The human ear is a complex machine. It routinely performs feats beyond the capacity of the most sophisticated computers. This is most apparent when the musician improvises at the piano. The interaction between the ear, the brain, and the hands is almost too complex to comprehend.
Trained or not, the ear is constantly exposed to a vast variety of sounds, thanks to TV, radio, and digital media. Today’s music students are regularly hearing tight harmonies, complex rhythms, and dynamic instrumentations.
This poses a problem for today’s music educator. Can we sustain interest and enthusiasm if we discuss “Tonic, Dominant, Sub-Dominant” as applied to nursery rhymes or 19th century classics? Perhaps not.
Improvisation versus Standard training
Improvising is a term frequently used in discourses on music study today. The message is that the students must be “given wings,” freeing them to chart their own musical directions. When traditional methods of instruction are used, students find themselves enmeshed in a labyrinth of ”Do’s,” Don’t’s,” and “No-No’s” as they plow through the dead sea of standard procedure.
Improvisation is now as vital as any other aspect of musical study. When, where, and how does such training begin? What are the ground rules?
Training should begin with the student’s first introduction to the keyboard. To insure success, we must radically overhaul the sequential presentation of harmony and theory. The highest priority must be given to maintaining student enthusiasm and early sense of accomplishment. This is the objective of the Rhodes method.
What makes the Rhodes method different from other ways of teaching piano?
In this method, performance is simplified, melody is single line. Chords are building blocks in support of melody. We will study the interplay of the individual voices in these chords as they progress. The student will learn first songs as though s/he were with the composer and together, they were building the melody and chord structures.
The Results are Exciting
The student is encouraged to experiment. As each new tool is added, it is on the basis that it pleases the ear. This is more exciting and rewarding than the traditional approach, whereby the student is taught to become a machine which, in competition with the player-piano, transforms the notes and hieroglyphics on sheet music into a reproduction of a composer’s intent.