Yearly planning for the Late Elementary and Intermediate student

Once the school year starts, I don't have much time for lesson planning. Yes, after teaching for about 15 years the planning does get easier, but it doesn't necessarily take less time. I just know what works better or worse because of trial and error. Lots of error. So, I have worked on developing a system that works for me in which I do a year's worth of planning for a student so I avoid that feeling of dread going into a lesson knowing that I will need to make up my lesson plans as I go.
First off, what do I mean by late elementary and intermediate student? You can't necessarily measure this by years of study because every student will have a different rate of learning. I like to think this is the student who I am weaning off the method books and beginning to use repertoire which I can separate into the different style periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century, Contemporary). Sometimes I start doing this at later level 2 of the method or into level 3 of the method. Please note, I go through method books fairly slowly because I supplement the method books a LOT. (Watch for future post on Supplementing the Method.) What I am looking for in a student is an understanding of note reading (absolute fluency not required), more comfortable technique at the instrument, knowledge of major and minor scales (a skill I begin really early, watch for a post on learning scales) and a readiness to work through a LOT or repertoire. Hopefully as you continue reading my posts this will become clearer to you. Kinda like how in the first few days of pedagogy classes all those definitions don't really mean much until you actually start to work with the students and see how everything works.
So, moving on. The student I am planning for might be doing some work in the method books still, but is ready to start thinking about music in the style periods. First off, when I am discussing music in the style periods, I don't always just look at the date the piece was composed. There are some incredible composers who compose in the style of Bach for the pedagogical purpose of preparing students to eventually play the Bach Inventions (post coming up about that in a couple weeks!). As I plan, I consider those pieces to be in the style of Baroque, not Contemporary style simply because the composer is still alive. Same way with some composers whose dates line up with the Romantic time period but composed pieces in a Classical style. This means that as teachers we need to be hyper sensitive and aware of what the attributes of each style period might be. We should be making sure our students learn how to play pieces from each style period and preparing them to be successful in future encounters. Ideally, the pieces we use as a student continues their study should prepare them for the advanced repertoire. For example, my goal is that a student will eventually play a Bach Prelude and Fugue. That might be five (or more) years in the future. So, I will choose pieces over the next five years to make sure that when I introduce that Prelude and Fugue to the student, the student has encountered enough pieces preparing him/her so analyzing, practicing and performing in the Baroque style is second nature. Yes, this style should already in their "toolbox" before they actually play a Prelude and Fugue because of my thoughtful repertoire plans.
A short little lecture on my soapbox. In order for a student to successfully be prepared to play advanced repertoire, the student needs to encounter MANY styles and composers as an intermediate student. I would rather have a student playing a LOT of music at a slightly easier difficulty level, but learning style attributes than a student learning one or two really difficult pieces. Our goal should be to create musicians for a lifetime. We are teaching them HOW to learn a piece and style, not just one piece of music. (Who was is that said "teach the music in the piece, not the piece of music"?)
Hopefully this gives you my thought process and philosophizing (is that a word?) on how I do my planning. Here is how I actually do it.
Step 1. Pull out my source for help and choose repertoire. My teaching bible is Jane Magrath's Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature. The levels 1-10 are similar to the levels used by the Music Development Program and the publications by ABRSM, but the book is much more extensive in the repertoire included. My book is getting a bit tattered and well marked up. I make markings in the book of which pieces I have discovered are out of print, which are only available from print on demand sources, which are in my library, which ones are in an academic library I use, etc.
For each of my students I have a planning outline of the pieces I want to do over the year. Here is what I want for each student (remember, in the style of, not necessarily an actually composed in the time period):
Baroque pieces
Counterpoint, Dance, French, Miscellaneous
Classical pieces
Sonatina, Theme and variation, Miscellaneous
Romantic/20th Century (I join together because the style starts to get more complicated and not necessarily as different as Baroque and Classical.)
American, French or French prep, Germanic, Ethnic or non-western, 20th Century idioms, Chopin or Chopin prep, Russian, Jazz/pop
Here is a link to what my planning sheet looks like Sample Planning Outline
I try to have a few pieces which are on the easier side for the student (2-3 weeks to learn), some pieces which are more difficult (maybe 8 weeks to learn). I choose one piece for each of the categories on my list (one or two might be left open because I think we won't be able to get to anymore repertoire). When I first began doing this, I would make sure to write down the level of each of the pieces so I could keep track if a piece ended up being too difficult. This helped give me a better idea of how to work through difficulty levels of pieces. (Again, please follow the blog so you will get updates when I do more detailed discussions on each of these styles and types of pieces with my findings of pieces in each of the categories. Some of the categories are more difficult to find at late elementary and early intermediate level - like French prep or counterpoint. I can't wait to share my discoveries!)
Here is an example of an outline I have finished for a student Finished outline
Step 2. Once I have the pieces chosen, I try to buy the music for the entire year. Yes, this is a financial commitment for me. But I have found that once the school year starts I can't keep up with music orders and I end up wasting weeks waiting for music to arrive. Local music stores rarely have what I want in stock. Planning ahead lets me have time to search for harder to find pieces. Ordering at one or two times also means that I usually get free shipping. I once tried having students go get the music and we would wait a few weeks for them to get around to getting the music or they would end up with the wrong piece of music or an edition which I didn't like. This way, I have what I need when I need it.
This year, I have started using imslp.org more for scores. Much of the music we use is in public domain, so I can use my Office Max discount card from MTNA and print out music for literally pennies. And even have all the pieces I picked bound together. I do always make sure that I have a purchased score in my library so that if we need to use the piece for a competition or an event we will have a purchased score for a judge's copy. Please do not make copies from books, the composers and editors have put many hours into their work and they deserve the small amount of money they get from their music sales. Let's be good examples of music colleagues for our students.
Step 3. Make a youtube playlist for each student. I try to find at least three recordings of each pieces we are working on. It doesn't always happen, sometimes I can't find any. But, then I know that maybe I need to make a recording myself for the student to use. Having the playlist ready to go helps me have the recordings ready to use in the lessons. I am really trying to make sure I teach students how to use recordings in their practicing. That means I can't just assign or tell them to use the recordings, I need to actually show them how to do it. So, in the lesson we tap out rhythms with the recording, we sing with the recording, we conduct with the recording, we compare different performers. Everything that I expect of myself when practicing, I need to actually SHOW the students how to do it.
Over the past couple years, this type of yearly planning has helped me feel MUCH better about how I am teaching. I feel much better about how I am making sure that the pieces are preparing students for the future as well as helping them be prepared for the year's performances.
Couple notes for teaching:
1. This list is not necessarily to be taught in the order on the list. It simply gives me the material I will use for the year.
2. Many times I don't get through the whole list for the year. If this happens, I keep track of what style we might not have encountered over the year and we make sure we get to it in the next year.
3. Many times I will need to modify my plans (what teacher doesn't) if I discover that we are struggling with a concept or technical challenge or have to learn something for a specific event.
I try to do all this planning over the summer so I have everything ready to go when school starts. Often step 1 is done and I have to finish steps 2 and 3 as the semester begins. At least those are the easier steps.
Over the course of the next few months, I plan to share some of my repertoire lists of teaching pieces. Sitting on the piano is a big stack of pieces I use to help prepare students for the Bach Inventions which I can't wait to put into writing!!!


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