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Piano Discoveries: Discovering the World of Music at the Keyboard, Off-staff Starter, On-staff Starter and Levels 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3 and 4. (Keyboard).

Piano Discoveries: Discovering the World of Music at the Keyboard, Off-staff Starter, On-staff Starter and Levels 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3 and 4, by Janet Vogt and Leon Bates and illustrated by Joseph Stokes. Heritage Music Press, a division of the Lorenz Corporation (Box 802, Dayton, OH 45401-0802), 2001. 48-64pp., $6.95 each. Beginning to elementary.

At each level, there is a Piano Discoveries (method) book and a Theory Discoveries (theory) book; a MIDI accompaniment (SMT) disk and a CD accompaniment disk for each level are projected to be available at a later date. Levels 2B, 3 and 4 books also were not yet available at the time of this review.

Piano Discoveries offers the option of beginning in the Off-staff Starter book (pre-reading notation) for younger beginners or the On-staff Starter book (immediate introduction to the Grand Staff) for older beginners. Both books lead into Level IA. The Off-staff Starter uses a typical beginning approach with pieces on the black keys (pre-reading notation), leading to an introduction of the Grand Staff and Middle-C reading approach for the rest of that level. The On-staff Starter book begins directly with the Middle-C approach. In Level 1A there are pieces in Middle-C position, C-major finger position, G-major and F-major positions, but also an interesting set of pieces in D minor (an early opportunity for the children to hear minor tonality). In Level 1B a wider variety of interesting sounds are evident: minor with #4, major with #2, as well as the usual major five-finger pattern positions. The authors seem aware of the need to encourage young pianists to venture out of fixed position playing, and pieces at this level show some shifting of positions, usually by octave leap up or down. By Level 2A, I was pleased to see some challenging pieces with quickly shifting hand positions, like "Bumble Bee and the Fly" from Level 2A.

The Theory Discoveries offers supplementary written and aural exercises for note reading and rhythmic development. A "Teacher's Corner" section at the back of the theory books outlines some wonderful suggestions for singing, ear training, rhythmic dictation, composition and improvisation that may, unfortunately, be overlooked. It may have been more helpful to include these suggestions throughout the method book.

While my personal preference for a beginning piano method is one that uses the intervallic and landmark approach, I find this method makes good use of a wider keyboard range, modulations, octave jumps and added accidentals within a major or minor finger pattern for some fresh and attractive sounds. Children also are challenged to read outside of single-position reading especially by Level 2A. There are charming, original tonal pieces to be found throughout the method, as well as arrangements of folk tunes, classical "themes" (Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Ode to Joy, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik), and blues and rag style pieces. An early introduction to the pedal also is welcome in Level 1B in a piece called "Distant Chimes," with a supplementary improvisational exercise on the black keys with pedal held throughout.

There are a few unique features that make this new method an interesting addition to the existing collection of beginning methods:

* Rebecca Shockley, author of Mapping Music (A-R Editions, 1997), contributes introductory mapping exercises designed to help young students learn to "draw" their pieces with general shapes of line, key centers, harmonic direction, and notation of patterns, and so forth, using pictorial diagrams. Some composition also is encouraged with directions to map out the pieces that the children compose. This is a helpful tool for young pupils, as they learn to see patterns, form and the "larger picture," rather than individual notes. It will aid in memorization as well. The mapping exercise at the end of Book 1A may be somewhat sophisticated for young children at this level, but I believe the effort will be well worth the result.

* Suggestions in the "Preparing for a Performance," "Building Technique" and "Discovery Corner" sections are designed to help the children think, prepare, practice and perform in a creative and artistic way. At the beginning of most pieces, a "Building Technique" box offers suggestions for preparatory practice exercises to help focus attention on the new musical and technical concepts to be introduced. Often at the end of a piece, there is a box with a set of creative ideas for further exploration such as transposition, creative practicing, composition, discovering modulations and so forth.

Piano Discoveries is a creative, attractive and easy-to-use method with some fresh new ideas. My college pedagogy students will benefit from reviewing this method in my next survey course.

Midori Koga, Williamston, Michigan.
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Author:Koga, Midori
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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