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With the release of “learn mode” for Supersonics book B & C we spoke to the author of Supersonics, Daniel McFarlane, to learn more about Supersonics and why it’s such a good fit for Piano Maestro.
What makes Supersonics pieces so special?
When I compose Supersonics pieces I draw inspiration from the diverse range of sounds students encounter in their everyday lives. I personally love big dramatic movies scores, the hypnotic layering of sounds in minimalist music, the uplifting beats in pop music and the driving rhythms in rock music and I try to draw these all into my pieces. At the same time I also love the rhythmic and harmonic complexities of Bach, the joyous flight of a Mozart phrase and the depth of emotion in Brahms and I would love for all students to develop the technical facility to perform great works by the masters. I see my music as helping students to create a bridge between accessible contemporary sounds and the more “historical” sounds. Each Supersonics piece puts another piece of a strong classical technique in place. Important technical skills are introduced early on in the series and, as they are coupled with very engaging contemporary rhythms and melodies, students don’t notice that they are working on their technique! Repetition is utilized, not as a dry technical drill, but as a part of the natural flow of the music.
Can you give us a basic overview of the Supersonics series?
Supersonics Level A pieces can be incorporated quite early on for the beginning pianist. The pieces in this level begin in a C-G hand position and then expand outwards. I like to avoid being stuck in “positions” for too long so this level features accidentals, small stretches and moving around the thumb. Once you have completed the first level of most major methods you are ready for Supersonics Level A. This level is a great supplement for all students but those students who struggle to connect with the pieces in traditional method books seem to find a great affinity with the pieces in this level.
Supersonics Level B pieces start to explore a wider range on the piano. I use contemporary harmonies, driving rhythms and earworm melodies to engage a student’s attention. This level flows on smoothly from Level A and is around a 2B (Piano Adventures) standard.
Supersonics Level C really starts to give students something to impress their audience with! There are a lot of “movie theme” type pieces in this level as well as some very fast and fun pieces. I’ve used as many of my little tricks as I can in these pieces in order to get them sounding harder than they actually are. At the moment these are some of the most advanced pieces featured in the Piano Maestro app so I encourage you to let your students loose with them – they will have a blast!
How can teachers incorporate Supersonics pieces into their lessons?
There are many ways! In my teaching I like to use Piano Maestro to draw together everything that we have already learned away from the app – to finish embedding the rhythms, achieve a smooth flow to the piece and then to gradually move up to top speed. Students who are reluctant to do the “boring” work that polishing a piece sometimes entails are more than happy to do this with the help of the app. I also use my pieces in Learn mode as a way of encouraging independent learning. I assign pieces for students to learn by themselves at home and this really gives them a sense of involvement, independence and ownership of the learning process. I will also use my pieces as quick study and sight-reading pieces for older or transfer students (they appreciate having this area spiced up a bit with some “cool” music!).
Why are your pieces such a good fit for Piano Maestro?
I love technology but most of all I love smart technology and Piano Maestro is a wonderful example of super smart technology. A goal of mine when I compose pieces at this level is to help develop a very strong sense of beat and rhythm in a student. You can hear this when you play my pieces but when you combine this with an app like Piano Maestro the benefits are multiplied. I have been using the app with all my beginner students and I am extremely happy with how strong their rhythmic skills have become. I also use repetitive melodic patterns in my music in order to develop effective note-reading and as Piano Maestro is very good at drawing students’ eyes upward to the score these patterns are embedded more fully. The sounds in my pieces are “contemporary” and it makes sense to feature backing tracks to complete the experience. I had tremendous fun creating these! All in all a wonderful combination and one that my students make great use of.
Any tips and tricks for teaching your pieces?
Spot the patterns! My pieces are filled with rhythmic and melodic patterns. These are great for embedding new concepts and do not sound unnatural or forced as repetition is a feature of contemporary music. When I introduce a new concept I make sure that it is utilized throughout the whole piece so that students gets ample opportunity for mastery. I teach note-reading through signpost notes (Cs and Gs) and my pieces are structured to assist in developing strong note-reading. Students with poor note-reading can improve on this area vastly through combining Supersonics pieces with drilling these signpost notes. Another tip is to take the rhythm out and learn this first – my pieces lend themselves to using creative ways to explore the rhythms (clapping, tapping, marching and various left/right coordination activities). One final tip is that 100% on Piano Maestro is not the limit. If you feel the need for speed in some of my pieces then go for it!