Piano Safari Method Book: A Teacher’s Review
Why do I, a professional piano teacher, think Piano Safari by Julie Knerr is a great method book for children?
It has enjoyable tunes that are humorous and are fun for the young pianist to play and sing. Examples include “I Love Coffee, I Love Tea” and “Charlie Chipmunk.”
Many of the pieces in the Piano Safari books create analogies for children to understand such as bouncing like a kangaroo when they play the “Kangaroo” technique exercise to practice non legato playing and to create a relaxed and bouncy sound. Another example would be playing a loud, long note with a relaxed hand like a lion stuffed animal arm.
Learning Techniques & Activities
The Piano Safari method books consist of many learning techniques and activities that are useful to students and teachers. It contains reading pieces, sight reading exercises, rote pieces, theory, technique exercises, folk tunes, and improvisation. The book leans towards the Intervallic Reading Approach, but primarily uses an Eclectic Method.
Reading pieces in the Piano Safari Repertoire Book One start with just using black keys and printing all the finger numbers on the page for unit one. In unit two, students start playing on the white keys where the hand, note, and finger number are listed. All the finger numbers are also listed on the page. In unit three, students move to the grand staff. They use treble G as the landmark note for right hand and treble clef and bass C as the landmark note for left hand and bass clef. In Piano Safari Book One, students continue to stay on the landmark notes for the rest of the book.
In Piano Safari Book Two, middle C is added as a landmark note in both treble and bass clef. It is not until the middle of Piano Safari Book Two that the students graduate from the landmark notes and start using all the notes on the grand staff. Piano Safari slowly moves the students from black keys, to white keys, and then the grand staff so that students can feel comfortable with reading notes and move at a slow and steady pace. When students start learning the grand staff, intervals are slowly introduced.
In book one, students start with seconds and then move to thirds. In the rest of book one, students practice moving in between seconds and thirds. In book two, they learn fifths, then fourths, and practice playing all the intervals together. In book three, they learn the other intervals such as sixths, sevenths, and octaves. It is great that intervals are introduced at a slow and steady pace so that students can become comfortable with intervals before moving to harder repertoire and sightreading.
Sight Reading Exercises
For sight reading exercises, each method book has a set of color-coded sight reading card supplements, corresponding with the different units for each book or level. The cards are like flash cards. Each sight reading card in level one contains a melodic exercise for right hand in treble clef and a melodic exercise for left hand in bass clef.
In level one, the students will start marching the rhythms and use the syllable “ta” for the quarter notes, “ta-two” for half notes, “ta-ti” for eighth notes, and “ta-two-three-four” for whole notes. In level two, students graduate from marching and saying the ta’s. They move to metric counting, which is what professional musicians use.
For metric counting, the students do not march anymore, they tap the rhythms with both hands. The rhythmic exercises start simple at first such as the left hand playing whole notes while the right hand has a busy rhythm. The difficulty gradually goes up through each unit.
In level two and beyond, the cards will start including exercises where both hands play together. All the cards in every level and unit also contain a rhythmic exercise where the students only practice rhythms.
These methods help contribute to student reading skills.
Training to Play by Ear
One of the most unique activities that Piano Safari offers in its method books are rote pieces.
Rote pieces are ear training pieces where students learn how to play repertoire by ear. They are taught by playing the entire piece for the student first, and then dividing the music into different parts, usually line by line. I will teach one or two measures at a time to them and tell them to think of an animal or fruit name to help with the rhythm.
After the first one or two measures are comfortable with the student, I will gradually add on the next one or two measures and review the previous measures consistently until the first part is learned.
After that, I will use the same system for the second part, and the other parts after that. I also constantly review the previous parts. If there are two hands involved with different melodies and rhythms, I will teach one hand at a time and then teach the other hand.
Rote pieces can take up much time to teach, so typically when I teach a rote piece, I usually stretch it to at least two lessons. Piano Safari includes reminder videos on YouTube for the students to use to remember how to play the piece for when they practice at home.
In each Piano Safari level, a theory book is included that contains new material that the students learn in each unit. Students get to practice writing the different clefs, time signatures, notes, and intervals. The theory book also contains review material in each unit to keep up the students’ skills and help them remember previous material.
A unique aspect that the theory book has is compositional practice. This activity is when students are given the time signature, note values, which note to start on, and which intervals to use. Then, they are instructed to write a melody with the given material. The students are given the opportunity to come up with their own ideas or creative variations on the rote pieces.
Piano Safari contains technique exercises in each level that focus primarily on relaxation. In level one, technique exercises are part of the repertoire book and they start with simple exercises such as playing one note at a time with a strong and relaxed sound. In level two, there is a separate technique book from the repertoire book.
Also in level two, students will start learning basic five-finger patterns in different keys and start early practices into playing scales and arpeggios. Students will start playing triads first before getting into arpeggios. In level three, students start learning Hanon exercises and beginner etudes. Technique exercises are typically taught by rote, then the student reads the music, and lastly the student can transpose the exercise into different keys.
Folk tunes are part of the Piano Safari repertoire books. Usually they are pieces such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” “The Duke of York,” and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” They are similar to the reading pieces where the students practice reading music, but they also use their ears to play the pieces.
Learning the folk tunes introduces students to playing familiar pieces and how to learn songs and pieces that they know on their own by ear and reading music.
Another interesting activity that Piano Safari offers in its repertoire books are improvisational exercises. In these exercises, the students are told which notes they can play, and the teacher plays a bass line and or a melody. The students play the notes that they are told to play in any order and can make up a rhythm if they stay in time with the teacher. Improvisational exercises allow students to be creative, explore sounds, and imitate the teacher.
Piano Safari Level Breakdown
Here is a break-down of all the different levels.
In Piano Safari level one, the students learn pre-staff notation, the grand staff is introduced, the intervals seconds and thirds are introduced, landmark notes are utilized, and students “march rhythms.” Level one includes a repertoire book, a theory book, and sightreading cards.
In level two, students graduate from landmark notes and start reading all the notes on the staff. They start tapping rhythms, have trickier sight reading examples, and they learn the intervals fourths and fifths. Level two includes a repertoire book, a theory book, a technique book, and sightreading cards. In level three, students learn the other intervals, they start playing more advanced music, and start learning early etude technique exercises.
Level three has a repertoire book, a theory book, a technique book, and sightreading cards like level two.
Piano Safari offers all these great activities, and that is one of the reasons that I like to use it with children. My students who have used Piano Safari have developed good habits such as having excellent and relaxed piano technique, they do not look at their hands while reading music, they have a good understanding of rhythm, they are good at using their ears, and they enjoy music.
Enjoying music is the most important thing for students when taking piano lessons. The goal, as teachers, is to keep students wanting to practice and get excited to come to piano lessons. Piano Safari aids the teacher in putting together fun pieces that students enjoy playing and the activities keep students happy and engaged during piano lessons.
Why I Choose to Use This Method Book As a Teaching Guide
As a piano teacher myself, Piano Safari is my favorite method book to use because of all its fun activities it has for children. It goes along with my teaching philosophy which is teaching students good habits at an early age but also teaching them how to enjoy music.
Piano Safari is very helpful for the piano teacher in that it provides teaching guides and teaching videos for teachers to use. It is imperative that teachers always plan before having students, especially when using Piano Safari, because there is so much information to cover. For beginning students especially, piano teachers must plan to make lessons efficient.
When students become more advanced, teachers are mostly reactive to students, meaning students bring in repertoire and teachers aid them on what the students need help with. Piano teachers in general have so much to accomplish with their students. Teachers must break down difficult concepts into something that children can easily understand.
What I appreciate about Piano Safari is that it helps the teachers introduce concepts one at a time to students and slowly walks them through learning how to play piano and become great musicians.
I like to use the Piano Safari book with my students because it has the learning techniques of reading pieces, sight reading exercises, rote pieces, theory activities, technique exercises, folk tunes, and improvisation.
The blended Eclectic Method and intervallic approach create the best of two worlds. The result is a resource that provides students with a great way to read music notation, while learning interesting musical styles and listening skills.
All of Piano Safari’s exercises include fun and silly songs that help students learn to enjoy music and is entertaining for the teachers to teach and introduce new material. I am hopeful that Piano Safari will start to become more popular in the piano teaching world and that more piano teachers will start using this method book for beginning students.
My students have really shown great progress with Piano Safari and they continue to play music and be successful with learning new material. As a music teacher, my goal is to introduce Piano Safari to different piano teachers and encourage teachers to introduce good, early habits and techniques to students so that one day they can become successful pianists.
Author: Marisa Pickard
Marisa Pickard is currently a graduate student at DePaul University studying piano performance and teaches at the Christopher Laughlin School of Music in Northbrook, IL. She earned her Bachelors of Music in piano performance from the University of Alabama. Being an experienced piano teacher, she has taught piano lessons for five years and has served as president of the Music Teachers National Association chapter at the University of Alabama. During one summer, she participated in the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute.
“About Piano Safari.” Piano Safari. Accessed June 4, 2021. https://pianosafari.com/about/about-piano-safari/.
Crappell, Courtney. Teaching Piano Pedagogy: A Guidebook for Training Effective Teachers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Fisher, Katherine and Julie Knerr. Piano Safari Repertoire Book I. Piano Safari, LLC, 2018.