It's hard to imagine that merely one lesson could be all it takes to play a song on the piano, but that is what it takes when Jane Buchanan and the Simply Music program work their magic.
So it's easy to imagine just how well-received this teacher-method combination are. Just stop by Antioch's Barnes and Noble for a monthly session of "Music with Miss Jane" and join the crowd of 100 or even 200 that have come to share her passion for music.
Buchanan had been teaching piano for 18 years when, in April 2011, she underwent training to be a Simply Music piano and Play-a-Story teacher. She hasn't looked back since.
"I have learned more about music and theory since I've been teaching Simply Music than in my entire life involved in music," she said.
Simply Music differs from other teaching methods in that it delays the reading of music until after students are playing songs. Instead, it focuses on developing a "hands-on" relationship with the piano and building skills through learning and playing a large number of pieces. Once students have a repertoire of 35 to 50 pieces they begin to learn to read music.
"Students get their hands on the music right away. Music is all in patterns, shapes and sentences and that's the Simply Music approach," Buchanan said. "It's like in the English language, you wouldn't expect children to read and write before they could speak, and Simply Music is the same way."
Buchanan's students first practice the patterns of musical pieces with two-hand movements, then transfer what they've learned to a rigid, silent keyboard and finally to the piano itself where they finally hear what they've learned. In this way, within a few weeks they've mastered several pieces.
"It still blows me away because even though I know how it works and see it happen all the time, every time I have students who a few weeks ago could barely get their fingers moving on the piano and now are playing full-on songs with such ease, it's just fabulous," she said.
Currently Buchanan has 61 students, ages 5 to 68 years, and though she teaches a few private lessons she prefers teaching groups of four to six. Four is her ideal number, finding that group dynamics decrease performance anxiety, and offers observatory experiences and the chance for students to teach their group-mates.
"When you teach a song it just sinks into the brain that much deeper," Buchanan said. "It's one thing to learn how to play the piano but to teach it is much more difficult."
Piano lessons are best suited for children older than 6, for those 4 to 6, Buchanan teaches Play-a-Story, a fun, interactive, improvisational method that introduces the piano. Again in groups, students are given small musical motifs or sentences and a story with illustrations. The students then create their own music that adds feeling and dynamics. What they learn creates a perfect springboard into the Simply Music piano program.
Other beneficial features of the Simply Music program include life coaches, the parents or caregivers who attend the lessons and can learn along with the child, and the wealth of stay-at-home materials parents get that facilitate home learning and lesson followups.
Buchanan is grateful for the support she's received from her students and their parents and one way she gives back is to volunteer her time once-a-month at Barnes and Noble in Antioch.
There she puts out her percussion instruments, her egg shakers, bells, sticks and triangles, plays some fun songs, does hand games and reads a story, giving all who attend a bit of fun and music to enjoy.
"It's a lot of fun to see the joy in the children's faces and the joy in their parents' faces watching them dance and really get into the music," she said. "It's just a lot of fun and I'm grateful to Barnes and Noble for letting me come."
Multiple studies have proven the benefits of learning music to other forms of learning and to basic well-being. Jane Buchanan and Simply
Music are furthering those benefits one hand movement, one song, one student at a time.