Digital piano lessons let Saugerties students practice peacefully

Brooke Stade, a student, and Rebecca MacDougall, the program’s teacher.

Saugerties High School has long offered a wide range of course options for the musically inclined, both instrumentalists and voice students. The school’s music program recently added a digital piano lab, giving students a chance to practice in a judgment-free zone. 

Music teacher Rebecca MacDougall said the piano class was introduced in the 2017-18 school year. Its popularity has led to an expansion in its offerings, including the introduction of eight Roland F-140R electric keyboards and an advanced headphone system designed to help students fearful of their imperfections being heard by fellow students. 

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“It has been an amazing and successful addition to the courses offered at the Saugerties High School music department,” said MacDougall. “It’s exciting to have growth in our department and a positive experience for students from a diverse population. Students have been extremely successful at learning to play the piano through this class.”

Walk into the room during class and one would see up to eight students sitting before keyboards and hear the tapping of fingers on keys. MacDougall and other teachers can review student progress by listening and communicating through a central hub. In a traditional piano class, more than one student playing at a time can result in cacophony. Here, students can all practice together without one drowning out another.

MacDougall said the class has been a success. “The advanced headphone system is an amazing feature to the Saugerties lab. Students can learn at their own pace, play duets with a partner without disrupting the practice of other students, and they can play for me and get feedback through the system — which makes it an extremely productive environment,” said MacDougall. “It is amazing to see and hear how great the students sound even by the end of the first month studying the piano. Learning the piano helps with so many things.”

The program was created with both the present and future in mind. “Our music supervisor designed the class to allow non-traditional music students [choir, band] the opportunity to learn piano; for our music students to prepare for college,” said MacDougall. “Learning the piano is a foundational instrument for music education, songwriters and composers to advance their skills at music, and as a prerequisite class before taking music theory, which relies heavily upon skills learned at the piano.”
One student MacDougall asked what she thought of the course said she found it helpful in many ways, including building confidence in a welcoming space. As an advanced music student, she said she loved seeing how other students improve throughout the year, said MacDougall. 

The class is populated by kids who genuinely want to be there. There have been improvements in working with rhythm, time signatures and songwriting.

Additional courses will be offered next school year, bringing the total to three Piano I and one Piano II sections. 

In the meantime, piano lab students will be able to showcase their talents during the spring recital on Monday, June 17 at 5 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

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