5200 Mulford St.
Skokie, IL 60077
is what makes
You don’t have to be a musician to help your children practice!
Five Hands Studio Practice Workshop for Parents
1) FREQUENT BUT SHORT EXPOSURE
2) DIVIDE AND CONQUER
3) TRAIN THE “ROBOT”
4) CONSERVE ENERGY
5) MISTAKES ARE GOOD!
Do, Observe and Correct
Practical Applications of the Principles:
A) FREQUENT BUT BRIEF EXPOSURE
1) Daily practice of each item given in a student’s weekly assignment is essential in order for learning to be efficient and easy.
a. Practice must include brief exposure to each item which has been assigned.
a. Instead of thinking in terms of minutes spent, it is more appealing to a child (who may think of 20 minutes as the equivalent of forever) to think in terms of numbered repetitions. (ie. “play measures 3 and 4 with the right hand 8 times”)
B) DIVIDE AND CONQUER - “take small enough bites” - WORK IN SECTIONS
1) Preparation for work on sections of two measures (or even two beats) at a time
a) Tapping and counting to establish rhythm and coordination between
R.H. on R. Knee,
L.H. on L. Knee
b) Establishing hand position
notes and fingering - focus on one hand at a time if necessary
c) Dynamics and Articulations
f “forte” (loud) vs. p “piano” (soft)
staccato (sharp, brief attack) vs. legato (smooth and connected)
These three aspects of a section of music must be thoroughly researched by the
intentional (left, logical, supervisory) part of a student’s brain before they begin
to train the “robot” (muscle memory).
C) TRAIN THE ROBOT (The focused repetition of the previously prepared sections.)
1) A student repeats the section while concentrating on rhythm, notes, fingering, dynamics and articulations. This is a lot to think about at once. Hence, the value of working on small sections S-L-O-W-L-Y.
a. As the student repeats their section of music, they will lose the power of concentration. This is quite natural. A number of things may happen:
i. The student may begin “daydreaming” and find that the “hands” are repeating something “on their own”. Once achieved, this can often “fall apart”. The section will seem “foreign” again. The student may become frustrated that they have to start over. This is also natural. The whole process may have to begin again until it really sinks in.
i. The student may, however, begin practicing incorrect notes, fingering, rhythm, dynamics or articulations without being aware of this. This is to be avoided at all costs because it takes much more energy to unlearn and relearn than it does to be careful in the training of the “robot”. If the music is learned with errors and then re-learned correctly, the student will now have more than one “default” memory. Usually, the robot will choose the memory that has been made first over any others. Everyone knows the power of a first impression. There’s an old saying - “Make sure to at least polish the front of your shoes, so you make a good impression when you walk into a room.” This implies that the back of your shoes won’t matter much after people have made their first impression of you. This also is the reason habits are much more easily made than broken. It is a tremendous life lesson for your children.
a. Don’t practice with different fingering each time.
b. Don’t learn without attention to dynamics and articulatons.
c. Don’t repeat too rapidly - you may miss details.
d. Don’t work on too large of a section.
e. Don’t practice different pieces each day.
f. Don’t miss a day of practice (min. 5 days a week)
1) CONNECTING what has been freshly learned to what a student already knows.
a. The student can try to play the whole line of music before “today’s section” right through what they just learned. If it goes smoothly, that’s great! If not, the student must should realize that this is to be expected. No need to get mad........... or sad. It’s part of the process.
a. However, is there is a hesitation that occurs or if the new section has now become -once again - unfamiliar, a student may have to take extra steps. After reviewing the new section of music, they must play the last beat or two of yesterday’s section into the first part of “today’s” section. This is new territory and must be treated as such. Otherwise, a student will always hesitate or “stutter” between these sections.
a. The next step would be for a student to play the measure before “today’s” section into “today’s” section. This should be repeated too. Then they can try to play the whole line before or even the whole piece of music up to that point.
a) A beginning student may not know why, but they can point to where there is
an issue. If you, as a parent, notice frustration occurring in your child - you
may ask them to point to their least favorite spot in the music. After they locate it, you can gently point them in the direction of taking smaller bites
(DIVIDE and CONQUER). This is best done before things get too emotional
b) An intermediate or more advanced student can diagnose the issue - focusing on:
2) arm movement,
3) hand shape changes
4) rhythm and right/left coordination
5) various dynamics and articulations
The student may then design and execute a plan to master the particular issue at hand:
They must be aware that this is a THOUGHTFUL process. When they attempt to conquer an issue they must:
1) Play the area concerned.
2) Evaluate what happened. (FEEDBACK)
3) Consider what they will do differently next time. (RECALIBRATION)
4) Be willing to repeat the new information. (TRAINING THE ROBOT)
It is usually appropriate to start with hands separate at first, but when they are played together it is crucial that a student is willing to:
1. SLOW DOWN
2. Work on a SMALLER SECTION (less measures/beats)
(A good way to think of this is in terms of how one would take a bite out of a sandwich. If the sandwich is made of two slices of wonder bread with a piece of cheese, you can probably eat the sandwich in a few bites. But if the sandwich is made of many meats, cheeses, lettuce, tomato, etc. with thick multigrain bread, you will have to take smaller bites and chew more slowly. It really is the same principle.)
Then, the student should connect the new section to the previously learned material by playing 1 beat before that section, then one measure before, then the whole phrase, then finally from the beginning.
If these sections have been repeated with correct fingering, dynamics, articulations etc. the student now can experience the joy of orchestrating how the whole piece flows with it’s slopes and valleys – the BIG PICTURE! They can now EXPRESS THEMSELVES!
D) REVEL IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT MISTAKES CAN OFFER.
Coldly, logically - welcome the feedback that the body communicates. Isolate the difficulties down to their smallest components. Learn to locate and “massage” the area that needs the most care. Make the least favorite measure the most friendly.
E) LET EMOTIONS BE SAVED FOR MUSICAL EXPRESSION.
After the “robot” is trained, one can communicate without extraneous thoughts getting in the way.
ADDITIONAL PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PARENTS IN MOTIVATING THEIR YOUNG STUDENTS (OR FOR ADULTS WHO HAVE TO MOTIVATE THEMSELVES):
As with anything, learning the language of music takes practice. One of the main problems in acquiring this language is the perceived “homework” of practicing and the fight between parents and students to encourage daily practice habits. Here are some suggestions to help you implement the routines that will make music enriching - in the long run:
a) TIME - Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally, the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get children to practice.
b) REPETITION - We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20 or 30 minutes can seem like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition. For example, “Practice this piece 4 times every day and this scale 5 times a day”. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument. Rather, they know that if they are on repetition number 3 they are almost finished.
c) REWARDS - This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. In our school we reward young children for a successful week of practice by placing stars next to their name on a student roster up on the wall for all to see. Praise tends to be the most coveted award. There just is nothing like a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing. In that case there is always next week.
Though your children’s teachers assign them music and show them what to do during their lesson, it is very helpful if you are aware of what should be happening at home. You can provide helpful information as the teacher adjusts the curriculum to fit to your child’s particular style of learning. I can honestly say that I’ve not taught any two students who are exactly alike. Here is a brief outline of what you should hear when your children practice at home during the week:
Daily Practice Format
A) EARLY IN THE WEEK: Theory, workbooks, blast off, curriculum questions
1) Scales, Chords, Arpeggios, Hanon, Technique
a) You should hear just a few measures carefully learned and repeated
b) Then the whole song up should be played up through the point
3) If the core work is done, some improvising or “fooling around” is quite
valuable. This is where the student explores communicating in their own
way with their new found language. However, this - in no way - is a
substitute for the core work.
We hope that this information is helpful to you and your children, as they acquire this expressive language that will reward them for the rest of their lives. Thank you for taking the time to look over this information. It is a pleasure sharing with others the music that has given me such great joy.