The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

April 9, 2012

Joplin piano teacher puts gift to good use in lessons

JOPLIN, Mo. — Debi Downs would love to get a studio for teaching piano lessons, so she could get her house back.

But the living room in the house where she has lived for about 10 years is decked out pretty nicely for piano lessons.

The room has five keyboards, four turned to face the one where Downs sits. Above her keyboard, a camera mounted to the ceiling records her hands as she plays. The image is displayed on a large flat-screen TV on the mantel, so that all of her students can see how she plays “Fur Elise,” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

As the owner of A Joyful Noise Music Studio, Downs teaches piano, violin and cello to students from around the area. And thanks to a gift from an international piano education foundation, Downs is able to teach the gift of music to more people than she could before.

And a recent scholarship lets her teach a unique, hands-on program to aspiring pianists.

Similar to the Suzuki method of violin instruction, Simply Music is a method for learning piano with playing the keys as a foundation, not reading music. Shin’ichi Suzuki, creator of the Suzuki method, and Australian music educator Neil Moore, developer of Simply Music, both are based in a philosophy of relying on an instinctual understanding of music that everyone has.

“The difference is students start playing by reading music,” Downs said. “They start playing right off. They can play music from the very moment they sit down.”

Downs received training and certification from Simply Music to teach its program to students. Valued at about $1,500, the program allowed Downs to expand how she teaches music. She is also able to offer discounted rates to tornado victims

Paula Wallace, 66, takes one of Downs’ classes, and has fallen in love with practicing. She said she wasn’t very musical growing up, but the program has been easy to pick up.

“I love to practice,” Wallace said. “I hope this doesn’t wear off.”

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