Why I love Piano Safari for beginners

I've been using the Piano Safari method for beginning students for three years now. I don't have a very busy studio, so that doesn't add up to a lot of students, but I still love it all the same. Here's what I like:

Rote Pieces: 

The Rote pieces worked into the method allow students to play harder music before they can read it. It encourages good listening and observation, good musicianship, and lots of movement. I don't worry about my students thinking they will always play in C positions. These pieces also get both hands involved right away!

No Hand Positions:

All the songs in the first book start on landmark notes. However, that doesn't mean they stay stuck in C position. The students play all around those notes, learning to identify and remember them first, and finding everything else by interval. They also move by octave relatively quickly. I've found that for beginners, all octaves are the same to them, so it is easy to move around the keyboard.

Intervals! 

There is a strong emphasis on learning to read by interval (the distance between two notes), instead of just by note name. This is HUGE because this is how they will continue to need to read for life. I don't name notes in my head as I play, but I automatically connect note names and lines and spaces together, paying more attention to how far away things are than what the actual note name is. 

8th Notes:

Some methods wait to introduce 8th notes for way too long. Piano Safari introduces them right away, allowing students to play more complex rhythms right from the beginning. They count using modified Kolday syllables, which are very similar to what most students are taught in school. This allows students to be able to understand and play rhythms without adding more numbers (numeric counting) into the mix.

Technique Book:

There is a technique book that accompanies the repertoire book. This book teaches how to approach the playing piano, using fun animal movements to help memory. I have my students do these exercises over and over each week so that they become comfortable holding their hands the right way, and learn how to make different kinds of sound with different kinds of motions. This is NOT something that is included in all beginner books!

Sight Reading Cards:

There are also sight reading cards that correlate with each unit in the book. These are a way for students to work on being able to play melodies and rhythms accurately the first time.  Sight reading is a skill  that is difficult to teach, but hugely necessary as a pianist down the road. These sight reading cards will set your student on the right path from the very beginning. 

Playing in Lots of  Keys:

Once you get into the second Piano Safari book, students are introduced to many different keys, both major and minor, and do technique work in all of them. This is an excellent way to teach them 5-finger scales, and to have students become comfortable playing in almost any key.  

I could go on, but those are the highlights for me as a teacher. 

The only cons I have found so far are these:

The Skips Alphabet

The only thing I have found that regularly confuses students is the skips alphabet. In Piano Safari book 2, the note names for the whole staff is introduced as the skips alphabet (GBDFACE...) repeating all the way up the staff. This makes sense to me, as a seasoned musician, but I find my students have a hard time handling that many note names at once.  I teach it using the method that authors outline in their blog, but my students always have a hard time with it. In more than one instance, my students revert to the more common mnemonics (FACE, All Cows, Eat, Grass, etc) without me ever teaching them those mnemonics. I'm not sure who introduces them to alternate methods, but they all seem to prefer them. In the end, it doesn't really matter how they are taught all the names of lines and spaces, as long as they eventually learn them. 

No Ear Training

The amount of ear training in most beginner books is dismal. It is thrown in as part of the theory book, but not really enough to do anyone much good. Piano Safari does not have any included in their method, though a teacher could easily add it on their own. The best book I have found for including ear training (and singing intervals) so  far is Celebrate Piano!, which is my second favorite overall beginner method (but my favorite for Pre K and Kindergarten beginners) .

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!

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!