Thursday, May 3, 2012

Aural Learners


   I have a few students who are aural learners. This can pose a problem when my student already knows the melody but we are trying to master the qualities of a piece that have little to do with the melody. Ode to Joy is one of the biggest offenders. My aural students will insert the dotted quarter/eighth combo where none exists in the print edition they are reading.

   Is inserting things that don't exist a federal offense? No, of course not. I'm all about creativity, but beginning sight reading skills are not the time to add or omit things our ears and eyes overlook. I teach beginning sight reading by building on the ability to read and silutaneously play exactly what is written, even if our ear objects. There will be time enough for "creative sight reading" (aka improvisational reading)  when they are more advanced and the creative insertions become based on musical and theoretical knowledge, not the inability to execute the printed score.

   Sight reading requires precision. The ability to read, count, and use correct articulation are the starting points. Staying in tempo is also crucial...especially when the family might be standing behind my student and singing along!

   When my students come into lessons with a piece they are excited to play that they already know melodically and then overlook the dynamics, articulation, rhythm, counting, tempo, fingering, accidentals, I can only wonder what I'm doing wrong. But then again, who wants to sit around counting and lifting when you are just so excited to dive and and begin playing? I think that kind of philosophy comes with age and experience. What can I do for my young student in the meantime? Here are a few steps:

1. Write in the counts.
Have the student write the counts under each note- away from the piano.

2. Tap and count the piece at the table.
Begin with two-handed counting on the table. (LH taps bass clef, RH taps treble clef).

3. Incorporate dynamics into the tapping.
Once they have worked out the tapping, do some soft tapping and heavy tapping for dynamics.

4. Incorporate articulation on the piano key cover.
We pretend to play the piece on the piano key cover using fingers rather than flat hands to tap and count the piece. When there is a lift at the end of a legato, we lift just as if we are playing the piece on the keys. If there are staccato notes, we do the same. If we need to, we pull out the rebounder to reinforce staccato or sing the melody to reinforce legato.

5. Play the piece on a digital piano or keyboard with NO sound!
Here, I can have the student play the piece with counting, articulation, and the metronome, but the melody is not interfering with their over-powering aural skills.

6. Once all the muscle work is done, take it back to the piano.
Now that my student has practiced the piece several times without the melody interfering, we can go back to the piano and play the piece as its written!


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