Would you like to try and drive to an unknown destination without access to a map? I don't think I would. It would be frustrating to not know where I was or how close I was to the destination. When my kids ask 'how much longer?' I wouldn't be able to tell them! :)
At Entrada Piano Academy, it is important for us to provide a clear roadmap for students so they know where they are on their journey, where they are headed, how long it will take to get there, as well as be able to see and be proud of the ground they have covered. The roadmap we provide is the Required Elements sheet. This sheet tells the student, teacher, and parent exactly what the student has accomplished on their particular level (as items are marked off), and what items are left to complete. The sheet is found on the first page of the student's binder, and is updated at the lesson as students pass off the items on the sheet.
Each level (Habits, Players 1-6, Givers 7-10) has its own Required Elements sheet with approximately 100 requirements to pass off within three categories: Muscular, Practical, and Musical. As students show competency with these items, they are marked off. Some items have to be 'Peery Certified', which means that a video will be taken of the student playing the item, and the video will be submitted for review from a Peery Master. The Peery Master replies with feedback and a mark of either 'Peery Certified' or 'Resubmit', in which case the student will need to submit another video until they reach the mark of 'Peery Certified' in that item.
Students can expect to complete all items in a level in about 1 year, but depending on how much effort the student puts in practicing at home, it could be done faster, or may take longer. I encourage students to try and pass 4 items each week at their lesson to stay on track - generally 1 Muscular item; 2 Practical items; and 1 Musical item. All of these requirements build upon one another, leading to a deep understanding and internalization of the material, and skills that will be carried with the individual throughout their life. Our goal here at Entrada is musical fluency - not just merely copying - so that a student can truly express themselves through music. After Habits, students have mastered the foundational tools they will need to continue their journey - they will be able to read notes and intervals; play with firm, strong, independent fingers; play some beautiful pieces, and have an understanding of rhythm and sound and the connection their body has to the instrument. By the time a student reaches Level 10, they are playing music that is suitable for a college admission audition. They will also have enough theory and ear training knowledge to fly through the high school AP Music Theory class and test. In addition, they will have accompaniment and sight reading skills, composition and arranging skills, improvisation and fakebook skills, as well as refined technical and musical skills.
Let's talk about each Required Element, and the expectations in order to pass them off. Habits and Players/Givers requirements are a bit different so we'll look at them separately.
- Muscle Builders and Power Fingers; Scales: Students must execute each of these technical exercises with all proper form, which is trained extensively during lessons. The form is crucial, and I circle on the student's practice chart each week what element of the form to focus on, and come back with mastered by the next week. Over time, proper form becomes such a habit that I don't even have to mention corrections anymore - the student automatically plays and executes amazingly! At the end of certain checkpoints, students must Peery Certify muscular items in order to move forward.
- Sight reading: Habits students begin in the Primer books. (Transfer students begin wherever they left off). Students are expected to pass off approximately 2 pages from each sight reading book each week. Passing off means that the student keeps their eyes on the page, can play the music with all rhythm and notes accurately.
- Theory: This is a workbook that corresponds to the student's sight reading books. Students should complete approximately 2 pages per week, and they must get 100% accuracy.
- Note Rush: This is a game on an app that helps students learn to read notes and locate them on the keyboard. There are five levels in Note Rush, and to pass a level, the student must be able to play the note while saying the letter name within a set amount of time that earns them '3 stars' on the game.
- Rhythm Charts: Pass each chart by clapping the rhythm and counting out loud, along with a metronome speed of 92. Charts get progressively more difficult.
- Interval Charts: Pass each chart by saying, or saying AND playing the correct interval on the sheet in the allotted time.
- Ear Training: Students have 5 songs in Habits that they must be able to figure out by ear on the piano, and play back. This is a fun one. To pass they simply have to play the song for the teacher by ear.
- In Habits, students learn 6 musical pieces. We use these pieces to learn five foundational wrist techniques/expression of piano playing. The first five songs isolate one technique each, and the last song combines wrist elements, preparing students to play the more difficult repertoire in Players 1. Students also learn the first of our learning processes we use to master a piece. This process is called FERN and details can be found in the Musical Reference section in student's binders. To pass musical pieces, all aspects of FERN must be accurately executed together: Finger numbers and curved fingers, wrist expression, rhythm, and notes. Each Habits piece also must Peery Certify, showing the student's understanding and ability to apply these foundational techniques.
- Hanon: These are finger exercises that utilize the Power Finger and Muscle Builder techniques mastered in Habits. They get progressively faster each time a student passes one off. To pass Power Fingers, students must execute the entire Hanon up and down without any note errors, and with all proper technique. To pass Muscle Builders, students need to show competency in their technique. Depending on which Players level the student is in, they have 1-3 weeks to pass each Hanon exercise. One Hanon per level must be Peery Certified.
- Peery Technic Cycle: These are student's scales, chords, cadences, and arpeggios. Students are assigned one key per week, and ideally will pass off one key per week. Speeds get progressively faster, and the exercises also progress in difficulty. To pass, all notes and fingering must be accurate, with the metronome, using all proper scale and finger technique. One Cycle per level must Peery Certify.
- Sight Reading: Players continue to improve their sight reading skills by passing off songs from progressively harder books. To pass, eyes must be on the page, and notes and rhythm must be accurate. Details on phrasing or expression are added in as the student is ready.
- Theory: Workbook corresponding to the sight reading books. Students should aim to complete 2 pages a week. To pass it needs to be 100% accurate, so pencil is encouraged! Of course they are allowed to erase and re-do as needed.
- Ear Training: Students choose 5 songs on each level to learn by ear. Each level gets progressively more difficult. To pass, the student must play the song with a steady rhythm and accurate sound. (On some levels it is required for the student to sing or say the scale degrees as they do this.)
- Rhythm Charts: Students continue on with the rhythm charts at progressively faster speeds. To pass, students must clap and count out loud the rhythm on the required charts. In Players 4, the charts are retired and replaced with 4-part Hymn sight reading.
- Improv: We use a book with patterns to help students learn how to create their own improvisational music. 5 songs are required per level. To pass an improv song, the student must play their improvisation for at least 1 minute without stopping the 'flow' of the song.
- Fakebook: Students learn to read and play from lead sheets (which use chord symbols instead of notes on a music staff). This is very useful and helps students understand music-making on a deeper level. 5 Fakebook songs are required per level. To pass, students must sing the melody of the song they are playing (yes we sing here! I will sing along with them if they are timid about it). While they sing the melody, the hands play the chords/harmony/accompaniment to the song. The song must be memorized, contain no harmonic errors, and the rhythm must be steady.
- Composition: Students are required to create a composition of their own for each level. Each level has a slightly different requirement, which, when it is reached, the student passes this requirement.
- In Players, students choose 3-4 pieces (depending on which level) to learn from the RCM Celebration Series books. Students use four processes to learn these pieces: FERN, Perfect Speed, Speed Work, and Full Chart. Each process along the way is checked and passed before moving on. One piece per level must Peery Certify, which means that the student will be video recorded playing their piece, and all fingering, notes, rhythm, and wrist expression must be executed accurately.
And that is the basic overview of how we track progress here at Entrada Piano Academy!