Why I Love Celebrate Piano! for Young Beginners

When piano teachers begin working with students, they usually choose a method series to use to help teach concepts in a certain order. My two favorites are Piano Safari and Celebrate Piano! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name). Piano Safari has been my first choice for a few years, but I recently started a kindergarten student in Celebrate Piano! instead so that she and her brother could use different methods. I was blown away by how well it works for younger beginners (Pre-K and K).

This review will probably make more sense if you read my Piano Safari post first. This post will compare and contrast with that one a lot.

Here are my favorite parts:

Singing Intervals:

This was a big hole in Piano Safari. Not only does Celebrate Piano! teach by interval first (just like Piano Safari), they also include animal songs for each interval. In each unit, the student sings through the interval songs, like "The Middle C song", "Busy Bee" for seconds, etc. Each song emphasizes very clearly the interval associated with it. This way, the student learns to hear intervals before they even learn to play intervals. This is HUGE! (And I'll get to why later). 

Interval Reading:

I'm not going to go into depth on this, but reading is taught using intervals, not just note names.  This is something I always look for in method books, but it isn't always featured.

End of the Unit Ear Training:

Each unit ends with Clap Backs (patterns that the teacher claps, and the student repeats), and Play Backs (similar but with playing), and then Question and Answer. In the Question and Answer section, a short opening melody is written, and the student is instructed to write the "answer", or a conclusion to the melody. The Q&A is unique to this method as far as I know and allows teachers to talk about how to write melodies that sound pleasing and correct (because there is a science to it after all). There is also sometimes a pitch detective part where the student has to notate intervals based solely on hearing. My one student told me this was easy because she just sang her interval songs in her head. <--- And that is why I am so thrilled to have interval singing included!!

Lots of Work Pages:

Throughout the book there are lots of work pages for the students to practice note writing and theory concepts right in their lesson book. No theory book required. For young beginners, the constant repetition is very helpful, and they tend to enjoy the work pages. I'm not sure it would be that same with an older age group. 

Playing in Many Keys:

Like Piano Safari, Celebrate Piano! has students all over the keyboard and playing in many 5 finger positions early on. In book 2a, after a little over one year of lessons, my student already plays using  all 12 major 5 finger scales.  The book also highly emphasizes transposition which is a skill that is best learned early in lessons, but is not always included. 

Practice Plan:

At the beginning of each piece is a "practice plan" which outlines steps to take in order to learn the piece, or highlights stumbling points the student may have. For example, it might say 1. Clap the rhythm

2. Name the Landmarks

3. Find where your hands play together.  

This is especially good to teach beginners HOW to practice music.

 

Things I don't like as much about this method are:

Now let's take a look at some of the things I am finding frustrating. (And note, there aren't very many!)

All the work pages:

I have a love/hate relationship with the work pages and the childish art. They work well for younger students, but not older students. If there was a slightly better balance, I might use this book for all beginners! I think that a mix of Celebrate Piano! and Piano Safari would be perfect for me as a teacher.

Teaching of Note Names:

Celebrate Piano! starts on the staff pretty quickly, but does not introduce clefs for some time. When the student does learn about the grand staff, they learn the usual landmarks (Treble C, Treble G, Middle C, Bass F, Bass C). For a while, that is all. By the time they reach 2a, they have yet to learn the rest of the names of the lines and spaces. To be fair, they encourage using landmarks to find close starting pitches. And my student can decipher them. She has learned the names of the keys on the piano, knows those landmarks, and knows her intervals. Between those three, she can figure out what the names are . But I am uncomfortable depending on just that for so long. I've been following the method to see how it all plays out, but I'm not sure I like this approach any better than Piano Safari's approach. 

 

If you want to look inside Celebrate Piano!, here's their brochure about their method: Exploring Celebrate Piano!

 

Here's a final comparison note, and quick summary:

Piano Safari lacks in ear training, while Celebrate Piano! is too childish to use with all beginners, and lacks creative technique and rote learning. 

I find both methods lacking in their introductions of note names on the staff. 

However, they both address rhythm well, teach intervocalic reading, are not stuck in one hand position, emphasis transposition, and move at a slow pace for beginners. That is why I love them for beginners!

A First Group Lesson

At the end of May I gathered my 3 beginner students together for their (and my) first ever group lesson.  The students were super excited to get together and weren't quite sure what to expect. Their parents dropped them off with instructions to come back at the end for a mini recital.

Here's an overview of what we did: 

We started with several rhythm games, keeping it simple so they could feel confident. 

Then we moved to the keyboard and played some more games using the keyboard and some dice and figurines. 

Afterward we talked about performance technique and each student had a chance to play all of their pieces for each other. I had to remind them of proper audience technique as well, because they got a little too excited about what they were doing. 

Then we played some music bingo until the parents came in. They all got Bingo at the same time!

We called the parents and other siblings back in and invited them to sit and listen. Each student took turns playing one piece at a time. Since there were only three students, I had them each prepare 3 pieces. It was just enough to fill about 10 minutes of time. 

When they were all finished, we celebrated with rice crispie treats and lemonade. 


If you are thinking of doing a group lesson for your beginners, here's some of the thoughts that informed my decisions:

Group Lesson VS Recital

I decided to do a group lesson instead of a recital because I don't have a lot of students for a full recital and I didn't want to intimidate my beginners. The students and parents loved it, so I think it was a good decision. It also wasn't a lot of extra work for me. 

Performance Technique

I usually spend part of several lessons before recitals teaching performance technique, but since I had all this time during the group lesson, I decided to use just the group lesson to go over performing. I had them listen to each other and comment on each others performance technique. In the end they didn't remember everything for the final performance, but it was a good start!

Games

All the students had only been studying with me for one year, so I used to games as a way to review everything we had done during the year:

Rhythm: We started with simple rhythm dictation using raindrop cards (shorts) and rainbow cards (longs). I played a short rhythm on the piano and then they had to create it with the cards. Then I let them each take turns creating rhythms. I often had to remind them to keep their rhythms short and manageable!

Musical Alphabet and Keyboard Geography: We played a keyboard race using a big alphabet dice and little plastic figurines. As they rolled the dice they had to find the next key of that name up the piano. The first one to the end of the piano won. In retrospect I think we should have worked from the ends of the keyboard into the middle because they got a little bored halfway through.

Intervals: We played a second keyboard race using another specialty dice to move by unison, 2nds and 3rds. This time I had them choose and end of the keyboard and race to the middle to keep things moving. 

Music Bingo: The last game we played was Music Bingo from Susan Paradis's website. A few of the concepts on the bingo cards were a little beyond some of my students, but I allowed them to work together and used it as a way for them to see some new symbols and talk about new concepts.

I found the group lesson was actually very easy to plan because I many games in my repertoire but don't always have time to play them with my students. I was pleased with how it went and plan on doing many more!




Rings and Finger Numbers- Games for Preschoolers

I've recently started teaching a preschool student, which is a new age for me. I've had a few 5 year-olds, but none younger. I discovered pretty quickly that my favorite curriculum for young beginners just was not going to work in this case because the concepts moved to fast and demanded too much from little hands still working on those fine motor skills. So after some research I decided to use

Anne Crosby Gaudet's "Music Discoveries

" with my student. After all, why reinvent the wheel when there are great free resources out there?  

The songs and concepts progress really slowly and have plenty of worksheets to send home to reinforce concepts. I found that I am still have to make up games to fill up the lesson time. Keeping short attention spans occupied for half an hour necessitates lots of short activities! One worksheet in "Music Discoveries" has a page of hands with rings on a finger of each hand. The students has to color the hands according whether they are left or right hands, and then write the finger number corresponding to the ring on each hand. 

To go along with this coloring page, I decided to play a game with rings and dice. Most little girls love playing with rings! 

Rings on Fingers

How to Play: 

1. Choose two different colored dice and some rings (I used red and blue dice, the same colors she was asked to color the hands on her worksheet so that we could work on both hands at once.)

2. Identify which dice color is for which hand

3. Roll dice and take turns placing rings on the other person's hand. Make sure the dice number and color match the hand and finger.

If you roll a 6, pick a finger and identify it. 

It's that easy, but my student loved it!

Headshots Matter...

I taught a new student today, age 5. It was her very first lesson ever. And she chose me for her teacher by my picture on the studio's website.

Head shots matter, but not always in the way you might think.

When you are a professional performer, you need professional pictures. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of performing, but I do love accompanying, so my picture winds up in programs.

I also teach at two studios. Each has a website with pictures of their teachers and bios. So my picture wound up there as well.

But the picture I've used for these things so far was this one: 

And this is the picture she like so much.

I'm glad she did. I actually didn't originally take that picture for head shot purposes.  It was a gift for my then boyfriend, so that he could carry a picture of my in his wallet. But it's been used since then for a lot of different things.

When I started building my own website, I figured I should get some pictures that weren't blurry and hastily done with a cheap camera, so I hired a photographer friend to take some pictures. Here are my new head shots (that haven't made it onto the studio's website yet):

My friend took some great ones! You can see her stuff at 

http://kristinaruthphotography.com/

 If you were 5 and picking your very first piano teacher, would you still choose me?