Monday, April 30, 2012

Beethoven's Wig: Learning about Musical Motives

A motive or (motif) is a short rhythm or melody passage that is repeated in various parts of a composition.

Listen for the motive in this music video.
1.  Is it a rhythmic or melodic motive?
2.  Come up with some new words that you could sing during the motive.

Some more videos just for fun:

Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Music Memorization Aid: Musical Artmaps

Inspired by the idea from the Practice Revolution to label musical practice sections with names (which I mentioned earlier in this post) I recently used a fun art activity to help my students memorize their recital pieces.  I was impressed by their creativity in coming up with section titles that uniquely reflected the quality of the music.

So for a fun memorization activity, follow these steps:
1-Identify and label the form of the piece.  I typically have them write letters (A, A' B B' etc. above the measures in their music).
2-Choose a creative title for each section that reflects an element of the music (melodic line:slipnslide, rhythm:boomdadaboom, fingering:squish, dynamics: suprise supreeze or mood:creepy fingers) or something the music makes them think of.  Depending on the piece, students could use the titles to create a storyline to match their song to make it even more memorable.

3-Draw pictures or select clipart to represent each section of the music. 

4-As you play from memory, refer to your music art map as needed to visualize the form of the piece.

 Following is an example that I helped my daughter with for her piece Bananappeal from Faber Gold Star Performance Primer Book.
 She chose the following titles for each phrase:
A: Slip-n-Slide (because the notes in the melody go up like a ladder than slide down the scale)
A1: Slip-n-Slip (similar to slip-n-slide but with a little change at the end)
B: Creepy Fingers Boo! (minor sounding section with a "boo" sound at the end)
A: Slip-n- Slide
A1: Slip-n-Slip
Ending: Surprise Supreeze (a couple of notes played slow and soft followed by fast and fun forte open 5ths)

Just through the process of choosing section titles the students reflect on the expressive elements of the piece and therefore tend to remember to play the expressive details.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Musical Playground

During our latest trip to the new playground in town, my children had fun with all of its musical features.

My favorite part was this multi function music station with a marimba, metallaphone and rainmaker from
Wouldn't these make a fun addition to a piano preschool or early childhood music program?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teaching Piano Practice Strategies and "Pathways to Perfection"

Playing the piano is fun... but eager new students learn soon that practice takes effort, focus and diligent work. But what an exhilarating feeling it is to master a difficult passage, or rise to level of competency to play the songs you always dreamed about playing. I recently purchased this wall plaque with a quote that I LOVE! It applies well both to piano practice troubles and life in general.

To start out the new year in my studio I did a focus month on practice strategies using many of the fun game suggestions from one of my favorite Christmas presents - the book The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston .
Although I already had been using several of the tools for practicing suggested in this book like identifying patterns, dividing and practicing in small sections and tackling difficult sections first, I picked up a lot of new great ideas that have been making lessons and practice time a bit more fun in our home.

Two of my favorite ideas were

  • When labeling form and dividing into practice sections let the student choose a name for each section. My younger students especially seemed to really enjoy this and used a broad range of labels that reflect their personalities... ice cream flavors, princesses, NFL heroes or fun names like Creepy Fingers, Squish & Slip n Slide that reflect the musical elements of that section. So instead of asking my son to "Practice the 'A' Section 3x," his practice session became an imaginary playful competition to see if he could beat his favorite football teams.
  • Have students record the practice steps they complete above each section so the student (and teacher) can quickly see at a glance what they accomplished during their home practice. For example if your typical prescribed practice steps are 1-L.H. slow, 2- R. H. slow 3 - Hands Together Slow 4- Hand Together w/ metronome at full tempo, etc., then the student writes the #s of the steps as they master them each day. Through this they can see their accomplishments and focus practice on spots that really need it rather than playing through songs mindlessly from start to finish with little improvement.
It was delightful to see one of my children playfully smiling and giggling through her practice and having fun using imaginary dice to play "The Great Race" practice game to improve one section of her music. For my "Kindergarten Piano Princess" rather than using numbers or letters to label different practice sections of the song, she chose to name them after her favorite Princesses- Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, etc. She approached her practice much more carefully when "battling" with her princesses, because she wanted to make sure she won the match.

Just a few mornings ago while I was nursing our newest baby boy around 1:00 a.m. (which happens to be my excuse for such sparse posts the last few months)...

I discovered the source of this inspiring quote in the book "Pathways to Perfection" by Thomas S. Monson.

"Can we not appreciate that our very business in life is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves? To break our own records, to outstrip our yesterdays by our todays, to bear our trials more beautifully than we ever dreamed we could, to give as we have never given, to do our work with more force and a finer finish than ever - this is the true idea: to get ahead of ourselves.
To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility." - Thomas S. Monson
(To read the full article click here Thomas S. Monson "Yellow Canaries with Gray on Their Wings")

What an inspiring reminder! With 6 children in our family it can be easy for my kids to be in competition with each other and sometimes get discouraged when they don't measure up in wrestling, piano or school when compared with their older siblings. I think there definitely is a place for competition, but I love this reminder that ultimately life is about competing with our own yesterdays...making our good better, and our better best. I love how these strategies in the Practice Revolution help them to focus on doing that.

Musical Storytelling Improv Activity

One fun activity we've tried as a family is telling add-on stories. One person begins the story, then stops after a few sentences, and the next person continues it, until each person has a turn adding their twist to the plot. It's entertaining to see where a few creative minds can make a story end up.
I decided to add a musical twist to this activity to help my students experiment with improvisation at our last group lesson.

  1. Before the lesson, I prepared a sheet with various clipart characters and settings (a princess, a frog, a castle, a racecar, a chef, a sunset, an ice cream cone man etc.) to help spark their imaginations.
  2. We had a brief discussion about how different musical elements (pitch, major/minor scale patterns, dynamics, and rhythm) can help effectively paint a musical picture for the listener.
  3. Then students took turns picking an image to build our musical story around. They played a musical representation of their character or setting while adding a few sentences to the story.
Typically most of them are pretty timid about experimenting with improv at private lessons, so I was surprised that by the end of the story they were all begging to do this activity again.

This could easily be adapted for private lessons between teacher and student to review concepts of major and minor or help a student boost their expressive playing skills.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

I love this musical selection that was sung by a young couple in our church today for Easter.