Practice Makes Perfect – Really?

Actually, I prefer ‘practice makes permanent‘!

Here is a short article exploring some of the often contentious issues regarding music practice. In it, I discuss how informed practice works to consolidate learning and thus the importance of appropriate preparation on the part of the students before commencing.

I also examine how the teacher’s guidance during the lesson can make practice more meaningful and productive for the student, and how careful a choice of words can make affect attitudes towards it.  This is all of vital importance, because, as we know,  the majority of the learning takes place away from the lessons – and away from the teacher!

Click here to read: Excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?

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Keeping Everyone Involved in Group Lessons

This article deals with one of the problems that, for many teachers, is the most challenging: how do we keep everyone involved while at the same time, giving due attention to the problems of individuals?

You will find several solutions and discover why this calculation is correct!

. Group Instrumental Teaching III – Keeping Everyone Involved

Group Teaching & Mixed Abilities

Let me start by telling you a story…

When I was a lad of about 11, I played in a local brass band. I was something of a novice which meant that, with relatively rudimentary sight-reading skills, ‘keeping up’ was a real challenge – the notes just seemed to fly past! The conductor’s and older players’ advice to me was; “sit there, play what you can, and if in doubt, leave it out!”

One summer’s Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the band was engaged to play at a garden party or the like. Part of our task was to accompany a troupe of folk dancers; ‘Morris dancers’ as they are known. To accompany their performance, we played a short ‘jig’ style piece that I had never played before. We must have played it over a hundred times! When the dance finally came to an end, I could play it note perfectly without anyone having  ‘taught’ me anything at all: I had looked at the notes, listened to those around me, imitated the more experienced player who sat next to me and played whatever parts I could. Gradually, I was able to add more and more until I could do the whole thing. Once I had mastered a particular part, I was able to consolidate what I had learned by way of seemingly endless repetition.

Something remarkable had taken place, and I don’t pretend to be able to explain it fully, but

Continue reading “Group Teaching & Mixed Abilities”

Music Education’s Love Affair with Literacy (it’s complicated)

There has been much debate recently regarding an article that appeared in The Guardian on March 27th bemoaning the ever-diminishing provision and status of music education in the UK: a valid subject, well worth any number of column inches, given the decline in school music provision not “since 2010, when the baccalaureate was introduced” as the author Charlotte C. Gill states, but since the early 1980s at the hands of Margaret Thatcher[1] and Sir Keith Joseph[2]; a trend that shows no sign of being reversed – at least in terms of government policy. Ms Gill makes some valid points concerning the importance of music education albeit in a confusing and sometimes self-contradictory manner. The two key issues she sees are that music education in the UK has become the preserve of a predominantly white, middle-class, academic mindset (in other words, ‘elitist’) and that teaching with an emphasis on music notation is a dominant symptom of the overly academic approach to musical pedagogy. This, she claims, renders the subject inaccessible and irrelevant to the needs of many if not the majority of school age students. As she puts it, ”music has always been taught in a far too academic way, meaning that theoretical knowledge is the main route to advancement”. In response, there has been an outcry of indignation in the form of a letter published in The Guardian, with several musical luminaries among its signatories, and a plethora of articles and blog posts shared on social media. Several of these demonstrate a clear grasp of the issues surrounding music provision, but others, unfortunately, also contain contradictions and mixed messages even to the extent that, in effect, they lend support to some of Ms Gill’s claims. It is not possible, therefore, to come down firmly on one side of the debate or the other since there appear to be extremely valid points as well as errors and assumptions on both sides. Continue reading “Music Education’s Love Affair with Literacy (it’s complicated)”

Group Instrumental Teaching & Mixed Abilities

brass_band

As we all know, group teaching is a controversial topic. One of the most frequent objections to it (in my experience) is that since no two students will progress at the same rate, or in the same way, the activity is doomed to failure because the less able students will hold the faster learners back and conversely, the faster learners will leave the slower ones behind.  A ‘lose-lose’ situation, to coin a phrase.

However, I believe that these differences can indeed be accommodated

Continue reading “Group Instrumental Teaching & Mixed Abilities”

Keeping Everyone Involved in Group Lessons

This article deals with one of the problems that, for many teachers, is the most challenging: how do we keep everyone involved while at the same time, giving due attention to the problems of individuals.

You will find solutions and discover why this ‘equation’ is correct!

. Group Instrumental Teaching III – Keeping Everyone Involved

More on Group Instrumental Teaching

11KLAS-tmagArticleIt seems that the recent post and article in defense of group teaching has struck a chord with quite a few readers. However, whilst they did their job in defending the practice of group teaching they didn’t offer too many solutions to the challenges that teachers, especially those new to the situation, can face. Continue reading “More on Group Instrumental Teaching”

Benefits of Group Instrumental Teaching

11KLAS-tmagArticleDuring the 1990s, I was director of a music support service for schools in the UK. We provided mainly group lessons, so when interviewing prospective teachers,  I would ask them what they saw as the advantages or disadvantages of group tuition as opposed to one- to- one teaching. Their answers almost always (and I mean in more than 90% of cases), dwelt on the perceived disadvantages and very, very few advantages would be identified.  Some would say things like “Well, obviously, the best situation is individual tuition, but …”

Obviously!

I couldn’t see anything obvious about this at all! In fact, a great deal of reflection, research and experience had convinced me
Continue reading “Benefits of Group Instrumental Teaching”

Practice Makes Perfect – or Does It?

Actually, I prefer ‘practice makes permanent‘! Here is a short article about the thorny issue of music practice – how the teacher’s guidance during the lesson can make it more meaningful and desirable to the student, and how careful a choice of words can make a big difference to attitudes to practice.  All very important because of course, the majority of the learning takes place away from the lessons and the teacher! Excuse me…

Tuning tips for teachers of young/amateur bands and wind ensembles

tuning_fork

Many will be used to tuning to a sustained note, usually A, or in the case of brass or wind bands, it could be a B flat. The problem with this is that many players will, consciously or unconsciously, compensate by correcting the pitch with the embouchure. Once the music starts, the tuning is ‘out’ again.

I have found the following sequence for tuning instruments very useful. It is a lengthy process initially, but it speeds up as you and the players get used to it and it pays dividends.

  1. Tune the first player to a digital tuner. This is optional because the main objective is to have the players in tune with each other not necessarily to the exact concert pitch, but of course you won’t want to be too far out.
  2. Have the first player play a short ‘open’ note. Short means about one second, but not less.
  3. Immediately, get the next player to do the same. You will find it is very easy to compare the pitches and give the necessary ‘pushing/pulling’ instructions to the players.  After a while, this process can become quite quick.
  4. Go through this process with each of the players and the first player, occasionally back-tracking to check those who have been tuned.
  5. When a section has been tuned in this way then have them play long unison note ‘forte’.
  6. Listen, and you will hear either beats or the octave above the tuning note ‘ringing’ out!
  7. Repeat the above until you are satisfied.

We hear the beats or octaves because of ‘sum tones’ and ‘difference tones’:  When two notes are played simultaneously, they produce additional frequencies which are the sum of, and the difference between, the frequencies of the notes being played.  If the frequencies are just 2-3 Hz out, then the sum/difference tones will be below our hearing threshold, but they will create ‘amplitude modulation’ of the basic tone creating the familiar ‘wah-wah’ effect. If they are in tune, the clear octave above will be heard.

For the sake of clarity, let’s take A as an example. Everyone knows that in standard concert pitch A = 440 Hz.

440 + 440 = 880;  in tune so ‘A’ one octave higher would be heard.

440 – 440 = 0;  no lower pitch would be heard, but

440 – 438 = 2; one note is flat so ‘beats’ would result

It gets a tiny bit more complex when one note is sharp, but this serves to illustrate the point.

Of course, after this and when your rehearsal is under way, the focus will be on intonation (the players) rather than tuning (the instruments).  However, you will find that once these tuning habits are well established and the players are encouraged to listen critically to, and correct, their own intonation, a considerable improvement in the richness of sound – across the entire ensemble – will result.