Case Study 1

P Plate Piano inspiring young pianists to perform

Piano teacher Brenda Hunting tells how the AMEB’s new P Plate Piano program has reinvigorated her teaching and enthused her young students to engage with music making.

“These pieces are awesome,” says one young boy whose enthusiasm for piano has been reignited by the repertoire in the AMEB’s P Plate Piano program. A few months before, this same student had been very disenchanted with piano lessons and was about to give up. Now he rushes into lessons with Brisbane-based piano teacher Brenda Hunting to beat his sister to the keyboard.

Brenda puts the success of the AMEB’s P Plate Piano program down to the inspiring variety of pieces that don’t take too long to learn and are rewarding for her young students to perform.

P Plate Piano is a series of three books that take a beginner pianist from their first tutor to AMEB preliminary piano level. The music has been selected by respected music educator Elissa Milne, with an emphasis on encouraging performance and creativity. The program introduces a range of musical styles and techniques essential for developing young pianists into musicians.

The option of a non-graded assessment is available on completion of each book to introduce the exam experience to students. Learning is also supported through a dedicated website with a range of teaching resources and stimulating activities for students. A hall of fame showcasing student performances and an online student journal are features of the website.

Brenda Hunting has taught piano for more than 30 years and has between 10 and 20 students undertaking AMEB exams each year. She has three students currently working on P Plate Piano Book 1 and another working through Book 3. She has also had two students complete Book 3 since the program was released in late 2009.

What’s struck Brenda is the enthusiasm with which the students embrace the P Plate Piano pieces. “The children who worked on Book 3 have loved playing the pieces in major and minor keys and at different speeds as well as composing their own works. The repertoire encourages them to engage with the music at a level where they are making their own performance decisions and creativity is a natural part of the music making experience. This certainly doesn’t happen with other tutors and method books that are available for this level.” A ten-year-old student working on Book 1 told Brenda, “I love the pieces because of the unique things we have to do. It gets you thinking and it’s fun.”

Brenda says that the students love the colourful presentation and the stories and background information with each piece help them become involved in the music. The presentation has also been successful in engaging their parents, especially when they’re out of their comfort zone in helping the children learn new pieces.

“Parents seem to be thrilled with the way their kids engage with the program and enjoy participating in the learning process,” Brenda said. “One parent has said how much she loves the variety of music and enjoys helping her children to write out their compositions.”

The twins Brenda has working on Book 1 invented their own duet for Where’s Goldilocks. Brenda recorded the performance and had it posted in the P Plate Piano website where it was placed in the hall of fame. “The boys thought it was very ‘cool’ to see themselves on the internet,” Brenda said. “If you look at the performance, they are obviously having fun and the experience has generated even more enthusiasm for their piano playing.” They also wanted to play the Night Ride duet together. While the second part was quite difficult for the young boys, being intended for the teacher to play, they were so determined to play the piece that, with Brenda’s help, they rose to the challenge. Click here to see the recording.

Brenda has internet access in her studio and is a firm believer in using the technology to keep up with the way her students are learning generally. “The P Plate Piano website is a terrific support to the program and my students have been so excited to know that their performances are there for others to see. I encourage them to look at these and other children’s performances to help reinforce the performance decisions they have made and give them new ideas to explore.”

“Elissa Milne’s teaching information on the website is also a good reference for approaching the pieces with the students,” Brenda added, “and the teachers’ forum is a great idea as it encourages discussion and helps develop teacher support networks across the country.”

Brenda approaches her piano teaching with the philosophy that children need to be exposed to as wide a variety of repertoire as possible. The P Plate Piano books enable her to introduce her beginner students to many styles of music and a range of interesting techniques that have not previously been available for that level.

“The P Plate Piano program has broadened my approach to teaching with a whole new repertoire of pieces that traditionally wouldn’t have been considered appropriate for beginners,” Brenda said. “It has changed my focus on what can be achieved at an early stage and the new approach is really enthusing the students.”

When presented in conjunction with other method books, Brenda believes the program helps provide a broad music education that children enjoy. She says that it takes two to three years before students are ready to sit a preliminary exam so this program of inspiring music helps fill what has previously been a repertoire gap for young pianists.

Brenda also believes the optional P Plate Piano assessments are a good low-stress introduction to the examination experience. She particularly likes the emphasis on putting students at ease in an exam situation and said that the AMEB’s P Plate Piano examiners have related extremely well to her young students

“It’s great that the students can select the pieces from the repertoire that they most enjoy and teachers and parents are welcome to sit in on the exams. Having the choice to host the assessments in the teacher’s studio also helps put everyone at ease,” Brenda said.  “My students have thrived on the whole experience and it has been an added bonus to have their achievements recognised after just a few months of learning the piano. This is also very much valued by their parents,” she said.

“P Plate Piano is a wonderful collection of repertoire to add to our available teaching materials, regardless of whether our students sit exams or not. The program broadens horizons for teachers and students and it would invigorate teaching and learning in any context,” Brenda said.

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