MerrieNan® Melodies' unusual program for teaching the piano keyboard can be used with children who recognize colors and the letters of the alphabet. They don’t have to be able to read since this is a parent-directed program. Parents who don’t already know how to read music or play the piano can learn along with their child. Each kit can be used with as many family members as you wish. You can use any keyboard or piano with 88, 61, or 44 notes.
The program has four levels. Level 1 (Pre-A): Early Start is where most children ages four through six will begin. Level 2 (A): WriteStart is the beginning place for any learner ages seven and up. Level 2 teaches the same concepts as Level 1 at a more rapid pace (and with smaller fonts and images), then goes further with work on proper fingering and other skills. Younger children who begin with Level 1 should find the repetition in Level 2 very helpful. Level 3 (B): WriteRhythm and Level 4 (C): WriteWay both build successively upon Level 2.
The program is sold as complete sets for each level, and each level includes a set of books—mostly digital for all but Level 4. There are more books for this program than for other keyboard/piano programs I have reviewed.
Both Level 1 and Level 2 include the MerrieNan Melodies Kit and the printed SimpleStart Songbook.
The MerrieNan Melodies Kit includes most of the hands-on resources and visual aids for all levels of the program and comes in a sturdy plastic case configured especially for the course components. It includes several laminated sheets such as two that show fingering by color and fingering by number, a double-sided page for spinner games, a dry-erase staff, and the MNM Colored Keyboard. The MNM Colored Keyboard—to be placed immediately above the keys on an actual keyboard—shows the piano keys, colors, and note placement on the staffs. The kit also has Unifix® cubes in eight colors (used to compose color-coded music and learn rhythm), a set of colored pencils, flashcards for notes, a clear spinner that is placed on top of the various spinner cards for games, formatted pages on which students will compose their own songs, instructions for using Unifix cubes, and a few other items. Resources from the kit will be used at various levels—not all with Level 1.
The SimpleStart Songbook introduces the program by having children immediately play five familiar, simple songs using the color-coded notation.
The number of books varies for each level, but there are at least four core items at each level: the Training Manual, a Musician’s Book, a Composer’s Book, and at least one Songbook.
The Training Manual is a digital guide for parents that explains the program and provides lesson plans that tell when to use which components. The lesson plans include scripts with specific language for parents to use as they teach. The many components in the first two levels of the program might seem confusing at first, but the instructions in the Training Manuals are clear and easy to follow.
The Musician’s Book teaches music theory with instruction and activities. Answer keys are the last part of each book. The Composer’s Book guides students as they write simple musical compositions. The Songbook (one or more for each level) provides songs to play at increasing levels of difficulty. The Musician’s Book and the Composer’s Book are the only books students write in, aside from the Coloring Book included with Level A. You are not supposed to duplicate or print out the Musician’s or Composer’s books, so the publisher includes separate digital workbooks with the consumable pages from these two books in the package for each level. You are welcome to print those for each member of your family. For all other books, you should be able to work from digital versions displayed on a tablet, but you can also purchase printed books. (Level 4 is the only level that includes printed versions of all except the Training Manual and workbooks at no extra cost.) The printed books are in full color and have a metal-comb binding so they can lie flat or tilted on a piano or stand.
Beyond these core books, the additional books included with each level are:
Level 1: EarlyStart Coloring Book
Level 2: WriteStart Five Finger Songbook and WriteStart Spinner Book
Level 3: WriteRhythm Songbook 2, WriteRhythm Songbook 3, and WriteRhythm Eight Finger Book
Level 4: WriteWay Songbook 2
Not included in the packages is the optional songbook Well Known and Much Loved Hymns which can be used by students who have completed WriteRhythm Songbook 1.
The program uses seven colors to identify the notes A through G and their placement on the staffs. Colors are also used to indicate which hand to use beginning in Level 1. Finger placement is shown with colored dots on fingers in the EarlyStart Songbook for Level 1 and the WriteStart Songbook for Level 2, but the instructions say not to require correct fingering until Level 2. Fingering images are gradually phased out in Level 3.
Level 1 teaches a few songs that require both hands simultaneously, but both hands play the same notes an octave apart. The Level 2 WriteStart Songbook introduces a few songs with slightly different notes for right and left hands, and it adds a line for the teacher to accompany the student. Sharps and flats are taught briefly in Level 1 and more in-depth in Level 2.
As children begin the program, they are allowed to play with whatever fingers they wish, and they learn proper fingering as they progress. The WriteStart Five Finger Songbook (Level 2) and the WriteRhythm Eight Finger Book (Level 3) focus particularly on correct fingering.
The color coding is a critical component of the course through the first two levels. The same colors are used consistently throughout the program until students gradually transition to black and white. Color coding is gradually replaced by black-and-white music notation in Level 3.
Until Level 3, rhythm is ignored, and most of the music is written in quarter notes. Level 3 teaches rhythm as children learn about different types of notes and rests, time signatures, and how to calculate the correct count per measure. Level 3’s three songbooks gradually introduce more complexity as students learn transposition (playing songs in different keys), read music with inter-ledger lines, and learn about repeat signs, dynamics (e.g., fortissimo and pianissimo), tempos (e.g., allegro and adagio), and touch (e.g., staccato and slurs).
The program teaches with lots of repetition through multiple learning avenues: reading the books, writing, coloring, singing, playing the keyboard, using the spinners, clapping out rhythms, manipulating Unifix Cubes, and working with flashcards. In addition, children begin to compose and write their own songs early in the program. This unusual feature works to reinforce knowledge as students learn to draw staffs, clefs, notes, and other musical notations, and it also teaches creativity. Activities and instructions in the books guide students as they compose songs, so they don’t have to just make up something from thin air.
I mentioned spinners in the previous paragraph, and that might have sounded odd to you. The Spinner Book and a laminated page with four spinner bases are all used with the transparent spinner that is set on top of each “base.” Spinners are used to reinforce music theory, as a creative way to compose songs, and even to choose what to learn next. (This should be a more enjoyable way of learning theory than filling in worksheets.) Students might spin and then play notes on a keyboard or write notes on a piece of the provided staff paper. They might spin, then orally identify symbols such as flats and sharps, and they might spin one of five types of scales, then play it on the keyboard. Spinners in the last third of the book work on advanced concepts, such as time signatures, note time values, tempos, and dynamics, So, while the Spinner Book comes with Level 2, it will also be used with the last two levels.
MerrieNan Melodies is a robust program for teaching piano/keyboarding skills using multisensory and creative learning methods.