It’s always exciting to find a new approach to teaching piano. I’ve noticed how many children start piano as preschoolers, or between the ages of 4 to 6. These children require a specialized approach to teaching. Piano beginners are often pre-readers who excel with learning from a sounds-first perspective, by being playful and learn better in the company of little music characters who invite them to learn.
Recently I was approached by the authors of Piano Heroes, Valentyna and Eugene Komisarenko, who asked if I’d review their beginner piano method. Eagerly I got my own copies and it’s been my pleasure to learn more and to cover this for my blog. Disclosure: This review is given without a commission or compensation. 🙂
Let’s dig in!
There are three levels, outlined in detail below.
The concepts introduced in all three levels match the RCM Prep A and B curriculum, with a few of the final pieces reaching Level 1.
It’s ideal to begin supplementing with RCM Preparatory A from the beginning, and later with RCM Preparatory B. When students finish Mission Success (the third level of Piano Heroes), they may stay in RCM Prep B a little longer or fully move into Level 1. This book is meant to prepare students for a smooth transition from the method book to RCM Celebration series’ Preparatory B or Level 1.
Piano Heroes’ pre-reading primer
Mission Start is the first book of the Piano Heroes preschool piano method. The book covers and materials for this level are green. These materials include:
Mission Start — Student lesson book. Patterns are a foundation of rote learning and notation reading and this book focuses a lot on patterns. Kids can create patterns with tokens, interpret a pattern as a rhythm, play a pattern on the piano, and listen and match a visual pattern.
Mission Start Lesson Planner Cards — lay out the lesson plan with cards to visualize the routine and activities to set the student at ease. Download, print and display.
Mission Start High and Low Flash Cards — reinforce high and low sounds and going up and going down. Download, print and use.
Mission Start Up Down Same Cards — reinforce understanding sounds going up, down and staying the same.
Mission Start Achievement Cards — award to the child for lesson accomplishments. Download, print and use.
Assignment Book — designed to be used with Mission Start to facilitate home practice.
Relatable, friendly characters
Children ages 4 and 5 learn best with little music friends who make learning fun!
Playful Panda is the main character in Piano Heroes. She starts young pianists on a journey of learning. When the music alphabet is introduced, Playful Panda is joined by a host of other charming little characters: Amazing Ant, Boisterous Bat, Cheetah that Cares, Dog that Dares, Elephant, Fighting Fox and Glorious Giraffe. You’ll see characters on every page in full colour!
On each page there’s a legend with icons that stand for two teaching goals. This makes organizing very easy for the teacher and helps you know you’re giving the child a balanced program.
Most of the printed text is in these legend boxes for the sake of the teacher, a design feature that keeps the rest of the page clean and uncluttered for the child so they can focus on the images that teach musical concepts in friendly ways for preschool kids. The icons are:
- Magnifying glass — “Lost and Found” for discovery of a concept. Observation, memory and labeling various elements.
- Earphones — “Listen Up!” for listening activities and ear training.
- 1-2-3 — “Let’s Count!” for counting and preschool math-like activities.
- Keyboard icon — “Play with Me” for playing exercises on the piano. This music is notated with simple rhythm indications on printed keyboards.
- Pattern icon — “Make a Pattern” for visual pattern recognition, and creating and playing patterns on the piano.
- Rhythm icon — “Rhythm Superpower” for pre-reading with circles that are coloured in (short sounds, quarter notes without stems) and circles that are clear (long sounds, half notes without stems). The teacher will guide this rhythm as it doesn’t need to be explained in full to the child at this time.
- Circle icon — “Rote” pieces that are printed in notation for the teacher and taught by rote to the student, with the student simply copying the teacher’s playing. The student isn’t expected to read this music.
- Pencil icon — Theory, with age-appropriate expectations of what a child can write at ages 4 and 5. The child will colour, draw lines to match things, circle things and write music alphabet letters.
The pages have a lot of colour but the layout is very clear, with just enough to do and see on each page to learn about music without overwhelming the child visually.
Pedagogical goals of Mission Start
Concepts — High, low. Black keys and white keys. Left hand, right hand. Music alphabet introduced associating each letter with a character and colour.
Technical development — Begins with finger 2 playing non-legato repeated notes. Partway through the book finger 3 is introduced, after which students may play pieces using only 2 throughout or 3 throughout. The final piece has fingers 2-3 playing two-note clusters (harmonic seconds).
Playing — The student plays the piano from pre-reading rhythm prompts on piano keyboards or by rote. The rote pieces are in staff notation so the teacher can demonstrate them.
Reading — Short and long notes (preparation for quarter and half notes). Pre-staff notes going up, down, staying the same
Listening — High, low, going up, going down, staying the same. Short and long sounds. Simple rhythmic patterns.
Piano Heroes’ early staff primer — treble clef
Mission Adventure is the second book of the Piano Heroes preschool piano method. Yellow is the colour of choice for book covers for this level. Mission Adventure can be used with those who finished Mission Start, or with children ages 6 to 8 who are just beginning. Materials include:
Mission Adventure — Student lesson book
Mission Adventure Sight Reading Activity Book — Contains 65 sets of visual activities, one page each. Some can be compared to theory, and the activities gradually become pages of sight reading. By the end of this book children will be reading short examples on the treble staff hands separate and tapping simple rhythms hands together. While the lesson book sticks with fingers 2-3-4, a couple of the exercises in this book include fingers 1 and 5. Time signature – 4/4, 3/4, 2/4 – in lesson book introduced, main work in Sight Reading book.
Mission Adventure 20 Day Treble Clef Mission — This is a theory book with a cool name, with colour illustrations and pencil activities that reinforce treble clef note learning. There are 20 days of workbook activities and four quizzes. Because it starts with landmark notes, this book can come into play at page 35 of the lesson book to reinforce notes already learned and to introduce new ones. By the end of this book, children will have covered the whole treble clef from Middle C up to ledger lines above the staff.
Playful Panda and the music alphabet characters return for more fun. Illustrations are in colour and are cute and little, not large and overwhelming like in some other methods for young beginners. The familiar icons from Mission Start that introduce and reinforce concepts (like the magnifying glass and earphones, etc.) continue to be used to create focus for learning.
Concepts — 88 white and black keys. Groups of two and three black keys. Finger numbers 1-2-3-4-5. Review music alphabet. Five-line music staff introduced. Line and space notes. Treble clef. Middle C and treble D. Quarter, half and whole notes and rests. Measures and bar lines. Treble E, F. 4/4 Time signature. Treble G. Landmark notes. Piano, forte and crescendo symbols. Treble A. Steps and skips. Treble B. Sharps. Though treble space C isn’t officially introduced in the lesson book, it appears in the final pieces that are taught by rote and note.
Technical development — Piano posture. Equal development of both hands. Relaxed wrist lifts. Whole arm motion. Non-legato fingers 2 3 4 repeated one at a time, or 2-3-4 non-legato in a row. Playing up and down the piano octave to octave. Skips. Playing harmonic seconds and thirds.
Playing — A mixture of rote and note pieces for the right and left hands in the treble range of the piano. Some elementary hands together. No position playing — the student determines starting note for each hand and the fingers vary depending on the music pattern. The student is encouraged to create their own music. Two of the pieces have teacher duets.
Reading — This level focuses on reading note values of quarter, half and whole notes and reading staff notes in the treble clef. The treble clef is introduced first because this is the register of a child’s voice so they can sing along, and offers fewer notes to read. After quarter, half and whole rests are introduced, they appear in all music. The notes officially introduced in Mission Adventure’s lesson book are from Middle C up to treble line B. Treble C is not introduced separately as the logic of how to read notation is already instilled and students can make logical connections and read new notes on their own.
Listening — There are no stand-alone listening exercises because all the material is processed from a listen-see-play point of view.
Piano Heroes’ beginner — treble and bass clef
Mission Success is the third book of the Piano Heroes piano method. Orange is the color of choice for book covers for this level. Materials include:
Mission Success — Student lesson book.
Mission Success Sight Reading Activity Book — 60 sets of exercises fully aligned with a lesson book. Like in Adventure, each set includes music reading/playing, rhythm and creative exercise (compose, create, draw, add, count).
Mission Success 20 Day Bass Clef Mission — note speller for everyday note reading practice.
47 pages. Fewer illustrations. Has smaller notation, but it’s still easy to read. The piano teacher gets the freedom to teach pieces in any order and add their own interpretation. The legend is changed to Activity and gives the chance to review or discuss new and old concepts.
Concepts — Middle C – Bass C notes are introduced in 3-note groups, landmark notes bass, and treble clef. Dynamics – piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, forte, crescendo/diminuendo. Slur-tie, fermata, new note value – dotted half. Eighth notes are introduced almost at the end p. 38. Time signature 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, two pieces at the end of the book are in 3/8. 5 sets of Sight reading give a brief introduction and reinforcement of eighth notes, half and whole steps, flats.
Technique — Alternating hands, hands together, parallel motion, equal hand development (melody can be in the LH too), staccato and legato touch, motion of the whole arm. This book contains 18 exercises and etudes for the RH and LH.
Playing — Detached, staccato and legato, alternating hands, hands together. The pieces are longer, 8-16 measures. Classics added: Turk, Gurlitt, Hook and Diabelli.
Reading — Note reading in both clefs, steps, skips, leaps, 5-finger patterns, parallel motion.
What’s different? — Reference chart at the beginning and music dictionary at the end.
Where can you get your hands on the Piano Heroes beginner method materials?
If you’re looking for a playful introduction to the piano, why not take a look for yourself?
To find out how to get the books, go to the Piano Heroes website!
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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤
Video of the Week
Johnny Appleseed (Early Elementary, Prep A), student learns it on the white keys and is challenged to play it on the black keys, too (with an optional teacher’s duet in both keys)! It’s early transposing! From the print and eBook Johnny Appleseed, 12 Joyful Songs and Prayers for Children, Early Elementary piano works with optional teacher duets. Or, Check out the Studio-Licensed “Blessings” eSheet solo bundle!
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