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Simply Music is a music education institution licensing teachers at over 700 locations worldwide. Australian music educator Neil Moore founded it on the core belief that all humans are naturally musical. Simply Music offers programs for students from birth through old age, with the stated goal of creating "a culture where people of all ages readily acquire and maintain music as a lifelong companion." Simply Music patterns its approach after primary language acquisition, where speaking comes first. In this it shares some philosophical ground with other developmental approaches like Kodály, Orff-Schulwerk, and the Suzuki Method.
Neil Moore began constructing the Simply Music method in the late 20th century while teaching piano to a young blind student. Since traditional music-reading would not serve this student, Moore designed a program based on his own childhood musical experiences. Instead of reading music, as a child Moore had naturally visualized patterns within the songs and on the keyboard. He explained these building blocks to this student, who learned to play piano himself and began teaching the songs to his four-year-old sister, who was also blind.
This spurred Moore to begin testing his ideas more widely, and he found this approach natural and successful for students of all ages and abilities. Other piano teachers began learning from Moore. When he could no longer personally train them all, Moore founded the Simply Music organization and developed a remote certification program that is currently available to teachers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Later, Simply Music expanded to include early childhood music education, and also partnered with Hohner to adapt the methodology for the accordion. Most of this article applies to both the piano and accordion programs, while the early childhood program will be addressed separately.
Simply Music's founding premise is similar to Shin'ichi Suzuki’s claim that any child can learn music. But Simply Music extends the concept, like researchers E. McPherson Gary E. McPherson and Graham F. Welch, who write that it is our "birthright" to "be able to communicate and interact musically with others." In the same degree, Simply Music declares musicality essential to human nature. Adherents identify many everyday activities as fundamentally musical because these activities thoughtlessly fall into patterns of rhythm and pitch. As examples they cite speaking, walking, and brushing teeth. Simply Music seeks both to draw on and to nurture this natural ability by distilling musical concepts into simple patterns.
Students use these patterns to begin playing songs in their first lessons. This method is modeled after primary language acquisition, where learners begin by speaking. Many other music education approaches—including Orff Schulwerk and the Dalcroze, Kodály, and Suzuki methods—engage students physically first and teach notation later. Simply Music applies this approach to both piano and accordion.
The complete Simply Music program aims to teach music for generalists, who may or may not later choose a specialty such as performing classical music, playing keyboard in a band, or accompanying soloists or theater performers. The program attempts to prepare students with a solid music background that can take them where they choose. The primary goal is for students to keep music in their life, most often for relaxation and enjoyment at home or with family and friends. As such, Simply Music includes a wide variety of musical genres, such as classical, blues, jazz, and popular.
The Simply Music approach contrasts with many other music learning methods, where the ability to play music depends first on learning to read music. Moore terms these traditional methods reading-based and his approach playing-based.
In the piano and accordion programs, the core playing-based pieces are presented in the Foundation Program, a series of 9 levels of 7-10 songs each. The pieces are designed to provide experience with many musical styles and genres, to build students’ physical dexterity at the piano, and to give students hands-on familiarity with fundamental musical concepts.
Alongside the Foundation Program, and often using concepts from the Foundation pieces, students learn arrangement, improvisation, composition, chord-reading, and theory. Teachers are required to present all these programs, as they are considered essential to a well-rounded music education.
Simply Music maintains that their approach—based on learning to recognize patterns inherent in music—is distinct from learning by rote or by ear. Students learn through patterns on the keyboard, in their fingers, and in the music itself. Students learn the physical shape that a melody line or a chord forms in the hand or on the keyboard. For example, a basic triad such as D Major is seen as a triangle shape on the keyboard, with the two white notes forming the base and the black note at the top. Musical patterns include concepts like repeated rhythmic or melodic patterns (or sequences), melodic sentences, musical forms such as ABA, and chord progressions like the 12-bar blues.
Experience with these concepts provides a foundation for learning note-reading during the second year. Simply Music first teaches rhythm notation, followed by pitch reading, and then applies these skills to pieces written in standard music notation. Students learn to read pitches by identifying intervals, rather than individual note-names. This is known as an intervallic approach. Simply Music also uses what they call generative learning, meaning that students write music as an integral part of learning to read music.
As students further expand their musicianship, they move into the Development Program, which applies their musical understanding and note-reading skills to increasingly complex written music. Lessons continue to include arrangement, improvisation, composition, chord-reading, and theory. At this phase, students also explore their own musical interests in more depth.
Simply Music partners with two programs for young children, an early childhood program called Simply Music Rhapsody (ages birth to five) and a piano improvisation program called Play-a-Story (ages four to six).
Simply Music Rhapsody is a music and movement program for infants through age five. Early childhood music education specialist Lynn Kleiner based the program on the Orff Schulwerk philosophy. In keeping with its roots, the program focuses on learning through play and addresses each stage of child development. The program immerses children in music-making through diverse songs, instruments, movement, puppets and visuals. By building a foundation in music and incorporating Simply Music repertoire, it prepares students to transition into the piano program.
Australian music educator and visual artist Lyndel Kennedy created Play-a-Story as an age-appropriate, imaginative beginning to a child’s piano learning. Children ages four to six improvise their own soundtrack for each story, using specific chords, scales, or patterns. The program seeks to foster self-expression and develop musical knowledge and physical skills for continued music learning. Students become familiar with many Simply Music piano concepts.
All the Simply Music programs use a variety of multimedia materials to provide multisensory learning. Simply Music Piano and Accordion students use written music as well as other written materials to remember assignments and track their progress. Video recordings distill the main points of every lesson. Audio recordings help students become familiar with the songs, refine style and technique, and develop ensemble skills. Teacher training is also presented through multimedia materials.
Similarly, the Play-a-Story piano improvisation program is built around written, audio, and video materials for both teachers and students. These materials review the musical tools and immerse the children in the stories.
Early childhood Simply Music Rhapsody students use a wide variety of specially designed instruments along with movement materials, puppets, and visuals. The program also provides audio recordings for students and teachers, as well as video support for teachers.
The Simply Music Piano and Accordion repertoire covers a broad range of styles, including classical, contemporary, jazz, blues, gospel, and other styles from around the world. In addition to the core Foundation pieces, students learn arrangements of each piece, along with accompaniments, teacher-selected written pieces, student-choice songs, and student compositions.
A student’s personal repertoire is called their Playlist. A Playlist is considered essential, partly because a large and varied repertoire helps facilitate life-long musical engagement. Also, each new piece builds on musical concepts from earlier pieces.
A Play-a-Story student’s repertoire includes improvised songs created from specific chords, scales, and patterns on the piano, as well as concepts like loud and soft, high and low, fast and slow.
The Simply Music Rhapsody curriculum centers around children’s music, both traditional and contemporary, and also introduces many styles including classical, jazz, blues, and international music.
- Campbell, Patricia Shehan and Carol Scott-Kassner. Music in Childhood: From Preschool through the Elementary Grades. New York: Schirmer, 1995. 47-57. Print
- Ashby, Bernadette E. “Coming Home: The Story of One Man.” A World Where Everyone Plays. Ed. Bernadette E. Ashby. Sunnyvale, CA: Efting Press, 2011. 1-7. Print.
- Suzuki, Shinichi. Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education. Miami: Warner Bros. Publications Inc., 1999. 1-3. Print.
- Welch, Graham F. and Gary E. McPherson. “Introduction and Commentary: The Role of Music in People’s Lives.” The Oxford Handbook of Music Education, vol. I. Ed. Gary E. McPherson and Graham F. Welch. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 6. Print.
- Uszler, Marienne and Stewart Gordon and Scott BcBride Smith. The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher, 2nd edition. New York: Schirmer, 2000. 6-7. Print.
- Campbell, 53-57.
- a video demonstration of the Simply Music method
- Australian "Today Show": Simply Music teacher and students on therapeutic value of music
- "Live with Regis and Kelly": Anne Heche teaches Regis a Simply Music song
- Simply Music review in homeschooling magazine
- Ashby, Bernadette E., ed. A World Where Everyone Plays. Sunnyvale, CA: Effting Press, 2011. Print.
- Massachusetts journalist Jane Kaufman on her experience as a Simply Music student
- Science Daily: "Music and Language Are Processed by the Same Brain Systems"
- pbs.org: The Benefits of Music Education