Thursday, April 5, 2012

More Than Just Flashcards


   I'm a big fan of flashcards. Being able to drill over and over is a good way to learn the notes. Its like learning the words of a foreign language. If I were teaching French, rather than piano, my students would not learn to speak French fluently if they only spoke the words once a week for 30 minutes or so. They have to go home and practice the words I teach them in the lesson over and over everyday so when I use them in the next lesson (and every lesson thereafter) they understand me.
 
   But what good are the flashcards if my student can't put them into practice? If I teach a student by rote only, aren't I teaching them the equivalent of "Whens the next bus?" or "Where is the hotel?". Likewise, if I only teach them to sight read on a sight-reading flashcard at the piano, they learn to associate a note with a key or hand position without an understanding of anything else. Kind of like knowing how to speak French, but not all that sure of what they're saying and still unable to read with comprehension in French. I know, I did this myself when I learned to play the viola. I saw the note, knew where to place my finger on the neck and that's where it ended. Needless to say, I hit a brick wall and could not advance. I can also pronounce words and read in Latin, French, and German....but don't ask me to tell you what I'm saying. I am the queen of hitting brick walls!

    I work with my students on the grammar of music and I expect them to speak fluently and become conversational. So when they "speak French" not only do they know the French alphabet, know how to pronounce the letters, read and speak individual words, but they also need to be able to read with comprehension, formulate complete sentences AND hold a conversation that makes sense. These are all very different skill sets. And when playing the piano, my student should be well-versed in ALL OF THEM.

   So when I do flashcards, I do them in conjunction with the piano keys. They have to know the letter name at random when they see the card, but also know where that particular note is located on the keyboard. There are lots of C's on the piano, but only 1 middle C. There are lots of F's on the piano but which one is the "face" F?

   The photo above is just one of many ways I do this. In this example, I'm not using flashcards at all. I say a word of a sentence to the student and they place the note on its staff line or space (they are already placed in the photo for example only) and then they also place a stone on the keyboard. I like the keyboard in the picture because it has all 88 keys.

   I set the colored stones up for beginning students to reinforce the idea of the 5 line notes and 4 space notes and the B,C,D in the middle of the clefs. The clear stones have the letters names written backwards on the bottom with a sharpie. Its easier than using stickers or glue.

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