Another newspaper article:
Victoria Times Colonist, Arts Section, Sunday, April 22, 1990
Piano teaching's a long way from rap on knuckles by Sandra McCulloch
Many adults remember their childhood piano lessons with a degree of guilt. If anything was worse than the interminable weekly lessons, it was the daily practice sessions - usually carried out under protest, with a watchful parent hovering nearby.
Thankfully, children today don't have to go through the same ordeal.
Piano lessons have entered a new age, mostly because of pioneers like Allison Marshall. The 49-year-old Metchosin woman is breaking new ground with her unusual teaching methods, and meeting success at every turn.
It's hard to imagine how props like umbrellas, toy engines, and puppets can be useful tools in learning to play piano, but Marshall uses these and other props to do just that. She shudders at stories of wizened teachers rapping their young charges across the knuckles at every wrong note. Marshall says she places less emphasis on right and wrong, and instead teaches children to concentrate on their music and derive pleasure from it.
"Music is interpretative. Why should children be regimented?" she wonders.
"I teach children to focus on what they're doing. Some parents tell me their children are doing better in school because they're learning to focus their attention while learning piano."
Marshall sculpts her teaching methods around theories of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, among others. Her training a few years ago to become a registered nurse sparked her interest in how children come to learn at various levels of development. Thus, her teaching methods are finely tuned to each child's learning ability.
"I prepare them to learn with body movement. For instance, if we're learning Rain, Rain Go Away, we use umbrellas."
The props help children to connect the lyrics with the music, she says. Other props she uses are balls, engines, even ice cream. Sticks of different lengths symbolize notes of different lengths.
Learning piano seems easy when you listen to Marshall. She's removed a few extra hurdles of traditional music lessons. For instance she rejects the idea that piano keys must be tagged with letters of the alphabet. This makes it difficult for five-year-olds who don't know their ABCs well enough yet to learn music. There is no "middle C" in Allison Marshall's book - notes are notes and that's all there is to it.
Why does she go to so much effort? Mostly, she says, because she remembers what it was like for her to learn music the old way. While the traditional methods worked for some, Marshall says they didn't work for her.
"If you can develop a good attitude about learning music, it carries over to other things."
Variety in the types of music offered as well as in the teaching methods help restless children pick up music better. If a student gets bored he won't learn.
"Music is for the soul," she says. Students should be relaxed with their instruments; tension is not good for tone. In the old days, music students were deluged by so much material, they found learning to be a difficult, frustrating experience. Marshall says she instructs her pupils at the level where they're best able to learn. That way, she says they're relaxed with their abilities and can handle new material at their own pace.
Marshall charges $11.25 for "slightly more than a half hour lesson." All her students attend lessons once a week and there's no problem getting them to go.
"I feel guilty taking the money, because the children and I have so much fun."