Time to Begin, Music Tree Piano Primer; An Intervallic Approach to Piano Learning
In this analysis of The Music Tree Piano Method primer, Time to Begin I’ll describe the method objectively, in Section I and in Section II I will comment on my experience with the method in piano instruction.
Section I: The Music Tree Series, A plan for musical growth at the piano; Time to Begin
Frances Clark, Louise Goss, Sam Holland; Summy-Birchard Inc, USA c. 2000.
Purpose of the book
The purpose of the book is to introduce the piano to first time learners with no previous knowledge of the piano and no previous knowledge of music reading, theory or rhythm.
The book is organized into nine (9) units that address specific musical concepts. Each unit has an introduction to the concepts at the beginning with a simple melody that uses the new concept while incorporating the already learned concepts. A “using what you have learned” section follows in which the student plays several songs that use the new concept. At the end of each unit are about 2 pages with daily finger warm-ups, rhythm practice and written work/composing (except for units 1 and 2 which do not include warm-ups). Many student songs have a teacher accompaniment part as well.
Content of Units:
Unit 1: Higher, Lower, Quarter note, Half note
Unit 2: Piano, forte, repeated notes
Unit 3: Slur, 8va
Unit 4: Dotted half, Interval of a 2nd
Unit 5: Interval of a 3rd
Unit 6: Time Signatures 2/4, ¾, 4/4 and 5/4
Unit 7: Interval of a 4th
Unit 8: Whole note, interval of a 5th, 6/4 time signature
Unit 9: F clef sign, G clef sign, ledger lines, grand staff
Description of Primer
This primer requires a teacher’s guidance for very young beginners but could be used independently by adult beginners. An accompaniment cd is also available for purchase.
The method begins with familiarizing the student with the entire range of the keyboard by having the student play groups of two or three black keys in ascending or descending succession. Only one finger on each hand is required for the first two units increasing to four fingers on each hand by the last page of the book. The thumb is not used in this primer.
The book does not introduce a staff or any line at the beginning, rather it puts the notes in a row with some higher than others to show higher and lower. Since there is no staff, the keys to be played are given in a little picture of a keyboard. Arrows point to the appropriate keys and a finger number is also provided. For the teacher’s instructional information there is a small staff showing the location of those keys on the keyboard.
In unit four (4), a two-line staff is introduced with the concept of 2nds (one of the lines is given a note name and the student is to figure out the rest). After that point, the intervals and the lines on the staff increase by one per instructional unit until the full staff appears in unit seven (7).
The method for rhythm learning uses physical movement on each beat such as swinging the arm or tapping the fingers. Units 1-5 include verbal/poetic chants. When time signatures are introduced in unit 6 verbal counting replaces the chants.
The warm-up sections, which are only a few notes long, focus mainly on finger dexterity and movement up and down the keyboard.
The written work often presents a picture of a full keyboard and asks the student to write something on the keys. For example, the student may write the names of the keys, or place check marks to indicate intervals.
The composition section consists of a one sentence assignment, usually directing the student to make up a song using the concept from the unit.
Another unique aspect of the method is the two cartoon characters that “teach” new concepts at the sides of the pages by asking the student to fill in blanks, observe and record important facts about the songs and to help the student practice correctly at home.
Section II: My experience with the book
The one thing I really loved about this book is that parents can really easily understand and learn each lesson with their child. I would quickly go over the new material with parents before the kids left and that was very effective in keeping kids moving forward.
The method teaches kids to read in steps and intervals rather than by memorizing the G and F clef lines and spaces. If you’re used to a middle C position introduction to the piano, it can seem odd and a bit aimless but consider that this is how we seasoned pianists are able to read music without even thinking about it and it makes perfect sense. The book introduces the appearance and feel of octaves right away, then builds visual and tactile recognition of smaller intervals throughout each unit. The G and F clefs are introduced later–admittedly causing a delay in knowing the lines and spaces compared to other piano methods. However, you don’t need to know the names of the lines and spaces to read music, you just need to know where to start and then read distances from that point and kids I’ve taught with this method are very good at reading by interval years later.
I have one major complaint about this primer (which has actually driven me to switch to another interval-based method): the fact that the five line staff is not introduced until the end of the book. By using just two lines for a whole unit (that change names from song to song), then three lines for a whole unit, then four, etc., the students wind up having a really difficult time when the grand staff and “landmark” notes are introduced in book two. The idea that lines and spaces in a clef correlate with only one piano key at all times is hard to teach students in this method.
The Music Tree Piano Method, Time to Begin is an innovative beginning piano book that teaches instinctive playing through interval familiarity. The beginning student will learn to recognize patterns and intervals and to naturally seek out the notes according to their visual distance rather than by naming lines and spaces. It gets at the core of fluent piano playing by teaching a new player to see and play shapes before grappling with the more confusing concept of EGBDF and FACE.
Do you have experience with this book? Please leave a comment below!