Category - Understanding the Art of Learning

Is it cheating to teach a piece by rote?

Some may say that teaching a piece by rote cheats a student out of developing reading skills. I say teaching by rote is anything but cheating!

Keep reading and watch a recent Facebook live video to learn why and how I do it. 

Can you teach a Baroque piece by rote?

Since many 88pianokeys.me readers are Going Baroque this fall, I recently made a Facebook live video of how I like to teach “Musette” by rote. In the video you’ll learn why I believe teaching pattern pieces like “Musette” by rote is so important to developing student skills. I’ve added a few more reasons below.

What are the benefits of teaching a piece by rote?

The process…

Builds students’ confidence which leads to success which leads to progress which leads to pianists who stick to the bench.

Boosts confidence in playing skills because the “middle man” or the page is removed and students aren’t trapped in the middle of the piano reading from a limited amount of notes in the grand staff. They can explore the entire range of the piano which provides an exciting and more satisfying sound–especially when the pedal is added!

Elevates playing skills as a rote piece is usually more difficult and sounds more complex than what students can read.

Connects the theory students learn and puts it into action which reinforces and solidifies concepts.

Aids in memorization skills as students are required to remember the feel and the sound of patterns instead of relying on visual cues.

Develops ear skills. If you want to balance eye ear skills, teaching by rote is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Acknowledges the learning styles of students who may find reading a music score much more difficult than learning by ear. This may be the key to unlocking success for those usually stumped by the grand staff.

Enhances reading skills. YES! I firmly believe this is true if you teach by rote and IF you also refer to the score as students learn the piece. They’ll see the shapes and patterns on the grand staff. In addition, this is a great time to master locations of favorite notes like Deep Blue C, Cow C, Middle C, Face C and Cloud C. Watch the video to see what I mean.

Highlights from the video

An easy way to incorporate rote teaching is by assigning everyone in the studio to learn a pattern piece every year–one that is easy to learn because of repetition and patterns based on chords.

Relate patterns in the rote piece to patterns the students already know–like five-finger patterns and chords.

Use words to master rhythms. For the first line of Musette:

Mom, what’s for dinner?

Mom, what’s for dinner?

can be answered with :

Chicken soup and a grilled cheese sandwich

BBQ chicken with some coleslaw

Meatball, spaghetti with some red sauce

Tacos with cheese and guacamole.

For line three, use these words to match the rhythm:

Hurry up , hurry up, it’s so late

I just want some dinner and some ice cream!

Record yourself or students playing the piece correctly so they can listen to it at home.

There will be rhythmic gaps between sections. To eliminate gaps:

Learn the notes without leaps, then add the leap.

Use sticky notes to isolate large hand shifts and repeat over and over

Learn the pattern in the RH and then teach the LH the same pattern.

Lock in a steady beat and eliminate all gaps between measures with a rockin’ beat from a device or Clavinova.

To catch all the other tricks I use to teach Musette, check out the video!

Books I like to use for Baroque and Classical literature:

Keith Snell’s Essential Keyboard Repertoire

Faber’s The Developing Artist Series

If you do like hanging out on Facebook and enjoy talking all things pedagogy, join my group Piano Pedagogy On and Off the Bench. It’s where I house all my Facebook live videos and offer an environment of discussion and encouragement (no venting, whining or feuding here!)

-Leila

PS If you cannot see the video below, please email me at lviss@me.com and I’ll send you the file.

What are your favorite pieces to teach by rote?

-Leila


PS! Check out Andrea West’s spectacular graphic designs for Fall events in your studio! I cannot pick a favorite.

Check out all the designs and GET yours HERE.

-Leila

What does GRIT look like in the music studio?

Believe it or not, talent has little to do with success. The extensive research by professor Angela Duckworth has found that those with grit will have more success.

Watch the video (found on the Facebook page of Illumeably.com ) to hear more.

After watching Duckworth’s video, it got me wondering what grit would look like in the music studio and made me want to dig deeper into the topic.

“Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance.”

According to Duckworth, “grit has a more significant correlation to high school graduation rates than things like family income and social status do.” Read More

What We Can Learn from the Parents of Condoleezza Rice, Pianist and Politician

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Condoleezza Rice give the keynote address at the MTAC (Music Teachers of California) conference where the theme was “Breaking Barriers.” It was an honor I soon won’t forget; first, of course, because of the spectacular story of inspiration Ms Rice wove and secondly, because I took notes! Not copious notes but, enough to build an outline to share.

After a week of musing over Ms Rice’s speech, I made some insights about her story and parenting styles. I hope you’ll read to the end as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Here’s a link to a free download of the article if you’d like to share a hard copy with your families.)

Read More

Can you carve out a career by ear?

Jake Mirow is one of those students you don’t forget. Don’t get me wrong, I treasure all my current and former students but Jake was different. In fact, that’s how Jake came to my studio, because his mom and dad knew he was different and that he needed something different.

What does different mean? Jake has an uncanny ability to play by ear with style and flair. The best way to explain it? He’s hard-wired differently than most.

Example? After seeing the movie Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey in 2009, Jake returned to his lesson and played a jaw-dropping medley of the soundtrack. It’s like his ears have a photographic memory?!?

Mmm….what does a classically trained pianist trying to get over her own fear of improvising do with a student like Jake? Read More

Use Fresh Produce to Produce Strong Rhythm Readers

You must admit, reading from the grand staff is difficult and as you may know it’s not easy to teach either!

The process of reading the “map for music” involves many steps including these four:

  • Identification of the pitch name.
  • Determining the location of that pitch on the keyboard.
  • Recognizing the duration or how long the pitch will be played.
  • Where that pitch is located within a measure.

Watch the video below to see how I specifically focus on the last two of the four steps. I’m using PRODUCE to PRODUCE strong rhythm readers. Here’s a link to the video.

Get your Rhythm Produce Here

Read More

How to Move Your Studio Off the Bench (Part 2)

Have you been thinking about adding group instruction, summer camps, Off Bench time–anything different from what you have offered in the past in your studio?

If so, you MUST read this second post in a series of two written by Daniel Patterson. (Check out his website, GrowYourMusicStudio.com.) He has a way with persuasion and it will equip you with words to encourage your parents to be on board with your studio game plan and help you gain their trust as a teacher and expert in the field.

Once you master the script Daniel provides below, you may need some help determining your course for a new ON Bench OFF Bench (OBOB) format and ideas on how to fill that time with productive assignments.  Or, you may be adding group lessons and summer camps into the mix and need activities. Why not work with me and I’ll help you find solutions for your specific needs. You’ll find more details about a personal consultation and a discount code at the end of this post.

Take it away, Daniel… Read More

Consider the Wisdom of Winston Churchill

Spoiler Alert for those who have not seen the movie, The Imitation Game!

The Imitation Game tells the true story of Alan Turing who was hired by the British government to 11180871_detcrack the codes of Germany’s WWII Enigma machine used to communicate their warfare strategies. Turing’s awkward social skills made fellow scholars suspicious and fearful of his strange determination to build a code-cracking machine to solve what humans could not.

Despite many obstacles, Turing’s digital computer or as he called it, “an electrical brain” broke the German’s Enigma thanks to his tenacious brilliance. By the way, the word “enigma” is defined as a puzzle that appears to be unsolvable.

Winston Churchill deserves some credit in all this.  It was under his visionary authority that Turing was granted permission and funds to build his machine overriding Turing’s immediate authorities. Churchill realized that building a machine that processes far faster than the human brain would be the only way to win the war. He recognized that a “social misfit” like Turing had an imagination that could not, would not, be capped and banked on it. It was estimated that Turing’s computer saved 14 million lives.

So how does this historical movie connect with today’s piano teachers, students and their parents? Read on.

Feel the Beat Off the Seat

When the Colorado Music Teachers Association emailed a notification of their most recent newsletter, I dutifully opened the document to see the IMG_1057happenings of the state music teacher scene presuming it would be the typical fair. Little did I know the newsletter had recently been revamped with a new hip look and included many savvy articles. One in particular caught my eye as it dealt with the fundamentals of ALL rhythmic understanding: finding and feeling a pulse. Although Barbara Grout, the author, and I have not met personally, we are virtual colleagues and I asked if she would be willing to share her article with 88pianokeys.me. Sprinkled through the article, are pics and videos of my students trying out some of Barbara’s suggestions. 

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Rhythm is kinesthetic…it cannot be learned through counting…it can only be learned through movement.” –Edwin Gordon, PhD

For many years after I started teaching piano, I assumed that my students would learn correct rhythms as a natural part of the teaching process. If I could just get them to show up for lessons, learn their pieces, practice at home, learn notation, count the beats, and perform at recitals, then they would automatically grasp everything they needed to know about rhythm. Right?

Wrong.

“Rhythm and tone are interdependent. They get ‘braided’ together to form melody. [But] in our brains, rhythm and tone are independent [of each other]. They are not braided [together] at all. The mind has no melody processor, only separate tone and rhythm processors working in parallel.”    –Edwin Gordon

In other words, students will never truly understand or feel rhythm by sitting at the piano bench. They need to get up and move, because movement is what activates the rhythm processor in the brain.

Just yesterday my students Halle and Logan played one section of Allegretto II by Czerny with only three beats per measure where the notation calls for four; later in the day my student Stella played a four-beat measure for every dotted half note in the minuet she was learning; and after that Quinn’s last measure of Christmas Day Secrets was rushed. Why were they struggling to play the correct meter? Because they hadn’t internalized it. What was the solution? Not more explanation. Not counting. Not even repetition. The solution was to get them moving, off the piano bench.

“A lack of understanding of meter is evident when a student fails to maintain 3/4 time by extending the third beat sothat she is inadvertently playing in 4/4.” –Joy Morin, Building Awareness of Rhythm in Piano Students

Rhythm: Patterns in Time

There are three elements to rhythm: 1) macrobeats (also called tempo or the “big beat”); 2)  microbeats (meter or the “little beat”); and 3) melodic rhythm patterns (rhythm of the melody). All three elements are needed to establish rhythmic context. When one element is missing, rhythm becomes rigid, erratic or inconsistent.

Movement and rhythmic chanting go together. Through movement and chanting students can be exposed to many different rhythm patterns. This allows them to develop a rhythm vocabulary in the same way that babies learn a language vocabulary. And just as babies soon become fluent speakers of languages, music students can become fluent players of rhythms.

For very young or beginning students, I start with the neutral syllable “bah” for chanting, because it’s easy to remember and doesn’t distract the child from focusing on the rhythm. Once they are familiar with basic rhythm patterns, I have them begin using the rhythm-specific syllables suggested by Edwin Gordon—“du” for the macro beat, “du de” for duple meter micro beats and “du da di” for triple meter micro beats. These syllables are not random. Gordon chose them because they enhance the kinesthetic experience. When students chant and move to these syllables, they really feel the beat.

So enough theory already! Let’s get off the seat and into the beat!

Rhythm Activities

  1. Tennis Ball Bounce. First establish the tempo. Students bounce the ball on the big beat while chanting the rhythm pattern—or singing—a piece they’re learning.
  2. Meter Game: This activity helps students build a sense of meter. Play short sections of a piece the student is learning and ask the student to sway back and forth from foot to foot to the big beat while their fingertips tap out the meter on the sides of their thighs. To promote understanding, ask them whether their fingers are tapping in two or three (two microbeats per macrobeat or three microbeats per macrobeat—that is, duple or triple meter). Ask them how many taps are they tapping for each foot. Exposing your students to this activity needs to be done every week, because it takes months for most students to learn to feel the difference between duple and triple meter. (The CD, You are My Sunshine, published by GIAmusic.com, is excellent for this activity as it has over 100 tunes in different meters.)
  3. Pass the Ball. This is a group activity similar to Tennis Ball Bounce. First establish the tempo and the meter beats. Students stand or sit in a circle and pass the ball on the macrobeat. Start with one ball being passed, then add more as they get proficient. (Suggested by Amy Greer, New Mexico.)
  4. Circle Chanting: Have students stand in a circle. First establish the macrobeat and the microbeat. Students begin to sway to the macrobeat. Divide the group. Ask some to chant the macrobeat (du…du…du…du). Ask other students chant microbeats (du-de or du-da-di). Have one student chant rhythm of the melody. Switch parts.  This allows students to physically experience each element of rhythm. (Suggested by Marilyn Lowe, www.musicmovesforpiano.com)
  5. Piano Rhythms: For group lessons. First, establish macrobeat and microbeat. Students line up at the piano and all chant a rhythm in unison. Then, one at a time, they play it on the piano, using any keys. Chant the same rhythm while next student goes to piano and plays it. Variation: one student plays a bass ostinato while others take turns chanting and playing. Use black keys.
  6. Jump: For group classes. While chanting rhythm patterns, students jump up and land on the “du” or macrobeat. Variation: Students throw a yarn ball on the “du” and catch it on the “du.” (Suggested by Joan Johnson, New Jersey.)
  7. Rhythm Train: Form a rumba line. The leader chants patterns in different meters (3/4, 2/4, 5/4, 5/8, 7/8, etc.) while everyone else steps together to the macrobeat (which stays the same throughout).
  8. Duet Chanting and Movement. Two or more students chant two different patterns simultaneously while moving to the same big beat.
  9. Rope Activity:  Cut a piece of rope into two pieces of equal length. Two students face each other holding opposite ends of the ropes, singing a song they are learning while moving their arms back and forth in a swaying motion to the macrobeat. Students can also use a scarf instead of rope—or hold hands.

Flow: Continuous, Fluid Movement

Rhythm: from Latin rhythmus, Greek rhuthmos: to flow

There is more to rhythm than just keeping the beat. Students also need to play musically and expressively, using proper phrasing. The key is continuous, flowing movement, which helps students feel the space between beats. When they feel that space, they are less likely to rush or drag the tempo.

Continuous fluid movement using weight and flow is especially important for developing musicianship.” –Marilyn Lowe, www.musicmovesforpiano.com

“Beat means nothing to a person who cannot move with a relaxed, artistic sense of flow.” –Eric Bluestine, The Ways Children Learn Music 

Try this: Put on a recording of your favorite music and move your arm in a sideways Figure 8 or infinity sign. Keep the Figure 8 going, moving your arm smoothly and continuously. Then try it with your students. I’ve seen dramatic results from this activity. Students who struggled to find the rhythm or who played mechanically returned to the piano with a feel for phrasing. They started making music.

To know what a free-flowing movement feels like, students must also experience the opposite: Bound. As you move your arm, imagine being tied up, pushing arms stiffly through thick air or swimming through thick mud. Then “release” the binding and experience free-flowing movements again.

Flow Activities

  1. Scarf/Balloon Activity: Holding a scarf or balloon in each hand, the student takes these props on “a ride” through space—in front, above,IMG_1023 to the side and behind them, while singing, chanting a rhythm pattern or moving to recorded music. Remember that the movement needs to be continuous and flowing. To feel what the opposite of flow feels like, have them also try it imagining they are pushing the props through thick air or under water.
  2. Microbeat Flicks: Begin moving the arms in continuous, serpentine motions, using all the space around the body while singing or chanting a rhythm pattern. Keeping this continuous arm movement going, begin flicking the fingers in time to the microbeats. With practice this activity can have a profound effect on the student’s ability to feel the space between the beats.
  3. Body Parts: Sing a song or chant a rhythm pattern while the students move one part of the body at a time—for example, thumbs, then elbows, shoulders, hands, knees and hips—in curvy pathways and continuous motion.

By now some of you might be thinking, “This is brilliant!” while others are thinking, “This is bizarre!” I’ve had both thoughts as well. But after experimenting with these activities for several years, it’s become increasingly clear that they really work. Students who are challenged by rhythm begin to feel it on a deeper level—and their playing becomes more accurate. Students who do not have the same challenges with rhythm play more expressively. And all my students enjoy the games, especially in groups. That’s why I usually do them between lessons, when one family is about to leave and another is arriving.

“Find the groove before you start playing.” –Victor Wooten, renowned jazz bass player and author of The Music Lesson

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Editor’s Note: For those who want to experience these rhythm activities hands-on, Barb Grout will be presenting a rhythm workshop at the monthly Pikes Peak Music Teachers meeting on February 11, 2014 at 10:00 am.

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Thanks for sharing, Barbara!

Barbara Grout has taught Suzuki Piano since 1984. She has a Bachelor of Music Degree, cum laude, from the University of Miami (Florida) School of Music where she studied saxophone, piano, flute and clarinet, played in the University of Miami jazz bands and double-majored in Music Education and Music Therapy.

She is currently the Independent Music Teachers Forum Chair for the state of Colorado Music Teachers Association.  She has written articles on motivating oneself and one’s students and leading students to independence.  Her next “Feel the Beat Off the Seat” workshop will be at the Pikes Peak Music Teachers Association meeting on February 11, 2014.  Website: www.barbgroutpiano.com

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Bibliography.

Bluestine, Eric:  The Ways Children Learn Music

Eskelin, Gerald:  Lies My Music Teacher Told Me; Second Edition

Gordon, Edwin E.:  Clarity by Comparison and Relationship;  Improvisation in the Music Classroom;  Learning Sequences in Music.

Lange, Diane: Together in Harmony

Lowe, Marilyn: Music Moves for Piano, Teachers Lesson Plans Book One; Rhythm and Tonal Patterns

soundpoint@3-DPiano.com: Joy Morin’s article: Building Awareness of Rhythm in Piano Students.  (Her blog about piano teaching is: ColorInMyPiano.com)

Clavier Companion; Independence Day: Music Reading, Craig Sale, Ed. May/June 2013. www.claviercompanion.com p. 36 for videos

Wooten, Victor:  The Music Lesson

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How do YOU use movement to secure rhythmic understanding–rather–help your students get their groove on?

The Best Route to Motivation

Question: The word “best” sounds a little boastful, are you sure you know which route is THE BEST when attempting to motivate students?motivation

Answer: I agree. I always question anyone who claims to have the “best” solution to anything; but, as I was preparing this post about my fall studio practice incentive (part two of the”Why Not KISS IT and Make it Better” post) I was reminded about something that I make clear to potential parents and students during an initial interview. I firmly believe that it is NOT my duty to make anyone practice–in other words–to motivate them.

Q: Mmm…that seems counterproductive. So, what do you view the duty of  a piano teacher to be?

A: Experience has taught me that getting angry, showing frustration, threatening, bribing, implementing fancy motivational programs, standing on my head or any such fanatical antic does not improve home practice. Instead I hold fast to this job description to motivate:

find the music students enjoy and equip them with the skills to play that music and to create their own. 

 If I’m successful at these tasks, practice and most importantly progress occurs. Hooking students into a cycle of strong practice habits to ensure progress on favorite composed or original pieces develops happy, intrinsically motivated students, which in turn creates satisfied parents which generates student retention, enthusiastic referrals, and new customers, in other words–a full studio.

Q: If that’s “all”  it takes, why would you post an article describing your latest studio incentive? 

SONY DSCA: Let me explain…I’m puzzled why I didn’t think of this when I first began implementing progress scores in my lesson notes. This score reflects my assessment of how much progress was demonstrated over the past week. Here’s the scale:

  • 5 = WOW:  exceeded my highest expectations, all goals were met and then some
  • 4 = EXCELLENT: all goals were met and progress made by consistent practice
  • 3 = NICE: most goals were met but some were not, due to lack of time, goals stated were unclear,  goals set were too difficult to meet…
  • 2 = OK: some goals were met, but practice between lessons was not sufficient for much progress and parental supervision is advised
  • 1 = HO HUM: looks like last weeks goals will be repeated as little or no practice occurred and little progress made and parental supervision is required.

With one number parents can see the measure of their pianist’s efforts at home; however, I’ve noticed students, too, take great pride in the number received. In fact, in some cases this number serves as parent leverage for home privileges and more. Here’s what I’ve implemented this year to bring even more significance to that crucial number:

  • After the students receive a progress rating they are asked to keep track of the scores on a sheet provided by me in their binder.
  • At the end of this session (in about 13 weeks) all numbers will be tallied.
  • The pianists with the highest progress score total in the studio will receive special recognition.

Here’s the chart for what students can expect to receive:

  • 55-65 points =a $5 gift card, music book of choice (up to $5), or free code for an app (or something cool)IMG_0296
  • 42-52= $1000 in Music Money (click here to learn more about TCW Music Money)
  • 35-41 points = $500 in Music Money
  • 14-34 points = time to re-evaluate practice schedule
  • 0-13 points = time to find something better to do besides piano lessons 🙁

Q: Can we get back to the initial question, why include this post about a studio incentive if you don’t believe motivating students to practice is your responsibility?

A: Although this may seem that I’m using fabulous prizes to enlist practice, I see it differently. With this incentive program, students are not recognized for the most practice hours but for the MOST PROGRESS made. At lessons I remind them that extreme progress is evident when using smart practice strategies, carefully following assignments, going above and beyond what is assigned and as a result creating a musical performance of a favorite piece in less than expected time.

Q: How do you use TCW’s Music Money and claim NOT to use blatant bribery?

A:  I’ll admit, I do award Music Money for numerous successes and tasks completed; but, one of my favorite ways to use Music Money is at lessons. Once a passage is reviewed hands alone, working hands together can be tricky. This is when I make an offer:

“Twenty bucks if you can play the first measure hands together with zero errors.”

music-money

Thanks to my good friend Charlene and her two “cranky pals”, I always keep a stash of cash in the studio!

Eyes light up, focus is heightened and more often than not, the bank pays out $20. Placing bets on students’ success carries over to their practice between lessons as I encourage them to imagine that same pressure of “zero errors” at the home bench. In fact, I challenge practicers that if they can play a passage perfectly the first time, they don’t have to practice it again that day.

In my recent post about using the KISSING IT strategy, I mentioned how I use Post-it arrows to identify tricky spots. If those tricky spots are “healed” by the next lesson, the pianist receives $5. I could go on and on with examples of how I pay off students for even the smallest achievements. Students work hard for cold cash and take delight in meeting any reasonable challenge.

Q: So, what IS the best way to motivate students?

A: It boils down to two tasks for the teacher:

  • find the music students enjoy
  • equip them with top-notch practice strategies to build strong skills

So pianists can

  • play music they like and
  • create their own.

This latest studio incentive is a celebration of progress earned by hard practice. Practicing is much more tolerable when strategies are devised and the music is appealing so ultimately, it’s all about the music–the reason for signing up for piano lessons in the first place! Check out the 88pianokeys.me “Looking for Intermediate Repertoire” Page. It’s not well-organized yet, but as I find them, I add links to relevant music resources for those hard-to-shop-for students who outgrow or resist method books.

One more thing, I created documents to be placed in the front of my students’ binders for easy reference about  studio information, practice tips, special dates, AND a place to record practice scores.  A HUGE thank you to Susan Paradis for providing such a lovely template for these important papers!

Here’s a PDF of the documents: Binder Documents 2013

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iPad Revolution-Book-Comp-4 2Do you agree with this view on motivating students? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Stay in touch by signing up for the 88pianokeys.me newsletter here.

Interested in learning how I use the iPad to motivate?

Order my book The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps here.

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September’s Quote of the Month

Singer Island, Florida, 2013

Singer Island, Florida, 2013

“Perhaps not everything has to be measured. I’d argue that this is especially true when it comes to

matters of art, matters of beauty, matters of the soul.

It is nice to know where we stand, but let us not become so obsessed with where we stand

that we lose all sight of what we really stand for.”

-Pete Jutras, Editor, Clavier Companion, September/October, 2013