My students have more fun!

Piano Lessons
for beginners of any age


NOTE: AT THE PRESENT TIME, MY SCHEDULE IS FULL AND I AM NOT ACCEPTING BEGINNER PIANO STUDENTS. The following information is provided to give other teachers who do teach beginner piano students some ideas that they would be wise to implement into their curricula and pedagogy.

MISSION:


I give people the knowledge and skills to enjoy piano throughout their lives.

BELIEFS:


1. I believe learning piano can be fun, and that students learn faster when they are having fun.
2. I respect students' time.  I believe practice time is a finite, scarce, and valuable resource that should be used efficiently and effectively to bring fast results.
3. I believe ear training and learning to read a chord chart are equally as important as learning to read sheet music.  I think it's ridiculous that keyboard players who join a rock band can't play by ear like the guitarist, bass player, and drummer do.  I believe it's a travesty that high school jazz bands can't find a pianist who can read a chord chart.  I think it's a shame that most accomplished pianists can't transpose a key signature or improvise on a hymn or play an original solo line in a song.
4. I believe in customizing the learning experience to accommodate the musical interests and tastes of each individual student.

PHILOSOPHY:

Students should enjoy the time they spend practicing.  Students should be taught songs they like, and should get results fast.  When students are learning songs they have heard before, that they like, and are able to play big sounding pieces relatively soon after starting lessons, and when they receive "ooo's and aahh's" when they play for other people, they are likely to keep working and improving.

Piano lessons should impart not only the skills to read classical music, but also the broader musical skill set that turns them into well rounded musicians.  Students should be given the knowledge and skills to be able to play any genre that attracts their fancy later in life, whether professionally or just for fun.

For many students, traditional piano lessons have some serious drawbacks.  The sad truth is: the vast majority of beginners, who start taking piano lessons with excitement and anticipation, quit within a few months or years.  Ask them why, and they will say they hate practicing.  Dig deeper and you will learn they are frustrated because progress is slow, the material seems hard, they don't like the songs they are learning, and they feel stifled.

The way traditional piano lessons are taught is not the way human beings naturally learn.  Think about how babies learn to speak.  They imitate what they hear.  In other words, they first learn to speak "by ear."  We don't insist that children read first before they speak.  Can you imagine a parent saying to a one-year-old child, "Quit copying me!  You should only say the words that are in books, exactly as written!"  So why do piano teachers abuse piano students in this way?  That is exactly what they are doing when they say to students, "Stop playing by ear!  Read the notes on the page!"  It's unnatural.

Worse, traditional lessons systematically drain the creativity out of students, by teaching them that there is only one right way to play a song, and that is to reproduce exactly what is on the printed sheet music, note for note, precisely the same way it is played by every other piano student in the country.  Any change to what is written is called a "mistake".  For most styles of music (including pop, rock, jazz, blues, country, gospel, etc.), that's just plain silly.

All students should learn to read music.  But students should also be allowed and encouraged to use all of their senses -- including their ears -- and all of their brains, to learn.  By forbidding students to play by ear, traditional lessons figuratively tie one hand behind students' backs.


Here's a secret that most piano teachers won't tell you
: Learning a song by ear is usually faster and more fun than learning the same song from the printed music. 
(Actually, to be fair, most piano teachers don't even know this secret, because they were trained using the same system they are teaching, and thus don't know how to play by ear.)
 

METHOD:

Rather than teaching to only read music, I teach to read music AND play by ear AND read chord chartsI customize the repertoire to the interests and tastes of each individual student, so the student can play big sounding pieces with which they are familiar and that they like.  I teach all aspects of music theory, including chord theory.  And I emphasize proper technique but minimize boring scales and exercises.

MATERIALS:

Most people understand the importance of picking the right teacher (e.g., personable, frequent positive feedback, kind but clear negative feedback, a fun and engaging learning atmosphere, and instructor enthusiasm for the topic).  Less well understood is the importance of curriculum (logical topic sequencing, clear terminology, topic integration, etc.).  Unfortunately, traditional piano books do a horrible job on these aspects of learning.  Technique, theory, reading, and repertoire are "stove piped"as separate topics that don't relate to each other.  Terminology is confusing and memorization aids (such as Every Good Boy Does Fine) are not intuitive.

My teaching materials for beginner piano students, published by the MusicMasterTM Group out of Salt Lake City, overcome these problems.  MusicMasterTM books have better topic sequencing and better ways of explaining things for easier and faster understanding than any other piano method I have seen.  For example, they employ a visual "landmark" technique for reading notes on the Grand Staff that is extremely effective.  MusicMasterTM books are also more comprehensive and teach important parts of theory that are skipped, glossed over, or postponed in other books.  I especially like that the books teach chord theory and include songs with chord charts, in addition to traditional music script.  Finally, MusicMasterTM books skip the boring "three froggies in a puddle" type songs in their elementary music reading repertoire in favor of more familiar folk songs and classical melodies that students enjoy playing. 

RESULTS:

M
ost of my beginning students progress in music reading at about the same pace as their peers who are taking traditional piano lessons.  But my students are typically 2-3 years ahead of "schedule" on difficulty and quantity of songs in their performance repertoires.  This rapid progress increases self esteem and joy of playing piano.

Like any other endeavor in life, results vary depending on 1) students' natural talent and 2) their interest, effort, and practice time.  The first is not controllable, but the second is.  Many of my young students gravitate to the piano.  Parents typically don't have to beg, bribe, or scold to get their children to practice.  Adult students lose track of time while practicing. 

INSTRUCTOR:



Dr. Irv Nelson has 50 years of piano playing experience.  I play all types of keyboard instruments, including piano, electric piano, electric organ, synthesizer, sampler, and pipe organ.  I can read music and also play by ear (I can play just about any song after hearing it once or twice.)  My musical experience spans a wide variety of musical styles, including classical, musical theater, sacred, and rock.  I have been an organist in my church for 40 years and have written a book for pianists about how to play the pipe organ.  In addition to keyboards, I play guitar and bass guitar, and I played viola (many years ago!) in high school.  I am a tenor vocalist who has performed with many bands and in many choirs, as well as on stage as an actor.  I am also a choral conductor.  I have played keyboards in bands for nearly 40 years and am currently a member of The Fender Benders classic rock band, Relic Acoustic Band, Margie & Irv vocal/piano duo, and Brandon Lee and Friends concert group.  I also fill in with many other artists and groups on occasion.  I am a composer and arranger, whose choral arrangements have been performed by the USU Chorale and Chamber Singers, and whose instrumental arrangements have been performed by concert pianist Brandon Lee.  My hymn compositions and arrangements have received widespread acclaim and are available for free download at IrvNelsonMusic.com.  I have studied music theory, vocal pedagogy, and choral conducting, as well as educational psychology, at the university level.  I hold a Ph.D. and have many years of teaching experience in a variety of settings.  I have published peer-reviewed, academic articles on how students learn and how to structure the learning environment to help them learn better.  I love music and I love teaching, and I couldn't tell you which of the two is my greatest talent or which I love more.

STUDENT QUALIFICATIONS:


I accept students of all ages, including adults.  In fact, many of my students are adults who have always wanted to play piano, who may have taken a few lessons as children, but gave up in frustration.  Now, they regret that choice and want to learn, but their practice time is limited and they don't want to spend three years struggling through Grades 1-6 of traditional piano books before they can start playing hymns or popular songs or whatever they want to play.


Testimonials from students and parents

FAQ:

Q: Is this Suzuki?

A: Absolutely not! 
I teach my students to read music.  In fact, beginning students learn to read four octaves, from low C to high C (four notes above the treble staff and four notes below the bass staff) within a few months.

I once had a Suzuki student's mother say to me "My daughter doesn't need to read music.  You don't need to read in order to talk, so why do you need to read music to play piano?"  Although I agreed with her that playing by ear is a good and natural thing, I also told her that illiteracy is just as much a disadvantage in music as it is in language.
  My students concurrently learn to both play by ear AND to read music.

Q: Do you teach theory?

A. Yes!  In fact, I do a more comprehensive job on music theory than do most traditional courses.  Scales, intervals, chords, key signatures, and rhythms receive particular attention, because they are the building blocks of being able to improvise.  Students who have been with us twelve months typically know more about music theory than do most third-year students in traditional piano courses. 

Q: What about technique?

A: I teach correct technique, including hand position, fingering, and finger strengthening, although I try to minimize time spent on tedious scales and exercises.

Q: Why do you hate traditional piano teachers?

A: I don't.  I love them!  Most of them are wonderful, caring, talented professionals.  They serve an important and useful purpose.  In fact, this valley is very fortunate to have some of the best classical piano teachers, and one of the best university piano degrees, in the country.

What I have issues with is the over-100-year-old paradigm they are stuck in.  It doesn't matter whether they are using Bastien, Alfred, Music Tree, Faber and Faber, or or even the old Thompson and Schaum books from which I was taught as a child.  The differences between them are negligible; they all suffer from the same deficiencies:
The entire system is completely out of touch with today's Millennial students.  Anyone familiar with the social characteristics of Generation X, Generation Y, and Millennials could predict that each successive generation would increasingly grate against the rigid structure, the lack of individual expression, and the one-way-to-do-it mentality of nearly all piano methods.  It should come as no surprise, then, that fewer and fewer children are taking piano lessons, and also that so many of them who do start piano lessons last only a few months or years.  The reasons are obvious to everyone... except piano teachers.  The system and the culture are dysfunctional and antiquated.  It is tragic that so many talented children quit piano and move to guitar and other instruments that allow them to explore the creativity and the musical genres that they crave.  It's a shame, and it's unnecessary.  There is a better way.

It all depends on your goals.  If you want to become a concert pianist and play Grieg, Shostakovich, Chopin, and Beethoven with symphony orchestras and compete in national piano competitions, and that's the only thing you want to do with piano, by all means don't come to me.  I love that music, it sends chills up my spine, and I admire those who play it.  Some of my best friends in the world are concert pianists.  But that's not my main emphasis at Irv Nelson Music Studio.  On the other hand, if you want to play Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, Christina Perry, and Pink; or Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Journey, and Toto; or Billy Joel, Elton John, Carole King, and The Carpenters; or The Beatles and The Monkees; or Etta James and Nat King Cole... or if you want to play jazz or blues or rock or country... or if you want to create your own arrangements of hymns... or if you want to compose your own songs and accompany yourself... you've come to the right place.


Q: I've never heard of the
MusicMasterTM books.  How did you find them?

A:
Through the years, I always thought, “There has to be a better method to teach piano.”  Finally, I found it.  I first discovered this system a few years ago when I saw my 7 year old nephew, who had been taking lessons for less than one year, playing songs like Chariots of Fire, Harry Potter, Pink Panther, Star Wars, Mission Impossible, Book of Mormon Stories, Fur Elise and so on.  If that wasn't astonishing enough, he could name and play all the notes on the grand staff and several lines above and below it, without hesitation.  I was even more impressed with his knowledge of music theory.  The child was extremely excited about practicing piano, and his parents' biggest complaint was that they couldn't get the kid off the piano to do homework or to go to bed.  This contrasted with his older brother, whose piano experience years before had been characterized by threats, force, bribes, begging, and nagging to get him to practice.

I met with my nephew's piano teacher and found a kindred spirit.  He is a master teacher who has spent the better part of his life developing a system for teaching piano that combines a brilliantly sequenced curriculum and innovative pedagogy with many of the same concepts I had developed to teach students to play by ear.  The result was a system that helps students learn more, faster, and have more fun.  I was so impressed, I decided to bring the system to Cache Valley.
 
Q: Do you have a degree in music?

A:
Short answer: No.  All three of my degrees are in business.  Longer answer: You're asking the wrong question.  When selecting a teacher, there are only three relevant questions: 1) How much does this person know about the specific thing I want to learn? 2) How good of a teacher is he or she? And 3) Does his or her curriculum and pedagogy get good results quickly?  Credentials may give some indication of these three questions, but they are not foolproof.  Best answer: If you want to know how good someone is at teaching piano, don't ask what degrees are on their wall; rather, talk to current and former students, and ask them to play for you.

PRACTICING (for parents of minor students)

PRACTICING (for adult students)

SELECTING A GOOD PIANO

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