Playfulness Is an Attitude: A Practice That Revitalizes Teaching and Learning

Peggy D. BennettBy Peggy D. Bennett
Professor Emerita of Music Education at the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College

With so many restrictions, constrictions, and curricular demands made of educators, your classes and lessons can seem not your own. It can feel as if your aliveness in your classroom has been systematically eroded. And, if you feel depleted of vitality, your students may feel that also. Reviving the passion and enjoyment in teaching and learning is key to offering your best teaching to your students. And, I believe that imaginative playfulness is an extraordinarily effective way to revitalize your energy, your passion, and your enJOYment for teaching.

Playfulness is an attitude. It is a twinkle in the eye and an open, encouraging (sometimes smiling) face to accompany open-ended questions: “I wonder what would happen if …” “Describe what you see …” It is a loosening of rules in order to welcome spontaneity and surprise. Playfulness is the tapping of imaginations as students contribute images and ideas for a rhyme, song, or instrumental recording. It is inventing ways to elicit imaginations and verbalizations as we lead children to study and perform music. It is demonstrating the inflected speech, conversational curiosity, and spontaneous delight that we would like to see in our students as well as ourselves. In short, playfulness can make music come alive for both children and teachers.

To play with nursery rhymes, consider asking these kinds of questions: “Why did that mouse run all the way up to the top of the grandfather clock?” “When the mouse looked down from the top of the clock, what did it see?” Questions such as these help prepare children to create a scene from their own imaginations as they explore the nursery rhyme “Hickory Dickory Dock.” Children can also be “plopped” into the story by giving them a first person voice as the scene unfolds: “Brandon, you are the little mouse. What caused you to run all the way up to the top of that clock?” “Katie mouse, when you looked down to the floor and spotted that cat, were you worried? Why not? How did you know that cat?”

Imaginative play with music masterworks helps children embrace them as beloved treasures and pave the way for listening again and again. Floating down the Moldau River with their friends on a beautiful boat and stopping along the way to describe what they see on the riverbanks can keep children engaged in “performing” Smetana’s symphonic poem about that river. “Oh, my goodness. Look at that crowd of people over there near the Moldau River. What do you think they are doing?” As Americans in Paris with the teacher as the Tour Guide, children stop when Gershwin’s music pauses and the guide tells them about a famous Paris bakery that makes delicious food. “What will you buy when we go into that bakery? … Oh, what kind of cake is your favorite?” The Americans in Paris can also encounter the wild Paris traffic as they try to cross a busy street with very fast drivers, drivers who are also amazingly safe and skillful because they rarely cause a collision.

Tapping into children’s imaginations through playful questions and story-making creates a unique experience with a song, rhyme, or masterwork. Stories give songs, rhymes, and instrumental works meaningful context, especially when the story is created (or partially created) by the children. The images and stories your students create are uniquely theirs for that song. Singing “Skip to My Lou” with “little red wagon painted blue,” one class may decide that the red wagon was painted blue because they didn’t have any more red paint. Another class may decide they painted the red wagon because blue is their favorite color. In answer to “Where are you taking your newly painted wagon?” Joshua may answer “to the store to get some candy.” Kaeli may answer “to my friend’s house so we can take our dolls for a ride.”

Follow-up questions and comments are especially important for energizing imaginative play. To follow up with Joshua’s trip to the candy store, you might ask “What is your favorite candy? … Oh, I like those, too!” “Do you plan to share it with anyone when you get home? … Is it your sister’s favorite candy, too?” “How much do you think it will cost? … That seems like a bargain to me!” With Kaeli, you might continue with “What is the name of your doll? … What an interesting name!” “Where did you get your doll? … Wasn’t that a nice birthday surprise!” “Where will you take your dolls in your wagon? … Be sure to be safe and watch for traffic as you take a trip around your neighborhood.” Frequently interspersing story-making with repeating the song, rhyme, or recording is critical to these questions energizing rather than bogging down the pace of the lesson.

Playfulness does not necessarily involve playing a “game.” But, when playfulness sets the tone for the plans we make, the questions we ask, the inviting facial expressions we display, the trust we show in venturing into a new way of interacting, and the spontaneous decisions we make based on students’ verbal, physical, and musical responses, teachers and students can regain vitality, their sense of liveliness for learning and teaching. And, when we infuse a song with context of meaning by giving it an imaginative story, we sing the song with meaning: we sing it more musically.

You may be wondering how you will find the time to be playful with music activities, given your schedule demands. My experience with infusing imaginative play into songs, rhymes, and classics has convinced me that a brief investment of story-making can transform our experience with the evolving study of the music. I most often hear an energized expressiveness in singing, speaking, and moving as a consequence of children’s creative responses to my open-ended questions. And, when I hear expressive, fluent singing and speaking of songs and rhymes, and see energized, sensitive movement to recordings, I know that we are making music musically.

Activities cited here are published by Alfred Music and may be found in:

Bennett, P.D. (2012). Playing with the Classics: Music Masterworks for Children, Volume 2.

Bennett, P.D. (2011). Playing with the Classics: Music Masterworks for Children, Volume 1.

Bennett, P.D. (2010). RhymePlay: Playing with Children and Mother Goose.

Activities may also be seen at SongWorks for Children: A Video Library of Children Making Music

http://www.oberlin.edu/library/digital/songworks/index.html

Let’s Duet!

Jeanine M. JacobsonBy Gayle Kowalchyk and E. L. Lancaster

Playing the piano can be a lonely activity. Students typically have a private lesson each week and then must practice by themselves at home until the next lesson. We once interviewed a transfer student whose mother asked, “Is there any way you can take piano lessons without having to practice?” A closer look at the student’s after-school schedule revealed the real nature of the mother’s question: Her daughter was involved in dancing, cheerleading, and competitive diving. Every time she had to “practice” these sports, she was with a group of her friends. Piano practice simply was going to be “no fun” because she would have to practice by herself. Therefore, could she just skip the “practicing” part of the whole deal?

In situations like this, piano duets can be a real “pupil saver” and “lesson saver.” In addition to developing musicianship and ensemble performance skills, duets also increase our students’ sight-reading abilities, musical understanding, rhythmic awareness, and listening skills. And perhaps, most importantly, they provide a social outlet for students.

We are big believers in the benefits of piano duets in the teaching curriculum. A long-standing tradition in our studio was that February was Ensemble Month. Each year, after the winter holiday break, we assigned every student a duet. This created a “kick start” to the New Year. During the months of January and February, students received three private lessons and one group lesson each month. The private lessons were used to hone their individual duet parts, and the group lessons provided the opportunity for the duet partners to rehearse together. Finally, at the end of February, a duet performance class was held where the students could show off their ensemble and musical skills with one another.

The music written for piano duet (one piano, four hands) is extremely diverse and ranges in difficulty from beginner to concert artist. It includes music written for pedagogical purposes, music for social occasions (especially popular in the 19th century when pianos outnumbered bathtubs in homes), concert pieces, and transcriptions. The first known keyboard duets were written well before the piano was invented!

Bringing ensemble playing into the lesson is as easy as opening up the first level of the method book. Today’s educational composers understand the benefits of ensemble playing and often incorporate teacher duets into the lesson book at the beginning levels. From the very first lesson, Premier Piano Course provides an optional teacher duet for every piece in the Lesson Book. In addition to creating a steady rhythmic background, the teacher duets supply harmony and a variety of music styles so that the student’s ear is developed from the beginning as well.

As students progress, however, they can experience the joy of playing duets with their peers. Finding easy-level duets that with equally difficult primo and secondo parts can be hard. Keeping this in mind, we asked eight of America’s favorite supplementary composers to write easy duets that begin at the 1B level in Premier Piano Course. Each level contains music by Dennis Alexander, Melody Bober, Tom Gerou, Carol Matz, Martha Mier, Wynn-Anne Rossi, Mike Springer, and Robert Vandall. You can imagine that with this variety of composers, there is a wide range of styles in each volume as well. From lyrical ballades to jazzy, toe-tapping pieces, these books have it all and are now available in Levels 1B, 2A, 2B, 3, and 4.

“Switcheroo Boogie” by Melody Bober from Duet 1B is a fun boogie-woogie piece. Not only will audiences enjoy its infectious style, but they will be delighted to see that the players trade places as they are playing the duet! Preparing the “switcheroo” carefully is critical to its execution and the success of the performance.

In measure 21 of both parts, the performers begin to move. At this measure, the primo player stands up and circles behind the bench. As the primo player is doing this, the secondo player is moving up the bench while playing measures 21-24. Each player must be in his/her new place by measure 25! It is helpful to mark this measure with a red arrow so that their eyes can find the new starting place easily. Also, choosing an appropriate tempo is crucial to executing this part of the piece. While it is marked “Lively,” a tempo that is too fast will make it difficult for the primo player to get up and around the bench in time to be seated for measure 25. (See attached examples.)

Switcheroo Boogie

It is also helpful to mark on the score who is responsible for turning the page. During the performance, it is easy to be excited and forget this important detail. We sometimes even mark “No turn” on a part just to remind one performer to let the other person turn the page. In this piece, it is easier for the secondo player to turn the pages. When the secondo is thoroughly comfortable with the part, it may be possible to play the RH Middle C in measures 29 and 31 with the LH thumb, giving the player more time to turn the page with the right hand.

Many musical skills such as balance and shaping phrases can be reinforced when playing duets. A helpful rehearsal technique is to have students play only when the melody is in their part. This becomes a great listening activity as well. The lyrical “Reach for the Stars” by Dennis Alexander in Duet 2A is a perfect piece for working on this concept. First, students must determine exactly what the melody is. Next, they go through the score and mark each melodic entrance with an “M.” Finally, they play the piece together, but only the sections marked with an “M.” This allows them to see and hear where and when they have the melody. (See attached examples.)

Switcheroo Boogie

Another helpful rehearsal technique is to number all of the measures. Typically, measure numbers appear at the first measure of each line. Filling in the remaining measures saves time in the rehearsal by helping students pinpoint exactly which measure needs their attention.

Duets can be used as supplementary material for any method or course of study. In addition, they make excellent repertoire selections for group lessons, ensemble classes, recitals, or “monster” concerts. Students will be motivated by music-making with their friends while developing skills in ensemble performance.

Professional Piano Teaching: Useful Guides for New and Experienced Teachers

By Jeanine M. Jacobson
Jeanine M. Jacobson
I truly believe that piano teaching is a profession. Consequently, I was motivated to spend the last twenty years of my life writing, editing, and refining the two volumes of Professional Piano Teaching to aid both students and teachers in their teaching endeavors. The books are designed for both university piano pedagogy students and for independent piano teachers. In an easy-to-read style and format they provide both the experienced and new teacher with step-by-step procedures for HOW to teach piano students, leading both the teacher and student toward successful learning at the keyboard. An abundance of musical examples are included to illustrate the topics discussed. Pedagogy instructors at universities will find these books save them time. Pedagogy students can easily read at least one chapter each week and complete the projects provided at the end of each chapter. Experienced teachers will find useful information and teaching strategies.

Volume 1: In the first volume, strong pedagogical principles are applied to beginning and elementary teaching. Teachers will learn about what it means to be a professional piano teacher and how to develop a personal teaching philosophy.  They will become acquainted with the principles of learning and how to teach by helping students discover information as well as learn by rote. Teachers will explore how to prevent errors, present concepts and skills in a systematic way and teach to individual learning styles.

Readers will become aware of the various types of beginning methods and learn to evaluate methods by applying a wide range of criteria. They will also learn how to determine the difficulty of pieces, organize pieces in the proper teaching order and craft piece summaries, effective lessons plans, and assignments. Step-by-step approaches are provided for teaching both rhythm and pitch reading. Technique is taught from the natural way to play and the use of the entire arm to assist the hand and fingers, emphasizing that the sound will be beautiful when the use of the body is effortless.

Teachers will become familiar with the role of aural development, music literacy and creative activities in the development of musicality. They will learn to use these tools to lead students to hear and understand the character of pieces and how they can make pieces come alive by applying dynamics, articulation and phrasing.

Unique strategies for group teaching, teaching pre-schoolers, and teaching adults are thoroughly discussed in separate chapters. Teaching strategies for both standard elementary repertoire and familiar styles of music are provided.

Part of professional piano teaching includes running a piano studio in a businesslike and professional manner. This first volume provides guidelines for teaching in a home studio, in students’ homes, in an established program, or in a rented space. It provides advice for acquiring students, marketing, establishing tuition, scheduling lessons, and communicating with parents. This chapter helps one learn how to use one’s personal teaching philosophy to develop a studio policy that includes tuition payment policies, lesson attendance, practice requirements, and performance participation. This chapter includes numerous sample forms for all aspects of running a piano studio.

The first volume concludes with a chapter to help teachers evaluate their own teaching. Effective and ineffective teaching strategies are listed and criteria and evaluation formats are provided for a variety of ways to critique one’s own teaching.

Volume 2: This volume offers insight into the teaching of intermediate and early- advance-level students.  Like the first volume, the same strong pedagogical principles are now applied to the teaching of students at these levels. What defines intermediate levels and the early advanced levels is clearly articulated.  Helpful teaching strategies are provided to assist students in progressing from the elementary levels into the intermediate level and from the intermediate level into the early-advanced level. Topics include how to understand and teach teenagers, how to help transition a transfer student into one’s studio and how to prepare a student for a college audition.

Rhythm, reading and technique are approached using the same strong pedagogical principles as in volume one and applied to the higher levels of piano learning. The technique chapter helps teachers learn how to recognize and alleviate excess tension in their students’ playing by understanding the principles of movement as it applies to piano playing. It also explores the role and use of the fingers, hand, wrists, and arms at the keyboard.

Teachers are guided to observe the elements of rhythm, pitch, and sound and how these observations coupled with strong aural skills lead students to artistic interpretation. Criteria for determining the style of pieces is provided and teachers are given a template for both internal and external evidence within pieces that will ultimately lead to appropriate stylistic interpretation.

The role of intrinsic motivation in successful teaching and learning of piano music focuses on how to teach in ways that will assure student motivation and lead toward effective and efficient practice. A multitude of practice strategies are described in detail and applied to sections of student repertoire.

A thorough discussion of the role of memory in piano performance provides teachers with a detailed analysis of the three phases of memory, the factors that influence the memory process, and the various types of memory—kinesthetic, tactile, pitch, rhythm, aural, visual, and intellectual. A step-by-step process for developing intellectual memory is applied to a section of a piece. Practice routines for developing continuity in performance are also included as are strategies for controlling performance anxiety.

Summaries and Projects: Both books have summaries and projects at the end of each chapter (See the attached examples from Chapter 1 of Volume 2). Unique projects are provided for both new teachers and for experienced teachers. Teachers are encouraged to apply what they have learned in each chapter to teaching before going to another chapter.

Summaries & Projects

The quest for improvement of piano teaching skills never ends. Whether you are a new teacher or an experienced teacher refining your skills, I hope that Professional Piano Teaching will aid you in your journey. I wish you continued success as you pursue your career in professional piano teaching.

 

Alfred Music Joins Peaksware To Help The World Experience The Joy of Making Music

Andrew Surmani

By Andrew Surmani
Chief Marketing Officer, Alfred Music

Alfred Music is excited to announce today that it is joining the Peaksware Holdings, LLC portfolio of companies. This group includes MakeMusic, Inc., the developer of Finale and SmartMusic, bringing together the leaders in educational music publishing and music technology.

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. By sharing resources within the Peaksware group, additional investments and innovations will provide additional content and distribution channels for both companies. Specifically, this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“We are excited to be working with MakeMusic. Alfred Music truly believes in the MakeMusic products which is why we took over exclusive North American and UK distribution of the Finale suite of products in 2013. We also believe strongly in the SmartMusic platform, evidenced by the fact that we are one of its leading content providers. This partnership provides the resources needed to significantly enhance Alfred Music’s mission of helping the world experience the joy of making music,” said Andrew Surmani, Chief Marketing Officer of Alfred Music.” “We are combining the leading music education publisher with the industry leader in music technology to benefit everyone, from our music publishing partners, to music dealers, composers, arrangers, educators, students and independent musicians.”

MakeMusic owns some of the most advanced and patented technology solutions to support the composing, arranging, teaching, learning, and playing of music. Regular updates and innovations to Finale make it the industry standard for music notation software and the trusted creation tool for composers and arrangers around the world. With more than one million students and 20,000 teachers, SmartMusic is at the forefront of interactive learning technologies for the classroom. And, with their recent acquisition of Weezic, an Augmented Sheet Music innovator, SmartMusic will now be available wherever musicians are – on the web, Chromebooks, iPads, Mac and PC.

Alfred Music’s customers, dealers, and industry partners should expect business to continue as usual with no immediate changes. Alfred’s main office will remain in Van Nuys, California and additional offices will stay in their current New York, Miami, UK, Singapore, and Germany locations.

To stay current with further developments, visit the SmartMusic blog or follow Alfred on Twitter and MakeMusic on Twitter.

Understanding Latin American Musical Styles

By Wynn-Anne Rossi
Wynn-Anne Rossi
Teachers and students may wonder why a Minnesota composer is writing Latin American music. In short, I could not be more “taken” with this fabulous musical style. In today’s small world, where Russians write jazz and Japanese compose big band music, I feel that I can certainly take on the mambo (and other Latin styles).

When I appeared at the Tango Lights Music Festival in Langdon, North Dakota for the premiere of one of my Latin pieces, students were surprised to see that I had blonde hair. To top that off, my French is better than my Spanish. But, this does not dampen my enthusiasm for Latin American music.

It has indeed been a pleasure to research Latin American music to complete my vision of eight books devoted to this style. The recent release of Musica Latina, Solo Book 4 completes that vision of four books of graded solos and four books of graded duets. Solo Book 4 is written for the late intermediate pianist. Writing at this level gave me the flexibility to use challenging syncopations and rich harmonies.

In the spirit of this series, each piece includes a “nugget” of information that offers students the experience of a journey through Latin America. Book 4 opens with Trem para Paranaguá, capturing a spectacular train trip from Curitiba to Paranaguá in Brazil. This route crosses over 67 bridges and runs through 13 tunnels, descending a steep mountain to the sea.

Each piece also includes a rhythm workshop to help students move from counting to “feeling” the difficult rhythms present in the music. I recommend that students begin by counting and “lap clapping” these slowly, three times in a row. A drum can also be used to play the rhythm. The goal is for students to internalize these rhythms and speed them up until the rhythms feel natural. Latin rhythms can be very tricky, and counting aloud can often get in the way of a smooth performance.

Trem para Paranaguá
Notice the unusual ties in the rhythm workshop for Trem para Paranaguá. Ties are a sign of syncopation, and in this case, a polyrhythm. In the first measure, the right hand has a 2+3+3 against a left hand 4+4. Polyrhythms are at the heart of Latin rhythm, thanks to a history of multiple drummers simultaneously performing multiple rhythms. In the second measure of the workshop, you see a more common use of syncopation. The tie over beat 3 causes an anticipation and natural accent to fall on the previous note.

Rhythm is not the only hallmark of Latin music. Rich, colorful harmony abounds in this style. In both American jazz and Latin styles, you can find extended harmonies (7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths) along with quartal and quintal configurations. However, the two styles sound very different. I think of this as similar seeds that have been sown in completely different ground.

In the score above, I have marked several things that should aid students in performance, analyzing the music, and understanding the style. Enjoy the ever-changing rhythms, rich colors, and conversational melodies that are so unique to this American music from our southern neighbors!

Helping Students Become Comfortable Playing In All Keys

By Melody Bober
Amy Greer
I remember the fun that I had studying repertoire in a variety of keys. Experiencing the unique character and physical sensations that each key created was a fascinating journey. Some composers who wrote collections using all major and minor keys include Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Carl Czerny (1791–1857), Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915), Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Following in this tradition, I am excited to present In All Keys, a two-book series that includes original solos in all major and minor keys.

Frederic Chopin (1810–1849) used the following order for his 24 Preludes, Op. 28: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor, etc. The order follows the circle of fifths, with major keys followed by their relative minor keys. Each book of In All Keys contains 16 pieces and follows Chopin’s circle-of-fifths model, with major keys followed by minor keys.

Book 1 features one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “sharp” keys (G, D, A, E, B, F-sharp, and C-sharp major) and their relative minors (E, B, F-sharp, C-sharp, G-sharp, and D-sharp minor). Book 2 includes one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “flat” keys (F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat, and C-flat major) and their relative minors (D, G, C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat minor). The C major and A minor pieces of Book 1 are different than the C major and A minor pieces of Book 2. However, the pieces with five, six, and seven sharps in Book 1 have been transposed to their enharmonic flat keys for Book 2.

Between the two books, there are a total of 26 different pieces, six of which appear in both sharp keys and their enharmonic flat-key equivalents. Experiencing the pieces in enharmonic keys provides students with the opportunity to read music in challenging keys while playing familiar notes and rhythms. As an example, “A Night in Cordoba” is written in D-sharp minor in Book 1 and written in E-flat minor in Book 2.

A Night in Cordoba

 

Regardless of the length of time students study, it is unlikely they will play repertoire in all major and minor keys. Wouldn’t it be nice to give them that opportunity through pieces that also reinforce the study of scales, arpeggios, and chords that are common to those keys? For instance, in Book 1 “Rushing River Rapids” is a piece that features changing meter, arpeggios, and a chromatic scale in a dramatic and fiery setting.

Rushing River Rapids

There are a variety of styles and forms represented in each book: ragtime, boogie, Latin, marches, ballades, and showstoppers. The waltz on page 10 of Book 2 is “Waltzing Through Time” in F major. This delicate piece features four-voice writing, arpeggios in 6ths, and left-hand scale passages.

Waltzing Through Time

Within each book, there is a treasure trove of various technical challenges. “Night Gallop,” the D minor piece from Book 2, is a fast-paced showstopper with crossovers and the D minor scale in both parallel and contrary motion.

Night Gallop

 

The pieces in the two books also provide effective solos for recitals and competitions. It is my hope that students enjoy performing repertoire in a variety of styles while unlocking the skills necessary to explore music In All Keys.

Joys and Rewards of Rote Teaching

By Amy Greer
Amy Greer
Yesterday Jake came into the studio with the screen door banging behind him.  “What new song are you going to teach me today?” were the first words out of his mouth.  He was almost shouting in his excitement.  Jake is six years old, a precocious child who started lessons almost a year ago.  He is progressing nicely.  He can play major and minor five-finger patterns in all twelve keys.  He has been initiated into the “flashcard club,” meaning he can identify the notes on the piano of 30 flashcards in under a minute.  He is halfway through the Lesson and Performance Level 1B books in Alfred’s Premier Piano Course.  A few weeks ago he earned a “Superior +” rating at a local piano festival.  It goes without saying that Jake is a kid I love to teach.

Jake is happy and good-natured about whatever I assign, but what he really loves are the “songs,” or what I call “rote pieces.” This is the music that I teach him by rote—note by note, phrase by phrase—without him ever laying eyes on a written score. Every week I take a few minutes of lesson time to teach him at least a portion of a rote piece, music that is beyond his rhythmic and note reading skills, but well within his technical grasp.

During his very first lesson I taught him “Desert Rose,” a simple pentatonic piece. “What is a desert rose anyway?” was the question that Jake asked as I broke down the phrases and demonstrated each musical gesture.  At that first lesson, he didn’t know his finger numbers and he couldn’t identify a single note on the piano.  He had no idea what a quarter or half note was.  But he could learn “Desert Rose.”

As the weeks went by, his repertoire of rote pieces grew.  At the same time, he was learning all the traditional concepts taught in beginning piano lessons: note reading, rhythms, technical exercises, and finger numbers. But from the start, he also had “real songs” to play – music that sounded interesting and sophisticated.  This music used more than the few octaves in the middle of the piano and had imaginative titles that asked him to play creatively and dramatically.

I knew that these rote pieces were helping Jake build skills related to pattern recognition and memorization.  He was developing his listening skills and his musical ear.  He was not only improving his physical coordination, but gaining a tactile sense of keyboard geography as well.  All Jake knew was he was learning “songs.”

I reach for my trusty notebook of rote pieces not just during the first few years of lessons when students are still trying to acquire basic skills.  But, I also use rote pieces when a student’s motivation might be flagging and in need of a musical pick-me-up.  I have used rote pieces to help students struggling with memorization.  I have turned to rote pieces when I felt students were too tied to the written page.  I have relied on rote pieces to inspire improvisation and compositional assignments.  A well-chosen rote piece has saved many lessons.

Until recently, there has not been an easy source of rote music for the inquiring teacher.  Although easy-to-teach rote pieces can be found in method books and solo collections, teachers searching for rote music at their local music stores would have been hard pressed to find anything at all.  Often when giving workshops, I would mention in passing the concept of “rote music.”  Inevitably, questions such as “Where can I find rote music?” or “How do you teach rote music?” would follow.

Repertoire for Rote, a book that I wrote with Dennis Alexander, is the answer to both questions.  Dennis wrote seven pieces that can easily be taught by rote and I developed steps for introducing them along with a musical map for students to take home after learning them in the lesson. Unlike other collections that are purchased by the student, in the true spirit of rote teaching, this book is designed for the teacher. Remember that students are learning this music without using a written score.  Pieces range from the simple “Desert Rose,” which could be taught on a first lesson, to slightly more technical pieces like “Roadrunner” or “Bells are Ringing,” which might better suit a student after several months of lessons.  While one could wait until students have developed the rhythm and note reading skills to play any piece in the collection, there is no reason for the delay.  By definition a good rote piece is tricky to read, but easy to play.  Pieces like “Green Frogs” (Key of F# Major) fit the description precisely.

Admittedly, rote teaching is different than teaching done primarily by referencing written notation.  For each of the seven pieces in the collection, there are step by step instructions for breaking down the music into small teachable units, followed by a reproducible “memory map” (in non-musical notation, of course) for students to help with both learning and memorizing.  Ideally, the memory maps printed in the book would only serve as a reference for the map students might design for themselves.  Teachers who purchase the book are granted permission to copy the memory maps for students.

For example, the music for “Desert Rose” follows:

Desert Rose
Notated Piece for the Teacher

Even with a simple piece like this one, detailed steps are provided for teachers:

Step-by-Step Instructions
Step-by-Step Instructions for Introducing the Piece

The memory map suggested for the piece is intended to help the student organize the musical gestures in a visual format.

Memory Map for the Student
Memory Map for the Student

Just as thoughtful rote teaching is only a piece of the pedagogical puzzle, this book is just a beginning.  Dennis Alexander and I hope that after working with the seven pieces in this book, teachers will make rote teaching an integral part of their pedagogical approach, much like incorporating technic work or theory into lessons.  Soon, teachers will begin to recognize previously undiscovered “rote” pieces in the music they already teach regularly.  After all, a good rote piece is quite simply a piece that sounds more difficult than it is.

Last week was my spring studio recital.  As always, I asked students to practice performing their recital pieces for the students whose lessons were before or after their lessons.  Little Jake proudly showed off his recital “song” (“Green Frogs”) for fifteen-year-old Richelle, who had been busy preparing Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-sharp  Minor” for the program.  After Jake left, Richelle shook her head, “You know, it wasn’t that long ago when I was playing those frogs.”

She was right.  Blink, and “Songs” turn into “Preludes.” “Desert Rose” becomes a Chopin nocturne, and “Green Frogs” morphs into Rachmaninoff right before our eyes.


To learn more about Alfred Music products, visit our website. To learn more about Amy Greer’s studio and to read her blog, click here.

Create a Song in GarageBand Using Loops

Learning Music with GarageBand on the iPadBy Floyd Richmond

GarageBand for the iPad is one of the strongest reasons musicians, students and teachers would consider using the iPad. Its collection of traditional and electronic instruments and its touch screen permit expressive performances that can be recorded, edited, and enhanced. With a set of computer speakers, the iPad becomes a performance or classroom instrument. With a small mixer or hub, you can form iPad ensembles. GarageBand’s collection of loops, effects, and editing tools permit composing and performing on an unprecedented level. When a song is finished, GarageBand’s sharing features provide the opportunity to create a portfolio of songs to share with the world through YouTube, SoundCloud, and other channels.

Creating a Song with Loops
One of GarageBand’s great features is the large number of included prebuilt musical building blocks, called loops. Songs may be composed in a wide variety of styles and instruments using only these loops. Loops can be repeated, combined, stacked, and edited as needed to create the sound you’re looking for.

#1) Create a New GarageBand Song
Launch GarageBand, navigate to the song list and tap the “+” button in the top-left corner of the screen to create a new GarageBand song. The Instrument Selection list will automatically appear. See image below.IMG_0001

#2) Navigate to the Track View
To build a song with only loops, you must navigate to the Track View. This requires you to create an instrument track, even if you don’t use it. Tap “Audio Recorder” and then tap the Track View button at the top of the screen. This will create an empty track that you can delete later if you don’t use it. GarageBand defaults to an eight-measure section of music. To work on longer or shorter songs or sections, tap the “+” button in the top-right corner of the screen. See images below.

Navigate to the Track View

#3) Search for Loops
You can search for loops and preview them before adding them to your song. Tap the Loop button at the top of the screen to view the Loop Browser. You’ll find a wide variety of loops for various instruments and styles. You can search by individual instrument or style. Just remember, some will work well together, and others won’t. See below image.

Search for Loops

#4) Add a Loop to Your Song
You can preview any loop by tapping on it. Once you find a loop you like, simply drag it from the Loop Browser to the timeline of the song. Repeat this step to add additional loops. You can position, layer, combine, repeat, and edit them as needed. See below image.

Add a Loop to Your Song

#5) Preview Your Song
Press rewind to move the playhead at the top of the track window to the beginning of the first measure of the song and press play! How does it sound? Now that you have the foundation of a song, you may decide to reorder sections, add some vocals or record your own instruments using GarageBand’s virtual instruments. The possibilities are endless. See below image.

Preview Your Song

 

 

For more on Learning Music with GarageBand on the iPad by Floyd Richmond, click here.

Classics for Students: Bach, Mozart & Beethoven

By Jane Magrath

Book-1-CoverThe Bach, Mozart & Beethoven books in three progressive levels make up the first volumes in the new Classics for Students series.  They are designed to encourage students to bring new life to the music, as well as to provide core literature by the most important Baroque and Classical masters in one book. The selections are at the center of the standard repertoire at these levels, and the book format provides aids to help connect students with the composer.  Each volume includes spacious editions of the pieces, inviting composer biographies, and study guides that focus on three key teaching points for each piece.

Mozart-bio-1The Composer Biographies are divided into two parts. For example, the first section of the biography for Mozart in Book 1 provides a basic overview of his life and works.  In the second section, his life as a Child Prodigy and the difficulties related to this are discussed. This section explores how Leopold Mozart booked engagements haphazardly for Wolfgang.  He relied on word of mouth for concert promotion. Once, when the family was temporarily stranded in London, the children performed in a tavern to earn enough money to continue travelling.

Mozart-bio-2In Book 2 the same core overview of Mozart’s life is provided in the first half while the second section goes into detail about the Dueling Pianofortes in Mozart’s competition with Clementi. The discussion reviews the various stages of the contest, what they played, and how Mozart and Clementi were asked to sight-read and improvise in the competition.

 

The About the Music section provides three key points for students to consider when studying each piece.  For example, for the Mozart Minuet in F Major, K. 15oo in Book 1, the key points provide a concise and clear introduction to the piece.About-the-music

Students should play the melody with a light sound and slight emphaMinuet-F-Major-15oosis on first beat of each measure.  I often ask students to circle the two-note slurs throughout (11 in this one-page piece).  Writing in small diminuendo signs beneath each slur reminds the student to taper the slurs. Students can also locate the upbeats that seem to pull over the bar line toward downbeats of the next measure.  In these examples (marked with arrows), two eighth notes pull to the quarter note on beat one, helping to bring the music to life.

Bach-Polonaise-in-G-Minor-BWV-125With the Polonaise in G Minor, BWV 125 from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena in Book 2, students may want to listen to a recording and then divide it into practice sections. I have marked suggested practice sections with brackets. I like to help students discover the surprises (sudden stops on quarter notes) at the ends of the main motives (two sixteenth notes and an eighth note). These unpredictable surprise endings appear at the end of the declamatory gesture each time it appears (mm. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 21, 22). For variety, I usually suggest that the sections beginning at measure 13 and measure 17 be played lighter.

Mozart-Viennese-Sonatina-No-1Some of Mozart’s most attractive writing for students appears in the Viennese Sonatinas that were originally composed as Wind Divertimenti, K. 439b for two bass horns and bassoon. They have become standards in the piano repertoire in these arranged versions.  Pianists can imagine the different sections of the orchestra playing different phrases, alternating in dialogue.  This can expand students’ abilities to “orchestrate” at the keyboard by studying the varying textures (thick and thin) within the examples.  The performer also learns to work with thick versus thin textures in voicing and inflecting the phrases. Both Books 2 and 3 contain a Viennese Sonatina.

A Suggested Order of Study is included in each book as a guideline for teachers. While most students will not study every piece in every book, these guides can aid teachers with repertoire selection. The Suggested Order of Study for each of the three volumes is included below.

Book 1:
Wynn-Anne Rossi

 

 

 

 

Book 2:
Book 2

 

 

 

 

Book 3:
Book 3

 

 

 

 

I hope teachers will enjoy working with students on these pieces and that the information in the books with help student find fresh and creative ways to bring them alive.

Pick Your Side in the Star Wars® Saga

Pam Phillips
It’s coming and the excitement is building. The epic Star Wars story has proven to intrigue all generations. Alfred Music has many settings of this great music that are performed many times every year. In honor of the new movie, a new arrangement titled “Star Wars Heroes” (string orchestra, grade 2½) was just released in January. However, if you are looking for something to work on after the holiday concert/recital, when everyone is a bit excited about the upcoming vacation, try out the classic Star Wars arrangements listed here for everyone from soloists to full orchestra.

There are play-along books perfect for private lesson fun or gifts!

Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III Instrumental Solos for Strings

Star Wars Instrumental Solos (Movies I-VI) for Strings
Classic Movie Instrumental Solos for Strings

For young players, the books titled Pop Showcase for Strings include a very easy setting of “Star Wars (Main Theme)” set for flexible instrumentation for solos players, small ensembles, and string orchestra.

And, last but not least, check out these arrangements.
Star Wars Main Theme—Full orchestra, Grade 3½
Star Wars Main Theme—String orchestra, Grade 2½
Battle of the Heroes—Playable by strings alone or any combination up to full orchestra, Grade 2½
Suite from the Star Wars Epic Part I—Full orchestra, Grade 4
Suite from the Star Wars Epic Part II—Full orchestra, Grade 4

Good luck this season, and may the force be with you!

Pam Phillips
Managing Editor, Suzuki Acquisitions and Strings Editor
Alfred Music