What are the 4 Simple Steps?

The 4 Simple Steps represent a generational step forward in music education.

In many ways, the last true advancement in how music is taught came more than 100 years ago when the Suzuki method was introduced. Since then, music students have had two choices: traditional or Suzuki.  Note reading or playing by ear.

I began playing violin as a Suzuki student and I had traditional piano lessons.  Even with years of training, I would have to say that I really did not excel at music reading (a weakness common among students who learn by the Suzuki method) until I was playing full time in a symphony.

When a child struggles in the traditional method, you'll often endure the excruciating pain of listening to the struggle.  The music stops every 2 or 3 notes... over and over and over again.  There is absolutely no flow or musical expression.  It's just awful.  And this pain is endured for months on end because the student can't read and play fluently.

For the best 10% of students with a naturally "good ear", the Suzuki approach is amazing. 5 year olds play Bach concertos. For the best 10% whose reading coordination is natural, the traditional approach is equally effective.

But very little is done for the other 80% of beginning students.  What happens when a child is placed in the wrong approach? They usually get frustrated very quickly and often want to quit.

What if there were a way to develop both playing by ear and note reading from the very beginning and allow students to control their own pace?

And while we're at it, let's place a high priority on creativity.  Most music students only learn to play someone else's songs. The 4 Steps introduces improvising as a key element of learning.

Why stop there?  Music students, including myself, wasted hours upon hours of practice time because we didn't really know what to do.  We can't expect a new student to know the most efficient way to repeat the song to learn it, so let's make it simple.  Let's boil music learning into 4 simple steps, then let students excel because they use that same approach every day at home.  Let the play by ear students use their natural music talent to build up their note reading.  Let the note readers learn to improvise and build up their ears.  The 4 Simple steps put it all in short, easy to understand exercises that will work with every new song they go to master.

What are the 4 Simple Steps?

1) Get your notes in a row.

Find all the letters you will use. Play the notes from your song in order. You'd be surprised how many people try to play without finding out what notes they need. Play them first in 2 beats, then twice as fast. (That trick was taught to me by a teacher at Julliard. You can use it to fix any hard spot in any song.)

2) Echo Game (Play by Ear)

Make up musical words. Choose any 3 or 4 notes from your new song and play them in any order. Repeat that musical word exactly the same way. Then choose 3 to 4 other notes. Repeat exactly. (Not a gimme, trust me. Easy for play by ear musicians, but important for note readers too.)

3) Jam (Play for Fun!)

Take your new "music vocabulary" and just start talking. Make it up. Jam. You control it. You're in the land of no wrong notes. Getting fluent is really important! Smooth rhythm helps carry the feeling of the music. Besides, you'll develop your creativity here too. It's the life blood of music.

4) Play the Song (Note Reading)

Since you already played the notes you need for the song in Steps 1, 2 and 3, you'll learn it 4 times faster. It's way more fun. Look at it this way: a written or recorded song you want to play is just a bunch of echos in a jam placed in a specific order.

I use the 4 Simple Steps as a professional violinist and a church pianist/organist every day.  When I want to really get a passage learned, I often "reverse engineer" them.

From an existing passage, I play the scale notes and chords I will use in a row (step 1). I create small musical words, often going forwards and backwards between difficult intervals or leaps (step 2). I make up music with these same notes to get all the connections fluent and to put the music in time (step 3).  Then I play through the passage, isolating difficult passages and turning them into echos, if necessary (step 2).

There is a secret sauce built in to the method as well.  I have learned the power of playing passages in half notes, then twice as fast, and twice as fast again.  I learned this by adapting Carmine Caruso's  Calisthenics for Horn for all instruments.  (Credit and thanks to Julie Landsman, a professor of French Horn at Julliard for introducing me to these ideas.)

The 4 Simple Steps have been nothing less than extraordinary for myself and for my students.  I am excited to finally share them in a format accessible to everyone.

P.S. To see the 4 Simple Steps in action, visit www.MusicWithDavidPaul.com.  You can get a free sample lesson for piano, violin and guitar.  There are 4 books for each instrument.  They are supported by 450 videos online as well.