Piano man: Teacher uses fun exercised to instruct in music theory

Published: Monday, Oct. 13 2008 12:07 a.m. MDT

Musician and entrepreneur Jerald M. Simon has self-published a series of piano books that are designed to help music students grasp theory and concept.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Jerald M. Simon, in addition to being the vice president of programs for the Ogden chapter of the Utah Music Teachers Association and a piano teacher, is also an entrepreneur.

The Bountiful-based musician has self-published a series of piano books designed to help students grasp theory and concept.

"I wanted to reach those students learning how to play piano who aren't enjoying the process," said Simon during an interview. "There are those children who will excel no matter what teacher or method they are using, but there are those who feel like they are forced to take piano. They feel forced by their parents or their teachers.

"These books are designed to help them, but at the same time not ignore those who like piano lessons."

The books — "Variations on Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Playing Around and the Jazz Song" and "An Introduction to Scales and Modes" — published by Simon's company Music Motivation (www.musicmotivation.com), give students an alternate and fun way to learn theory, Simon said.

"When you look at a book called 'Variations on Mary Had a Little Lamb,' you can see where I'm going," Simon said. "When I was a child, it was a commandment in my family for me and my brother to learn the piano. My father was a professional singer, and we always had music in the house.

"Well, we learned piano in the fifth grade and then learned different instruments throughout our upbringing.

"Anyway, I learned how to play 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and was very excited about it," said Simon. "So, I went to my father and showed him. His reaction was, 'So?' And then he asked, 'What would it sound like if Mary took her lamb to China?"'

At first the younger Simon was flummoxed. Then he started playing around at the piano and found an arrangement that had an Asian flair.

"From there, my father asked what the song would sound like if Mary took her lamb to a blues club and jazz club," Simon said. "I would work some chords and then show him.

"It was gratifying for me because I was learning different theories, and it was gratifying for my father because he was teaching me theory. So that's where the idea of these books come from."

Simon has three reasons why he wanted to publish these books, he said.

"The first is 'Theory Therapy,'" he said. "The second is 'Innovated Improvisation' and the third is 'Creative Composition.' All of those phrases are part of the training.

"With 'Theory Therapy' the student learns theory through a series of fun exercises that teach without pushing," he said. "'Innovated Improvisation' comes from trying new things. And the last is allowing the students to create their own music.

"Nothing is more motivating than someone telling you that you sound good, especially if it's after you played something you composed yourself."

According to Simon, a music teacher will often give out a sticker or a prize to a student who passed off a song. "But those things don't last. What I want to get in touch with is the intrinsic satisfaction that keeps the student playing longer."

Some of the music books come with CDs of Simon playing parts of the song and then putting the parts together.

"That way they can walk through a piece and eventually work it out," he said.

The books can be found at the Piano Gallery in Riverdale, Riverton Music, Daynes Music, among others, and can be purchased at www.musicmotivation.com


E-mail: scott@desnews.com

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