Steps to Learning

a review by

Anne Haacke, M.A.
Bountiful, Utah

EDITOR’S NOTE: For additional information on learning styles, Anne Haacke recommends Howard Gardner’s book, Frames of Mind; and Walter Barbe’s book, Growing up Learning - Identifying and Teaching Children With Different Learning Styles.

The first time I attended college, I completed a double major in elementary and special education with a music minor. Special education is especially dear to me because I have two learning disabled sisters. In my special education classes, I was taught to break a curriculum down into its smallest parts because every good curriculum should follow clear steps to reach a positive outcome. If you leave out one step – you have a learning gap, and the student will "fall through the gap"! Because of my passion for understanding and studying curriculum, I later helped develop pilot programs for remedial math and remedial reading.

Years later, I went back to college and completed a piano pedagogy major. A large part of my pedagogy training was analyzing music curriculum. I actually analyzed fifteen different music courses from beginning to end while still in college! You might find analyzing music curriculum to be boring. But for me, it is totally intriguing – I love it! I dig into a music curriculum and study every little facet -- just like a detective looking for clues! I analyze a curriculum from start to end. How does it all fit together? What are the small parts? You see, a good piano curriculum doesn’t happen by accident. It is well thought out and follows a specific path and meets a student’s learning style! There must be (1) a concrete level or kinesthetic level where the student actually experiences new theory concepts through a hands-on approach – (at my studio, this is done at theory game time!); (2) a visual level where the student works theory pages; (3) an application level where the student plays the new music using the theory concepts just learned; and, (4) an abstract level where the student retains the concept and applies the learned knowledge to new pieces she encounters in the future. Have you ever taught a piano method that presents a musical concept one time, and then that concept is never mentioned again? Most piano methods present a concept visually and students have not experienced it. Therefore, they cannot transfer it to the highest level – the abstract level. Unless the teacher remembers to reinforce that concept at later lessons, the student will quickly forget that the concept was ever taught in the first place. And when that particular bit of musical knowledge is needed again in order to play some future musical composition, it will be long gone from the student’s head! So the teacher must re-teach the concept again! And again! And again! That type of curriculum, although commonly found in many piano methods, is not structurally sound. And it is exhausting for the poor teacher.

Because of my fascination with studying piano methods, I have tried many different ones through the years. But I could never find a piano method that had everything that I was looking for in a good curriculum. Then, three years ago, a friend said that her cousin in Illinois was using THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD„ and was very pleased with it. I obtained Mayron Cole’s 800 number and requested a sample music packet. That summer I went to one of Mayron’s training seminars. After the seminar, I immediately began teaching THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD to some of my private students and to my beginner group piano students. Naturally, I also began an in-depth analysis of Mayron’s piano method curriculum. Here is what I have found: THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD is the best piano method out there! No other piano method comes close in comparison!

The first thing I liked about Mayron’s piano method is the music itself! It sounds good! And the kids know it sounds good! They love it! Even elementary pieces sound good. Next, I found it is far and away the best method for presenting and constantly reviewing theory concepts. There are no learning gaps because the material is beautifully sequential. It is the only method that presents analyzing theory with each composition while constantly reviewing "old" concepts. Best of all, the easy-to-understand theory teaches the "hard spots" in each composition before the student tackles the piece. It does the teacher’s job for her!

A common piano literature deficiency that stymies piano playing skills shows up every day at many of our studios! It is found in piano methods that encourage students to read finger numbers and find hand positions instead of learning to read staff notes. Sure, reading staff notes take time and can be difficult for the student. And reading finger numbers is a quick way to get a student "playing the piano." But it is a very weak approach to learning. In THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD students are encouraged to use a variety of fingers and are not tied into a hand position or finger numbering system. Therefore, piano students are concentrating on learning to read notes – not hand positions and finger numbers.

Another weakness in most music curriculums is inadequate teaching of rhythms! Mayron’s piano method teaches eighth notes in the first two lessons in her pre-reading EZ KEYS course (for five-year olds) and the first lesson of her MENEHUNE MUSIC course (for six and seven year olds). In other methods, eighth notes are usually introduced in late level 1. And regretfully, in those "other" methods, the eighth notes are used sparingly in only one or two pieces and then rarely used again. Mayron’s rhythms advance in each piece and become gradually more challenging. It’s no wonder so many students are struggling with piano! They can’t read notes, and they can’t count rhythms!

Best of all, this piano method is motivating! The students come to piano lessons prepared and ready to learn more! There’s a real team spirit, and friendships have developed in some of the classes. The students also learn from each other and have become great little accompanists since they are so used to playing with a group. Plus, it’s good training for those students who enjoy using their piano skills to play for church. Because the method is so structurally sound, I don’t have to constantly go back and "correct things" like I’ve had to do with other methods. Time-wise, it’s made my life so much easier – I rarely have to go to the music store because each method book has it all: class piano pieces, scales, theory, recital pieces. Even the pen and ink graphics are neat! My students like to color the illustrations as they progress through each book. They are personalizing their own music book with their individual artistic talent!

Here are some of the results in my studio after using THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD for three years. The students who have been in Mayron’s piano method from the beginning are doing the best compared to students I transferred from other methods. I teach all the "Mayron Cole" students in piano classes, and the level of piano playing proficiency is high. In fact, we recently completed a recital and one of the parents told me that it was the finest recital I’ve ever had. She could really tell a difference in the students that were studying Mayron’s piano method. She thought the students played with more confidence and that their rhythm counting was great! And I must admit that the students do sound good. I really love their enthusiasm for their music!

Here are some problems that I have encountered: I’ve learned not to mix transfer students in piano classes with my "Mayron Cole" students because the transfer students simply cannot do the work as well -- their deficiencies are too obvious in a group piano class. And each transfer student has a different knowledge gap from the others. So next year, I’ve decided to let all my transfer students go. That might sound a little cruel, but transfer students are too much of a headache to teach. I will only teach students who have started in THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD. The difference in the two types of students’ ability and knowledge is too obvious to ignore! Because I have young children, I prefer to limit my teaching to only thirty-five students -- and I want to enjoy my teaching time!

I am no longer looking for a new and better piano method. I have found it! Everything that I have been looking for in a music curriculum is in THE MAYRON COLE PIANO METHOD. And it is truly a complete method! There are no learning gaps! This is the only curriculum that I’ve ever studied that meets every student’s needs -- even special education students. It is a joy to teach, and it has been a pleasure to study the curriculum in depth!


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