Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Band Director’s Afro-Cuban Survival Guide

Joe McCarthy

Part 1: The Clave

Welcome to the first installment of “The Band Director’s Afro-Cuban Survival Guide” for percussion and the drumset.

Afro-centric rhythms and instruments are present in virtually all styles of music and it is imperative for band directors of all levels to understand the core functions and applications of these rhythms. When studying this genre, one must turn to Cuba because of its unparalleled contributions to this style of music. Since the 16th century, Cuban music has been a melting pot of African and European harmonies, melodies and musical instruments. Of particular interest are deep connections to many Cuban drumming styles where enslaved African people were able to maintain their sacred and secular drumming traditions. These traditions created an essential bond between music and language.

You’ve heard this term before, but I’d like to simplify this topic so you are totally comfortable and understand it completely. This way you can explain it to your students.

Stay with me now:

One of the most important and unique characteristics of Cuban music is the clave, which translates to the “key.” Clave is quite simple and easy to understand. The clave is the structural core of Cuban music. I am referring to clave as a concept, not the percussion instrument the claves, although the rhythms of the clave patterns are played on the claves. You hear it and feel it constantly in all styles of music including classical and pop. It is a rhythmic cell or pattern which is the foundation of most Cuban rhythms. In a nutshell, the clave is the glue that holds this music together. In the Afro-Cuban style and related music, all instrumental, melodic and harmonic phrases should be in sync with the clave, this includes phrases that are improvised. The clave concept is a 5-note (5-stroke) cell or pattern phrased over two measures. The clave pattern is either 3:2 or 2:3, which means there is a 3-side and a 2-side of the clave. These numbers simply indicate which side of the clave the phrase begins.

The next step: The son clave and the rumba clave are the common types of clave. Son clave is heard primarily in salsa and popular dance music, while rumba clave is heard primarily in folkloric music and Latin jazz. Although the rhythmic structure of son clave is similar to rumba clave, the difference is the rumba has a little syncopation of the last note on the 3 side which adds tension to the music.

I’ll demonstrate the son clave, both the 2:3 and the 3:2 in 4/4 and then in cut time.

Here are three short video clips to further explain:

Now, in this short video clip, I’ll demonstrate the rumba clave and clearly show you the difference between the son and rumba clave.

How do you know which clave is correct or which one to use? Typically the 2-side clave corresponds to a melody containing less syncopation. Conversely, the 3-side clave typically contains more of a syncopated melody. There are exceptions of course. The direction of the clave is either 2:3 or 3:2 and the direction is dependent upon the rhythmic and melodic structure of the tune. In other words, begin by determining whether the rhythmic structure of the melody has a tendency towards the non-syncopated 2 side or the more syncopated 3 side of the clave.

Not every melody will outline the clave exactly, so listen for accents and figures, many of which are characteristic to this style of music. Once the clave is internalized, this concept will make more sense, as you will relate the phrase to the clave. How does this happen? LISTENING. Investigate Cuban folkloric drumming, salsa and Latin jazz. The clave is there.

Next: It is also very important to understand that clave is a fixed pattern, which means the direction of the clave does not change! Stay with me now: However, because it is an even-numbered phrase, a common technique is to incorporate an odd-numbered phrase to give the illusion of a “change” in the direction. In other words, the next phrase starts on the other side of the clave, tricking our ears into thinking it has changed, but it hasn’t. Another odd-bar phrase will return the clave to the “original” direction. I refer to this as “Moveable 1”.

Check out these short videos to further explain and demonstrate the “Moveable 1.”

Take a few moments to internalize the clave so you are able to hear and feel the pattern. Share it with your students too.

Look for the next segment in a future Alfred Ledger Line. It’s easier than you think and all the rhythms associated with the clave will make much more sense with this foundation in place.

Thanks. Keep listening and most importantly, have fun!

Joe McCarthy

Check out more instructional videos from Joe McCarthy on his YouTube playlist:

Check out his books and DVDs here.

 

Teaching Pianists to Sight-Read Successfully.

Victoria McArthur“He can sight-read anything perfectly without practicing.” “She was born with sight-reading talent.”

Have you overheard these comments? Do you believe either statement can be true? Are some students born with special gifts making sight-reading easier for them? Can students sight-read without practice?

The answer is no.  All pianists start at the same place, with the same tools. Sight-reading skills must be developed over time and with the right kind of practice.

Music research has also demonstrated that sight-reading is a learned skill, not an inborn talent (Lehmann & McArthur, 2002).

To learn to sight-read, the following must be present:

  • Some time each day to specifically practice sight-reading (not performance, which is a different process)
  • A reasonable practice environmentquiet, well-lit and without distractions, (ideally) using an 88-key acoustic or digital keyboard
  • Sight-reading music materials chosen for their systematic progression in difficulty and their motivating qualities

Sight Reading 1A“Sight-reading is largely visual pattern recognition performed with a steady pulse.” Premier Piano Course Sight-Reading was written to teach pianists how to achieve this goal. The authorspiano teachers themselveswere mindful of efficiently using lesson and practice time while achieving sight-reading fluency.

The sight-reading materials in each level correlate with the equivalent level of Premier Piano Course Lesson Book, Levels 1A and 1BThere are 14 units per Sight Reading Book. Represented in each unit are five, short activities, each of which addresses an important component in sight-reading skill development (the Lesson Book correlation pages are clearly written in the upper right-hand margins). In addition, the Sight Reading Books can be used with other methods or as a stand-alone sight-reading approach.

Sight Reading 1BIt is suggested that pianists play one activity per practice day. Each activity is marked with a repeat sign; however, the activity should not be practiced with multiple repetitions.  Play it…then leave it! Accuracy will be imperfect (that’s OK!) but will improve as sight-reading skill grows over time.

In addition, a short direction to the student precedes each sight-reading activity.

Below are examples that show samples of the five activities in each unit of Sight Reading 1A & 1B.

Activity 1—Play the Note

Play individual notes using finger 2 (only) to break down any reliance on playing in set hand positions.

Sight Reading 1A, p.10

Sight Reading 1A, p.10
Play the Note using new notes
G & E, and previously learned notes.

Sight Reading 1B, p.20
Play the Note using notes the
interval of a 4th apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity 2Play from Note-to-Note

Play patterns with steps, skips, and repeated notes as well as Landmark Notes. The goal is to play notes by using the previous note as a reference. Conventional fingering is used.

Sight Reading 1A, p.10

Sight Reading 1A, p.10
Play from Note-to-Note using steps,
skips and repeated notes, as well as
a review of Landmark Notes.

Sight Reading 1B, p.20

Sight Reading 1B, p.20
Play from Note-to-Note using
melodic and harmonic
3rds and 4ths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity 3Rhythm Challenge

Tap rhythm patterns on the closed key cover or lap. The goal is to perform rhythm accurately while keeping a steady beat.

Sight Reading 1A, p.16

Sight Reading 1A, p.16
Tap a Rhythm Challenge in
preparation for upcoming activity
pieces within the same unit.

Sight Reading 1B, p.24

Sight Reading 1B, p.24
Tap a Rhythm Challenge that uses
hands separately as well as
hands together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity 4Play Without Stopping

Play a short piece that uses the Rhythm Challenge patterns. The goal is to keep playing without pause.

Sight Reading 1A, p.9

Sight Reading 1A, p.9
Choose a tempo at which the piece
can be played with a steady beat. Keep
going, even if there are wrong or
omitted notes.

Sight Reading 1B, p.29

Sight Reading 1B, p.29
An optional Challenge is posed
to play with a metronome
(quarter note = 92-112).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Activity 5—Play Expressively

Play a short variation of the Play Without Stopping piece. The goal is to play expressively without stopping.

Sight Reading 1A, p.9

Sight Reading 1A, p.9
Circle the tempo and dynamic
markings, then play, making the
music as expressive as possible.

Sight Reading 1B, p.10

Sight Reading 1B, p.10
Circle the tempo and dynamic
markings, then play, making the
music as expressive as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positive outcomes from using Premier Sight-Reading:

Students will:

  • learn to read ahead and not halt or “back up” while playing.
  • learn to keep a steady pulse and “throw away” missed or omitted notes.
  • learn to pre-scan before playing, noting rhythm and note patterns, as well as marks of expression.
  • improve note accuracy without cues, meaning notes at the beginning of the piece, at the beginning of new lines (systems) or new pages will be sight-read more accurately.
  • develop confidence in encounters with unfamiliar music.
  • enjoy their sight-reading skill, enhancing their ability to learn unfamiliar music more quickly, play duets with friends, and play for church and social gatherings, e.g.

Although sight-reading is not an inborn talent, it can definitely be developed and taught. Teachers who take time to teach sight-reading in the lesson perhaps give their students one of the greatest musical gifts of all:  the ability to learn music independentlya lifelong skill! What an exciting thought!

On a practical level (especially for thirty-minute lessons), sight-reading can be heard in the first couple of minutes of each lesson. Likewise, students can dramatically improve their sight-reading skill with only a few minutes a day devoted exclusively to sight-reading skill-building.

As a teacher, it is exciting to ignite, then to nurture the pleasure of sight-reading within your students, with the hope that hundreds of hours of enjoyment lie ahead for those who can work independently!

Victoria McArthur
Premier Piano Course Co-Author
Director Piano Pedagogy and Group Piano, Florida State University

 

Lehmann, A., & McArthur, V. (2002). Sight-Reading. In Parncutt, R. and G. E. McPherson (Eds.). The Science and Psychology of Music Performance (pp. 135-165). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, Inc.

 

Selecting a Method Book

Phillips_pBy Pam Phillips

There are many reasons to decide to use a specific method book. Here are a few items worth considering.

Circumstances to consider when selecting a method book:

  1. The age at which your students begin instruction.
  2. The number of days per week that class meets.
  3. The length of each class.
  4. Is part of that class time taken by room set-up?
  5. Do many students take private lessons?
  6. Do you have team teaching?

Pedagogical factors to consider when selecting a method book:

  1. Do you teach by rote at first?
  2. Do you prefer to start arco or pizzicato?
  3. Do you prefer to start with fingers down and the hand blocked or fingers up?
  4. Do you prefer note names in the note heads?

Alfred Music has a method to fit every need.

An Invitation from Andy Beck

Andy BeckGreetings music educators! As the school year comes to a close and final performances, evaluations, and grades are complete, I’d like to extend a warm invitation for you to join me at a summer reading session near you. Together with fellow music educators and other outstanding clinicians, we will explore and discover new choral and classroom materials, handpicked and highly recommended. What can you expect when you attend? Here are some highlights:

We will SING!
The very best way to select a piece of music is to sing it. And just imagine the beautiful sounds we will make in a room filled with choral directors and music educators. Along the way, I will emphasize teaching techniques, programming suggestions, and creative performance ideas for all of the materials included in your complimentary packet.

We will LAUGH!
After all, you’ve taken a day out of your brief summer vacation to attend, so let’s have some fun. We’ll probably share a chuckle at ourselves or each other, have a giggle at a clever novelty song or two, and every so often, we’ll crack up at a humorous anecdote about our ever-entertaining students.

We will SHARE ideas!
Over the years, I’ve gathered some useful teaching tidbits that I enjoy sharing throughout the day. If you have a great tip you’d like to impart, please do. We can all learn so much from each other. And with your permission, I’ll pass your idea along to the many other talented music educators that I will have the opportunity to meet this summer.

We’ll GET ORGANIZED for next year!
Be sure to bring a pencil so that you can keep lists and mark materials that you enjoy as we review them. Then later you can take a closer look at each item and even purchase or order on the spot. There will be outstanding choral music, vocal warm-ups, sight-singing books, teacher texts, musicals, and more. By the end of the day, you will be well on your way to having everything you need for the coming school year.

We might even DANCE!
Those of you who know me will attest to my enthusiasm for easy and effective riser choreography. On a few pieces, I may invite you to try a few of the moves, and I’ll model effective ways to teach these routines to your singers.

We will INSPIRE each other!
I get so much from my interaction with music teachers like you. Your dedication to education is truly inspirational! In return, I’ll do my very best to demonstrate positive teaching strategies, offer words of praise and encouragement, and share ideas that will motivate you and your students alike. When all is said and done, you’ll be recharged and ready to embrace the coming school year.

There’s no doubt about it—music teachers are amazing. We are passionate about our craft. We care deeply about our students. We embrace music as a powerful art form. We realize that, through our music and our everyday actions, we teach so much more than music. Through the choice of repertoire, not only do we educate those who are in our classrooms, but we also entertain and inspire hundreds more who attend our concerts. Along the way, we face challenges, but never lose sight of the song that lies within. I look forward to sharing my song … and hearing yours.

See you soon,
Andy Beck

P.S. Mention this article to me at a summer event to receive a free gift from Alfred Music. But, shh—this is a special offer, exclusively for Ledger Lines readers.

Click here for a complete list of Andy’s upcoming workshops and reading sessions.