Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Strategies for Fostering Musicality by Paula Clark

Teaching Musicality, Piano Practice Tips

Does preparing students for festival cause you stress? At this recent workshop, Paula Clark gave some great tips about helping student prepare for festival performances as well as reviewing some effective practice drills and strategies to remedy common challenge spots in a variety of music samples.
To start out we heard a vocal parody with the help of Beethoven's Minuet in G and some fun lyrics expressing how some of us teacher's may feel around festival time including this excerpt of lyrics.
"How did time slip away! Why is preparation no one's forte?
We'll just soldier on and do our best,
though we're stressed as you've guessed."
I know despite my best efforts, the bulk of festival prep lies mostly in the students hands and sometimes their procrastination has caused me stress!  I loved hearing so many useful tips that are applicable to teaching whether students are competing in festival or not.  The italicized notes are a few of my own thoughts that came to mind during the presentation and/or catchy names I use to label the strategy.
Tips for Memorization
  • Choose multiple starting places so if they have a memory lapse under pressure they can pick up at the next section easily without starting over.
  • Require students to "turn in music" to teacher a few weeks before festival so they have an early memorization deadline and don't procrastinate memorizing until the day before.
  • Have students practice performing for other students at group lessons or buddy lessons.
  • Encourage bits of memorization at every lesson instead of waiting until a piece is learned. The A.L.L. 3 Step Technique practice could be effectively applied to repertoire pieces to achieve this regularly. 

Goals Beyond Memorization

Different Elements of Memory
Finger Memory - occurs naturally with repetition but is short term
Aural Memory - familiarity with what the piece should sound like
Cognitive Memory - Identify patterns often and use Music Mapping and/or ask student to verbalize what happens in their piece from start to finish including identifying patterns, articulation/dynamics, etc.

Set specific goals for students with something that motivates them
  • Write a small note in their lesson assignment and give them a treat/prize/$ if they prove they read it at their next lesson since many students fail to even read their assignment book notes regularly.
  • Tell them they will get a reward if the judge doesn't mention 'the problem you've instructed them to fix' on their judging sheet.
  • Identify the problem spots. Do they need a microscope (small details, articulation) or a telescope (architecture/phrasing)?
Helpful Drills & Tips
  • Elongate the Loser: If student misses a note consistently....have them do a drill where they hold that specific note longer to make the part needing fixed more salient.
  • Quick Shifts: If the music contains hand crossing, jumps or frequent movement across the keyboard - isolate the spots where the placement changes and quickly move from place to place (omitting some of the notes in between the passages)
  • Stop Motion:  Pause between each phrase (or phrase + 1 note) instead of playing from start to finish with normal continuity
  • Steady Dot it: For achieving evenness on fast sixteenth note passages change to dotted rhythms (long short or short long) so accents fall on different fingers and expose the finger weaknesses. 
  • Do you hear what I hear?:Record students at the lesson and have them listen and identify their own mistakes 
  • Watch a Pro: Provide a recording of the teacher playing so they know what to aim for (or find a good example on youtube) The UIPianoPed channel has over 3000 videos of commonly used piano pedagogical pieces from Clementi Sonatinas to Martha Mier favorites that I find useful for both helping students choose festival pieces and/or watch professional samples of pieces they are learning.
  • Blocking: Feel the chord changes and identify the harmony that shapes the phrase tension/resolution.
  • Dynamic Countdown: For crescendoes or diminuendo have students count down/or up to represent the volume change.  This may include skip counting depending on the length of the crescendo/diminuendo ( 1,2,3,4,5,7,9,6,3,1)
  • Leg the Stacc ato: It is often more difficult to shape a staccato phrase.  Have students practice it legato first to hear the shaping and then transfer to staccato.
  • Stand out Down: On an already forte section that bores with too much of the same dynamic, add a slight accent on the downbeat for a different more energetic forte.
  • Sub the Ritard: Ritardando's are more effect if you hear the subdivision of the beat in your mind.  To facilitate this first count aloud or teacher play a subdivided repetitive pattern underneath the melody the student plays so they can hear the pace change more obviously. This same concept is effective with rubato
  • Vocalize Fingering: For chord passages with tricky fingering, vocalize the middle fingering. (For example: I use this same concept when teaching R.H. I-IV-I-V-I chord progression and chant 3,3,3,2, 3)
  • Worst First: What's the worst spot?  Focus practice time there. Don't practice what's easy, practice what's hard!  I refer to this as "Don't Wash the Clean Dishes!" in my studio. The 30 Bull's Eye Target Practice on the Colourful Keys Blog is an easy way to have students focus in on fixing those spots in their practice. I usually choose 3 goals each week and star them in the practice instructions/music and they know that's the first thing I'll want to hear at the next lesson.
  • Exaggerate: For more memorable expression, first exaggerate the desired effect (forte, staccato, dimuendo, etc.) and later tone it back down to the desired level of expression. 
Playing music is like learning a poem: You can just read it, try to remember it or do a masterful recitation from memory that brings tears to the listener.

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