Born Virtuosos, Level 1
2011 / Sentient Spirit Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Born Virtuosos is a brand new piano-learning course created by Laura Sullivan, a teacher, composer, and recording artist whose original music has been distributed internationally. Laura and I became acquainted several years ago in conjunction with the Whisperings Solo Piano Radio community of pianists, and she asked me earlier this year if I would proof-read Level 1 of her new method. As a private piano teacher for the past 30+ years, I have had the opportunity to look at and test out a variety of new methods with my students, and I have to say that Born Virtuosos has impressed me far more than any of the other methods introduced during my own time as a teacher.
I have resisted teaching children under the age of six because so many of the concepts introduced in even the beginning teaching books go right over their heads, frustrating them before we get too far. In Born Virtuosos, there is new material in every step of the method, but it is presented in such a way that a young student could learn this material at a different pace from a student who had already started school and is more capable of learning several concepts at each lesson. I also really like that ear training is part of the course and that students are encouraged to write their own first pieces, no matter how humble, by the end of the book.
Because the book is so well-written and clear, I would think that parents could start their young children using this method even if they did not play the piano themselves. There is no substitute for a good teacher, but I would think that beginners at any age would be able to follow this book easily enough to be able to learn the basics.
There is a big emphasis on fun in this method, with many cute sketches of animals on each page. New concepts are introduced by these animals having conversations, making the process feel more like a storybook. All of the illustrations are monochromatic, but there are opportunities for children to color the pictures and to brighten up the pages as they go.
I also really like the variety in the musical pieces that are included. Some are very basic exercises to underscore the concepts of the level, but by the later Stages, Sullivan has included her own arrangements of children’s songs, folk songs, classical pieces, ragtime, and original music by herself, Jeff Pearce, and others. The easier pieces in each unit are to be learned by sight-reading, but some of the more interesting music is to be taught by a rote method which has the teacher show the student how to play a piece and have the student learn by watching and imitating rather than strictly by reading. Most methods rely on teaching students to read without developing their ears or the ability to watch and understand what is happening when someone else is playing.
In addition to the very well-written material, the course includes a CD with all of the music played only with piano (no keyboard embellishments). The songs that have words are also sung. A student is supposed to listen to the CD once a day. It does not have to be concentrated listening - the music can be in the background - but students are supposed to listen regularly to become familiar with the music.
Laura Sullivan’s five-page introductory comments explain the methodology of the book and what is expected of the student. It is again very clear and well-written, and will not leave anyone scratching their heads, trying to figure out what she means.
I am very impressed with Born Virtuosos, and look forward to Level 2 as well! It is widely available at online book sellers. Very highly recommended!
September 2, 2011