Sandra Scruton (piano teacher, Canada)

I’ve been teaching since 1985, and began teaching with Alfred’s Basic Piano Library, which I used for many years. One of the strengths of the method I felt was the supporting materials, not only of theory books, but flashcards and notespeller books, and I still use the flashcards and notespellers to this day. Over the years of teaching, I’ve also used the Alfred Prep series, Faber Piano Adventures, Hal Leonard Student Piano Library, Celebrate Piano Series, Helen Marlais’ Succeeding at the Piano series, Faber’s First Piano Adventures as well as some Music Tree. As you can see, I have been willing to try many different methods in my quest to find the best materials to use with beginners. I’ve always been very concerned about technique, and tried to incorporate that from the very beginning lessons, thanks in part to my own training as a child taking piano. Learning how to relax at the piano was a whole new area that opened up for me as I took lessons as an adult, and I’m still working away on that for myself, but of course being aware of the need to relax has drastically changed my teaching for the better. Then along came my introduction to Tales!

I first heard about Tales at the end of August 2015 through another Facebook page, where someone had asked which methods people used, and one answer gave Tales of a Musical Journey. By coincidence, I had also just heard of the Nikolaev Russian School of Piano Playing books, and had been watching some You Tube Videos about that approach. Between watching videos on both of those, I was able to see that they followed the same philosophy of non legato playing, using the strong fingers of the hands, and delaying the use of legato. I immediately knew that Tales was something I wanted to use with my beginners (who were coming for lessons the very next week at the beginning of September!!!) Needless to say, without Irina’s help in getting the materials to me as soon as possible, and sending me a couple of chapters of each book via email, I wouldn’t have been able to make such an abrupt switch.

I called all the parents of new students, as well as two returning families who were beginning younger siblings, and who each had an older child who had begun lessons with me the previous year, and requested their permission to switch books to Tales, and, in the case of the older siblings, to put them back in Tales book 1 for a brief period so they could go back and pick up the techniques from book 1 before proceeding to book 2 materials. Those parents supported me one and all, and I was literally reading the materials trying to figure out what I was doing as those students were walking through the door for their first lesson. This probably wasn’t the best way to begin a new method, but I was so excited about what I’d seen that I didn’t want to wait another year to use the Tales books.

I had great results with my students last year, and the adventure continues this year, with new beginners starting with Book 1 in the Fall, and continuing students onto Book 2. I haven’t gotten a student through all of Book 2 yet, and I was concerned that some weaker students might struggle with it, but the more I use Book 2, the more I realize that there are great advantages of using this particular book to continue with after book 1: the concepts are sound, will grow the student and prepare them for repertoire outside method books. As I live in Canada, what to use after method books has never been an issue, as my students have always transitioned to Royal Conservatory materials as soon as they had a foundation from method books which would support them switching over. The other big advantage I’ve realized is that the concepts are packed into SHORT pieces, most of them just 8 bars long, so students can progress quickly, or more slowly if they need to without feeling that they are so long. I’ve been supplementing Book 2 with a few pieces from Royal Conservatory’s Prep A book, and hope to supplement also with Royal Conservatory’s Prep B book before the end of the Tales Book 2 in order to give them a variety of extra materials as they are able to handle them.

I moved heaven and earth to attend one of the workshops last summer, and it was money and time well spent – if I could, I’d go back again this year. When I did attend, I found that many teachers who were there had ordered the books, and were attending the workshop in preparation for using the method last Fall. I guess I did things backwards – heard about them, and jumped in with both feet. I certainly don’t regret doing it the way I did, but if you are on the fence about trying this method, or you are using them without having come to a workshop, please consider making that something that happens for you.

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