Last summer,I attended a ½-day workshop on a new method called Piano Safari which was created by Dr. Julie Knerr and Katherine Fisher.  I never expected that I’d completely rethink and reconstruct everything I was doing after it was over.  I did, and it’s getting results!

Piano Safari is a curriculum for Level 1 and 2 piano students that equally emphasizes rote playing along with reading, and covers all of the other musicianship basics in one book (rhythm, improvisation, transposition, challenge pieces, and pedal, etc.).  The pieces are diverse in style and scope, and require students to use the entire keyboard.

  • My favorite of its many strengths is that the method associates basic physical motions for pianists and common rhythms with different safari animals (e.g., lion paw drops for arm weight, soaring bird for 3 note phrases, saying “kangaroo” for 2 repeated eighth notes and a quarter note, etc.).  Elementary students relate well to the imagery of these animals,  so practice time has an element of “let’s pretend” rather than simply “go do your practice.”
  • Although playing rote pieces is emphasized, intervallic reading also begins in the first unit.  My students who were struggling with reading using other methods have begun to flourish with these books because the materials are so clearly presented.  Students learn a majority of the pieces on their own (a.k.a. Reading Pieces) while working with the teacher to prepare rote and challenge pieces that showcase their playing skill.  Reading pieces are deliberately not included on the CD so that students can’t “cheat” and play them by ear.
  • Kids LOVE the songs!  I love the songs!  There is a nice variety of styles, the titles are great, and the harmonies in the accompaniments range from traditional to modern.  One of the first “big” rote pieces they learn is “I Love Coffee, I Love Tea.”  They can’t stop playing it.  They teach their friends how to play it.  They drive their parents crazy because they play it 10 million times at home during the 2-3 weeks it takes them to get through all 6 parts.  They get to play pedal songs in Level 1.  They learn to transpose and improvise in Unit 1.  They work ahead in the books because they want to see what comes next.  It’s amazing!
  • There’s a TERRIFIC Website with (free) teacher manuals for each of the books and the reading/rhythm cards, tips for getting results, and instructional videos for students, parents and teachers.
  • I like that there’s only 1 book and a card pack for the kids to carry around.  Getting little ones to manage their music bag without parents help isn’t easy!
  • The authors specifically address the “hows” of teaching along with the “whats.”  The notes for teachers and the Website materials are as helpful as any college course (they didn’t have piano pedagogy when I was in school; we were supposed to figure out how to teach on our own)!

Even if you’re happy with your current method and materials for beginners, it’s worth a visit to this Website for the teacher essays and ideas – perhaps just to try the rhythm and reading cards as a supplement for other method books.  Katherine Fisher, along with her husband Christopher, will be visiting the Guild at our formal meeting in March. It will be a great opportunity to ask questions about Safari and other methods for those who might be interested.

– Contributed by Tracey Baetzel