teaching multiple versions of a song

Dusty Turtle
04/02/18 12:20:50AM

I have had a lot of success teaching beginning dulcimer players by offering multiple versions of a song with increasing complexity.  I first did this with Bile Dem Cabbage, with an initial version based only on quarter notes, fingering only on the melody string, and strumming across all the strings.  A second version adds half notes, so students learn to skip strums.  Then a third version includes eighth notes, so students learn to strum in both directions.  Then a fourth version adds two-finger chords. And so on.  You can see how this goes.  

For the past year or so I've taught versions of Cabbage, Buffalo Gals, and Mississippi Sawyer using this method.  Some of my no-longer-beginner students have asked for more songs like this, so today, inspired by the audio version of Sweet Hour of Prayer that @Ariane posted, I tabbed out several versions of that hymn.  

The first is all quarter notes.  The second adds the half notes that begin most of the measures as well as a few eighth notes.  The third version asks the player not to strum across all the strings all the time but to follow the tab and sometimes play single notes (usually the quarter note that follows the half note of each measure).  The fourth version adds some two-finger chords.  The fifth version adds some three-finger chords.  The sixth version replaces some of those basic major chords with minor chords and alternative voicings, demonstrating some of the harmonic options that the song allows.  And the seventh version is a combination of the fifth and sixth, but arpeggiates those chords to create a version that would be nice fingerpicked or flatpicked.

My goal is both to teach songs to beginners so that they can learn the basics of a song quickly and then use that as a platform from which to develop more skills, and also to demonstrate to intermediate players the ways they can take a basic melody and enhance it to make it their own.

Do any of you teach students using this approach of beginning with simple versions of tunes and slowly adding elements to make them more interesting?  Do you see any drawbacks to doing this?  Do you think there might be value in reversing this process, starting with a more complex arrangement and moving measure-by-measure?