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The Piano Lesson: A Graduated Piano CurriculumAmerican Music Teacher , Dec, 2005 by Nancy O`Neill Breth
The Piano Lesson: A Graduated Piano Curriculum, by Elise Beckett Russell. The Piano Curriculum Series LLC (P.O. Box 17651, Sugar Land, Texas 77496), 2004. Teacher manual,
The wealth of available piano literature and other teaching materials can be overwhelming. Teachers looking for guidance with lesson planning will appreciate the thought that the author, Elise Beckett Russell, has put into this curriculum guide and may find in it a safe road to follow.
The series includes a teacher manual covering 11 instruction levels (primer plus levels 10) and one student book per level; each level represents a year of lessons.
The contents of the student books support Russell`s conviction that, beyond learning to play pieces, piano students should be well-educated in technique, theory, vocabulary and music history. In addition to a year`s worth of assignment sheets, each book contains the appropriate level of written-out scales, chords, cadences and arpeggios; theory, ear training and analysis worksheets; a vocabulary list with definitions; and a few pages on music history. All this fits into a one-inch-thick, spiral-bound volume. It`s a tidy package, but its brevity allows for only a taste of each subject. There are 12 theory worksheets in Level 1, for example, and 23 in Level 5--excellent for students who don`t normally use theory books, but considerably below the norm for those who do.
The first chapters of the teacher manual offer good advice on setting up a studio. Russell emphasizes the importance of teaching technical skills and gives recommendations on how and when to introduce various exercises. A "small sampling" of repertoire and method books is suggested for each level. Russell favors weaning students from method books by the fourth year or before; to this end she commendably lists literature and etude collections from the earliest levels.
Every experienced teacher has strong ideas about repertoire--and I would question some of Russell`s inclusions and omissions--but it is still interesting to check one`s own ideas against her lists.
For all its merits, this series disappoints in two important ways. First, the lists covering 10 levels of contemporary literature include only two living composers (one in his 90s). It is disheartening how much quality piano music of the last 75 years is virtually unknown, and is yet again unexplored in this curriculum; Russell missed a great opportunity here. Second, the series appears to be unedited. Some proper names are misspelled, there are conspicuous typos and grammatical errors and in spots, the clumsy writing obscures meaning. Reviewed by Nancy O`Neill Breth, Arlington, Virginia.
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