Customized Lesson Plans Vs. Published Method Books
Age personality, interests, and goals make a significant difference in what should be taught to each student. Jason has spent years teaching, often trying different published method books, then trying to create his own variations of method books. Ultimately he’s found that method books are best treated as supplemental material. The best primary material is the teacher’s years of experience at meeting a variety of needs. The teacher then interacts with the student and helps them to learn the lesson, exercise, or song that best suits them at the moment, sometimes simplifying an arrangement to make it reasonable for the student’s level.
The goal is to little by little help a student define their own musical personality and develop at least basic technique, basic vocabulary, and a basic understanding of the music. From there more emphasis on one subject or another will be developed as needed to further develop the student’s musical personality and fluency. Often these needs are met by simply teaching songs.
Expectations Based On Age
Starting a student at a young age can be very beneficial for developing true proficiency in the long run. Students ages 6-10 tend to need more fun, more often than not just learning to play a simplified version of a song they like. The teacher will typically start sneaking in little tidbits of knowledge while teaching these songs.
Students 10-14 years old tend to be more ready for some more interesting techniques and vocabulary development. At this point teaching songs still seems to be the best way to help a student develop. While beginners at this age will progress faster than younger beginners, students this age who started younger will be prepared for significantly higher technical demands.
Students 14-18 years old tend to be ready for serious discussion of vocabulary, technique, songs, and theory. At this point, if the student started at a younger age, we tend to dig right into more interesting aspects of music. If they are just beginning, they can still take this on fairly quickly if they are willing to add a little extra practice to their routine. Jason himself was 14 when he started playing guitar, which ultimately became his main instrument at which he’s highly proficient.
Playing Vs. Practice
There is a difference between playing and practice. Playing is absolutely needed to get better at music. Playing is just doing what you enjoy on your instrument. Practicing is less needed for lower level skills development but absolutely necessary for higher skills development. Practicing is carefully examining different aspects of technique, vocabulary, theory, and the application of these to your instruments.
There are typically 2 to 3 recitals per year. We typically spend the time furthest from a recital developing technique. After a month or so, we really start exploring a few new song options. For about 6-8 weeks prior to the recital we focus on highly effective song preparation techniques which help the student create a performance that is strong from beginning to end,
Basic Recommendations For Different Instruments
While your teacher is flexible and able to work around a variety of styles of music, there are certain skills that seem to be needed in just about every style of music. Below is a list of some of those skills to consider and maybe a few more. The order in which these skills are developed doesn’t have to be strict, but at some point each skill should be developed at least on a basic level.
Recommended Basics For Guitarist
- Single string chromatic scale
- Natural note names in open position
- For some people a book like Alfred’s basic guitar method can be a nice introduction to sight reading. I often have students already know how to play use this on their own time and double check their work on occasion.
- CAGED chords.
- Em, Am, and Dm
- Basic 7th chords
- Basic strumming and counting
- Alternate picking
- Bar chords
- Palm muting, vibrato and other expressive techniques
- A couple advanced scales or arpeggio exercises
- Basic fingerpicking
- A piece or 2 of traditional classical guitar repertoire
- Sing and play a song or 2
- Play a couple standard guitar solos
- I can take you way beyond these simple basics, but these are just some considerations to get you considering what you might learn next.
Recommended Basics For Drums
- Snare drum plays the zoo (for basic divisions development)
- Stick control (for basic hand technique and later, basic foot and hand technique)
- Syncopation (for further development of basic divisions on the kit)
- Peter Erskine drumset method book 1 (for a variety of hi hat patterns applied to beats)
- Tommy Igoe’s book for drumset basics (for slightly more advanced hi hat and kick patterns, and deeper discussion of balanced sound)
- Jason Bittner’s reductive exercises for kick drumming (for greater precision and awareness of kick drum placement within a beat)
- Drumset control (for better concepts of applying stick control to fills)
- Foot control (for greater discussion of dynamics and speed in foot work)
- Jo jo Meyer’s DVD series for greater discussion of the use of every joint to produce speed, dynamic control and high quality tone
- General tone exploration and control with sticks, cymbals, and drum heads
Recommended basics for piano
- For sight reading development, any basic lesson series: Alred’s, Bastien, Faber, John W. Thompson
- The piano is designed around the current staff notation system in a way that makes more sense than on most other instruments. I do recommend earlier development of sight reading for pianists.
- Hanon exercises 1-10 or any other series of technical exercises such as Fingerpower or A Dozen A Day
- Single octave major scales in all keys
- Two handed major scales in a few keys
- Basic chord construction
- Basic chord inversions
- Basic chord melody playing
- Basic left hand accompaniment patterns
- Any book of basic rhythm drills for pianists
- A few Josh Wright scale and arpeggio drills
- A few 2 octave scales or arpeggios
- Staccato vs. legato, basic pedal use, and dynamics
- Good posture and control of full range of piano
- Learn to play your own voice warm-ups on guitar or piano
- Learn to coordinate singing and playing by counting
- Learn to coordinate singing and playing by finding points of simultaneous attack
- Learn to coordinate singing and playing by foot tapping
- Develop some basic breathing exercises
- Experiment with dynamics in the voice
- Learn to balance your voice against your instrument dynamically
- Learn to record your own harmony parts
Make a long term plan to stick with it. I’ve never met a proficient player of an instrument who had less than 5 years of consistent experience, at least I can’t think of anyone. Those people are called prodigies, and they’re incredibly rare. “Just trying out” different things like karate, dance, piano, etc. leads to a lot of “I tried that once but don’t remember anything.” Have fun with it. Don’t rush it, but put in the time. Music is a language. It needs time to be absorbed. There’s no way around putting in the time. Remember to spend lots of time PLAYING music and some time PRACTICING, too.
Along the way, remember to give your teacher input. This is about developing your own musical personality, and your input helps. Also, remember that your teacher is an expert. To not even try an exercise that your teacher recommends is your call, but take a second and think about it. Simply put, balance out your interactions with your teacher and both of you should have a great experience.
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