The Williams Method: Scampering Scarecrow helps pioneer a music-teaching tool

Garth Williams showcased his new music teaching book — and his violin skill — during the News Leader Pictorial’s Big Book Sale in September. - Peter W. Rusland
Garth Williams showcased his new music teaching book — and his violin skill — during the News Leader Pictorial’s Big Book Sale in September.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Students learn while music teachers turn pages in composer Garth Williams' instructional book The Scampering Scarecrow (And Other Pieces).

"This book took me the past spring and summer to put together," the veteran teaching violinist said of his easy-learning book for violin and piano.

"The individual pieces were on my website, and I wanted to put a book together for situations where I could explain in the book, and on the pages.

"Every piece has the scale the piece is written in, along with the rhythms contained in that piece; it's really a good teaching medium."

Williams said he recognized younger instructors needed direction on how to go about teaching a piece.

"My plan is to have a teacher start with the scale, then use the rhythms that go along with it, because the rhythms are taken from the piece.

"Before the student starts learning the piece, they've spent time working on its scale and rhythms," he said, of works usually holding four of five rhythms.

"It makes the job of teaching much more satisfying for the teacher and the student."

Three-year violin pupil Dona Wilkie, 10, was excited about Williams' effective technique — and having his piece Peek A Boo Ghost dedicated to her.

"Actually it's really cool," the Grade 5 Tansor elementary pupil said. "It's easy to play; I like the sound — it's fast, then gets slow.

"Most of the book I don't know know how to play. I'd love to play A Great Big Boo In 3 (dedicated to Louise Wong), and The Hesitant Hairy Rabbit (Hannah Chua). Mr. Williams taught me that one, but I kind of forgot it."

Other Scarecrow pieces (the title tune honours Jonah Chua) include The Mischievous Mop (Hugh Rimmer), The Little Bud Car That Could (to grand-daughter Kaitlyn Arrowsmith), Berceuse (Maja Celestina Pintus), plus The Rhino And The Chimp, Floating Snowflakes, and The Skipping Rabbit.

Williams stuffed Scarecrow with his classical compositions after realizing a scarcity of seasonal songs to teach.

"I was in a music store looking for pieces for Halloween, Easter, and  Christmas, and there just weren't any.

"I thought it was the moment to write pieces for particular times of the year. Peek A Boo Ghost, and Big Boo are pieces used for Halloween."

Hesitant and Skipping rabbit tunes are for Easter.

"What's important about my book is children like pictures in books, so I've included a charicature of the Hesitant Rabbit and the Big Bad Boo."

That art lends students some interest when using the book, he explained.

"I'm also written blogs on my website where I take a particular piece from the book and explain how to go about teaching it.

"It's made teaching the piece much easier."

Through the blog, teachers can see several pieces, then basically print the blog and see how to teach it.

"A lot of teachers don't have pianistic abilities so I've recorded all the pieces on MP3," he said. "If someone buys the book, they can go to the website and download all the MP3 files for free."

For pupils working on a particular piece, Williams has scanned in all the piano pieces for Scarecrow and other tunes.

"I can slow down the speed so they can play it comfortably, and we can gradually speed it up," he said of the MP3 files.

"You can increase the speed as the student's ready to handle a new speed. It makes the whole learning process easier for teacher and student," he said of his teaching tools.

"With MP3 players, teachers with the book can do exactly what I do in my studio."

Students can also load piano parts onto USB drives for practice playing the violin parts with the piano.

The violin parts of a tune can be downloaded too.

"Because they know the piano part, they can practise knowing they're in the right part. It's a great teaching tool."

Williams advertises his book, and teaching method, in the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers magazine.

His ad also appears in the B.C. Music Teachers journal Progressions.

"I think teachers will really use it.

"A teacher in P.E.I. bought the book and says all her kids have played seven of the 11 pieces," he said, noting his MP3 files were also used.

Instructors of any instrument can use his read-listen-play, speed-flexible format for any piece.

"Find the rhythms of a piece, and use all my suggestions in my book — you build it like building a chimney," he summed.

"It's one step at a time, and teaching the best way you can find."

Williams is eager to show and tell his method during music-studio demonstrations, or conventions.

"That's the best way to show people how it works," he said.

He's aiming for a spring concert of Scarecrow works played by his students, and accompanied by his pianist wife, Ruth.

The Scampering Scarecrow sells for $21.50 at Duncan Music, Long & McQuade, and Tom Lee Music. It's $20 on Williams' website kantatastudios.com.

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