new piano teacher.  You may be wondering: what is this book!? Why would teachers want it? Will my child like it? How will I get my new teacher to use it? Good questions! The connections book is the best way to build a bridge from LPM to whatever comes next for your family.  Here's how:

  • Use the book alone for 4-8 weeks only. 
  • EVERY student and EVERY teacher benefit. No exceptions.
  • This book does NOT replace your teacher's choice of method book.
  • Let your child honestly showcase and reinforce what he has learned.
  • DO NOT require further polishing of songs passed off in LPM.
  • DO use the activities to initiate a parent-teacher conversation about plans for your child's lessons/ education.

What Students Want: A Showcase

Your child has just mastered some awesome skills.  He has fantastic ear-training under his belt, can understand advanced theory, and even wrote his own song. When he goes to a new teacher, the first thing he wants to do is showcase his strengths. He wants her to be impressed.

That may seem obvious, but it can get tricky! Let's Play Music is not a piano course, really. It's a musicianship course. When your child shows his new teacher what he knows, she probably won't be expecting a showcase of advanced skills like completing the musical phrase, filling in the chords for a song, and listening to and identifying melodic patterns.  The connections books has examples of these skills so that he can show off exactly how great he is at these non-traditional but oh-so-important skills.

And if you're wondering what the best way is to showcase your ability to really master and play some songs, the answer is: play some songs you already know well!  The connections book has duplicates of songs your child learned in this year, specifically so he can perfectly showcase them. 

The Connections book is THE BEST way for your child to honestly showcase his skills.

What Parents Want: More LPM

As a parent, you've loved that LPM presented your child with SO MANY ASPECTS of musical education in every single lesson.  You had ear-training, composing, music history, music theory, classical music, sight-reading, and more on top of actually working a little bit on the mechanics of actually playing piano.

Be aware that that's a long list of skills to cram into a lesson! You saw your child develop beginning composing skills and even write an entire song, so you'd be let down if he never worked on composition skills again!  The connections songbook shows you new teacher examples of composing exercises and ear-training exercises that can be done with your child to help him keep progressing.  The songbook gives you an easy way to initiate this conversation with your teacher: "These are skills that we care about. Can you design a way to include these skills in his education? "

In Let's Play Music we use our blue bugs and our colored chords and some other lingo that mainstream teachers don't know.  During third year, your child started counting the traditional way and talking about I, IV, and V chords the mainstream way, but you'll want a teacher who is willing to talk to your child in "an LPM way" at the beginning. The connections book teacher guide walks the teacher through each lesson, prompting her in exactly what to say, giving her examples of how your child is accustomed to talking about music.

Finding a teacher who is willing to go through the official connecting process is extremely valuable! The connections process is THE BEST way to communicate to your new teacher what you've come to expect in music lessons.

What Teachers Want: Integration

Your teacher is excited to have a new students, but probably apprehensive, too.  What has the previous teacher been teaching? How skilled is this student? What weaknesses need to be addressed? How will I fit this student into the method books that I love?  One teacher I talked to (we'll call her Ms. Lemon) was SO nervous about taking transfer students that she made a studio policy to refuse all transfer students!  Oh no! She is missing out on the best students!

It's true that integrating a LPM student could be tricky the first time, but the connections  book makes the task so much easier.  Because your LPM child has  skills in musicianship beyond mechanically playing the music, Connections helps the new teacher touch upon each concept so she can accurately evaluate them and plan ways to incorporate them into the student's lessons

Each of the eight lessons touches upon different skills taught in LPM. If only Ms. Lemon had known these are probably the easiest eight first lessons she'd ever teach with a new student! All the planning has been done: the connections book has theory, repertoire, ear-training, composing, and the teacher's guide. Ms. Lemon could even watch the tutorial videos that show her how to use the teacher's guide. Follow it step-by-step for a few lessons and you're sure of success.

Successful integration often means using a beginner level method for technique but a higher level or a different method for theory, ear-training, repertoire, and composition exercises.  Integration also means finding creative ways to add "LPM-style" musicianship to otherwise simple method books!  A successful choice of repertoire and technique means the student will be excited and motivated while still making steady progress.

Teachers who have taken the effort to tailor teaching to the unique talents (but beginner fingers) of LPM students find that they really ARE THE BEST students!  Imagine having students that can hear when they play an error, that have developed a love of creating music, that know how to practice daily, and have an understanding of how music is structured.  It's worth a teacher's time and effort to tailor lessons for these students; if nurtured, they will make rapid and amazing progress, like a Chinese Bamboo. Their fingers will catch up to their brains in no time.

The Connections process is THE BEST way to evaluate and integrate a LPM graduate into a new studio. 

What to Expect in Real Life

Here are some scenarios (or warnings) of what could happen when you finish LPM and go on to a private teacher.  Learn from the experiences of others and be an advocate to help your child and new teacher forge a beautiful relationship!

Scenario 1: Unfair Evaluation
Philomena's mom took her to the first lesson with the new teacher, Ms. Apple. Ms. Apple knew that she'd been taking music lessons for a few years but didn't know anything about LPM. She pulled out her favorite method book and had Philomena sight read a piece.  It seemed tricky, so she chose an easier level.  By the end of the lesson, Ms. Apple had decided to start Philomena back in the primer level, and was confused about what could possibly have been going on in LPM class.  Philomena continued with these traditional piano lessons for eight weeks.  By then, Philomena had never had an opportunity to play songs that interested her, used any chords or intervals, composed, transposed, improvised, or used her other musicianship skills.  She thought piano was boring and wanted to quit.  Well, it was boring.
What happened?
Because Ms. Apple didn't know anything about the LPM course, she had no way of guessing the skills Philomena had developed.  She didn't know to use "LPM terminology" to help her succeed in answering theory questions.  Philomena's mom realized her mistake and asked Ms. Apple to go through the connecting process.  They got a connections book and spent about eight weeks working through that.  When they were done, Ms. Apple had a much better idea of which books Philomena needed for technique and which she would enjoy for repertoire.

Scenario 2: Polishing Old Songs
Gertrude's new teacher, Ms. Banana was willing to work through the connections book before transitioning to the new method. When she heard Gertrude play Cockles and Mussels, she saw lots of room for improvement and spent eight weeks focusing to improve dynamics, wrist position, arm position, and technique to create much more musical playing.  Although that one song became very polished, Gertrude hated practicing and was losing interest.
What happened?
Parents must be aware, and be prepared to remind new teachers that LPM is not a piano program, per se.  It is a musicianship program. Students are armed with a host of skills that will help them become truly talented and well-rounded musicians in life, but they don't have three years' experience of intense piano drills. Ms. Banana and other teachers will teach the students specifics of technique and piano-specific skills on new songs they will learn. Songs like Cockles and Mussels  are already passed off! Done! Finished! Gertrude's purpose in playing it for Ms. Banana was to showcase what she can do, not spend lots of time improving it. Remember, passing off a song in LPM is not nearly the same as polishing a song with a private teacher, but the child has been told she's finished with Cockles and Mussels. Ms. Banana should let Gertrude play it, notice where she needs improvement, and use that knowledge on future songs. Ms. Banana is right to add a little extra focus to weak skills, because some students need more chord practice while others need more sight-reading practice...but be sure she has a teacher's guide to keep her mostly on track.

Scenario 3: Double-Fun Teacher
Benedict's new private teacher, Ms. Orange, was also his LPM Teacher! Ms. Orange is smart and savvy. Even though she already knows all the "LPM Lingo" that the connections book translates for private teachers, she decided to use the songbook for a few weeks with Benedict anyway.  Having these lessons one-on-one with Benedict gave Ms. Orange an all-new new opportunity to carefully evaluate him and help him strengthen certain areas.  Ms. Orange says that even LPM teachers benefit from going through the book with students as they transition to private lessons!

Not By The Book

Clementine's new teacher, Mr. Grape, enthusiastically participated in the connections program and helped her through the Connections book.  He realized that Clementine needed a tailored program to help her keep improving musicianship skills. 

To help her feel excited about awesome-sounding music, he gives her some challenging repertoire, including a Bach minuet, to work on. He chose a theory book with some assignments that correspond with the repertoire.

To help her learn piano-specific technique, he assigns her several easy primer pieces from his favorite method book. He stresses hand and wrist position and dynamics and requires perfection to pass off these easy songs.  He assigns exercises and scales from his favorite technique book, but also assigns her to transpose them to other keys because he knows she can do it.

To continue her improvisation and chording skills, he assigns some easy pieces for her to master, then add or change the accompaniment, or to add embellishments and flourishes. He also takes two minutes during class to allow some improvisational melody, Echo-Edison style call and repeat, or time to work on a composition.

By now you've noticed that piano teachers have different styles, different method books, and different lesson formats.  Mr. Grape's teaching is not as simple as picking a pack of method books in one level and systematically working through them.  He doesn't mind finding out what a child can do and helping her make progress from where she is.  He uses his training and experience as a teacher to tailor the assignments he gives to Clementine, and she has a successful, well-rounded experience because of it.  

Find A Teacher

When you are looking for a new piano teacher, ask the question: "Are you willing to do the connections book to get to know my child? Are you willing to mix and match methods and levels if needed, to suit the needs of my child?"  

If a teacher is unwilling to use the connections book to get to know your child's skill, or to tweak her teaching program to suit your child's skills, be wary that this might not be a good match.  Remind your teacher of all the benefits of going through the book for just a few weeks, and that it is not a replacement for her favorite method book.

Like my acquaintance, Ms. Lemon, some teachers may stick to the routine they know and hate to vary the program.  On the other hand, now that Mr. Grape has found some activities that work well with Clementine, he's excited to have more LPM students and will probably use a similar path with them.

One place to look for a new teacher is at our Connections page. These teachers have taken the time to learn the LPM lingo, understand our teach philosophy, and review the skills and types of activities we've done in class.  This doesn't mean that they've specifically committed to practice ear-training, transposing, or composing with your child. It's up to you to be an advocate, stay involved in your child's lessons, and talk to the teacher about her plan for your child's education.  If your child is bored or feels like her teacher underestimates her skill, have a conversation. Find out if your teacher has really connected with LPM.

Nice Trombone!

This post is here to help students transition to new piano teachers, but many graduates to on to other instruments, too. When you meet your new instrument teacher, they will still be interested to know what you know.  The connections book gives these teachers a chance to see what you know musically, although not on your new instrument yet.  Your teacher will be empowered to know that you would like some ear exercises and composing exercises, and YES, you CAN do those on your new instrument.  Note reading skills and rhythm reading skills are valuable for any musician, so show your teacher what you've got!

- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music educator

1 comment:

  1. No one should think that the only thing you get out of LPM is a jumping board inTO piano lessons. We use piano to develop complete musicianship, because it IS the best instrument to do that with. But when we ask a piano teacher to USE our Connections book, it isn't because it's a method book for them to learn some new method that they HAVE to teach our students through. Its not even so much of a transition out of LPM as it is providing understanding and education on the skills and roots that have been laid down in these kiddos. The Connections book helps bridge the gap of the teachers understanding of what the child has been exposed to. Otherwise they never know that kiddos already know their note names. That they have learned HOW and have had opportunities to count. Understand how and have opportunities to transpose. That their fingers have already learned how to play their cadences and have had opportunities to do that in multiple keys. That their little fingers have had opportunities to improvise. That they have even written their own compostion. These are not normal things that a beginning piano student comes to the table with. Now notice the number of times I said 'opportunity'. We aren't claiming we have mastered or perfected anything. We are developing complete musicianship that ANY private teacher (piano or otherwise) can capitalize on. And if they don't know, then they can't capitalize on it. Does that even mean that time in LPM would have been for naught? Absolutely not. The teacher will probably praise themselves on thinking they are an AMAZING teacher because their little '8 year old beginner' is such a great student! ;) And as that student continues on with wherever their musical journey takes them in life, there will be all sorts of 'triumphs' that can be traced back to their LPM roots --EVEN IF THEY NEVER FOUND A TEACHER THAT WASN'T WILLING TO WORK THROUGH THE CONNECTIONS BOOK. But to address any parents actual concern of being able to talk someone into USING the book it boils down to them wanting to get to know their child. Yes, it might be a BIT longer than one week to get to know Johnny and then to settle in to their usual routine. But Johnny isn't a 'regular' beginner, and as the paying customer, there is not excuse for your new teacher to not be willing to get to know your child first and at least TRYING to understand the skills they are already bringing to the table. Again, as I said, its not a method book. The private teacher can keep on doing exactly what they have always done. I don't think its too much to ask a new teacher to 'get to know my child' before jumping into your methods and philosphies. It's like buying new shoes and never taking the time to not only measure your foot size, but never even trying it on. Yeah, you could squeeze into 2 sizes too small 6 inch stiletto heel. And maybe it will fit and you will never know what it would have felt like to wear them all day withOUT being in pain at the end of day! But why woudn't you take a few simple steps to make sure you are getting the most out of your investment. It won't affect ANYTHING that the new teacher normally does when they teach ANY student. It will simply help educate them on how to best take advantage of this amazing GIFT they have been given as a new student that they will LOVE!!! -- Julie Fischbeck, LPM Teacher