Searching for sacred piano teaching methods
  • Salvete!

    I will be offering piano lessons to Catholic homeschooling families beginning this fall. Where may I find a piano teaching method, or supplemental piano teaching method, with emphasis on sacred and classical music for both children and adults? Presently, I will be using the John W. Schaum piano teaching method. I continue to be in awe of the ethereal sacred music of the Catholic Church. I do have the Adoremus Hymnal as a supplemental guide. Do you have any suggestions for piano teaching methods focused on the sacred and classical music of the Catholic Church? Is there any information on the piano teaching methods learned by the great masters of old? Thank you.

  • Dear RF,
    I wouldn't worry too much about a "sacred" dimension to piano teaching materials. Great piano music may indeed be transcendent, but the instrument is so aligned with Enlightenment humanism that attempts to make it religious seem to me a bit contrived. There may be some teaching series that use sacred melodies, but I'm not aware of them. Also, make sure your students are somewhat advanced before having them read four-part hymn settings. That's entirely different from idiosyncratic piano writing.
    Good luck with your teaching. Sorry I can't offer more specific suggestions.
  • If you want 'em to learn Catholic music, get 'em singing! (You should be doing that anyway, of course)
  • AOZ
    Posts: 369
    I agree with Randolph. I think you don't need to worry about a "sacred" dimension to the materials you use with your students. Of course solid repertoire is a must. But there are things you can do, even with the youngest ones, that add a spiritual dimension to their experience with music and your time with them. For example: if you want them to learn that slight lift of the hand at the end of the phrase, remind them now and then that the beauty in the music comes from above. And when they lift their hands, this is a tiny way of returning what was first given them. Keep it light and fun, and focused on the joy of the work itself. This kind of thing has worked very well with my students.
  • nullapara
    Posts: 4
    My answer isn't very spiritual, but I hope it will prove useful in helping establish your new studio.

    The only "Christian" piano method I know about is GlorySound's Protestant-angled Keys for the Kingdom series. It's not bad, but in my opinion unnecessary, which is probably why it's been in and out of print since its inception. I second the opinions above, that the method itself needn't be particularly sacred.

    I use several methods in my piano studio, depending on the age and learning style of the student (and I dislike having siblings in the same book, to discourage the inevitable "Nyah, nyah, I'm on p.33 already!" syndrome, but if it poses a serious financial hardship I'll consider it.)

    The one I like best for average students, primer thru late beginner is Keith Snell's Piano Town, which has likeable, playable tunes; it has a great emphasis on I, IV and V and good voice-leading from the earliest level. Rhythms and notes are presented in a consistent way and there are only two or three predictably weak spots throughout. The coordinating theory book is clear and concise, and easy for parents to follow. The written and keyboard theory match requirements set by Nat'l Federation of Music Clubs Festival Auditions and the National Guild of Piano Teachers Musicianship Phases - so it's simple to prepare them for those adjudications. If you are new to teaching, I highly recommend joining these and/or the Music Teachers' National Association; they will help you develop your studio and design appropriate curriculum as well as manage age-appropriate technique development.

    For intermediate students, or an alternate early method book, I like Nancy and Randall Faber's Piano Adventures. Their supplemental hymn series includes standard chestnuts and an occasional Catholic hymn as well. A third alternative is Alfred's Basic (middle elementary grades) or Prep Course (early elementary) series. Their hymn supplements (as well as those by Hal Leonard publishing) tend to be more 'country Baptist Gospel hits' in style, although not always. FJH Music puts out a series of hymns collections, "Catholic Hymns for the Young Pianist." Willis Music publishes "Favorite Catholic Hymns." There are more, and most of the "Big Five" (Faber, Kjos, Hal Leonard, Alfred and Bastien) have designed their method and supplement books to work with any other of those methods - a MAJOR plus when looking for material.

    All three prepare students for excellent work in standard classical repertoire. When that time comes (usually by the completion of the primer and level 1 books in any of those series), I generally start them in original-form pieces (no 'five-finger' arrangements!) in one of several books. The old Bastien Classics are still good, although the print quality is discouraging to many students. The best selection and editing (imho) of elementary pieces is in Faber's Piano Literature Bk 1, although there are dozens of great collections from the intermediate level on. Mentally advanced or precocious students may enjoy the challenge of the Royal Conservatory Series.

    As an added incentive, if they children are enjoying hymn-playing, the Federation Festival Auditions have a hymn-playing event in addition to their other categories. If they receive a 'superior' rating from their judge three years in a row, they are awarded a gold cup trophy from the national office. I find that having independent feedback on my students' progress from an out-of state judge twice a year really keeps all of us on our toes. The students have recitals, group classes and auditions to constantly prepare for, so there's never a lull in the action. And certificates and gold cups help, too.

    I sing quite a lot with my students in the lessons, as I think it helps reinforce the ear-training and sight-reading skills they are learning.

    I admit that I don't insert much, if any, theology into my lessons on a regular basis.

    My opinion (shared by every single experienced large-studio teacher I know) is that the Schaum is dated and less effective than the methods I've mentioned above. (Ditto for Thompson; Bastien is still solid but many of the pieces tend to be trite and monotonous, something I also find in Alfred's supplemental material.)

    I hope this is helpful! Best wishes with your teaching.