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Watertown piano instructor discovers the key to teaching youngsters is a group approach

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Jason D. Comet was weary of instructing uninspired piano students.

He was especially tired of a common refrain among them: “I didn’t practice this week.”

“So you’d spend the entire half hour lesson reteaching the lesson again,” Mr. Comet said. “They didn’t retain any information.”

Meanwhile the students’ enthusiasm for learning waned and Mr. Comet’s zeal to teach piano dwindled.

“I thought there had to be a better way,” he said.

He also noticed that youngsters involved in group extracurricular activities like karate, band and gymnastics who were inspired.

“I thought why do we still do piano one-on-one?” Mr. Comet said. “There’s no camaraderie there, no relationships built up and they don’t work with other kids.”

Mr. Comet, owner of Comet Music Studio in Watertown, used to teach organ to adults in a group setting. He asked himself why he couldn’t modify that approach to teach children.

He looked for programs he could use and settled upon the Mayron Cole Piano Method, based in Texas. It’s self-described as “America’s Leading Group Piano Method.” It launched in 1988.

This summer was a chance for Mr. Comet to experiment with the new approach.

“As far as I know, I am the only teacher offering group piano lessons for kids in the north country,” he said.

One-week summer classes were held at the North Country Arts Council, the Carthage YMCA, the Fairgrounds YMCA and at Double Play Sports Community Center in Lowville. More than 60 students took part.

“Today’s digital instruments, prices, sizes and capabilities make this unique classroom approach possible,” Mr. Comet said.

He will offer a free, 45-minute introductory piano class at 10 a.m. Saturday at his Arts on the Square studio, 50 Public Square.

Mr. Comet totes along a “fleet” of seven digital pianos, each about 4 feet long. He uses one, and six students use the others. At his introductory class on Saturday, more than one student will share the mini pianos.

But the class is about more than technology. The way of teaching is also different. Utilizing games and other age-appropriate activities, the classes are divided up into several sections. Students also play music in ensemble — each person playing a different part — creating a sort of “piano orchestra.”

“One week we’ll introduce a concept and the next week we’ll add a new concept but review both concepts,” Mr. Comet said. “The next week, we’ll add a new concept and review all three concepts.”

Mr. Comet said the Cole method has resulted in higher retention rates in attendance and knowledge over private lessons. Course levels start at one and go through level nine.

inspired by others

Piano parent Jaime A. Ninan of Fort Drum said the group approach of Mr. Comet’s classes have made a significant difference for her daughter, Amara, age 5, who attended a summer class held at Arts on the Square and plans to attend an upcoming group of classes.

“When it’s in a group, you know how to keep up with others,” Mrs. Ninan said. “If they don’t understand, they kind of pick it up easier because they see someone else doing it.”

Mrs. Ninan said her daughter had previously taken private piano lessons but didn’t show much progress.

“I had piano lessons, and I knew how she should be reacting to the music,” Mrs. Ninan said. “But since she came to Jason’s class, she’s very confident, she knows the notes and she understands the methodology behind the piano.”

Mrs. Ninan said she’s confident that if Amara didn’t take lessons for the next 10 years, she would be able to come back and pick up where she left off.

“Before, she wouldn’t have been able to do that,” Mrs. Ninan said. “What Jason is using is a very good foundation for her.”

Mr. Comet said students play their assignments together at the start of each class.

“The students know if they didn’t practice, they will not be able to keep up,” he said of the “controlled competition.”

Mr. Comet tells his students to practice twice a day. His classes are built around the school calendar year and are held daily after school. He can also work with home-schooled students before public and parochial schools let out for the day.

The monthly tuition is $70. Course levels have accompanying books and CDs, which cost $33.

Mr. Comet plans to expand his group piano teaching method by hosting adult classes.

Opportunity knocks

The Double Play Sports Community Center in Lowville hosted a week-long class by Mr. Comet over the summer for five students. It targeted underprivileged students and youth at risk, said Daniel M. Myers, the center’s executive director. The class was part of the center’s George Davis Scholarship program it received this year in collaboration with the Northern New York Community Foundation.

Mr. Myers, who teaches special education in Lowville to high school students through Jefferson-Lewis Board of Educational Services, said he was impressed with Mr. Comet’s piano instruction.

“I’m always looking for different ways that I can get kids interested to learn and to especially enrich kids,” Mr. Myers said. “There are kids who can be great musicians but don’t have the opportunity.”

Mr. Myers added, “Jason made it very interesting so they could pick it up fast enough. In a week’s time, they knew part of a song they could all do.”

Shawna Cutuli, senior program director for the Watertown YMCA, said the children in Mr. Comet’s Y’s summer camps also enjoyed his classes.

“We were very pleased to have his program for the summer and hope to offer some more classes,” she said.

the details
WHAT: Introductory piano class with instructor Jason D. Comet using the Mayron Cole Piano Method
WHEN/WHERE: The free, 45-minute class is at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mr. Comet’s studio at Arts on the Square, 50 Public Square.
TO REGISTER: Contact Mr. Comet at 408-3386.
ON THE NET: www.watertownpianolessons.com
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