Submitted by Joan Fasullo
There’s no question that we all want our elementary students to have a solid foundation in rhythm. Igor Stravinsky said, “There is music wherever there is rhythm, as there is life wherever there is a pulse.” In terms of rhythm, whether it’s playing eighth notes, triplets, rests, or the pesky dotted quarter note & eighth, I believe that adequately preparing students for a new rhythm and its notation is critical to developing that strong foundation. The following is a description of what I do when a student is going to have an eighth rest(s) in a piece for the very first time.
My goal is for the student to respond to any new rhythmic notation securely before I ever assign it in a piece. Using the “sound, feel, sign, name” philosophy, I do short drills at each lesson which take just a few minutes.
1. Play the new rhythm for the student using no notation. Using a single key on the piano, I play something like this:
2. Ask the student to describe what he hears. With eighth rests, the student might say, “I hear hiccups,” or “I hear some whispers.” Someone might even say “there are rests.” If this happens, I encourage him to be as descriptive of the length of the rest as possible – “Is it a long rest or a short rest?” I think it’s important that the student describes the sound in his own words, as this starts him on the path to “ownership” of the new rhythm.
3. Ask the student to imitate playing of the “hiccups” (or whatever descriptive word he used), using the pointer finger on a single key. Once he can do that easily I ask him to imitate using consecutive fingers within a 5-finger pattern. It’s important to keep things as simple as possible to ensure success with the new rhythm. No reading of the new eighth rest sign is involved at this point.
Here are four samples of a first measure for RH alone (or LH alone one octave lower). You should play @ three additional measures, putting the eighth rest on a different beat each time. I suggest giving equal treatment to each hand separately, as well as examples in a variety of meters. Choose a slow tempo at first.
4. Using a grid with numbers on it, demonstrate how to point & count while keeping a steady pulse. In the case of preparing a rest, I simply leave a blank space in its place. The student whispers the missing number. Once secure, I assign the activity to be practiced daily at home. This is an ideal way for a student to practice a new rhythm without seeing the new sign!
5. Add tapping & counting the grid numbers on the keyboard cover. Once secure, assign it for daily practice.
6. Using a single key, assign to play the numbers on the grid. Once secure, assign it for daily practice.
7. Finally, show the symbol for the eighth rest and notate it on the new grid. For the first time, the student is playing & reading the new notation. Assign it for daily practice playing it on a single key and/or consecutive keys within one hand.
8. Introduce the name “eighth rest.” Some students will have already figured out its name since it replaces an eighth note on the grid.
9. The student imitates the playing of short (2-3 measure) melodies which contain the new rest, as in #3 above.
At this point, if I feel the student needs more time and/or experience to gain security, I include the use of a poem with an eighth rest in it. Students may walk the beat as they say the words or walk the rhythm as they feel a steady beat (harder). Younger students thoroughly enjoy this activity and engaging the whole body like this is an optimal way to lead to a strong rhythmic foundation.
10. Reading & playing short patterns (2-4 measures) which include the new rest. I assign them to be played with both the RH alone, and the LH alone (an octave lower). See #3 above.
In closing I want to stress that if you decide to try these activities, it’s critical that the student demonstrates 100% security with each before moving on to the next step. Just how long you take to prepare a student for a new rhythm and its notation depends on the age and strength of the individual student. For some it takes a few weeks, and for others it takes several, but I believe you’ll find it’s time well spent!
You will find the Music Tree Activities books by Frances Clark to be chock full of rhythm patterns to be tapped, poems to chant and walk, and short melodic passages to be played. All lend themselves beautifully to these drills.
I’m just as eager as everyone else to move my students ahead rapidly, but I’ve learned that this kind of preparation actually saves time by preventing wasted lesson time fixing mistakes. Preventing rhythmic errors by preparing ahead develops students with the rhythmic security to play musically!
Submitted by Miriam Shingle
Perhaps your piano students don’t have trouble visualizing chord inversions on the keys, but chances are some do. There is a fun and easy way to help them!
Manipulatives and colors are always attractive means to practice or introduce concepts, and are a great way to introduce inversions of chords. I like to start with the C chord and use erasers on the keys, a different color for each note:
You can of course use any erasers….or other objects that are large enough so that they won’t fall between the keys. Sticky flags work well, too, and are less likely to get in the way when the students play the chords.
Simply “leap-frog” the erasers or objects into the different inversion positions. Students can place their fingers on the “eraser keys” to play. Have the students try moving the erasers to the correct positions as a good evaluation tool to see if they can do it on their own.
I also created a fun visual for spelling chord inversions, which you can use for either online or in-person lessons. (And it helps reinforce how to spell basic chords.) Notice that the “building blocks” are also color-coded. MLMTA members: you can download this Chord Inversions document on this website under Member Resources – YAY!
If you’re like me and still have a few online students, simply share your screen to display the document. Then you and the student can use Zoom’s annotation tool to fill in the blocks.
For in-person lessons, print it out on thick paper or cardstock, and place it in a clear sheet protector to use with a dry-erase marker. Either way, it’s convenient and tree-friendly!
Please COMMENT to share how YOU like to teach chords or inversions!
Submitted by Miriam Shingle
Telling It Like It Is
Happily, many of us have returned, at least in part, to teaching music in person. This may depend on both your comfort level as well as that of your students; or perhaps the studio franchise where you teach is still in virtual mode. Whether you have been enjoying this new normal, or whether you’re eager for the old normal, the fact remains that many of us currently teach in front of a screen and probably will for a few more months.
The Opportunity For Growth
Okay, so we didn’t ask for this, but despite the upheaval of the past year, there have been many blessings as a result. No, COVID is certainly not a blessing, but the adaptation and knowledge that came by force-of-circumstance, and the need to grow beyond what we were before, has caused us to become better teachers, more tech-savvy, and more open to possibilities that otherwise might not have been revealed.
What Did We Learn?
About the students…
We Are Not Alone
Amazingly, and thankfully, music educators around the globe have had our backs. Aside from ample technological advice, there has been an ongoing surge of available resources that can add additional creativity and fun to our lessons. As colleagues, we can support each other by sharing ideas or websites that we come across from time to time. Let’s share our thoughts, ideas and resources with each other by clicking COMMENT on this blog. Here are just two that I recently came by:
Submitted by Jonathan Flowers
Conventional webcams cannot provide the high resolution needed to display sheet music clearly during online lessons. Did you know that you can use the superior camera on your iPhone or iPad as a document camera in Zoom? This video shows you how!
Submitted by Elaine Friedlander
After 50 years of teaching piano I can honestly say I have finally been to enough lectures, conferences, talks, events, presentations, recitals, demonstrations...you get the picture. During all that time it has not been the teaching of piano that has changed but the world and society in which we teach. When I started teaching the television was our main competitor for a student’s time. There were only a few choices for methods of teaching and everyone knew they produced better trained musicians in Europe than we did here in America. Now we have multiple distractions for students. We teachers have many choices of method books, games, apps, and even instruments to enhance our teaching. And, the European teachers have come here which has caused the training of young pianists to improve exponentially. In the meantime children are still children.
We want the knowledge and skill we impart on them to be reinforced at home in the form of practice. Most people do not understand the amount of effort and time it takes to become a musician. They see talented young people and assume their ability to perform well is all about their talent and not the work or the training. The level of training has improved dramatically over the last 25 years especially locally. Competition level students are playing much more difficult pieces at younger and younger ages. Not much has changed in the way these students are taught. They are given solid, time tested skills for playing the piano. They are motivated and wise enough at a young age to do exactly what their teacher tells them. Which proves that it does not matter what method book you use, students will play well if properly (or some might say old fashioned) taught.
So where does that leave everyone else? If our students do not play well enough to compete should we just tell them to go home and forget the piano? Of course not. The difference between teachers and their approach to student’s needs is as varied as there are people. It’s the music that demands adherence to the discipline of the art. As a judge I am frequently amazed at how children can get from key to key with collapsed knuckles, drooping wrists or flat fingers. They are certainly pleased that they can make some music but I doubt their teachers feel the same way. We know that a healthy hand position will allow for speed and control, that keeping time is as important in making music as playing the right notes, that all the dots and squiggles on the page are important. Our biggest challenge has always been encouraging students to see the importance of reading, practicing, memorizing, polishing and performing music correctly. So why is this important in the 21st century?
I started writing these thoughts before COVID-19. I had stopped on the previous paragraph because I had not made solid determinations about the need for serious music study. It is important to me but it’s value to others was not as clear. Since this pandemic has struck, I have been teaching remotely through the use of the internet. I have been most grateful for this amazing tool we have now and have used it almost constantly for weeks. As the world slogs through this devastating time I have noticed something new with my students. They are practicing much more regularly than before. Remember all those distractions I mentioned earlier? Gone. They do their school work at home so there is no bus ride, sports, dances, club meetings, etc. Many other activities are curtailed so what have they found to occupy them? Music. The piano is sitting there, out of tune but still friendly. They have lessons to prepare for so they do it. As much as I find listening to them over the net to be difficult and taxing, I am enjoying the new found excitement my students have in learning new music honing their technique and presenting their finished products with pride. Now I know. From the perspective of a piano teacher the art of playing the instrument is still an important part of children’s lives. I will continue to do my best for them and enjoy the beautiful results.
Submitted by Miriam Shingle
Many of us have been contemplating the return to in-person private lessons, and perhaps some of us have already done so. It is a somewhat elusive decision right now, as pandemic circumstances are
Some teachers and parents may not yet feel comfortable with in-person lessons. Keeping a disinfected and well-circulated environment, tolerating extended mask-wearing, and staying socially distant are all factors to consider when planning for reopening.
While willing to continue lessons virtually, I plan to at least offer in-person lessons to my students starting in September. I feel that giving parents a choice is important for my business to remain intact. In so offering, I will be sharing my safety procedures, such as disinfecting doorknobs and wiping down the keys with hydrogen peroxide between lessons, using hand sanitizer before and after lessons, and requiring the use of a mask. Additionally, I am pleased to say that I had an Air Scrubber installed on my HVAC system this week. It is a whole-house UV bulb that kills viruses, bacteria, allergens and mold, mainly in the air but also on surfaces.
Please comment to share YOUR plans for Fall lessons, as there are certainly things to consider not yet mentioned. Questions to our members would also be great!
Submitted by Miriam Shingle
It is Recital Season. How does one create the opportunity for instrumental performance during our current situation of having to stay in our homes? What resources are out there for this? Are there any apps that can help?
There is the issue of sound quality and household internet bandwidth problems while livestreaming, the which I am sure many of us have been experiencing in our online teaching. Some of us may be considering posting video recordings of performances, something that I personally currently plan to do, in the HOPES that the videos will actually get watched by families!!
I am hoping that some of us can contribute to this blog by commenting with their recital ideas or already-utilized solutions. Or, perhaps someone out there would like to write a whole blog dedicated to this purpose! I think we as teachers would like to know what each other is planning to do-- or not do. Anyone? Let’s share and continue to support each other...