The Music and the Brain curriculum is designed for beginners and is based on 156 songs across three piano books. Book One and Book Two are arranged in sequential order, and Book Three is more advanced and arranged alphabetically. The repertoire includes classical, world and folk music, children’s songs and a few original pieces written to teach specific concepts.
Each Music and the Brain lesson focuses on a particular song from the piano book. The lessons usually begin away from the keyboards. Activities include singing, clapping rhythms, movement, listening and music games. Students analyze the piece of the day by studying the musical notation on a poster enlargement. Finally, students are sent to their keyboards to practice playing the piece. Having internalized the song in many different ways, students are better able to interpret the music and also to self-correct as they play.
The ultimate goal of each lesson is for students to be comfortable with musical concepts, and to reinforce strong listening skills. Perfection at the keyboard is NOT the focus of the curriculum. Piano skills naturally improve over the course of the entire school year. (Most of Book One stays in middle C position, with left and right hand playing bass and treble clef melodies alternately, and progresses to two handed playing.)
Students in the Music and the Brain program are ideally given two 30-45 minute classes a week. We require this for Kindergarten classes universally in schools who receive the program as a grant. Download Grant Application (PDF) The school’s music teacher leads the lesson and is occasionally supported by a Music and the Brain teaching intern. Class sizes are determined by the school but typically consist of 15-30 children. The music room is equipped with as many keyboards as can fit in the room with the goal of each student having their own keyboard and headphones.
Four elements are involved in every MATB class:
1) Music Concepts and Ear Training
1. Musical concepts -- including rhythm, pitch, form, tempo, dynamics, notation, harmony, counterpoint, timbre -- are incorporated throughout the course of study. The ear training involves singing and rhythmic training and is directly related to the pieces being taught. For example, when students are introduced to a new song, they will clap the rhythms and sing the melody before playing the piece. Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze methods are used to reinforce ear training, concepts and pattern recognition.
2. Children play a series of warm-ups to strengthen dexterity, to prepare for playing a piece of music, and to reinforce ear training.
3. Usually up to half of the class time is spent learning, practicing and playing the keyboard. A new song, written out in musical notation, is introduced, or a previous lesson continued. Throughout the year many pieces are introduced, including classical, folk songs from around the world and children's songs. When the song of the day is from the “real world” there are numerous recordings of the piece provided for comparative listening and often, dancing. As the children practice the piece at the keyboard with headphones, the teacher(s) work with each of them individually. Sometimes students will work in pairs or larger groups.
4. The final element encourages creativity by allowing children to freely explore the keyboard. Sometimes they are guided into improvising or creating a composition, sometimes they simply "play", and sometimes they choose to work on certain pieces in their repertoire. Students regularly perform for one another and we encourage the inclusion of annual, in classroom keyboard recitals for parents in addition to larger school wide performances.
The ultimate goal is for the students to internalize the music on the rug in preparation for practicing at the keyboard. Perfection is not expected at the keyboards, particularly as many students will not have keyboards at home to practice as they might in a private piano lesson. Music and the Brain keyboard practice time typically does not exceed 15-20 minutes of a lesson.