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Sykes Music and other Piano Methods

There are quite a few different methods available for learning to play the piano. It is a good idea to be aware of these different methods so that you can make an informed decision about which method that you think is best. Perhaps a good place to start when choosing a method is to make a checklist of what you want to get out of learning the piano. Your checklist might contain some of these things:

  • Fun

  • Quick progress

  • Experienced teacher

  • Qualified teacher

  • Concert pianist

  • Music as an emotional outlet

  • Music as a form of relaxation

  • Music as a creative outlet

  • Win a music scholarship to a private school

  • To have music in the house

  • To have music as a family activity

  • To have music as a way of bonding and spending quality time with my child

  • Proficient classical musician

  • To play music in a band

  • To have a career in music

  • Learn multiple skills and can enjoy all kinds of music

  • To gain discipline, concentration, respect

  • Music as part if a well-rounded overall education

  • Value for money

This article highlights some of the key points of some of the more common or widely used piano methods of today. Although naturally, this article is written by myself, Julia Sykes and I believe that the Sykes Piano Program is the best program in the world, I have provided you, in my opinion, with an objective presentation of the piano methods included in this article so that by the close of this article, I hope that you will have a much more informed knowledge of the world of piano learning and teaching.

Do piano teachers need to have qualifications to teach?

Basically, the answer is no. Anyone in Australia can teach any instrument that they like, and this is the same in most countries around the world. Music teachers do not need to have any qualifications to teach music. Many people are surprised when they find out this. Many assume that teachers must have the necessary qualifications to be able to teach. If you were to work as an electrician, plumber, lawyer or speech pathologist in Australia, it would be necessary to undergo training or a degree before you were qualified or permitted to work in that field. With music teachers, this is not the case. There really are two kinds of qualifications that music teachers can have – one for playing music, and the other for teaching music. I am not sure what the statistics are regarding the qualifications that music teachers in Australia have therefore lets just say that it ranges from teachers with little experience playing or teaching music, to teachers with multiple degrees and years of experience playing and teaching. There is a good side and a bad side to this lack of legalities.. The good side is that teachers that have the experience, knowledge and skills to teach, are able to do so even if they do not have formal qualifications. The bad side is that anyone can set themselves up as a teacher. This means that they could hardly know how to play the instrument, have no training, limited music knowledge, and still advertise themselves as a capable music teacher. Parents and students need to be aware of this and should establish some background on teachers before taking them on as your teacher. It is recommended to look into the qualifications and experience of the teacher that you are thinking about having lessons with. Some teachers may have a portfolio prepared for this very purpose. Things to look into are:

  • What level of proficiency the teacher has in performing the instrument, such as exams they have sat, university qualifications, or performing experience, and/or repertoire that they can play. You could simply ask the teacher to play you something

  • Does the teacher have any success stories – have they played with a famous musician, have they made any recordings, have they given concerts, have their compositions been performed/recorded, have they won any competitions

  • Qualifications or training in teaching the instrument – has the teacher completed any training courses, attended teaching professional developments or conferences

  • What grade is the teacher able to teach up to – if they are comfortable teaching up to a high grade, this is an indication that they have higher qualifications

  • How much experience has the teacher had in teaching – how many students have they taught, how many years have they been teaching, what ages or levels have they mainly taught, has the teacher any student success stories?

So before choosing your teacher, it is first necessary to do some research on your teacher first. Secondly, is to think about what method of learning that you think you or your child should learn with.

What is a method?

Strictly speaking, every piano teacher uses a different method. This is because every teacher has a different personality, different strengths and weaknesses, different musical interests, different teaching styles, and different musical backgrounds. No two individuals are the same. Some piano teachers undergo training in a particular method and teach that method. Some teachers combine a method with their own ideas. Other teachers will undergo training in more than one method and select parts from each. Other teachers will simply teach as they were taught and almost replicate what their teacher taught them.

Many teachers, I would say the majority of teachers, teach without any training in teaching. They “learn on the job.” Following is a brief look at the most widely used piano methods available today.

Suzuki Method

  • This program was developed by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist

  • Students learn to play the instrument before beginning to learn to read and write music. For this reason, often Suzuki students are not good at reading music but have a well-developed ear and aural skills

  • The program is suitable for teaching very young children as young as 3 years of age

  • There are Suzuki programs in many different instruments

  • It is a purely classical music program and does not incorporate any contemporary music

  • The program includes performance (playing pieces), technique, aural and theory

  • The progression of pieces in the Suzuki program are well designed, so that students move smoothly from one challenge to the next and progress quickly

  • Students need to perform all of the pieces from one book from memory in a concert setting, before being able to graduate to the next book. The benefits of this are that students spend a lot of time on repertoire maintenance and improvement. This can also hold students back and they get bored of playing the same pieces. It is also a lot to ask students to prepare a concert program of between 15-20 pieces

  • There is a training program for Suzuki teachers, though anyone can purchase and use Suzuki books

  • Teachers need to be able to perform their instrument to a high level of classical performance before being admitted to train as a Suzuki Teacher

  • Parental involvement is necessary

  • Teachers are encouraged to strictly follow the program and not supplement it with other material. Suzuki teachers do not hold a license and are therefore permitted to supplement the Suzuki program with other material and many teachers do this

Simply Music

  • This is a relatively new program developed by an Australian living in the US, Neil Moore

  • Neil Moore was a Music Logic teacher before he developed the Simply Music Program. Julia Sykes also was previously a Music Logic teacher

  • Simply Music only has a piano program

  • It is focused on students learning to play without reading music. Generally students do not begin to learn how to read music until after about 2 years of lessons. For this reason teachers often find it difficult to teach their students how to read because the students are reluctant to go back to basics and play simple pieces. Also they would rather just be shown how to play the pieces rather than having to work them out for themselves

  • It includes classical and contemporary style pieces

  • It is fun and students progress quickly

  • Students do not receive a good grounding in music theory

  • Anyone can be trained as a Simply Music teacher without having any qualifications or being able to play the piano. There are no prerequisites or audition process for teachers to be admitted into Simply Music teacher training

  • The teacher training process is very brief. I believe that teachers are able to teach after attending a 2 day group workshop without any one-on-one time with the teacher trainer

  • Teachers are not permitted to supplement the Simply Music program with any other material because it breaches their license agreement with Simply Music

  • The materials are quite expensive

  • Simply Music materials are only available to licensed Simply Music Teachers

  • All teachers pay a percentage of their lesson fees to Simply Music

  • Students are encouraged to maintain their repertoire

Yamaha Method

  • This program was developed by the Yamaha company that sells the pianos and the motorbikes

  • Students usually learn in groups on keyboards

  • It is a reading based program but also with a lot of focus on aural

  • They use “fixed do” in music reading (do re me instead of C D E)

  • Many beginner students enroll in Yamaha classes because it is usually much cheaper than private lessons

  • My experience of students that have learned with the Yamaha method is that they have progressed very slowly, students do not often play two hands together and their finger strength and co-ordination are poor. I have only seen beginners using the Yamaha method and in my many years of piano teacher experience, I have never encountered any advanced students that learned through Yamaha

The Traditional Approach/no approach in particular

  • Teachers may teach in a similar way to the way they were taught

  • Teachers use method books that they like. This could be John Thompsons, Alfreds, Bastian, Piano Adventures etc. The teacher may use different books with different students

  • Teachers may mainly teach exams and use exam syllabi as their program

  • Teacher may simply teach what the students want to learn

  • Most of the time teachers teach music only through reading the music

  • The teacher generally teach students how to play pieces, technical exercises, theory and some aural, but not any other areas of music

  • Generally students progress quite slowly and it takes most students many years before they begin to become reasonable piano players

  • Its often quite boring

  • It was the way that Julia Sykes learned to play the piano

Music Logic

  • This program was developed by John Barton from Victoria, Australia

  • This method is not widely known or used and the main reason why it is being mentioned here is because I was a Music Logic teacher before I developed the Sykes Piano Program and there are elements of Music Logic incorporated into the Sykes Program

  • John Barton was a terrific teacher trainer and I owe a lot to him for making me think differently about the way to teach. John was mainly a self-taught piano player, and was able to think outside of the box, not being too strongly influenced by years of piano teaching tradition

  • The way Sykes Music teaches reading music is based on the system developed by John Barton

  • Music Logic is a reading based program that sees students become very competent music readers in a very short amount of time

  • Students progress quickly because of the well designed developmental challenges incorporated into the program

  • Even though the Music Logic program has many fine qualities, it is not a well-rounded program and does not include all aspects of music

Sykes Piano Program

  • It is a contemporary, classical and world music program

  • There are four main elements that distinguish the Sykes Program from other methods:

  1. Is that it is a comprehensive program that includes all areas of music: performance (pieces of music), technique, theory, aural, singing, arrangement (learning how to arrange music and playing music using chords), improvisation, composition and music appreciation

  2. The method of learning how to read music is through intervals and C’s and a much faster and more effective method than the traditional method

  3. The program is divided into 4 ten-week levels (Levels 1-4) then the Grades are divided into 3 thirteen-week levels. This provides students with short term, achievable goals that help the students stay motivated and feel satisfied with their progress

  4. It integrates different ways of learning music through reading music, being shown how to play pieces by their teacher, working them out by ear or learning them through using chords and arrangement techniques which caters for the different learning styles of students but also allows them to overcome their natural weaknesses to become able to approach the leaning of music from any direction

  • All teachers have minimum qualifications to be able to be trained and go through a thorough Sykes Piano Teacher training program

  • There is a special program for 4-6 year olds learning piano (The Sykes Little Maestro Program)

  • Parental involvement is essential

  • Students are encouraged to maintain their repertoire

  • It is a fun program and students progress quickly

So I hope that you have found this article interesting and that you have learned something. There are two elements that are equally as important when you are learning to play the piano, or any instrument for that matter – one is the program that is being used and the other is the teacher. I believe that Sykes Music has got the teacher aspect correct – that is teachers are both qualified before they undergo training, and then they receive an intense, thorough and personalized teaching training program followed by ongoing support. Also the Sykes Piano Program I believe has the right balance – it is fun, students progress quickly, but also students learn everything that they need to become knowledgeable, flexible and adaptable musicians. I hope that learning the piano is a rewarding and successful endeavor for you. To finish off with, here a couple of things that students and teachers have said about the Sykes Piano Program.

“I can’t believe that I couldn’t play the piano a year ago and now look at where I am at! I couldn’t have done it without your program.”- Adult student

“I highly recommend Sykes Music - the programme works, the teachers are great and my children love going to music lessons there.” – Parent

“Its an excellent program. You should be proud of what you have done and the good that you are doing for people.” – Parent

“It is such a better method than the way piano used to be taught.”- Parent

“When I was starting to teach music I wasn’t quite sure where to start. The Sykes Program gave a really solid base. The thing that attracted me the most as a teacher was how enjoyable it seemed compared to the traditional classical method I learnt from. It allows you to incorporate all different styles and the students become really well rounded.” - Sykes Piano Teacher

“Doing the Sykes Music teaching training course has been the best decision I have made as a music teacher”. – Sykes Piano Teacher

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