“Sameness is something to come home to. There should be a balance between sameness and differentness in our teaching.” – Frances Clark
Often, in my teaching, I find that I become bored with a piece or activity before my student does. I am excited to move on to the next new concept, new piece, or new technical skill. I constantly have to remind myself that the student hasn’t been teaching piano for many years, they only come once a week to their lesson, and they just haven’t experienced these things as long as I have. Plus, our students really like what is familiar to them and what they know. Have you ever asked a student what their favorite piece is? Often, it is their recital piece, or a piece they can play particularly well. Students know when they have mastered a concept and they like that feeling (who doesn’t?)
This concept was made clear to me one year when I became a bit frustrated with a student who was struggling with key signature. I had tried numerous creative ways to teach the concept, but it seemed every week he had forgotten all five key signatures we were practicing (except C of course!). So, one week I brought out the good ‘ole key signature flashcards and made a vow to drill them for one minute out of every lesson for the next six weeks. Of course, my student learned his key signatures solidly, and never forgets them to this day! Moreover, he really didn’t seem to mind drilling the flashcards each week—he actually enjoyed it. This was a good lesson for me that even though I may become tired of drilling flashcards, the students will not be.
My good friend, Janet Johnson of the Music Clubhouse in Lawrence, Kansas is a master of incorporating sameness and differentness. Janet has created the Piano Detectives Club curriculum that we use with our kindergarten students at The New School for Music Study. This curriculum has two main goals for these young students: 1) that whatever they learned, is learned solidly, and each child understands the concept for themselves, and 2) that they have fun doing it! To achieve the first goal, there is a need for a lot of review of every concept. Janet is a master at reviewing activities in a way that is different. The children are seeing the same concepts again and again, but they remain engaged and excited (and so do the teachers!).
Examples of making the same concept new to the student is seen throughout the entire curriculum. One example of this is in labeling key names.
At the beginning of the year, the students build a large keyboard puzzle as a class and label it with key names.
Then they build their own keyboard puzzles and label them.
Later, they will label the keys on the piano using wooden blocks.
Another week they might match the correct letter with the keyboard picture.
Throughout the curriculum, Janet has worked to find fun ways to reinforce each concept in a way that young students can really know and understand. The Piano Detectives Club is a great example of how sameness and differentness can work together to provide a comprehensive lesson experience for each student.
(Special thanks to Mary Kefferstan for assistance in preparing this post.)