Teaching Philosophy & Methods
- 1.) Being late and missing half your lesson because the teacher has to run her tight schedule on time.
- 2.) Northern VA rush-hour traffic.
- 3.) Waiting in your hot car.
- 4.) Having to bundle up all your little ones in the winter to drive the older ones to lessons.
Who teaches the lessons?
Lessons are taught by long-time Purcellville resident Jennifer Warren-Baker (BA Music GMU). In addition to being a dedicated wife and mother, Jennifer is an extremely versatile pianist and composer with extensive experience as a teacher and performance professional. Since 1999, Jennifer has been teaching piano and playing professionally across Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. Learn more about Jennifer here.
Where do lessons take place?
If you have a piano at home, lessons take place in the convenience of your own home. I can also give lessons in churches and schools, with permission of the venue.
What is your teaching style?
Eclectic but Structured. I am an eclectic teacher with a starburst approach to teaching. What do I mean by that? This doesn't mean that I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants teacher with no respect for proper learning sequences. It does mean that I draw from many resources and my life experiences when teaching piano. I do not rely on one curriculum or a one-size-fits-all approach. Without a doubt, some students are not linear learners. They are starburst learners. They can truly leap ahead, skip ten pages, or change to a popular book when boredom sets in. They can even pick a song, download it from the internet, and bring it to the next lesson. I am ok with that! It will not hurt them to venture off the beaten path. So I keep my feelers alert for boredom, inertia, and plateaus. I want continued forward movement and joy in music-making, so I change course when necessary and throw surprises at the student when needed (something we can do with one-on-one instruction). No curriculum can be perfect for every student (child or adult). And yes, lessons are structured within this flexible framework. There are expectations, and rewards if those expectations are met or exceeded. During lessons, there is always a game-plan and a predictable order of activities (technique, sight-reading, review songs, new song, review of written homework, for example).
Respect and Encouragement for Creativity
I am one of the few teachers who around who is also a composer. I thrive on creating spontaneously (improvisation) and composing more finite pieces which I write down and record (composition). I also realize that our modern education system squelches imaginations, so I try to spark imaginations through creative activities like improvisation duets with the teacher. Very few teachers are comfortable guiding and nurturing the young creative musician. You certainly do not have to be a composer or songwriter to study piano with me, but I am well-equipped to handle the creative soul! Play the video below to get an idea of how I encourage creativity during lessons.
What happens in a typical lesson?
- 5-6 year-old beginner: The very young beginner lesson will be a quick rotation of games, chants, and hands-on-activites. I have poems (chanted to a steady beat) and (sung) songs the student memorizes (for teaching counting, learning left vs. right, etc). The children LOVE reciting and singing these each week at the beginning of their lesson. Of course, each lesson will have time for a review piano song (or 2) and a new piano song. We may also complete coloring pages, Simon Says finger numbers, ear-training, copy-cat, movement/singing combinations, and very simple black-key songs. I use the "My First Piano Adventure" book, CDs, as well as other materials I procure from online resources in my young beginner lessons.
- 7-8 year-old beginner: A seven or eight-year old beginner has a longer attention span and more developed fine motor skills, not to mention left-to-right tracking he has learned through reading text. With a seven-year-old child, we still play some learning games, but we can also delve straight into reading music. Students can expect to learn all the major scales and chords with a white key root in the first year -- they are SOOOO important! They will also learn to distinguish between the happy major sound and sad minor sound by ear, and to change a chord from major to minor by dropping the third a half-step. I typically use Alfred's Basic Piano Library Lesson Book and Recital Book for level 1 (because the songs are more musical/ fun than some methods and move the student to hands-together quickly), as well as a Notespeller for this age. Within the lesson, there will also be room for fun improv activities, Heart and Soul duets with the teacher, and even twelve-bar blues!
- 9 - 13 year-old beginner: This is a fun age to start piano lessons because the human mind is much more developed and progress is rapid at this age. Beginner students at this age will start reading music the first or second lesson. Students can expect to master/memorize all the major scales and chords in the first year, even those starting on black keys (we have catching up to do because we started late!). Students at this age will learn to distinguish between the sound of a major, minor, and diminished chord, as well as how to invert a chord to first and second inversion. They will learn to transpose a basic tune like Heart and Soul to a couple of different keys. We will probably do a few 12-Bar Blues, memorizing that form/ structure (with application of the minor pentatonic and blues scale, of course!). In addition to reading traditional notation, students will experience a basic lead sheet or two, and learn how to read chord notation. I typically start students this age on Accelerated Piano Adventures for the Older Beginner (Lessons and Performance Books). I also use the "My First Fake Book" series to help seal their knowledge of chords and teach them how to play that kind of notation (a lot of students do better with this than traditional notation). Written homework will be assigned, first out of a notespeller book and then out of a theory book. As with all my students, I often conclude lessons with a fun improv activity.
- 14-year-old to adult beginner: It's never too late to start piano. For adult beginners, I tend to customize lessons a bit more at this age, and allow the student to lead somewhat in what s/he wants to learn. But, for the most part, the lesson structure and goals are similar to that or a 9-13 year-old beginner (see above).
- Intermediate Students: Intermediate students (playing the level of Clementi sonatinas and easy Bach dances, for example), can expect more supplementary music (challenge solos or student choice pieces), deeper music theory (analysis of chord progressions and form in score, for instance), more sight-reading work, and an introduction to creative lead-sheet interpretation (arranging). A lot of dueting is done with the teacher to make the student comfortable with keeping up in an ensemble situation. Minor scales and the minor pentatonic are introduced, if they haven't been already. Emphasis is placed on exposure to all styles at this age.
- Advanced Students: Advanced students (playing the level of Chopin Waltzes/ Mazurkas and Mozart/ Haydn Sonatas, for instance) will be challenged in their repertoire to reach new levels of technical proficiency, phrasing, articulation, and emotional expression. Teaching music by the classical masters is important at this stage, because with those works comes technical prowess and artistic confidence. Student interests and musical choices will be incorporated into the course of study. This can include a focus on composition, creative arranging, jazz, classical, or accompanying. Students will be prepared (not pressured) as if going to college for music, regardless of their chosen path. Students will be expected to play four-octave scales (all minors will be mastered at this level) and arpeggios, and have fluency reading in a variety of major and minor keys. Sight-reading training will continue. Blues scales, some modes, and minor pentatonic scales will be mastered for improvisation purposes. Students will be able to creatively interpret a lead sheet and hear the difference between major, minor, diminished, dominant 7th, minor 7th, and major 7th chords, as well as major and minor scales.