The Younger Students' Secret Practice Weapon
Wednesday, August 1, 2018 by Andrea Bentz | Practice
Found a great teacher? Check. Have a good quality instrument for practice? Check. Now it's time to engage the secret weapon--an encouraging parent! There are four ways to encourage your student, and none of them has anything to do with how much you know about music!
- Be sure the practice instrument is located where it is easy to find time to practice. I know many families only have a great room (family room) for a keyboard or piano. That is a good location - right where everybody can appreciate the effort the student is making - but it can conflict with other family needs. Let your child know that the entire family values their practice time by clearing the space of distraction.
- Ensure that the keyboard or piano is at the correct height, with a firm bench at the correct height. Keyboards and benches are made with respect to the best position of the human body, and it is necessary to respect needs for correct position. A smaller child may need to sit on a flat cushion to bring their body to the correct hieight. I often use garderner's kneeler pads as they are flat, firm, and easy to handle. Small children should also have a footstool under their feet.
- Encourage, encourage, encourage! A student will make mistakes on new music, and it will be easy for you to hear them. However, the most important words they can hear are supportive: tell them you can hear progress; you are so proud of what they are learning; how nice it is to hear music in your home. Before you know it, your student will be playing beautifully!
- Get your student to each lesson on time, ready to play. The teacher will have a complete lesson planned for the available time. She can handle an active child who needs changes in activity; a shy child who is reluctant to play, or any of a number of characteristics. A child who misses all or part of a lesson will not be able to move ahead and will get discouraged.
Study after study shows the impact of a parent on musicians' success. You are the ultimate secret weapon!
What about Memorizing?
Friday, August 5, 2016 by Andrea Bentz | Memorizing
Memorizing music is not as common as it once was, yet there are still some wonderful benefits to memorizing a special piece of music. Perhaps the most important benefit is knowing the music so well that the musician is really comfortable with it, able to play with few or no mistakes and able to draw out beautiful expression in the music as they play. The mental discipline of memorization benefits students academically, also. There are several ways to approach memorizing music to make it more certain it will be available for recall when needed. Here are a few methods to memorization, paraphrased from several blog entries on The Bulletproof Musician:
1. Try memorizing a piece from the start – when you first start learning it.
Called retrieval practice, efforts to play from memory are begun as the music is first presented to the student.
2. Menta lpractice can help
Auditory imagery – or being able to hear the music "in your head" should be a foundation on which memory rests.
Analysis – figuring out the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic structure of the piece is another important aspect of mental practice.
Listening to a recording can help– once again, to support the development of the inner soundtrack of the music in your head.
3. Deliberate Memorization (also called Content Addressable Access)
This is embedding little retrieval cues (or “performance cues”) throughout the piece. Little written reminders about phrasing, dynamics, character, articulation, musical structure, and more and put directly on the page. These things aren’t necessarily related to memorizing notes, but nevertheless comprise a “mental script” of little details to focus on as you make your way through the piece. Reminders to keep you on-task, ensure that you bring out every nuance and detail, and don’t just cruise by on autopilot.
The student is encouraged to markup a blank copy of the score with arrows and colored pen, so as to begin coming up with specific “cues” to pay attention to while practicing. Generally, four types of categories were marked:
Basic technique (e.g. positioning of her hands, the notes)
Musical structure (e.g. phrasing)
Interpretation (e.g. dynamics)
Expression (e.g. the mood or character hewanted to convey)
Taken together, these four types of cues add additional layers of information to the music, kind of like landmarks that let us know if we’re on the right path or not, and help us get back on track if we start to lose our way. It definitely takes time, but there is a good payoff!
While overlearning seems to be a good thing, it’s not so clear how much overlearning is best. More seems to be better, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Besides, overlearning for the sake of overlearning can lead to mindless,ineffective practice, and do more harm than good. If a passage is particularly difficult to memorize, the suggestion is to play it 50% more times than it took to master it. Yes, if you are an advanced student, that could be a lot of repetition!
A recent study showed better retention of material if the student studied in the evening before bed, then reviewed the material in the morning. (This was not a music memorization study, but did involve memorizing.) Perhaps the most efficient way to memorize is with a short session in the evening followed by another short session in the morning.
Just a few of the ways memorization can be approached! Any student who undertakes memorization of a special piece will find reward in better mastery of the music.
Sunday, October 4, 2015 by Andrea Bentz | Uncategorized
It is hard to get students to see the value in learning and practicing scales sometimes. However, learning scales serves many purposes! Here is a bulleted list of some of the reasons scales are important:
- Scales form the foundation of all music. Playing from one note to the very next is the most common movement found in music.
- Scales are a great warm-up to get blood moving to the fingers and prepare the muscles to play.
- While working on scales, a piano student learns a lot about efficient movement of the hand and fingers, creating even tone, and avoiding injury.
- Scale work is a great way to develop a beautiful fluid sound in melodic passages.
- Learning scales is the most efficient way to learn how to play in many different key signatures.
- Proper scale practice leads to better control of dynamics and mastery of tempos.
- Jazz players agree that knowledge of all scales is essential to improvisation.
And I could go on! However, the above list covers most of the major points. In the studio, we make scale practice more interesting by adding dynamics, patterns, or perhaps working through a scale as we learn a piece in the same key. We might even have an studio incentive to see how many scales we can review or learn in a short period of time.
We don't study a scale every lesson all year round, but we do consistently learn and practice scales. We are better pianists and musicians because of it!