Jerald Simon is obviously passionate about music, creating, and teaching. It is also clear that he wishes to motivate his students and other teachers, to develop these same passions. In his Music Motivation Series ® and website, Simon shares his unique methodology. The series includes three focus areas: Theory Therapy ™, Innovative Improvisation™ and Innovative Composition™.
His website states: “One of our primary goals is to help prepare the next generation of composers, arrangers, musicians, music teachers and musicologists to use their music and their love of music to make a difference in their own lives, their community, and the world.”
From the extensive information Simon offers–motivational tips, published books featuring his organized methodology, free downloads, videos and more–he is well on his way to this respectable goal.
I have only perused some of the books in the series and have not used most with any students. However, just today an adult student of mine was thrilled with the visuals and charts found in the Introduction to Scales and Modes book (see below for more details). Below are some of my early discoveries.
GENERALLY, what you will find in the Music Motivation Series®:
Exciting music which stimulates, motivates and inspires.
Original solos usually power-packed with large chords, demanding rhythmical variety, and uplifting patterns.
Books and the website include an encouraging tone which attracts musicians of all skills levels and their teachers to keep moving forward. A favorite tip for teachers to motivate students: “Ask your students what they want to learn and teach them what t they want to learn.” I agree–I’ve noticed that customizing lessons attracts and retain students.
Theory explanations that are in-depth but not cumbersome.
Countless visuals of scale, chord and jazz patterns offering a huge resource for budding improvisers and composers.
Repeated instructions to transpose these patterns chromatically–a great reminder for any and all musicians hoping to build improv skills.
Piles of theory facts jam-packed on each page.
A wide variety of material for first-time jazz players to learn and master.
SPECIFICALLY, what you will find in…
This book limits popular holiday tunes to the key of C “to help piano players learn and understand the concepts.” Simon then suggests moving these established tunes and patterns to new keys chromatically. This format to reinforce concepts in one “easy” key and then transfer to new keys builds secure patterns in eager hands.
The list of common patterns on pages 8 and 9 provide potential jazz pianists a clear list of “must haves” for the improv back pocket.
Theory Therapy ™, The Building Blocks of Music Theory: Introduction to Scales and Modes
Clear but heavy information loads the front of this book. Perhaps too much to take in as a novice but a great resource when attempting to take improvisatory skills to a new level.
- Standard Music Notation–grand staff
- Musical Building Blocks.–letters, rhythm but no staff
Organized charts display clear images for those right-brainers who desire letters only and those left-brainers who prefer grand staff notation. As I said earlier, an adult student with little experience with reading music or even playing the piano but, a great deal of passion to learn as much as possible, took to the charts immediately.
Explanation of modes not found in most theory books provides invaluable instruction on how to construct any mode on any key.
Budding composers will appreciate Simon’s chart on how to modulate to a new key using the “Changing Key Signatures” chart.
The “Mode Application” section provides a clever twist–perhaps not discussed at most piano lessons — and encourages pianists to compare modes immediately and build them on any key.
Perhaps overwhelming for those not immersed with some theory knowledge already, this is an extremely powerful tool for wanna-be improvisers and composers and a “life-time” investment.
The preface of this student assignment book outlines the well-planned, sequential Music Motivation Methodology.
Checklists of scales, intervals, chords, etc, provide an easy way to track student progress.
Each assignment page includes a “Motivation in a Minute” box.
A favorite: “Do what must be done until you can do what you choose to do.”
Throughout the book, there are reminders of free, downloadable PDFs of essential patterns.
The appendix includes circle of key charts, and a large list of recommended resources.
Perhaps geared for intermediate students, the actual assignment sheet leaves little room for teacher notes. You would definitely need to rely on emailing detailed instructions in your Music Teacher’s Helper lesson notes.
Innovative Improvisation ™ Variations on Mary Had Little Lamb
This unique book takes the tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and provides lessons that help pianists play the OLD tune in many NEW styles–from swing to blues to a waltz…This creative and concise tool can help move any pianist out of the fake book “what-do-I-play-in- my-left-hand” syndrome.
There are ample examples of how to create each style notated in standard or “building block” notation.
To reinforce and spur further improvisation, students are asked to apply each style to a number of different tunes.
I could see myself using this for a piano summer camp theme–watch out Mary!
The colorful website is packed with, recommended music resources, motivational advice, books–published and PDF downloads–Simon’s own blog and an invitation to fans for requests, ideas…
Here you will find Jerald Simon’s first CD Hymns of Exultation. The familiar hymns are given a “twist of Simon” providing a fresh take of these timeless tunes. The piano solos are also in print in a book with the same title and include lesson notes prior to each piece.
GENERALLY, what you may miss:
Although inversions are explained and diatonic chords are covered, there seems to be only some attention to the basic terms of harmony (tonic, dominant, etc) and how chords move in common progressions.
There seems to be little attention to how melodies are constructed and developed in the books I overviewed. Jerald Simon’s arranged solos in “Hymns of Exaltation” display his knack for melodic manipulation. His original piano solos do not seem to focus on melody but more on chords and rhythm.
There are MP3’s of most pieces at the website, however, most books do not come with a CD.
On a number of pages, measures seem crowded to keep pieces down to one page. This may keep students from reading the patterns as easily as they may wish.
Although some of the books are written at the intermediate level, many of Simon’s compositions are quite advanced which demand strong rhythmic skills and include numerous 5-note chords which require large hands.
The improvisatory style of Simon’s music is always rhythmically uplifting. His original solo music includes heavy doses of large right-hand chord patterns and booming left-hand octaves which tends to leave little room for melodic content.
If you are looking for motivation to make music and music that motivates, visit Jerald Simon’s website. His diligent efforts to share his teaching style, music, and motivation are admirable and worth your consideration.