I had the opportunity to review Jerald M. Simon’s Music Motivation Series called Cool Songs for Cool Kids. In the Cool Kids series, there are 4 levels available. He sent me the e-book version for Primer through level 3. I love when there is an e-book version of music because it doesn’t take up limited space in my music library and I can easily transfer it to my iPad.
The Cool Songs for Cool Kids series was not intended to be a replacement for current method books. It is very strong on intervallic reading, which makes it a perfect supplement for any method or curriculum and was intended to be as such. Many of the music were specifically written with boys in mind. I think this is great!
You will find the layout of these books to be consistent and clean. You will find helpful practice notes for student and or teacher/parent. There are piano exercises before the pieces that sets students up for success in their pieces when used. On the top of the exercise pages you will find a goal. (ie: Goal- 5 times per day.) And my favorite you will find a description of the skill that is learned by doing these exercises and pieces. This is especially helpful for the teacher when supplementing with their current method. If there is a specific skill that needs to be learned or reviewed, it is possible for the teacher to just skip right to that exercise and piece that would be a perfect supplement for the student. There are times when Jerald will open a piece up for interpretation. For example, he might suggest that they add their own dynamic markings for a piece.
One thing I noticed immediately when playing through this series is Jerald put a strong emphasis on both the exercises and pieces on articulation. What a difference staccato’s and accents make to a piece or even an exercise! The very back of each book includes The Music Motivational Methodology, an outline, laying out theory concepts he thinks is important for students to learn at each stage in their learning. He divides it in 3 sections: Apprentice (for 1st -2nd year students); Maestro (for 2-4th year students) and Virtuoso (for 3rd year and beyond).
The Primer book is geared towards beginning students. It does immediately begin on staff so they should be familiar with on staff reading. I found the Primer true to it’s name. To prime the students for success in the future volumes and in reading music on the staff in general. In the introduction, Jerald explains how he teaches the music alphabet and staff reading. In addition, he introduces the rhythm that will be found in the primer level (Quarters-Eighth). Included in the Introduction is a simple C pentascale exercise for students to get familiar with the notes on the staff and rhythm.
Halfway through the primer level is an introduction to Key Signatures. At this point, he has the students play in each key right away by taking a simple pattern exercises and repeating it in each key. Immediately they are transposing! By doing this, transposing can now be a skill that is easily learned instead of ending up in frustration. Triads are also introduced in this level. In the appendix section of the primer you will find pentascales in all keys; a great reference tool for students.
Volume 1 is designed for the late beginning and intermediate to intermediate student. I found it to also be a good “first” book if primer isn’t used. It begins by reviewing basic rhythm, but adds on sixteenth notes and rests. Volume 1 concentrates on major and minor pentascales, chords (Major, Minor, Diminished), inversions, melodic and harmonic intervals, perfect and diminished intervals. And because of the sixteenth note introduction, opens it up to more fun rhythmic jazz style pieces that includes syncopated and swinging rhythms. I think Volume 1 is where the series really starts to shine. I particularly enjoy the tempo markings that is included. They are not the typical: Allegro, Moderato, etc… Instead they are very descriptive “This music will self destruct in 1.5 minutes”, “Quickly, they’re gaining on you,” “Careful and Thoughtfully”, “With Courage and Strength” are just a few that I enjoyed reading. Having such descriptive tempo markings immediately puts the student in artistry mode.
Volume 2 is written for the early intermediate-intermediate piano student. Intervals are reviewed at the beginning in addition to swing rhythm. Volume 2 introduces the blues pentacle. Jerald gives helpful fingering tips on how he introduces the blues pentacle to students. He immediately gives the student an opportunity after exploring the blues pentacle to create their own blues melody. He tells the students to have fun and to not over think this exercise. Prepping for this volume, the introduction also goes through left hand blues patterns. He gives some examples of these patterns that will be found in pieces they will learn. After going through these left hand patterns, he encourages the student to improvise or arrange a well known melody such as Mary Had a Little Lamb applying these patterns to the familiar melody. I think this works best with a melody they can play by ear. One of my favorite pieces in this volume, is “Slip N’ Slide Summertime”. It has a boogie woogie pattern going on (students have the option to play it straight or with swing rhythm) but the best part is the glissando’s sliding up and down throughout the piece. Perfect name for the piece and such a fun one to play!
Volume 3 is designed for intermediate to late intermediate students. What sets Volume 3 apart from the previous volumes is the Challenge questions that are found at the top of each piece. In Primer through Volume 2 there were skill sets that students were mastering. In Volume 3, the student now has a challenge question placed before them that helps them discover not only the answers but another way of doing something with the piece! For example, in the piece, “Power Play” the challenge question is “What is the Key Signature?”. After the student answers the question, there is a follow up question that requires some action on their part. “What would the piece sound like if every note were flatted (play the same exact notes as written, but flat every single note)?” Then after trying this challenge task, they are asked a final question, “What is the new key signature (7 flats- everything is flatted)?” I LOVE this concept. It gets our intermediate students really thinking about the piece they are playing before, during and after. Volume 3 has more rhythm, interval reinforcement and left hand patterns to explore.
One thing that I noticed about the series, beginning in Volume 1, is the chord symbols on top . As I was going through the exercises and pieces I felt like it would be perfect to take advantage of these symbols and have students improvise different bass and melody patterns. Teacher and students can easily play duets by doing this as well. Fun!
Cool Songs for Cool Kids does a great job teaching theory, technique, transposing, improvising, composing and artistry in various styles that makes it fun and motivating for kids of all ages to play. The great thing about this series is not only is it perfect supplementary material, but you can use the same pieces in different ways over and over and it doesn’t get boring!
Disclaimer: I received a free e-book copy of this series in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own.