Today I have a guest post by Jennifer Eklund, creator of the Piano Pronto books…
It’s that time of year already – kids are headed back to school in many parts of the country and teachers are looking ahead to a fresh year of piano students and lessons. Since writing my Piano Pronto books back in 2006, and learning the ropes of marketing I’ve ruminated over my brand and the purpose for these books in an already overflowing market of piano lesson materials. Let me say first and foremost that I respect everyone’s preferences and admire the staunch loyalty that many teachers have towards particular publishers, etc. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I really dislike the concept of “method books.”
A method is certainly a “way” of doing things but within the context of a “how-to” type of activity (like piano lessons) it also implies that one method may be superior/inferior when compared to another method. In the world of piano teaching this gets even stickier because us teachers tend to cling pretty strongly to our individual methods and trust me we *all* do things differently. And this isn’t a bad thing! As we progress through the years we find the methods and tricks that work for us and our individual clients. For instance, I pride myself in *not* being a “traditional” piano teacher. I was brought up learning classical music but that’s not my primary focus with my students. My clientele are the piano hobbyist kids who love to play their favorite radio songs so we mix in a great deal of that material alongside more traditional pieces from my books and beyond.
My impression after seeing many students over the years is that teachers who stick to one set of materials (a method) generally have problems with student retention rates. I make this judgment because I’ve gotten plenty of transfer students who got bored with what their teacher had to offer. When these students asked for the teacher to extend beyond their primary skillset and the teacher couldn’t offer up the goods the student moved elsewhere. When I started teaching I was the exact opposite – I couldn’t find enough good materials in all the available methods so I ended up having kids working out of multiple different series, grabbing one song out of a book and ditching the rest. This got exhausting so I started writing my materials as a way to catalogue what was working well with students in one cohesive package.
Why I wrote Piano Pronto:
- I really dislike the pre-reading materials in most series and wanted to write books that get kids looking at real sheet music from day one. So many books waste the first half of a primer book with off the staff or black key only reading by finger numbers that tends to cause a lot of confusion when you do finally switch a student over to the grand staff.
- Kids don’t care about illustrations and neither do I! Dancing frogs all over the page and other random images are usually just a distraction. I wanted my books to be clean and focus on fun music that excite the students. As well, adults appreciate not playing out of a kid-centric book. To make up for lack of color I let my students decorate their pages adjacent to the music with reward stickers.
- Random songs that are unfamiliar don’t aid in the process of learning the piano. One of the biggest things we as teachers need to reinforce in the beginning (and all) stages is the proper way to practice. It is really difficult for students to practice effectively on their own if they aren’t familiar with a tune. Case in point: give little Johnny “Jingle Bells” to practice vs. publisher composed tune “Big Indian Joe” and I’ll bet you 9 times out of 10 that “Jingle Bells” gets more attention from your student. Now granted not every tune will be familiar to every student and that’s why I created companion Mp3 packs to accompany every book in my catalog. For between $2-3 your student can have every song in their piano book downloaded on their iPod or tech gadget of choice. No more, “but I didn’t know what it was supposed to sound like” excuses!
- I love all genres and want students to get a dash of everything. In Piano Pronto you will find opera themes, violin themes, symphonic themes, piano sonata themes, jazz, blues, Latin music, folk music, ragtime, standard piano repertoire, you name it.
- Arranging for students from beginning to intermediate stages is my passion and I take pride in carefully arranging pieces to maintain the integrity of the original theme while also keeping the music appropriate for the level of the student. As a lifetime pianist I understand the hands and work hard to keep awkwardness out of the arrangements. I always strive to arrange with a “lush” sound in mind because students are always motivated when they play music that sounds more difficult than it really is.
- I wanted to incorporate an all-in-one feel with my books. I do this in two ways:
- Every piece has a “Before you begin” section that asks a few questions about the next piece and reinforces theory concepts and terminology. It’s kind of a “quick-scan” of the music to help students get their bearings, jot down new notes, etc.
- There is also a “Pronto Prep” section before each piece where I’ve extracted the tricky sections of the piece and the student works through these passages separately. The idea here is to reinforce practical and efficient practice habits (because we all know that students are prone to just practice from the beginning to the end of the piece without “getting under the hood” and working out the problem spots. I tried to head them off at the pass and put all the tricky sections in the Pronto Prep areas.
How I would like teachers to utilize my books:
- Don’t think of Piano Pronto as a “method” but more as a repertoire series alongside whatever else you are using with your students. When I wrote the books I had this in mind that they could either stand on their own or be used as supplemental materials.
- Skip around in the books as you see fit. I know that not every tune will be a hit with every student, but I also took care to take enough time and offer enough materials in each level that if you hop over a few pieces you will not have missed a big chunk of concepts.
My Back-to-School promotion (School15):
Ready to give Piano Pronto a try? Great! For the month of August I am offering a 15% discount on to all FPSResources blog readers. There are no limits on titles or number of times you can use this promotion and shipping of tangible books is always FREE. To get the promotion just type in SCHOOL15 at checkout and update your cart. On the website you can:
- Browse all the available titles
- Preview the Table of Contents
- Preview many of the pieces in each book
- Listen to every title in every book (just press the play button next to the title of the piece)
- Buy individual sheets as low as $0.99 (over 100 titles available!!)
- Checkout via PayPal or Google Checkout. (You do not need a PayPal account!)
- Remember SHIPPING IS FREE!
If you have any questions please drop me an email: [email protected]