The following was first posted on August 16, 2015.


During the months (years!) that Dennis Alexander and I were working on Repertoire by Rote, we frequently asked colleagues to try out pieces and give us feedback. The most common response we received was: “I have never taught by rote. Tell me how to teach these pieces.” For better or for worse, this book does just that. There is not a single step skipped or glossed over. All I can say is: Friends, you asked for it, you got it.

It was an interesting task, writing teaching steps for rote pieces. I have been teaching by rote as a part of my pedagogical approach for so long it took some time to figure out this process I do almost every day without much thought at all.

In the end, I decided rote teaching came down to three basic steps:

1. Play, ask questions, sing.

2. Break the music down into small teachable units.

3. Repeat with variations.

It seems quite simple, but perhaps therein lies the problem. It’s all about the variations, really, and how gracefully one dances between steps one and two and three and back to one and then again to three and so on. The truth is while those steps are pedagogically solid, they are only the faintest blueprint of what good teaching really looks like. Committing any teaching method to paper robs it of creativity and breath. Immediately, it is at the risk of becoming stale and rigid. And above all, pedantic, which is, honestly, my greatest fear.

Because while the teaching steps in Repertoire by Rote are intended to answer the request, Tell us how to teach these pieces, one should not lose sight of the bigger, more important principle at hand: This book is just an introduction to the idea of rote teaching. The steps are only a guideline from which to work and explore. Rote teaching, by its very nature, should be improvisational and creative and the steps should evolve not only with the piece of music at hand, but also with an eye to the student on the piano bench.

Nothing would make me happier than to have copycats galore, hundreds of teachers and composers getting on the rote bandwagon and making their own mark on the concept, writing their own rote pieces, and composing their own teaching steps. The seven pieces (with their oh-so-thorough steps) in Repertoire by Rote are just a beginning.