Artistry at the Piano
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Reviews of Artistry at the Piano

An Endorsement of the Introduction to Music Materials

I unreservedly endorse Mary Gae George’s 2-DVD set “Teaching MUSIC…not Notes!” In preparation for teaching my first student in Artistry at the Piano I watched the DVDs very carefully while working my way through Introduction to Music. My experience was enhanced by having the Introduction book before me, working in it along with the DVDs.

Mary Gae has made this impressive amount and variety of activities so discoverable and attainable that I have never witnessed such understanding by a beginning student. To achieve this level of knowledge and skill, most beginning students using standard method books would require an extensive period of study. My student and I accomplished it in a matter of weeks.

I want to emphasize the value of first working through the Introduction to Music and the DVDs. I’ve never experienced such joy at the achievement of a beginning student, and I’ve never seen a beginning student accomplish this much so soon and so well.

Valerie Tedrow
A Review of Teaching Music…not Notes!

I received my copy of the Artistry Pedagogy DVD last Friday and spent part of the weekend enjoying watching it. I can highly recommend doing so to everyone in this Discussion Group.

Teachers who are used to a totally on-the-bench approach to teaching sometimes experience a “black hole” as to what could possibly go on away from the piano. Mary Gae’s DVD sheds some very needed light into that hole: almost all of the activities on the DVD are done away from the piano!

The essence of the Introduction to Music primer (Mary Gae’s book that leads into Artistry at the Piano by Jon and Mary Gae George) is that the fundamentals of rhythm, music reading, and basic technic are best grasped in isolation, and totally apart from any attempt to actually play the piano at the same time. The DVD shows how various rhythmic activities lead students to internalize concepts such as pulse, meter, rests, starting with an incomplete measure, etc. By drilling first on intervals and then on notes from “anchor notes” (landmarks), students master the essentials of note reading apart from studying pieces. The DVD also shows various exercises that develop a good playing position, good legato, and effective phrasing interpretation before such skills are demanded in the playing repertoire.

Movement activities are also used to help students learn at the sensory level, and to provide playful interludes of active listening. I love Mary Gae’s line to her students: “I won’t listen to notes in this studio, only music!” That line captures the spirit of the entire DVD, and the rest of the video demonstrates how to make genuine MUSIC happen! I began to use Artistry at the Piano in 1989 with transfer students, and I began to use it with beginners a few years later. I can safely say that students who begin their music study with the Introduction to Music, make much more dramatic progress once pieces are assigned than their counterparts in other methods. After a teacher watches this video, he or she will understand why. Just as an aside, one does not have to use the Artistry at the Piano course in order to profit from this DVD. Users of any modern method can incorporate numerous ideas from this video into the materials they already teach. For example, the preparation-presentation-follow through concept is used heavily in Celebrate Piano. Mary Gae emphasizes it heavily on the DVD as well.

Mary Gae and I have never met, although I feel like we have after watching the video. I’m guessing you will all have the same feeling at the end of the video.

Kevin Coan
posted in on 7 November 2006
A Review of the Jon George Configuration series

Every so often something comes along that is so good you just want to use it for all of your students. For me, that “something” is the Jon George “Configurations” series. When I first discovered the books years ago, I purchased a set for every one of my students. I continued to use the series until it gradually went out of print about a decade ago. When I finally developed a friendship with Mary Gae George, I learned that she had plans to put all of Jon’s works back into print over the course of several years. I was a bit disappointed to learn that Configurations was not one of the series on the top priority list, but the series has finally made it to the active list.

I learned today that Configurations is now back in print. Book 1a came out today, and book 1b will be released fairly soon. Books 2a and 2b will be released after that.

Configurations is similar to Jon’s Kaleidoscope series in some ways. There is a solo book and a duet book at each level. Also, each book has only 16 solos, enabling each one to be finished in a short period of time. In other ways, however, Configurations is different from most of Jon’s other works. Most of Jon’s collections tend to be very “contemporary” in style. Some students like that and others really do not. Configurations, on the other hand, reflects the various styles of the master composers. Essentially the books provide the same kind of music that is featured in the Repertoire books of Artistry at the Piano.

Some teachers have been using the Artistry Repertoire books as supplemental music for students in other methods. They are finding that they have to do a lot of teaching of concepts outside of their primary method to do this, however, because Artistry introduces concepts so early in the progression. For example, the sixth piece of Level 1 includes 6/8 time, a topic delayed until level 3 in some methods. Here is where Configurations gains an advantage. Book 1a does not include compound time. There are no eighth notes in the first half of the book. There are also no key signatures in the first two books. Therefore, Configurations can be used with a wide variety of methods without having to introduce a lot of concepts apart from the method.

Like Artistry, the pieces in Configurations are linear. They enable the student to sample various historical styles with the rhythms and melodic patterns commonly associated with those styles. In books 1a and 2a, teacher duet parts also enable the student to experience the harmonies of those same styles. My experience with the books has been almost universally positive; the students enjoy these pieces, and they enjoy being able to play “real music” that provides payback to their efforts to learn the pieces.

If you use Artistry at the Piano as your primary method, Configurations provides eight additional pieces for each “master lesson” of the course. When the pace of Artistry is more than the student can handle, those additional eight pieces are a real Godsend. If you use a position-based method as your primary course, Configurations provides music outside of those standard positions. The pieces provide ideal sight reading practice for landmark/interval reading as well.

Books 2a and 2b are especially valuable for teaching the various “moves” that students need to learn: extensions, crossings, etc. The books are worth their weight in gold for that feature alone.

The new editions of Configurations are vastly superior to the first editions. The first edition duets had both the student part and the teacher part on the same page, giving the pages a cluttered appearance. In the new edition, the student part is printed on a full page by itself. On the prior page, there are questions that lead the student to make intelligent choices regarding phrasing and interpretation, followed by the teacher part.

To help with the levels of the pieces, Configurations 1a is similar in difficulty to the pieces in Music Tree Part 2A, and 1b is similar to Music Tree Part 2B. Books 2a and 2b would match Music Tree level 3.

I have waited for today for a long time. I am just delighted by the new books, and I plan once again to use them for all of my students. I think other teachers are going to find the same benefits to the books that I have found.

Kevin Coan
What Artistry at the Piano offers Teachers and Students

I have been using Artistry at the Piano by Jon George and Mary Gae George since the mid-80s. I have found it to be unparalleled for the development of early musicianship and pianistic skills. It has obviously been very carefully thought out in terms of the presentation and sequencing of the early level skills that will best prepare the young pianist for what he will encounter as he enters the world of classical music literature.

As a firm believer in the value of pre-instrumental training, I welcome the 2006 revision of Mary Gae’s Introduction to Music and its supporting DVD, “Teaching MUSIC…not Notes!” These were followed in 2007 by her extensive download pedagogy guide Introduction to Music, Part 3. They are an excellent resource for teachers looking for efficient and productive ways to introduce students to the essential elements of internalizing and reading musical notation, and in preparing them to apply these skills to the keyboard. Mary Gae George brings a wealth of creative ideas to this process in her publications, pedagogy DVDs, and keynote addresses.

The music in this series is of very high quality and encompasses a variety of styles right from the beginning. It is a joy for me as a teacher to be able to deal with such beautiful music in the early stages of learning. It is an even greater joy to witness the unexpected depths of musical feeling displayed by young students as they respond to this music!

The emphasis on melody and phrase structure in Artistry at the Piano Level 1 lays a foundation for musical thought that will last a lifetime. It has impacted even my approach to teaching the advanced levels of the classics. The technical preparation of Level 2 enables students to approach the early classics with ease. Levels 3 and 4 ensure ongoing sequenced musicianship and technical training that can be used while simultaneously exploring the advancing levels of the classical literature, and any other accompaniments or supplementary music in all styles. The delightful Ensemble books in all four levels of the course further deepen and expand the learning experience. It is wonderful to see the students interact with one another as they play these ensemble pieces.

I highly recommend Artistry at the Piano to all teachers who are looking for the finest preparation for their students, whether it be for examinations, festivals, or as a means of ensuring that students have steady ongoing musical development in tandem with their preparations for any performance opportunity.

A Note to Canadian Teachers

As a Canadian teacher I have struggled to determine just when to enter my students into the piano examinations and music festivals we are fortunate to have in Canada. Experience has taught me the dangers to the student’s future progress by interrupting too early the steady building of essential skills in the young student. In teaching Artistry at the Piano I have found that the discipline of the 3-week learning process for learning new pieces enables the student to grow quickly in his ability to learn and master new material. The carefully planned increases in difficulty, coupled with the preparation and reinforcement of new skills in this course of study ensure firm and steady progress for the student as he gains mastery of both the music and the instrument.

I now hold the completion of Level 2 of Artistry at the Piano as the goal to be achieved to win the privilege of challenging a piano examination. This has been an excellent response to give parents who are overly anxious for that first exam. I want the student’s first exam to be a positive and successful experience. Although the skills developed at level 2 of Artistry at the Piano are applicable and needed even at grade 1 exam level, most of my students can enter the examination system from ARTISTRY 2 at the grade 3 or 4 exam level with great success—usually achieving First Class Honors with Distinction. Some have even been recipients of provincial medals.

Greta Hansen-Carballo
Edmonton, Alberta
A Review of Artistry at the Piano

Some 20 years ago, while flipping through a music teachers magazine, I came across an advertisement for Artistry at the Piano. I wrote away to inquire further and received a response from Mary Gae George who was very excited to get an inquiry from Alberta. As it turns out her family was from Alberta and her great-grandfather, Rev Leonard Gaetz, is known as the founder of the city of Red Deer.

Upon receiving my first set of Artistry at the Piano books I soon realized that these books were not what I would have normally expected to find in a piano method. They were really in a league of their own.

One of the very unique features of this method is its first book—the Introduction to Music. Mary Gae George had embarked on a lengthy study of the history of piano pedagogy in preparation for this series. Following this she chose the time-honoured concept of learning the essentials of music away from the piano before approaching the instrument for this first book.

The approach to music begins with the study of rhythm before moving on to the study of pitch notation and technic. Included in the study of rhythm are movement activities and rhythmic hand signals. Special emphasis is given to learning and performing rhythmic phrases—thus setting up a very early approach to musical thinking in phrases. The second half of this book takes the student into eighth note subdivisions of the beat, and cross-compares simple and compound time and the patterns found within these time-signatures.

Pitch notation is approached from an intervalic/landmark approach and is linked to having the student determine the suitable fingering Part 1 takes up repeated notes, seconds and thirds. After working on identifying and writing these intervals they are related to the Bass C, Middle C, and Treble C landmarks, Part 2 adds fourths and fifths and adds Low C and Treble C as further landmarks.

Technical exercises are started away from the keyboard and include piano posture, exercises for the arm, wrists and the hand and fingers. Part 1 concludes with learning to play two and three note slurs and melodies using thirds. seconds and repeated notes. Part 2 adds fourths and fifths, etudes in parallel motion, and short pieces requiring legato between the hands. This book leads into the Artistry at the Piano course, but it can also be used for remedial work for transfer students weak in reading skills.

The Introduction to Music is supported by a pedagogy e-book “Teaching Music…Not Notes!” and a video bearing the same title to help teachers in planning their lessons and adding supporting activities.

Moving into the Artistry at the Piano course levels there are four books per level. The Workbook provides the theoretical background for each level with activities useful in applying this knowledge to analysis in the learning of pieces of music and the memorization process. The Musicianship books include rhythmic readiness exercises, keyboard patterns for technical development, singing exercises, ear training, and preparation pieces for the larger pieces found in the Repertoire and the Ensemble books. Although the pieces in the Ensemble books can be played as teacher/student duets, the Ensemble books are designed for two students interacting with one another. The pieces contain a great deal of interplay between the two parts.

Level 1 of Artistry at the Piano contains a focus on the study of melody and melodic analysis. Some pieces are phrased, while many more are left un-phrased for the student to determine the phrasing and the corresponding letter plans under the guidance of the teacher. This in turn facilitates looking at the structure of each phrase and determining the directed motion within it which will provide the key to beautiful shaping of the phrase. Five phrase forms are introduced: the uniphrase, the period phrase, the culminative phrase, the double period phrase and the phrase group.
If we spring ahead several years to the point where our students need to write melodies in preparation for theory and harmony exams, this book can be revisited for ideas on how to construct good melodies.
In level 1 the students are introduced to intervals of major and minor 2nds and 3rds, the tritone and the perfect unison, 4th and 5th. Major and minor pentachords are covered, and all major, minor, diminished and augmented triads. Rhythmically the quarter-eighth patterns in compound time are introduced and also the dotted quarter-eighth patterns in simple time.

Level 2 of the course introduces major and minor 6ths and 7ths and the perfect octave, all the major scales (including a fingering chart dividing them into three fingering groups), triads built on each degree of the scale, all major and minor triads and their inversions, various forms of syncopation, and pedaling.
Considerable technical development needed for the approach to the early classical literature happens here. Keyboard patterns include work on contractions, shifts (referred to as finger substitutions by some teachers), crossings, extensions to the 6th and 7th, blocked parallel 6ths. It moves on to combine contractions and extensions, shifts and extensions, and crossings and extensions. Again the student is expected to relate these to fingering, and to be able to add fingering to specific exercises designated for this purpose.
These skills are translated into the pieces learned at this level. I have found that students who have completed the level 2 of Artistry can easily enter our exam system at a grade 4 level.

Level 3 of of the course now moves into the study of the minor scales: natural, harmonic and melodic. Rhythmically 16th notes and 16th note patterns are introduced in both simple and compound time. I have not seen such a thorough systematic study of 16th note patterns anywhere else. Triads in octave position (referred to as 4 note broken chords in our Canadian system) in all major and minor keys, and dominant 7ths, minor 7ths, major 7ths, the minor major 7th and the half diminished and diminished 7ths are included at this level. The student is taught to find chords within the linear style of writing. Many of the keyboard patterns support the mastery of the technical skills needed for these chords. This course is sensitive to the needs of the small handed student or the young gifted student, and thus it does not include 4 note solid chords. There is further work on extensions which now include the octave, and also on combining contractions or crossings with extensions. Also included at this level is work on double thirds.

Level 4 of the course focuses heavily on ornamentation, harmonic analysis, non-chord tones, modulation, and form analysis. Having just successfully prepared a student the RCM keyboard harmony exam, I feel that the Workbook 4 and Musicianship 4 books are an excellent preparation for parts of this RCM course.
The other area this level is excellent for is preparation for the juxtaposing of duplets with triplets, 16th notes with quintuplets etc.,and the playing of polyrhythms. Our students encounter these at the higher levels and frequently are ill-prepared for them. There is little available in terms of materials to develop these rhythmic skills. Here we find that from the rhythm exercises to the keyboard patterns to the pieces to the duets, these all layer together to give a very firm foundation to the student in polyrhtyhms.

One of the most salient attributes of Artistry at the Piano is the quality of the music. It is designed to lead into the classics and features pieces that prepare the student for the musical, stylistic and technical demands of the classical literature. The music is intended to require musical thinking and to draw out expressiveness in the student, Most of the writing is linear in nature which fills a great void in the body of currently available materials for the lower levels of piano study.

Artistry at the Pinao provides a systematic approach to musical and technical development in the intermediate to late intermediate levels. It also provides a practical application of theoretical knowledge to the analysis, understanding, and memorization of piano pieces. As such it provides a fine companion to the standard literature our students are studying in preparation for their piano exams. Too often our students get bogged down on a few exam pieces to the neglect of ongoing musical development. The pieces in this series are each meant to be on a three-week plan. They are not overly lengthy and can be used to keep our students constantly moving forward toward the goal of becoming well rounded musicians who can approach music with understanding and musical artistry.

Greta Hansen-Carballo
Edmonton, Alberta