Playing the Piano

Piano Garden Studio

200 Meadowood Dr., Anderson, SC 29626

Play and learn who YOU are!

Creative repertoire-driven approach to Piano, Music Theory, Audio/Music technology -
Private Lessons with Katia Karkkainen, MFA

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Motivation is more important than information!

In my teaching I am using a mixed approach of traditional and non-traditional methods. There are many ways to learn piano, different students of different age with various goals.

1. Traditional method is great for those who want to learn sight reading and wants to play wide range of music genres, especially classical repertoire. Sight reading is not as hard as some people think: in fact, reading music notation is easier than reading a book, just because it is so graphical, and even if you don't remember the placement of every single note, you can learn some "landmark" notes and see if the melody goes up or down, etc. You don't really read every single note, the same way as when you read you don't read every single letter - you read only the beginning and the end of the word. So I think some people struggle with sight reading mostly because they start learning with this mindset that it is hard, although it is not. I had an experience learning Korean language, and I am familiar with three kinds of alphabets -- latin, cyrillic, and Korean, and I will tell you that music notation is easier than all of them.

The benefit of learning music notation is that you will be able to read nice written arrangements of music, it does not have to be classical, there are very nice arrangements in various genres including pop/rock/musical... If you don't read music, you have to play by ear and improvise, and it is also a skill that takes time to develop, or it can be a natural talent.

2. Music notation of a melody + chord charts. This method is used by jazz players: you write down the melody on a staff, but everything else is an improvisation based on chords. Non-classical guitar/bass players also use this method. There are many books with the chords guide that show you the placement of each chords on the keyboard which makes the process of learning chords way easier and more graphical.

3. Play by ear without any notation, by listening to the recordings and the teacher. This is usually a good exercise anyway to add to any previous methods, but also can be used as a main method for those students who struggle with notation. After all, learning music by ear was the primary learning method of early jazz musicians in the beginning of 20th century, and is a primary learning methods of musically gifted kids who start playing as early as the age of 3.


Learning piano in 21 century: how to stay motivated

Piano learning process is always a balance between entertainment and a hard work. This balance is always a struggle, because if you are doing too much entertainment -- you are not learning much and not progressing; if you are doing too much hard work at the expense of entertainment -- then you lose motivation and will eventually drop out.

There are a lot of methods to teach piano: traditional methods like Faber's or Alfred's books, Suzuki method, Russian piano school (Artobolevskaya, Nikolayeva). I am teaching all of them, depending on which one fits better for a particular student. I often combine the best features of each method to find the right path for each student.

I also found out that just following method books is not enough. The main motivation for students of any age is repertoire. What often happens with traditional methods is that students get bored with endless exercises and their teachers never assign them to play something they would really like. And here let's be honest: many kids are exposed mostly to a pop culture in everyday life, and they relate to Baby Shark way more than to a Mozart's Menuet. However, piano method books are based on classical repertoire that is often completely foreign to kids. These books are designed for those with more professional approach to music: kids that have been exposed to classical music since very early age, or kids who naturally like this music, or who can naturally focus on tasks for a long time... 

This is a very small percentage of kids. The rest (most) of them who learn piano just for fun to play for their family and friends only get disappointed that they don't play their favorite pieces.

That's why I always ask parents (and students) to make a list of their favorite songs for me so I could find easy arrangements of these songs so students could play things they really enjoy.

However, myself I love playing classical music and I like to introduce kids to classical music. I like to play short classical pieces in class for my students so they could listen a live performance and sometimes I assign them to watch some videos on youtube. This is when they often say -- wow, this is beautiful, I want to play like this too! 

So I use method books to teach concepts and I am looking for a custom repertoire for each student in books and on internet. 

Most beginning students ages 4-7 start with learning concepts rather than repertoire. In order to learn repertoire, students have to be able to stay focused for longer time and to follow teacher's directions.

Kids develop these skills at a different age: a few kids are able to do it as early as the age of 4-5, so it is always worth trying to learn their favorite songs with them. If it does not work (which is the most likely scenario), you can always start with concepts instead -- it is very fun to learn through games, drawing, flash cards, etc... At this age they can start learning to read music notation and write, and these activities will also train them to stay focused longer (again, the most important skill for learning piano!).

Ear training at early age is also a very important activity you can do if it is too early to play repertoire: teach a kid to recognize long and short sounds, high and low register, where the melody goes (up or down), loud or quiet, clap the rhythms, recognize intervals and even chords. It is a great idea to start with ear training, notation, and singing, and starting learning repertoire a little later.