Practicing

Tips for how to practice well, or how to encourage students to practice

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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parents-and-music-lessons

How well do you know your students’ parents? Most of my students are dropped off on the fly, so I seldom see their adults. If someone else drives them to lessons, sometimes I don’t even meet them until a recital.

Parents care. They pay tuition for me to teach their children. Obviously they want a good musical experience for them, and hope and trust I can do for their youngsters what they cannot. Many of them would like to be in on the process, if they only knew how.

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Isn’t it more work to put together duets and ensembles?

Maybe. But sooooo worth it! Check it out…

  • Group playing is a team sport. Participants must work together—listen to one another. They must be able to start together and end together. They lean on each other’s strengths in order to pull off a good performance. They bolster each other’s courage and support each other.
  • It is in duet and ensemble playing that musicians learn the importance of balance (one part should not dominate the others). A good life lesson!
  • As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
  • A group musical experience transcends culture, age, gender, language and economic/social barriers. Depending on the arrangement, the musicians needn’t even be on the same technical level.
  • If there’s a good fit of musicians, it becomes a safe place for them to express themselves emotionally, to make mistakes yet still be accepted, appreciated and cheered on. It’s a great way to overcome the fear of performance. There is safety in groups!
  • In rehearsing duets and ensembles, students will be forced to confront their rhythm and work at it.
  • As a soloist, a performer chooses his/her own interpretation. As part of an ensemble, individuals sacrifice their own ideas to benefit the group. It’s an investment made toward excellence. And that takes any sting out of playing a part other than the lead.

Playing in a small group can become a life experience, not simply something done for a recital since opportunities to perform abound. Over students’ lives, there will be town festivals, community events, holiday performances and church services or functions, to name a few. Get ’em started young!

Here are a few ideas just to get you going.

Piano Ensembles

  • Lists of fun piano duets and trios compiled by Wendy Stevens at Compose Create.
  • A simple search on the internet will turn up dozens of piano duet and trio books.

Vocal Ensembles and Rounds

  • “Coffee Break” from the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
  • Taco Bell Canon (even though this is pre-recorded by one person, Jul3ia, I included it because it was in tune…).
  • Another recording of Taco Bell Canon (in my humble opinion, the next best), features 7 young men.
  • Here’s an easy-to-pick-up round, taught on youtube using “Dynamite”
  • “Dona Nobis Pacem” is a well-known 3-part round. Here are words I have my beginning students use:

Part 1. Quarter notes__ Quarter rests__ Give them each one beat.

If you should break them both in half, they turn into eighths.

Part 2. Three___ beats____ dot—ted half has them.

Three___ beats___ hold on just for three.

Part 3. Three____ beats___ dot-ted-half and then three eighth notes.

Wait__  wait__  Now you start a–gain. (the words dotted half are themselves 8th notes)

Other Duets and Ensembles to Consider

  • Add siblings, parents or grandparents as accompanists or on duet parts.
  • Create an ensemble of piano, guitar, and rhythm—maybe vocals, too!
  • Drum circles can be fun.
  • Create an ensemble of whatever instruments students can play. Have they learned recorder in school? Let them show off their skills here. If they know five notes on their band instruments they should be able to work into a piece you arrange for them.
  • Take simple two or three part rounds and have students play each part on piano or other instruments.
  • Let the audience be part of an ensemble with a call and response led by students. Or let all students participate.
  • Another way to let the audience be part of the ensemble is with Wendy Stevens’ Rhythm Cups.

I hope you’re as excited as I am to have a recital of Dynamic Duets and Excellent Ensembles! I thank my sister, Vicky Dresser, for sharing five of her magical music recital ideas. You can read about the other four here:

Really Rad Rock and Roll Recital 

Mickey Mouse Club Musical Review

Family Folk Song Celebration

Make it More than a Recital!

What are your favorite recitals? We’d love to hear! And be sure to post photos on your Music Teachers Helper website. 🙂

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