Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teaching with a Hymnal

One of my late elementary students is also my niece.  She is showing lots of promise as a vocalist and intends to pursue music as a career. She is passionate about church music and enjoys playing it. So a few weeks ago, I decided to use her as my guinea pig and experiment with using the hymnal in my instruction to students actively involved in the church.

Let's begin by understanding a few things about Sara. Her innate musical abilities surpass her technical skills at the piano. Because the sounds of a traditional method book have not captured her interest, she has resisted practicing. That's when I decided I had nothing to lose with this experiment. Here's how things have progressed so far.

I found that the hymn Jesus Loves Me is in C Major in my congregation's hymnal (The Celebration Hymnal). We began with a simple sight-reading exercise of the soprano line and discussed how the pianist's eyes and ears work in union together to learn a familiar piece of music. Sara enjoyed playing a familiar piece, so I took things a step further and encouraged her to play the soprano and alto lines. This proved to be more challenging, but definitely possible. It was also an opportunity to further discuss thirds in preparation for our first introduction to chords and harmonic progression. Sara found the greatest challenge in overcoming the hand shifts required to play the piece. Since it was a familiar piece, however, she was willing to apply herself and work through the difficulty.

Today's lesson was a wonderful experience for both of us. Sara had put in the time to successfully get through the entire hymn. After her performance, she mentioned that she was still struggling to make things sound smooth -- a perfect segue way into my instruction on the importance of carefully chosen finger patterns. Rather than moving into her method book today (which I admit I use as a crutch since I'm still developing as a teacher), I thought this might be a good time to begin discussing chords. To my great surprise, Sara grasped the concept quickly and discovered the natural relationship between the dominant and tonic. This week, Sara is going to experiment with creating a chord chart for the hymn as well. I'm interested to see what she comes up with and which method she feels more comfortable working with.

I'm not certain how long we'll continue to use a hymnal in our study of music, but for the moment it is proving to be an invaluable tool. Are you using the hymnal or some similar tool in your studio? I'd love to hear the assignments you are using and the results that you're experiencing.