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Yamaha Music Schools

AT the core of the Yamaha project remains the recruitment of the very young, ideally at just four years old. Nigel Burrows, Yamaha Music Schools' education manager, explains the philosophy. "All children at that age can sing and physically their hearing is at its peak, while their motor skills and reading abilities are not yet developed." So the system is based on singing, as well as use of the keyboards, using an instinctive "listen, copy, read" approach. The result is that 90 per cent of students swiftly develop perfect pitch or, at worst, extremely good relative pitch. The Yamaha method also teaches keyboard performance, notation, rhythm, harmony, music appreciation and aural recognition.

"The result is that they begin to grasp, in the most natural way and at a very young age, an amazing number of musical skills and a level of understanding that most of us struggled with when we were in our late teens," says Nigel Burrows.

The first Junior Music Course (JMC) takes two years to complete with a one-hour lesson per week in an annual 42-lesson schedule. At the end of the module, the six or seven-year-old takes a 25-minute examination. The JMC course is followed by a similarly structured Junior Extension Course (JEC) over another two years, with a third two-year module known as the Junior Advanced Course (JAC) completing the progression to GCSE level.

For pupils who have missed the early-start courses, Yamaha also runs the "Play For Keeps" programme for children aged nine years and over, including teenagers, based on an eight-book programme of popular music designed to teach sequencing, arranging, composition and to equip keyboard players with the skills to be a working musician. A similar programme with guitar rather than keyboard has also been recently added.

But the "educational flagship", as Yamaha describes it, is the six-year junior music course. The lessons are tightly structured and over the course of the hour Yamaha Music School teacher Lesley Newman uses a dozen different songs and exercises to ensure pupils never have a chance to get bored or for their attention to wander.

"This tune is called 'Let's Whistle'," she says at the session I visit at Bishop's Stortford High School, and gets them to turn to the correct page in their work books. Surrounded by colourful pictures of wild animals is printed a simple stave with three ascending and three descending notes. Their junior voices pick out "doh", "ray", "me" and then the same notes in reverse. Tentatively they copy the sequence on the keyboards. Then Lesley Newman plays them a tape of the song and they all come in with near-perfect timing. Next she announces: "I've got a brand new song for you now" and they gather round to sit at her feet and learn a piece called "Hopping Frogs", again using the solf ge.

When the lesson is concluded and homework has been set, she has another lesson with a similar group, followed by an older class. It will be 7pm before she is finished, and classes take place three evenings a week after school and again on Saturday, ensuring that maximum use is made of the equipment Yamaha has donated. As the next group files in, her departing class can be heard singing all the way down the corridor.


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