In the News
Gronner Makes Piano Lessons Fun
By LAURA ABRUSCATO
Palisades News Contributor, PALISADES NEWS -- FEBRUARY 3, 2016
In the animated movie, Inside-Out,workers who are inside an 11-year-old girl’s brain sort through long-term memories to decide what memories to hold on to or throw away.
“Four years of piano lessons?” one says. “Let’s throw everything out except ‘Chop-sticks’ and ‘Heart and Soul.’”
Indeed, childhood piano lessons tend not to lead to lifelong playing, says Jy Gronner, owner of Palisades Music School. She aims to change that with the Australian-based Simply Music approach to piano lessons for groups of kids and adults, which champions the idea that everyone is musical.
Simply Music aims to use all parts of the brain. Rather than learning to read music initially, beginning students use diagrams and other tools that isolate the senses to help them learn. The goals are for students to express themselves musically, learn a large repertoire, progress on their own and have a positive feeling about themselves.
For example, students use a keypad (a board with a visual representation of the piano keys) to practice on when they initially learn, then move to the piano.
“You see the pattern visually first before the ear is involved,” Gronner says. “Our brains are pattern-seeking, so the biggest way to retain it is to set it in the brain as a pattern.”
Songs are learned with both hands from the first lesson in a variety of genres, such as classical, blues, ballads and accompaniments. Gronner aims to have students playing 35 to 50 songs in the first year. Reading music is usually introduced in the second year of lessons.
Simply Music was founded by Australian music teacher Neil Moore in 1999. He came up with it initially as a way to visualize music with shapes while teaching piano to a blind child.
Gronner, who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, taught traditional private piano lessons for 20 years before becoming a Simply Music teacher 12 years ago, after learning of the success her sister’s piano students were having with it. Gronner opened her Palisades studio three years ago; she previously had a studio in Marin County. One year ago she moved to a larger location within the Alma Real building and the school now has 120 students, adults and children, with a special program for four- to six-year-olds.
She is active in the community, performing as a clown in the Palisades Fourth of July parade and playing piano with her students at the Palisades farmers’ market. “The kids really respond to her, she’s fun,” says parent Anne-Marie O’Neill whose sons Milo and Finn Dunne, have been students of Gronner’s for three years.
“Learning with two hands from the first lesson is good for this instant gratification generation,” said O’Neill. “The school uses an app where they can log their practice and see when other kids have practiced.”
At a recent lesson, five women were playing the “Bishop Street Blues” they had learned the week before. With two benches pushed together, they learned new songs and played together and individually.
“There, your corpus callosum just grew,” Gronner said, referring to the network of fibers between the two hemispheres of the brain after a student mastered a piece with both hands. “It’s fifteen percent bigger in musicians.”
“This is a dream I’ve had for decades,” said student Karen Delshad, who began playing in October. “Right from the beginning I got joy from it. I thought I needed to have a private lesson but it’s been a great support system, sharing the experience of learning.”
Adult students get together every few months at someone’s home for piano parties where they perform for each other and cheer one another on. Children have a recital/party called a “shingig” in the spring.
In a free introductory seminar, Gronner gives examples, teaches a short song and explains the brain science behind the method.
Visit: palisadesmusicschool.com or phone (310) 454-1045.
Palisades Music: A Simple Approach
Westside People Magazine
September 2, 2014
Jy Gronner taught piano for 20 years before she discovered Simply Music, a method that changed everything.
At her newly expanded Palisades Music School, formerly The Piano Studio, Gronner and a small staff of teachers offer everything from classical to blues piano with the ability to improvise and accompany all under the Simply Music brand.
“Simply Music really is a holistic approach,” Gronner said. “People who think they don’t have a good ear actually do. They just haven’t learned the skill of translating it back out again. People who say they aren’t musical and “failed” at piano as kids actually find they catch on much faster than they expected.”
The method, developed by Australian Neil Moore, begins with the premise that everyone is deeply and profoundly musical. Everyone has rhythm in speech and even walking down the sidewalk. It taps into our brain’s natural ability to follow patterns and rhythm.
For a generation of piano teachers, Simply Music represents a revolution in music training much like it does for the conservatory-trained Gronner. Piano lessons have among the highest failure rate of any taught subject. Most people who take lessons never acquire the ability to just sit down and play. And this was a way to change that.
Similar to the way we learn to speak as a child, Simply Music begins with a “playing-based approach” that has students playing 35-50 songs by memory after the first year. Some of the company’s promotional material feature young children belting out blues riffs.
“In the beginning we temporarily delay the reading, which I think is natural if you think about how we learn language as a child,” Gronner said. “We learn to read and spell years after we’ve learned to use the instruments of our mouth and voice to make sounds.”
Gronner became a Simply Music instructor about 10 years ago in Marin County where she established a studio with 250 students. She relocated to Pacific Palisades about two years ago. Her Palisades Music School is a family affair, now including nephew Guy as a teacher. At the time of our interview, the school was moving into a larger space in the 881 Alma Real building.
“I know the kids can’t wait to get here,” she said. “They run in and hug me because they are so happy to be here. And a lot of the adults too say it’s a highlight of their lives to be able to express themselves musically,” Gronner said. “Our ultimate goal is to maximize the likelihood of students acquiring and retaining music as a lifelong companion.”