Archive for November 8th, 2008

Last week I had the most delightful invitation; I was invited to a baby shower for a former student. The to- be- mom was around 35 years old and I had been her music teacher in fourth grade. The invitation was extended to me by another pregnant student, the same age, to whom I had given piano lessons. The guests were their close knit group of friends, all of whom I had taught. Needless to say, I was honored to be included.

How much fun it was to hear about their success in the work world, about their families and to see their interaction. Although I felt like a grandma amongst them, they were gracious enough to inquire about my children and career.

In attending I was genuinely interested in hearing about their lives. I had no intention of conversing about, “remember when….” . However, this young, intelligent group of women did! They were the ones to talk about the musical play I did with them, and other times shared.

I have a particularly special relationship with the girl who hosted the party because she was my piano student for many years and also my children’s babysitter. At the shower, she talked not just about the music we shared, but also the advice I had given her through the years. I remember those lessons fondly. Whenever she had something important on her mind, or hadn’t practice we would chat during the lesson. We would cover every topic under the sun! How wonderful it has been watching her grow!

The weekend after the shower, my husband and I visited our son at his university for parent’s weekend. I was a bit late in getting a dinner reservation. Just so happens, a former student (age 41) was the proprietor of the local inn. Not only did he make sure we got in for dinner, but he also paid for it.

A teacher, especially a music teacher because we see students for multiple years, wears many hats. We are another adult, other than the child’s parents, in whom the child can confide, ask advice, get another opinion, or share some fun. I often think that we should be paid the same salary as a psychologist!

I am so fortunate to have taught so many wonderful students. I am especially grateful to the ones who cared enough to continue to share their lives with me. How amazing it is to see a student grow from a small, innocent child, find a successful job, get married, have children of their own.

I am truly blessed.


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imagesChildren generally don’t know how to practice the music their teacher expects them to accomplish. Even the most enthusiastic child usually practices by starting at the beginning of the piece and playing through until it sounds decent. Playing a game called “Scramble” can be a lot of fun and help kids know how to practice.  This is one I learned from my dear friends Carole Bigler and Valery Lloyd Watts at the Kingston Suzuki Institute.

When beginning a new piece, divide the piece into what we call “scramble numbers”. (I circle these numbers to differentiate them from fingering numbers). The scrambles can be of any length, but they should make musical sense; in an early piece, they could be divided by phrases, in an advanced piece, such as a sonata, by the theme, development, coda for example.

Children then use those small bits to practice. One day the child might start practice with scramble #4, then jump to #3 then to #8. They might choose to do the left hand of scramble #1 and the right hand of #5. It really doesn’t matter!

Once scramble sections are provided, here are some ways to use them:

1. At the beginning of a practice, play the entire piece through. Find the scramble number that needs the most work. Go directly to that number and work it until it is acceptable. Then go to the next section that needs the most work. At the end of the practice session, play the piece through again to decide which scramble number to start on the following day.

2. Using a deck of cards, take out of the deck the number of scrambles that are in the piece. Take out a red and black of each number. (for example, if there are 10 scrambles in the piece take out cards 1-10- a red and black of each number) Shuffle the cards. Turn the cards upside down and choose one. Black cards are left hand, red cards are right. So, let’s say a red 5 is drawn. The child would practice the right hand of scramble 5.

3. Same game as above, only take one card of each number. When the number is drawn, the child plays that scramble hands together.

4. Same game as #2 and #3. Add a face card to the deck. When that is drawn, the student has to play the entire piece. Add another face card and the student can play any scramble # they want. Add the joker and the parent has to play the piece. haha

5. Play the same game as above, without using the music! Yes, I mean from memory!

6. At the lesson, I keep a deck of cards at the piano to play these games. Then I ask the kids if they want to gamble. The answer is always “yes”. I have the students choose a card. Whatever number they choose is how many times they have to practice a certain scramble # each day. The beauty of this is that I assign the sections. Let’s say that scramble #1 is easy for the child. When the child draws a low card, that’s the scramble I assign. Let’s say the child draws a face card (all face cards = 10) I then assign the most challenging scramble to that card. It’s brilliant! The kid thinks they are choosing their destiny! haha Parents love this game because at home, if the child complains, the parents just say that it was their luck!

What are the benefits of scramble?

1. It’s a game and children love games. It makes practice fun.

2. It takes time and adds to the bulk of practicing making the practice more thorough.

3. It aids in memorization. The child can also memorize in small chucks and not be overwhelmed when asked to memorize.

4. It helps in performance. Because the child has worked in small units, they can visualize the small units during the performance.

5. It can rescue a child if a memory lapse occurs in performance. Let’s say that the child is performing and has a memory lapse in scramble #3. Instead of panicking, the child can make a quick, calm choice. He can try the scramble again, go to scramble #2 and hope he can play through, or ditch the scramble and go to scramble #4 to avoid the situation all together. (we all know how painful it is when a child has a memory lapse during performance and starts over at the beginning!)

6. It aids in learning how to analyze the piece, which also aids in learning the piece faster.

I think that about sums it up. Practice should be fun not only for the child but for the teacher and parent too. It’s our job as educators to show kids how to practice and have fun at the same time.

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