By Mary Beth Parker
When I was first introduced to the digital piano and Roland Music Tutors, I thought they were just toys, and that any degreed musician would see the lack of technical discipline that would result from practicing on an electronic instrument. WAS I EVER WRONG! In Austin, TX, we have the luxury of a local dealer (Ron Edelman of Capital Music) who not only sells Roland instruments, but also actually understands the benefits that technology offers teachers and students. His forte is introducing technology to skeptical teachers and providing continuous teacher support.
Formerly, as a private piano teacher, I was able to give that wonderful one-on-one lesson, but, after a while there were no new challenges. I had students who enjoyed the piano and music, but lacked the motivation and excitement to do more than I assigned.
With the addition of five Roland pianos and Music Tutors in my studio, I have made significant changes in my teaching, primarily by integrating group instruction. Lessons consist of using all the elements of music to reinforce these concepts found in the repertoire. This naturally encourages creativity and individual progress. My students actively participate, giving creative suggestions and input. It’s motivating to teach when you regularly hear laughter and watch students having fun. They are even disappointed when the lesson is finished, because it’s over too soon.
How does this happen? First and foremost, by including activities that motivate students! This requires creative lesson plans for each class, while allowing for individual needs.
Students watch and learn from each other. Positive competition occurs naturally in a group.
Piano lessons can now enjoy in band and orchestra.
Playing with the disk encourages accurate performance. Using practice loops also promotes accuracy. Playing at different tempi, playing with different instruments, and the excitement of hearing others play is very motivating to students.
Playing with an orchestra reinforces rhythm and tempo, and promotes listening for accuracy. Students can record themselves playing with the disk to evaluate their own playing.
Use instruments to fit the technique, style, mood, or voice range of the piece (e.g. pizzicato strings for learning staccato). Have students choose the instruments to orchestrate an ensemble and learn how they blend together and fit the voice range. Have students choose instruments to play a piece being learned in class and have the others not only listen, but identify the instrument being played.
The accompaniment disk doesn’t get boring, allowing you to teach the various concepts in a piece one at a time (e.g. play all the half notes as they occur, then play all the eighth notes. Have each student play a different line of the piece and then switch until all have played all lines.).
There are so many ways to use technology today that the list is virtually endless. Each lesson provides me with the opportunity to stretch my musicianship skills and creativity. One challenge is to make theory and technique interesting. How can this be achieved?
Clapping and tapping to the interactive accompaniment disk. This allows students to learn the accurate rhythm and left/right coordination before playing it on the piano. Students are much more willing to clap/tap and count, name notes, and name finger numbers as the music is playing, rather than just looking at the music and doing these activities.
Do you have students that have difficulty with notation? Have them write a story, add the sound effects and then notate those sound effects on staff paper or the computer, notating the note length and rests for each sound. As they read their story, have someone else play the sound effects. It’s interesting to see if the correct sound effects come out with the story. Everyone has fun and learns.
This can be a good activity for a lab assignment. Have students play pieces that have the concepts and skill level you’re working on in class. Have them record the pieces into the Music Tutor’s sequencer and then evaluate their playing.
This is fun when students are learning the five-finger patterns. In how many different keys can they play a song? Transpose the disk and play in the new key. This also helps them hear how accurately they transpose.
It seems that almost everything involves training the ear. Playing with disks builds accompaniment skills. Using theoretical concepts from the repertoire (e.g. major and minor triads), have students quiz each other. Create your own MIDI disks, reinforcing ear training.
Using the orchestration and theory of a piece, have students improvise with the orchestrated disk.
With technology like Roland’s Music Tutors and digital pianos, I am constantly challenged to continue to be creative for my students and provide them with a positive and successful learning environment. I also provide a community service by having Brownie troops earn their music badges in my studio. Some of these children have never been exposed to the different instrumental sounds available on digital pianos, much less a traditional piano. Adults have a new excitement about playing the piano with disks. Parents enjoy observing lessons and hearing students play solos and ensembles at piano parties. Instead of being nervous or afraid to perform, students come wanting to play more than what has been planned. Since they are already used to playing for others, these parties are not as intimidating.
Since consistently using Roland’s Music Tutors and digital pianos, I have found myself more challenged and excited about teaching. My students appear to have more fun, while exploring a wider variety of music and generally learning much faster. Technology allows more freedom in group teaching, and I’m able to teach more concepts.
Moving forward with technology used to scare and intimidate me. Now I’m excited about teaching and wouldn’t go back to a studio without digital instruments. Today, I can continue to learn with my students as well as offer my experience and knowledge. Sometimes my students use technology better than I do, and come up with creative ideas of their own. Not only is it gratifying, but it’s an adventure I wouldn’t want to miss. If you haven’t already incorporated technology into your teaching, you might want to consider embarking on this journey yourself.