Iain Masson - Musician will remove all method books from his piano lessons by January 2025 for all students, in Central and South Birmingham and online.
Musical concepts for Iain's students will instead be introduced in an unhurried, tailored way for each child on a worksheet by worksheet and piece-by-piece basis, around their individual learning styles, aspirations and tastes.
Titles such as 'Me and My Piano Parts 1 and 2' and 'John Thompson’s Modern Course', some cherished by Iain himself and many of his students across more than two decades, will be permanently removed from the lessons for all students from January 2025.
Familiar piano method books still used and sold in the UK commonly depict characters taking part in tobacco pipe smoking and grog swigging, contain short educational pieces on themes of bloodsports, pieces about unhealthy diets, social privilege, unrecognisable obsolete technology, dancing bears, performing circus animals, gender bias, outdated professional work titles, pixelated or low quality archaic textbook photography, outdated or scrawny art, faded print, typing errors and incorrect fingering, outdated style of language in introductions or explanations, inappropriate or offensive (although sometimes updated in reprints) musical titles, themes or historic and social connections, and outdated page designs. Some books 'spoonfeed' students with finger numbers above or below every note in recent reprints, resulting in students playing by numbers.
Iain says, ‘Almost a quarter of the way into the century, where we can find PlayStations, Sega Megadrives, iPhones and iPad2s in museums, many of us are still falling back on using ancient printed teaching resources, books that looked outdated even to us a quarter or half a century ago, or even longer ago. Books and education tools that are wildly out-of-date and with inappropriate aspects to them.'
Iain says, 'I’m sure some of the writers of the books would be keen to adopt new styles and approaches themselves today and may not even use their own teaching books today, doing thing differently. Would they think we were mad if they saw us handing a book to our students and calling it modern when the book is 50 or 100 years old?'
Iain adds, 'The charming well-known John Thompson’s Modern Course teaching book, which is like a work of art in its own right, is now almost 90 years old, modern at the time but hardly modern today. I am sure John Thompson would be amazed or shocked that as teachers we would give our students or ask them to buy something so outdated and old fashioned, instead of offering something modern.'
‘Some books could well be in a music education museum, yet some of us are using them maybe without thought or out of sentiment or a type of fundamental laziness, old materials from the 1980s or 1930s, in an age where people can learn in so many other ways and where people can vote with their feet."
Popular hit 1980s-1990s jazz method books used and enjoyed by Iain himself will also be removed from lessons next year based on student feedback across the last 6-7 years in Birmingham, with pieces sounding “really old fashioned” and "not good" according to primary and secondary students interviewed in lessons, who rarely chose the pieces or books when set alongside other options to choose from.
More children will be encouraged to work on independent learning and performance projects with Iain, building up skills, innovation and repertoire as an alternative to exam routeways or alongside them.
Students are being encouraged to complete any method books by the end of the year, after which the content will no longer be taught.
'It's time to say a fond goodbye to these museum-piece books.'
Iain is a member of the Independent Society of Musicians.