Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Right Notes from Alberti Publishing

Every Friday, we take a break from our regular school schedule and spend the whole day on music and art. My favorite day, of course. Yesterday, we studied the staff (it has five lines and four spaces), and we colored a music alphabet soup. While coloring, we listened to classical music.

When the Turkish March began to play, James looked up from his coloring project. "This is by Mozart," he said.

"That's right."

Jonathan chimed in, quoting his favorite joke from the Baby Einstein video series, "Hey, James, why did Mozart get rid of all his chickens?"

James replied in a bored, I've-heard-this-before-and-I'm-way-too-old-for-it voice, "Because they kept going 'Bach, Bach, Bach'."

But after a pause, James asked me, "Hey, Mom, did Mozart really not like Bach? Were they rivals?"

Cursing again my lackadaisical approach to music history in college, I replied, "Uhhhh... no. I don't think they were rivals." Stretching into the rusty corners of my mind to recall the dates of the two composers, I mumbled uncertainly, "I don't think they were alive at the same time, but I'm not sure..."

We moved on to dynamics. p is for piano, f is for forte. I explained they were Italian words meaning soft and loud. The harpsichord always played at the same volume, so when the piano came along, they called it a pianoforte, or soft-loud, because the dynamics could be changed. The boys wanted to know why the harpsichord only had one dynamic level, but I had no idea, and I said we'd have to look it up online.

Sighing, I proceeded to James's piano lesson. I opened his piano assignment book, The Right Notes from Alberti Publishing, which had been sent to me last summer so I could try it out and see if it helped with my teaching at all. The first thing my eyes fell upon was a very concise chart of the four most recent music periods: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern. Aha! The answer to James's question! With excitement, I showed him, "Look, James. Here's a chart that shows when the major composers made music. As you can see, Mozart was in the Classical period, but Bach was in the Baroque period. So they were not rivals. Now we know for sure."

James studied the chart closely, commenting on the Romantic and Modern periods as well. Then we flipped back to the beginning of the book to look at his assigned music, and what did we find? Facts about the harpsichord! And the answer to our question again. The harpsichord strings are plucked, using a plectrum, so that's why the dynamic level is constant.

Suddenly, I was extremely thankful for The Right Notes. Music history at my fingertips, filling in the gaps. Whew! I am a classically trained pianist, but my childhood teacher focused solely on technique. I wanted my sons to have a more well-rounded music education. Not just technique, but theory and history, too. I've been teaching them theory right along, and focusing on technique comes naturally to me, but now, thanks to The Right Notes Piano Assignment Book, they'll get a healthy dose of music history too. The complete package.

If you teach piano, take piano, or send your kids to piano lessons, head over to the Alberti Publishing website at, and check out The Right Notes Piano Assignment Book. It's a great addition to your piano curriculum.