Method Philosophy and Review

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Introduction and Philosophy

Music Moves for Piano applies Edwin E. Gordon's Music Learning Theory (also known as theories of audiation) to piano instruction. Music Moves for Piano builds on the revolutionary thinking of music educators Orff, Dalcroze, Suzuki, Kodaly, and Taubman. From the beginning of lessons, students learn how to audiate while they develop keyboard performing skills.


Extensive research about how the brain perceives and learns music provides answers to the following questions and many more:

  • Why can students play difficult repertoire and not be able to play "Happy Birthday" without music?
  • Why can some students play cadences fluently, yet be unable to improvise on tonic and dominant chords?
  • Why can many adults, after years of study, only play a few pieces that they learned in high school?
  • Why are so many adults unable to read unfamiliar music or accompany singers and instrumentalists?
  • Why do creating and improvising seem impossible to many adults who can read music?

The answer: These students/adults have not learned how to ‘audiate’ music. Audiation is essential for developing musicianship. What is audiation? Audiation is to music what thought is to language and visualization is to what we see.

How do students learn to audiate? The process is the same as learning language. From birth, we listen before we speak. Then we begin to think, speak, and acquire a vocabulary. After a large listening, speaking, and thinking vocabulary is acquired and learning has been applied through conversation, we learn to read and write. Aural learning precedes reading and writing.

Just as a language vocabulary provides the basis for understanding and communicating ideas and thoughts, a rhythm and tonal pattern vocabulary is the foundation for learning, performing, improvising, reading, writing, and understanding music. The music learning sequence is 1) Listen 2) Sing, chant, and move 3) Improvise and audiate 4) Read 5) Write. 

Music is multi-dimensional, but research indicates that students best learn to understand music by their ability to audiate tonal content within the context of a tonality and rhythm content within the context of a meter.

Music Pattern Vocabulary

A large music pattern vocabulary is the foundation for becoming a musical thinker and performer who audiates, or hears music with understanding. Gordon provides 'learning sequences,' that are categorized and functional, to help students acquire a vocabulary of tonal and rhythm patterns.  

Functional rhythm and tonal patterns are the 'content' of music. Patterns are learned in the 'context' of a meter or a tonality. Patterns have meaning, or function, and are organized in categories that are learned in a certain order, or sequence. Movement and singing are important in the music and pattern learning process. Rhythm is based on body movement, and singing develops tonal audiation.

The rhythm pattern vocabulary separates different kinds of rhythm patterns of four macrobeats into these categories: 1) Macro/microbeat 2) Division 3) Division/elongation and Elongations 4) Rest 5) Tie 6) Upbeat. Rhythm patterns are chanted without pitch, in the context of a meter: duple, triple, or something else (5s or 7s, for example). Rhythm patterns are most commonly two or four durations.

Tonal patterns are in the context of a tonality, major, minor, dorian, for example, and have a harmonic function:
1) Tonic 2) Dominant 3) Subdominant, and so forth. Tonal patterns are harmonic and are sung without rhythm in the context of a tonality.Tonal patterns are usually two or three pitches, and sometimes four pitches.

Patterns within the context of a meter or tonality make musical sense. Music notes have meaning only when they are part of a pattern that is in a context. Naming individual notes, intervals, and chords or naming lines and spaces and counting are ways of learning about music that do not relate to a tonal or rhythm context. This type of learning process is intellectual decoding and cannot be understood aurally. For example, play an A Major cadence, then play a tonic A perfect-5th. Next, play a D Major cadence, then play a dominant A perfect-5th. The sound of an A tonic perfect-5th is not the same as the sound of a dominant perfect 5th. Context makes a difference.

Through sequenced pattern instruction, piano students learn two instruments: a performing instrument and an audiation instrument. The ear and the mind must learn to audiate before the eyes can read music notation with comprehension. If this does not happen, there can be mental confusion when performing, listening to, or reading music.

About the Music Moves for Piano Series: Student Books

Music Moves for Piano was created to achieve the goal of music literacy through the development of audiation skills and performing skills. Now, in the 21st century, tools are available to teach piano as an aural/oral art.

This piano series includes seven instruction books: Keyboard Games Books A and B and Student Books 1-5, along with a Pattern CD and supplementary materials.

Keyboard Games Books A and B can be used with beginning students of any age, but are especially appropriate for early childhood transitions children who are four- and five-years old. Keyboard Games B is an excellent companion to Student Book 1 for students of any age.

The game-like pieces in Keyboard Games and the first ten units of Student Book 1 are purposefully short, in contrasting character, and in both duple and triple meters. Students become acquainted with the full range of the keyboard and play on black and white piano keys. The pieces progress slowly with small 'hurdles' to develop the student's keyboard and playing skills.

Students learn proper alignment of the playing mechanism. Many pieces are played with one finger - the middle finger, because it provides arm/hand/finger balance. The arm moves behind the finger and the motion of the arm/hand/finger unit is straight. Students are encouraged to be aware of how they produce sound.

Many pieces have duet parts to encourage ensemble playing. If a piece does not have a duet part, the student or teacher are may create one. This duet part may be movement on one piano key using macrobeats or microbeats. Several folk song duets are arranged so students can play an accompaniment while the teacher plays the folk song.

Improvisation activities are an integral part of Keyboard Games Books A and B. Guidelines are essential for improvisation, but students make choices. Students learn to choose register, dynamics, meter, and rhythm pattern for their original improvisations. Students also write stories and draw pictures for which they create short, descriptive piano pieces.

Student Books 1-5 first introduce game-like pieces where students learn rhythm/meter concepts, ensemble playing, keyboard skills, improvisation techniques, and keyboard awareness. After the first introductory pieces, most of the performance pieces in Music Moves for Piano are from our rich folk song heritage.

Songs and accompaniments are in different tonalities and meters. Note: Tonality is used to reference Major and Harmonic Minor as well as Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Lydian, Locrian, and Aeolian tonalities. The term 'mode' is a common term for these 'other' tonalities. Students learn to play and improvise in eight tonalities throughout this series.

Folk Songs. Folk songs are sequenced to develop finger movement skills. Students learn proper alignment and arm balance. The folk songs increase in difficulty, from simple three-note melodies to easy five-finger melodies, more difficult five-finger melodies, and, finally, to melodies that have extensions and cross-overs. Folk song melodies are played with each hand alone, so left hand technic is also developed.

Folk songs are first learned as 'Songs to Sing.' Students experience and sing the folk songs during lesson-time activities and by listening at home to a CD/Podcast that accompanies each book. While the teacher sings the songs, students move to the songs using a variety of Laban effort movements. Next, students chant rhythm patterns and sing tonal patterns from the song. Context is always stressed. The folk songs become common repertoire used throughout the series to develop improvisation skills including transposition, harmonization, changing tonality and meter, making melodic and rhythmic variations, and creating arrangements and medleys.

Technique and Keyboard Geography. Students become comfortable with both black and white piano keys and the whole range of the keyboard from the beginning.

Performance pieces begin with one finger (the middle finger for hand/arm balance), then gradually progress to five-fingers, crossings, and extensions. Careful attention is given to developing the arm/hand/finger movements so that the body is free from muscular tension and the fingers develop fluid movement behind arm/hand balance. Students learn to avoid gripping, twisting, curling, stretching, keybedding, and reaching.

Scales, cadences, and arpeggios are learned in major and relative minor at the same time. In the beginning, keeping in mind the principle of 'learning one new thing at a time,' G Major is introducd, then F Major is introduced. After these two cadences are introduced in Student Book 1, C Major/A Minor are introduced, including the C Major scale.. Gradually, all of the major and minor keyalities plus the cadences for Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian tonalities are sequenced in the Music Moves for Piano method books.

Organization of Student Books

Books 1-5 are organized into units. Each unit page includes:

  • Lesson Time Objectives. This overview of the lesson communicates to parents and students what was covered at the lesson and lists home practice and listening assignments. Students learn to read this column and understand, by writing and defining all new words in their journals. There are many new words, but once learned these words continue to be used in the series.
  • Song to Sing. Class activities familiarize students with the 'songs to sing' through movement, chanting rhythm patterns, and singing tonal patterns from the song. The 'song to sing' will be a performance piece later. Students learn that if they can sing it they can play it.
  • Improvisation Projects. Most unit pages include short improvisation or creative projects
  • Performance Piece(s) and/or Scales, Cadences, Arpgeggios. Assignments are in the 'Lesson Time Objectives' column.

Student Page Design. The student book pages are designed in a workbook format.

  • Information Box. In the 'Information Box,' the meter, tonality, keyality, and starting tones are given for each performance piece.
  • Rote Notation. The unique 'rote notation' provides pictures of hands and keyboards that give hand/finger and keyboard placement information about the pieces. Students learn to use the 'right' fingers on the 'right' piano keys and learn that fingering is important.
  • Tonal Syllables. Tonal syllables are printed to reinforce hearing tonal patterns within the context of a resting tone (such as Major and Minor) and a tonic (such as G, C, or F). The syllable system is 'Moveable DO with a LA-based Minor,' since this is the only syllable system that fosters audiation.
  • Music Notation. Music notation for performance pieces is included for the teacher/parent's reference. As students progress, they can compare phrases and look for same/different.
  • Check List. The 'Check List' provides a place for the teacher to mark and date what was studied at the lesson and for students to mark what was practiced at home.
  • Scales, Cadences, and Arpeggios. Scale, cadence, and arpeggio pages use keyboards and tonal syllables to reinforce the kinesthetic feel of the keyboard as well as audiation of the tonality and patterns.

Class Activities. A summary of lesson activities from the Teacher’s Lesson Plans is included in the 'Lesson Time Objectives' column on each unit page of the lesson plans and in the student books. Activities are sequenced, organized activities and games that help students learn how to audiate. The activities provide readiness, repetition, reinforcement, and review. The stockpile of activities in the Teacher’s Lesson Plans include ideas and games for teaching rhythm and tonal patterns, songs to sing, movement styles, keyboard technique, improvisation, rote piano solos, and performance pieces from the student books.

Improvisation. Improvisation is the cornerstone of this method. Improvisation is fundamental for learning how to audiate and for becoming a fluent performer and reader. Improvisation also enables students to improvise a successful substitute when needed during a memorized performance.

Most units have improvisation projects that the students complete at the lesson, then review at home. For example, students are asked to improvise using rhythm patterns, then they progress to using tonal patterns and chord progressions. Improvisations are in phrases and always are based on a rhythm pattern in the context of a meter. During the lesson time, students engage in other kinds of improvisation activities using their voices or the keyboard.

Improvisation activities use the folk song repertoire to transpose, change tonality, change meter, harmonize, create melodic and rhythmic variations, create medleys and arrangements, and to create accompaniments.

Performance Pieces. Performance pieces are mindfully learned by rote and through the application of audiation skills. Application of context and patterns is essential to rote learning with meaning. The philosophy is that students learn best by playing many short, contrasting pieces. When beginning students are not expected to look at music notation, they can observe their hands and feel and think about how they physically play the piano. Concentration on listening while thinking about the music and how to play helps to prevent muscular tension that can develop from looking at music notation before natural playing skills are developed. 

Accompanying CDs/Podcasts. CDs/Podcasts, available on this website, accompany Student Books 1-5 and are organized by units that correspond to the student books. These CDs/Podcasts include songs to sing, performance pieces, and patterns (tonal, rhythm, and melodic) from each of the performance pieces. Students are asked to echo the patterns using the voice. Each unit begins with a "Song to Sing" that will become a performance piece later.

CDs/Podcasts are also available on this website for Keyboard Games Books A and B, Christmas Music, Music Moves for Two, and Boogies and Blues.

Rhythm and Tonal Patterns

The separate Pattern CD includes sequenced rhythm and tonal patterns for the whole series. These patterns are the backbone of Music Moves for Piano and are fundamental for audiation. The patterns become each student's personal music vocabulary, upon which they continue to build. All patterns are printed in the book, Rhythm and Tonal Patterns from the Pattern CD.

About the Music Moves for Piano Series: Teachers Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan Books. Six Teachers Lesson Plans books are part of the series. These are for Keyboard Games A and B and for Student Books 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Unit Lesson Plans Organization. The purpose of the unit lesson plans is to provide sequenced instruction. Readiness, repetition, review, and reinforcement are built into the plans. Included are many activities to teach movement, improvisation, rhythm and tonal and patterns, ensemble and solo performance skills, and keyboard and technical skills.

Contrasts. Because contrasts are important for learning, 'same/different' activities are included in every lesson plan. For example: Duple meter is contrasted with triple meter, major tonality is contrasted with minor tonality, and separated and connected styles of playing are contrasted.

Activities. Lesson plans include activities using folk songs that students will learn to play. Essential rhythm and tonal patterns from the folk songs are printed in the lesson plans so teachers can help students learn the songs while experiencing the audiation process. Singing develops tonal audiation. Body movement develops rhythm audiation. Students realize that if they know essential tonal and rhythm patterns for a song they will sing it accurately, and 'if they can sing it they can play it.'

Supplementary Books

Supplementary books provide additional pieces for improvisation, ensemble playing, and performance. Students at all levels benefit from a large variety of improvisational experiences. Tonal patterns for pieces in the supplementary books are printed. Students begin to build reading skills when they compare music notation with the 'pictures' of hands and keyboards that have tonal syllables on them.

Supplementary Books include:     
          Boogies and Blues
          Christmas Music
          Music Moves for Two
          Little Gems for Piano

Essential to the audiation learning process are the following materials
          Keyalities and Tonalities: The Complete Book of Arpeggios, Cadences and Scales
          Rhythm and Tonal Patterns from the Pattern CD
          Pattern CD
          Reading and Writing Music Notation, Books 1, 2, and 3
          The Well-Tempered Reader, Red, Green and Blue Books

Additional rote solos. As students progress with their pattern instruction and improvisation activities, they benefit from a variety of piano repertoire. Additional solos may be selected by the teacher from the large body of piano solos in print. When a solo is matched to a student's special needs or difficulty level, learning is enriched.


Online Resources




Learning Opportunities

Video Podcasts

Tim Topham Interview

About MLT-Piano-based instruction. Click here to view.


Music Moves for Piano and Edwin E. Gordon's Music Learning Theory. Click here to view.

Musical U Team

Mind Before Fingers, with Marilyn White Lowe. Click here to view.

MMTA Exclusive

Music Moves for Piano: An Audiation-Based Piano Method Click here to view.

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