The piano is one of those instruments I’ve always dreamed of playing. Every time I hear the dancing notes of ‘Fur Elise,’ or during the Christmas holidays, George Winston’s dramatic ‘Carol of the Bells,’ I feel compelled to learn how to play the instrument myself.
But as soon as I sit down in front of a piano, I’m lost in a sea of black and white. Throughout my feeble attempts to learn piano, I’ve mastered ‘Chopsticks’ and one hand of ‘Heart and Soul.’ After that, my brain collides with my fingers, and the resulting mash-up of sound is more like death metal than classical. ‘
Enter Page Stegner, Truckee’s very own piano man. Stegner teaches his piano lessons according to the Simply Music curriculum, an Australian-developed piano and keyboard teaching method. After your first lesson, Stegner says that you will walk out playing the piano.
‘This [the Simply Music curriculum] is designed more for the masses to be able to just come home at the end of the day, sit down, and play a few tunes,’ Stegner said. ‘And you’ll be able to do that after the first lesson.’
Forever the skeptic, I figured that we would learn ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on my first lesson at Truckee Bagel Co., which included four people and myself — Stegner starts beginners out in group lessons. But Stegner had another moody tune in mind, ‘Night Storm.’ After playing the ballad for us, Stegner broke the song into fragments and patterns to make it more approachable. First, he had the group in the lesson practice the song on cardboard keyboards so that we could understand the fingerings. Then we took the song to the piano. We still stumbled, but the black and white keys created an audible melody, a pleasant change to the ears from my prior attempts.
‘One of the premises of Simply Music is that we are all deeply and profoundly musical,’ Stegner said.
At the root of the Simply Music method is a ‘playing-based’ philosophy. Students don’t learn how to read music until completing at least a year of lessons, after they’ve mastered three levels of the program and some 30 to 50 songs. Stegner compares the method to how children learn to speak and read. Babies learn a few words, then sentences, years before they read their first book. Learning the piano can be a similar process. After a strong foundation has been built from playing the blues, contemporary, classical, and accompaniment pieces on the piano, reading music is much easier to grasp.
‘We start thinking of music in sentences,’ Stegner said. ‘What happens, is that very quickly you understand the language of the piano.’
What surprised me was that Stegner has only been playing the piano for about a year and a half. He’s just now teaching himself how to read music through Simply Music’s separate program for piano teachers. Stegner was a contractor in Truckee/Tahoe for about 25 years before he had a change of heart and switched careers.
‘I asked myself, what do I want to do that I would love?’ Stegner said. He was introduced to Simply Music through a friend in the Bay Area who was teaching piano lessons and said he realized that he could actually make a living playing the piano.
Stegner currently has between 25 and 30 students in Sparks and Truckee. He’d like to eventually grow to about 100 students.
‘To be loving what I am doing has added a significant amount of joy to my life,’ Stegner said. ‘My goal is that kids and adults will have music as a companion for the rest of their life.’
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