The All-in-One Approach Method and Workshop with Dr. Helen Marlais
Last week, I had the very fortunate opportunity to attend a workshop by Dr. Helen Marlais—the author / composer of the All-in-One Approach to Succeeding at the Piano® series. Dr. Marlais provided a tour of the first 4 mini-levels in the series by guiding participants through the books, page by page. As a piano teacher, I attend a fair number of pedagogy presentations, but this one was unique in the fact that the creator of the series was also helping teachers use it effectively. Dr. Marlais has a refreshing excitement about teaching, and her methodology is rooted in establishing a thorough basis in correct technique with positive reinforcement along the way.
I currently pull my teaching materials from a few of my favorite, go-to methods, and most teachers who work with a full studio of students each week also build in this combination approach. The variation not only ensures that each student receives a customized lesson plan based around the methods that would work best for them, but that the teacher has a wider reach of songs as well. If you are an active piano teacher, I’m sure you can relate! Some days, I teach the same songs lesson to lesson and get some of the catchier tunes caught in my ear for the rest of the evening. So, before going to this workshop, I was excited about the opportunity to broaden my teaching repertoire, but afterwards, I was even more pleased that I attended; the All-in-One Approach is excellently constructed and keeps the student at the forefront with a steady pace. Also, Dr. Marlais had insightful teaching tips and philosophies to share.
For piano teachers, what are the important points to take away from Dr. Helen Marlais’ approach?
Teaching through Technique
Every teacher has their own root philosophy behind their approach with students, and all are valid and speak to our own unique relationship with music. Dr. Marlais discussed many points about all aspects of teaching—including musicality and phrasing—but at the core, her method is centered on teaching through technique. I’m a big fan of this approach, because it establishes good habits from the onset of study, and I believe good technique facilitates expression and progression to more difficult examples. For some students, poor technique can lead to a brick wall in terms of what can be conceptualized, but cannot be physically executed. And that can occur at any level. The All-in-One Approach addresses this issue and uses creative analogies that are sensitive to common pitfalls and misunderstandings from students around certain words, like twist, bounce, stretch, etc.
Some Students Only Have Time for One Book
With younger beginners especially, a 30 minute lesson is the perfect length of time for a weekly session. This can be a limiting factor in what materials can be covered week to week, and several books can become confusing for students when tracking their assignments. The All-in-One Approach denotes the fact that each level is one book that combines the usual areas of technique, theory, and songs, which are often split into separate books. This is very convenient for a number of obvious logistical reasons, but one that stands out to me is the management of where all the components of a lesson fall. You as a teacher don’t have to shuffle through different books to find a corresponding song and theory lesson—they are within a page of one another and in order. The book for each level is also a great fit for both fast and slower learners.
Singing To and With Students is Beneficial
In the workshop, I was surprised that Dr. Marlais had us sing many of the songs as we walked through the books and to hear her thoughts on doing so with students. On occasion, I’ll sing favorite songs with my students, but it’s not a regular process. The idea is to help a student connect to each phrase and realize the shape of what they are playing, and it’s definitely an idea I’d like to explore and take away from the event. In her books, the song lyrics and illustrations throughout are student-centric and draw out imagination, which also provide a way to add fun into the lessons.
Dr. Helen Marlais’ All-in-One Approach is the newest addition to my teaching repertoire, and I’d recommend it to any teachers looking for new material. The methodology is sound and a versatile fit that a number of different teachers with varying philosophies could utilize. As teachers, it helps to meet the challenge of crafting a personalized curriculum for each student when you have a broader reach of books and methods to choose from. As an experience, it was outstanding to have the chance to attend a workshop with the creator of these method books and to hear a leading pedagogue’s thoughts and ideas on how to teach a younger age group. Continuing to learn, adapt, and grow as a teacher is crucial in continuing to inspire students, and whenever you can add to your repertoire, you are moving closer to that goal.