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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006

Texts combine piano with basic English for kids

Staff writer

A Tokyo-based publisher of music books has debuted texts that let children combine piano study with English in an effort to help them continue playing instruments.

News photo
Piano insrtructor Tomoko Tamura shows off the textbook "Piano Discoveries" and attached CD at her home in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

Zen-On Music Co.'s three-book series "Piano Discoveries,' which came out Friday, was originally published by Lorenz Corp. in Ohio.

The Japanese version contains songs, musical terms and simple English phrases to instruct how to play piano tunes, accompanied by Japanese translations of the songs and detailed instructions.

The textbooks are designed to let kids learn English terms for musical scales, notes and characters with ease, said piano teacher Tomoko Tamura, who translated the Japanese explanations from the original version.

For example, the song "Make Your Own Sundae" starts with "delicious" and the sound of "D," said Tamura, who has written about 100 music books and gives lectures to piano instructors across the country.

Piano teachers not conversant in English can use CDs attached to the textbooks that include instructions on how to play the piano and songs in the language, she said.

"Many (English) songs in the textbook (for beginners) are about the everyday life of children," Tamura said. "So Japanese children will gain an interest (in English) while learning the songs."

The books were first published in the U.S. in 2001 and have been sold in France and Germany, according to Zen-On Music.

An increasing number of children stop taking music lessons when they enter junior high and high school, Tamura said.

According to a 2002 survey by Benesse Corp., 23.7 percent of 573 fourth-graders in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures were taking music lessons, including piano.

But only 9.7 percent of 823 third-year junior high schoolers studied music, although 40.2 percent of them attended cram schools to prepare for high school entrance exams.

In a 1998 survey, 27.3 percent of fourth-graders were taking music lessons, as were 12.1 percent of students in the third year of junior high.

Tamura said she believes parents have their children quit music and focus on studying for entrance exams -- a situation that motivated her to pursue the new textbooks.

Many of her students who gave up the piano said they did not want to quit, she said.

"A boy wrote in an essay (at school) that 'I lost a big thing and feel empty because I stopped piano lessons,' " said Tamura, who believes the piano can be a way to ease the stress kids suffer in junior high and cram schools or from being bullied.

"Playing the piano keeps children active and can get them to start talking about their feelings," she said.

Tamura hopes the books help instructors teach both the piano and English, and thus prompt parents to let their kids keep taking music lessons.

Zen-On Music said it plans to introduce more books in the series in July.

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