Piano method review: Carol Matz's Interactive Piano Method
by Rebecca Grooms Johnson
This method offers a flexible combination of lesson books and web-based materials. The four core lesson books (Levels 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B) can be purchased as hard copies (which are mailed to the home address) or as downloadable PDFs. The hard-copy packages are moderately more expensive. Both hard-copy and downloadable Lesson book packages include unlimited internet access to the correlated Complete PDF Downloads, MP3 Tracks, and Interactive Web Activities. Matz indicates the series is appropriate for ages six and up. Illustrations are in grayscale and are child-oriented throughout.
• Complete PDF Downloads: These can be printed from the website or downloaded onto an electronic device. Correlated units of each level contain additional Performance Pieces and Theory Activities. Level 1B adds Sight-Reading Pages, and Levels 2A and 2B include Technique Pages.
• MP3 Tracks: Consisting of pieces that have a teacher duet, each one has a "slow" and "regular" tempo practice track. These practice tracks contain only the teacher accompaniments; a performance recording with accompaniments and solos can be found in a separate Performance folder.
• Interactive Web Activities: Various games accompany each unit, including supplementary work on concepts and terms, Flashcards, Ear Training, and Fun Facts.
Pedagogic approaches include:
• The first half of Level 1A presents various concepts through pre-reading traditional and original melodies. Guidepost notes (F3, C4, G4) are introduced on the staff and gradually filled in with steps and skips.
• Level 1B immediately extends notation to C5 and above, and presents accidentals. Key signatures are introduced halfway through this level (but do not appear in the pieces), as are root position triads. Traditional five-finger positions are not incorporated, permitting a wider range of traditional songs and encouraging reading by note names and steps/skips. Note names appear in note heads when the hand shifts.
• Level 2A introduces intervals through a fifth (although these intervals have been used in pieces previous to this introduction); C, D, and G major and relative minor five-finger patterns; additional note names and keys; dominant 6/5 chords; beginning major scale patterns; and articulations.
• Previously introduced key signatures (up to one sharp and one flat, major and relative minor keys) are placed at the beginning of pieces in Level 2B. The subdominant 6/4 is introduced, thus completing the traditional cadence figure. Legato pedaling is introduced and incorporated.
Pieces throughout the series are a mixture of original melodies, folk songs, and simplified classical themes. The 2B materials end at a late-elementary level. Some left-hand melodies are included.
• Book 1A begins with a combination of nominative ("play-hold-hold" for a dotted half note) and unit counting, shifting fairly quickly to metric. Incomplete measures include rests and counting for skipped beats—always helpful for students who have problems with this concept. In these instances, the final measure is also complete. Upbeats and incomplete measures are explained in Book 1B.
• Eighth-note groupings are presented in Book 2A with metric counting. Dotted quarter notes and single eighths appear in the second half of Book 2B.
The Complete PDF Downloads, Levels 2A and 2B contain a section of "Technique Pages." These include five-finger patterns, Hanon-like exercises, scales, and chords. There are no instructions about the physical approach to playing these materials.
There is an extensive website with helpful information about downloading the series (for less-than-tech-savvy teachers). Also included is a Leveling Chart that lists the concepts presented in each level. One can sign up for free monthly materials on the home page, and there are Facebook pages for the author and the series.
Various instructions and re-minders occur throughout the series. These can include: tips on preparing to learn the piece, what to listen for, review questions about terms, suggestions about how to practice, historical tidbits, and when to begin the next online unit. Book 2B adds a "Memory Challenge" to some pieces, with suggested analyses of blocked chords, repeated patterns, etc.
What's next? Matz writes:
Level 3 was released in Novem-ber and Level 4 will be released in February/March (prior to the MTNA National Conference). I'm releasing AUS/UK Editions for all of these levels as well.
Teacher Guides for each level are also in the works, and will be updated periodically with a Teachers' Idea Exchange section (selected activities submitted by teachers who'd like to share interesting ways they're using the method, ideas for games, etc.), so a truly "interactive" teacher guide as well!
Starting at Level 3, I'm including a new section called "Pro Piano Skills." This will include reading from chord charts and lead sheets, composition, improvisation, basic arranging—all skills that help the student become a well-rounded pianist.
A truly innovative method
by Jodie J. Jensen
It seems like every few years we are introduced to a new set of method books that promise concrete and sequential learning, fun, and ease in teaching the material. Some of these methods live up to the hype.When first introduced to the Interactive Piano Method I was a bit skeptical about trying yet another series. After looking it over I decided to test its effectiveness for nine months with a select group of students. What I found is a truly innovative method that allows both teacher and student access to quality, flexible, well thought-out pieces, activities, and computer tutoring.Carol Matz has built a method that includes:1. An interactive online set of reinforcing games and tasks that can be done at home, in the studio, or studio computer/iPad lab.2. A website, (carolmatzpiano.com) that gives teachers easy access to materials, the ability to check on student progress, monitor their personal accounts, and receive answers to questions.For new teachers, this method provides a wonderful start, for they can build their own "Dynamic Studio" using technology, their pianos, sound files, and added materials to reinforce each lesson. For experienced teachers, the Interactive Piano Method offers materials that dovetail nicely with an established studio while giving access to new and innovative ways of presenting concepts. During my nine-month experiment, three levels of students were introduced to the method: beginners using the Level 1A materials, students with at least five months of lessons, and students with at least twelve months of lessons.
Level 1A pieces are appealing, full of familiar tunes, with large enough print for little folks to see clearly at a grand piano. As new notes are introduced, different fingerings are used (as opposed to a set hand position) to reinforce note reading instead of playing by finger numbers.
The inclusion of 3/4 time allows early teaching of more than just common time; "Practice zones" assist teaching good practice skills; teacher duets allow for ensemble playing; and additional support materials are very handy for group and individual lessons. The interactive games give students the motivation to stay at the lesson a bit longer to "play" their way through a concept.
Level 1B is a student favorite. As one child put it, "These are not baby pieces." Over and over my students have expressed their enjoyment of these materials. Technical skills are placed in the method early enough to support discussions of phrasing and articulation, and the appeal of the pieces keep students interested.
There are more than the usual number of pieces in the left hand or bass clef to reinforce the bass staff. Because this level is full of meatier pieces that allow for a breakdown of information, students are not bored during the learning process. The support materials are some of the best parts of this level. If a student needs more time on a concept, I can turn to the Complete PDF Downloads for more pieces at the same level of ability.
Level 2A is also a real hit with my students. Pieces such as "3-D Movie," "The T. Rex Dance," "The Stars and Stripes Forever," and "Seashore Rag" keep students interested.
With so many familiar tunes like "The Duke of York" and "Spring" (from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi), I can teach music history as well. I love teaching from this book because it allows flexibility with my own eclectic teaching style. At this level, the Complete PDF Downloads are extremely helpful. Additional pieces allow for group activities, and "Be a Composer!" activity sheets are great for introducing harmony to an established melody. The sight-reading section is solid and the technique section provides materials for teachers who want to introduce scales at this level.
Level 2B (not available to my students during the experimental phase) features the same quality of music as the other books.Simplified Joplin rags, tunes like "Skiing the Slopes," international folk music, and anthems are appealing to my students. Both the Complete PDF Downloads and the online games reveal Matz's understanding of how students learn, the appeal of color in the games, and the importance of immediate reinforcement as they work through a game concept. The downloadable composition pieces further reinforce any theory you choose to incorporate in lessons.
Beyond the books
The Interactive Piano Method was wonderful with my three experimental groups, and flexible enough for adaptation to any of my teaching situations. Since the online materials can be used on an iPad or Windows tablet, placing the device on the music stand at the piano or in a lab provides added opportunities for learning. The PDF worksheets, pieces, and games allow you to print only what you will need instead of asking parents to purchase one more book.
What has surprised me is the willingness of parents to pay for the method. The fact that the hardcopy books, the online PDF activities, and games go together as a packet seem to sell the method to parents even though it might be a bit more expensive than traditional method books. They feel their children are getting more for their money, and the online component allows kids to work at home and my studio without downloading a number of apps.
The only real change I would suggest concerns the MP3 component. Those with digital instruments in their studios could use the materials more effectively if the files were available in MIDI format.
After nine months of experimentation, I will integrate this method into my studio this year. I feel this series will assist in preparing my Prep and Grades 1 and 2 students for the upcoming Associated Board Royal Schools of Music exams. You know you have a hit on your hands when the "troops" vote and say, "I really love this piano book!"
Familiar pieces in a modern method
by Michelle Sisler
Since I have had success using her Famous and Fun series, I was excited to hear Carol Matz had written a method book series. When I opened the materials, I found the use of many familiar pieces, coordinating interactive online activities, and the clean look of the pages (in black and white with simple art) to be the strengths of this series. I have been using these materials since the fall of 2016. Matz is a talented and experienced composer and arranger. She understands today's piano student well, and has written a modern method they can relate to, with songs about bugs, video games, and cell phones, alongside familiar pieces.
A solid, comprehensive foun-dation for all concepts is created through clearly presented and carefully sequenced lessons and pieces. Without using defined hand positions, Matz includes pieces with left hand melodies to help improve bass clef reading early on, and she emphasizes scales and chords. Her use of minor and modal pieces exposes students to a wide variety of sounds. When presenting concepts, she also provides hints to help students remember them. When introducing flats, she encourages students to think of being in a car when the tires goes flat. "You sink lower." Students also enjoy "This is Cool," fun facts related to their pieces that might include information about a spider following a step-by-step procedure to create a web, or an octopus being able to open a jar.
While the lesson books tend to move more quickly than other methods, there is a variety of online supplementary materials to keep the pace at an appropriate level for each student.
As a teacher, I especially like having a wide variety of well-written familiar pieces and original works all in one series, making my lesson planning much easier. A favorite piece in the Level 2B Complete PDF Downloads is "Phone on the Floor." Based on "Scarborough Fair," it includes lyrics about dropping their parent's phone on the floor and having it shatter. This is something students can relate to and enjoy practicing.
Teacher duet parts are easy to read and musically interesting. The MP3 performance tracks provide a learning model and practice tracks have the teacher duet parts in two different tempos. Two measures of clicks count students in—no musical introductions are written or recorded. MIDI orchestrations are not available for this series at this time but are planned for future release.
Downloadable PDF content
Students are more excited to complete the online activity sheets because they are puzzles and games rather than worksheets. These activities include cross-words, word searches, card and dice matching games, and bingo. In the upper levels, the activities are geared to create well-rounded musicians and include reading lead sheets, composing, and improvisation exercises.
Sight-reading exercises are included for each unit starting in Level 1B. Three types are used: "Free Your Fingers" for moving around the piano, "All Together Now" for playing hands together, and "Rhythm Reinforcer" for feeling the rhythm.
Starting in 2A, technique activities include exercises for scales, chords, cadences, strength, and dexterity. Additional exercises are recommended for challenging students or for those who are preparing for exams and auditions.
Unfortunately, the additional materials in her Complete PDF Downloads do not have page numbers, so assigning a particular page can be challenging. To make the best use of this method, I suggest printing and collating the materials to create an all-in-one book and assigning pieces and activities by unit, or downloading the collated version offered online.
Unique to this series are six interactive online activities correlating with each unit. They are easy to access and use. These theory activities, ear-training exercises, and, working with virtual flashcards last long enough for students to practice concepts (and teachers to check for understanding) but are short enough to complete before getting bored. Students receive immediate feedback on correct and incorrect answers. If they are having trouble with a concept, a help button takes them to a page reviewing terms and symbols. Because these are web-based, they can be accessed on any device.
Jodie J. Jensen, NCTM, holds a Bachelor's degree from Utah State University and an Advanced Certificate in Piano from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom. With thirty years of teaching experience in San Diego; Yokosuka, Japan; and now in Colorado Springs, Colorado; she has performed in Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Jenson is currently a co-coordinator for the Colorado
In addition to her teaching, Michelle Sisler is the founder of Keys to Imagination LLC and MusicEdConnect.com. Known for her creativity and use of technology, she is frequently sought after as a presenter. She has also taught on Crystal Cruises. Michelle serves on the technology committee for NCKP and MTNA, and has written articles for Clavier Companion and American Music Teacher. She is an author of technology curricula, theory games, and motivation programs.