Reuben Vincent

Reuben Vincent

Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!

  • How can I get my piano students to play musically?
  • Will they ever learn to truly perform rather than just play?
  • How can I help them to become more confident music readers?

These are some of the challenges that Alison Mathews has addressed in her new book “Doodles” published by Editions Musica Ferrum.

Aimed at beginners to around grade 3 (ABRSM), this chunky book contains 128 little pieces of 4-8 bars (measures) arranged in four difficulty levels.

Now the interesting part! Rather than name each piece, Mathews has provided a small picture, often an emoji, hence the title “Doodles,” which is meant to inspire a mood in the music student. She has also given lots of interesting directions like, “playfully – fish are chasing in the coral” or “fast and furious – what else could you do to make it sound stormy?” I love how at the centre of these short activities the emphasis is on performance. The pupil just simply can’t resist but will soon be inspired to create their own pieces. Watch out John Williams, we will all be writing shark music at this rate!

An interesting feature is the use of the same pieces at each level but with increased difficulty and technique. This a great way to help a student see how to develop a composition. I can see my pupils having lots of fun improvising with these pieces and using them as the basis of their own compositions. Young pupils love engaging their imagination, so this book will inspire them not only to be better readers of music but more importantly, to play with feeling and understanding.

Lots of different playing techniques are explored through the pieces and are an intrinsic part of each song. Legato, staccato, dynamics, tremolandi and glissandi are all represented. I’ve even picked up a tip for helping young pupils to play a glissando without hurting their fingers by using a roll of sellotape!

My only criticism is that there are no key signatures used. I’m very keen on introducing a sense of key very early in development but this is a “minor” grumble compared with the fantastic way that musicality is being taught here. Maybe this is an issue that could be addressed in later editions or subsequent volumes.

For its ability to inspire musicality in such a fun and engaging way, this book gets a big thumbs up from me.

To purchase the book, click here.

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1. Choices

When teaching music students, it is tempting to prescribe a piece of music that we feel that they will benefit from learning. However, if the student gets to choose the piece, they will be far more motivated to make the effort to learn it. I remember a student of mine from many years ago who could be extremely hard to get to practice when I selected the piece for him. One day I did an experiment! I showed him two pieces that I knew would have the same outcome and told him to take his pick. Suddenly he was taking ownership of the decision and it worked a treat. He enthusiastically made his decision and the progress he had made by the following week was outstanding. What a lesson for me! Letting our students take some ownership of their learning journey is a very powerful motivator indeed.

2. Less is More

How much work should you assign a student for the week? Sometimes I have made the mistake of how much they learn at home being open-ended, giving them a song and letting them “see how far they can go”! However, that approach never often reaps the desired effect. Much better to draw a line with a pencil to show the amount of work that you expect them to achieve during the week. With clear boundaries, the student knows what is expected and rises to the challenge. Not having too much material to cover often results in far higher standards of progress being met. Sometimes less is more!

3. Fun!

As humans, most of us want to happy so try and bring a little fun into each music lesson. Smiling and telling the odd cheesy joke can do much to relax the student and motivate them to work harder. Taking an appropriate interest in the student, their family and their other hobbies has always been an effective method for me to gain the respect of my pupils resulting in more progress. If you have a lesson formula, why not mix it up and even do something completely different from time to time. Bringing in a little technology can help the modern student have more fun. I had one boy that refused to practice his scales but as soon as I found him a scales app, he was away! I also find that keeping the lessons fast-paced and energetic really helps make the lesson time go quickly and enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Let’s call it music lesson “circuit training!”

4. End-goal

What’s a game of football without goals? A concert to prepare for, an exam, a competition, a family gathering, a studio get-together. Whatever the occasion, an event can provide much-needed focus to motivate the student to extra practice. Just well deserved commendation for their efforts each week is a must, spurring them on to try even harder the following week.

What is your secret to motivating students?

 

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In this modern age, there is an app for everything. As you trudge through the endless offerings in your app store, it does make you wonder which apps, if any, are of practical use.

Having said that, there are a few golden apps that can add real value to our music lessons and our students home practice.

Recently, ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) released a new app called “Sight-Reading Trainer” Knowing how some of my younger students love using music apps, I decided to investigate! I am very pleased to report that the app is not a disappointment but a genuinely useful tool to train the upcoming musician to read music at sight.

Several of my students have been using the app now and the results have been excellent. All have commented on how they have learnt to look more carefully at new music before starting to play. The most amazing thing is that some who used to hate sight-reading have now had a change of heart and love it! Yes, I know!!!

Features

• “Streak” page. When you open the app you are greeted with the number of days that you have been practicing sight-reading with the app continuously. This has really encouraged my pupils to practice daily so that they can maintain and increases their “streak.”

• Grades 1-5: in effect, 5 apps in one!

• A generous 31 sight-reading projects per grade

• Every project starts with three engaging “games” that teach awareness of rhythm, pitch, and other musical features

• Each game comes with a three-star rating, encouraging students to revisit to improve if they scored less than three stars

• After completing the three games, the student then plays the piece on which the games were based

• Useful tips about effective sight-reading are given for each piece

• Available for Apple & Android

Conclusion

Lots of students are now using this app. None of them have abandoned using it but are very motivated, systematically working their way through the projects. The fact that previous sight-reading “haters” have been converted to enjoy this activity is nothing short of miraculous. Several older students have also been enjoying it, coping admirably with the simple design. Those students at higher grades have enjoyed going back over the early grades to gain further confidence. This app has become a welcome addition to my music teaching toolkit. To learn more, click here.

 

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