Thursday, July 30, 2015

3 Steps to More Effective Technique Practice


    After reading over Julie Knerr's informative dissertation on teaching beginning technique I've been contemplating ideas to ramp up the success of technical drills in my studio.  I follow the curriculum sequence of Music Progressions and start by introducing 5 finger patterns (by rote with picture scales) to beginners
and  also introduce by rote some of the pianosafari technical pieces.  Later students learn one octave scales, arpeggios, chord progressions, tonic and dominant chords and primary chord inversions and V7-I inversions. In addition I use the Faber or Hal Leonard Technique books to accompany their method books.
  Since the material in the technique books is generally shorter and simpler than the method book songs, students can quickly learn the notes and rhythms and often sightread the patterns correctly the first time.  I devised this 3 step acronym to  encourage focus on "A.L.L." the technical aspects of the music so that hopefully after a week of "practice" come back to lessons not just playing correct notes and rhythms but also display proper technical motions and a more in depth auditory, tactile and kinesthetic mastery of musical patterns.
For example in Piano Adventures 2A Technique (p.4) "Running for the Taxi" at lessons I guide the students with questions and focused practice steps.

Step 1:  Analyze- Scan the music for familiar "chunks,"noting fingering and rhythm patterns.  Student discovers this exercise is simply 2 pentascales up & down + a chord using traditional fingering.  Play while focusing eyes on the music
Step 2:  Look- Once you've learned the pattern, play from memory watching your arms and hands as you play. Check fingers for finger dents. Is your thumb in slide position? Is your arm following your fingers?  Are your non playing fingers relaxed?
Step 3:  Listen  - Play the pattern again but with your eyes closed, listening closely to the sound.  Do the scales sound legato? Is the tone even? Can you hear the difference between forte and piano on the repeat?

At home I ask them to use the 3 step practice focus each day.  I adapt the focus goals based on the areas the student needs to work on.  For one student it may be relaxing a stiff pinky, Another may need to focus on centering the arm weight over the playing finger or using arm weight to create a forte sound.
In addition to making at home more effective, this 3 step approach can strengthen the learning "mode" that doesn't come as naturally to the student.  For example, because I am primarily a visual learner the analysis part of piano playing comes naturally to me, but the tactile challenge of playing with eyes closed brings a greater awareness to me of how scale patterns feel under my fingers.
What are some of your favorite tips for reinforcing good technique? 

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