This was my first week back to teaching since the summer holidays and I’ve been using lots of rote pieces to kick-start the new term – much more so than ever before.
That’s probably because – over in The Community – our monthly topic for September is Teaching by Rote. So I’ve been living and breathing everything rote for the past couple of weeks in preparation!
Sharon with her *NEW* book from June Armstrong called ‘Alphabet’ | click here to purchase
3 REASONS TO USE ROTE PIECES AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW TERM
My top 3 reasons for using rote pieces to kick-start the new term are:
Reason #1 – Motivate students to get back on the piano bench and ‘make music now’
A rote piece is a great ice-breaker for the first lesson back after the holidays. Teach your student a rote piece that sounds great and that they feel able to do by the end of the lesson. They’ll go home and play it all week and come back to the next lesson feeling chuffed with themselves. (Or at least, that’s the plan – my lot were certainly feeling pretty pumped on leaving the lesson because they could play a whole new piece – so I’ll keep you posted on the outcomes after 1 week!)
Reason #2 – Chance for us teachers to check aural understanding of musical concepts
Just because we’ve taught students a particular musical concept doesn’t mean that they will have fully embraced and understood it. When you play a rote piece for your student, ask questions to find out what they know. Can they identify the time signature? Can they hear how many times a pattern is repeated? Can they identify what’s happening with the articulation? Can they identify the mood of the piece and explain how the musical elements create that mood?
Reason #3 – With the challenges of new routine, we want the first lessons back to be fun-packed
Back to term has a whole set of challenges for our students. A whole set of challenges that are completely unrelated to their piano lessons. Yes, for us, resuming piano lessons is a big deal. Yet for our students their piano lesson slot is just a small part of what’s going on in their lives during the month of September! They’ll be finding a new routine back at school, maybe even getting used to being at a brand new school, or having a new set of teachers. Even with adult students who have children heading back to school, they’re probably feeling a bit frazzled with the return-to-routine So, at the start of a new term, the piano lesson should be a place where all students have a particularly fun time. (They’ll be learning oodles too. Plus, as I said above, it’s our chance to spot-check for areas that need further development).
WHAT ROTE REPERTOIRE HAVE I BEEN USING IN MY LESSONS THIS WEEK?
I’ve built up a fab studio library of rote repertoire. However, this week I’ve been particularly excited about the rote pieces inside June Armstrong’s brand new book Alphabet. (Are you like me when you get new books? I’m just so excited to explore fresh repertoire with my students!)
However, there are many other rote repertoire resources out there. Here are just 4 links to get you started and please feel free to share the rote repertoire resources that you love in the comments below.
Piano Safari Pattern Pieces
BlitzBooks Rote Repertoire
Little Gems for Piano
Repertoire by Rote
‘S FOR STORM’ FROM ALPHABET BY JUNE ARMSTRONG
One of the pieces from Alphabet that my students have been particularly enjoying this week is ‘S for Storm’.
What’s more, I’m delighted that June Armstrong has given me the score of this piece to share with you!
So let me share Molly’s story with you: a student who learnt to play ‘S for Storm’ by rote at her lesson with me this week.
MY STUDENT ‘MOLLY’
Molly passed her Grade 3 with distinction at the end of last term, so this choice of piece may seem overly simple. However, here’s what I did…
I played ‘S for Storm’ to Molly.
It was an instant hit: dramatic-sounding music that’s easy to play.
However, if I was to do something different, I’d have played it without the score. Getting a student to learn a piece by rote means that they’re learning it without the score. So, as a teacher, I should also demonstrate that I can play it without the score.
Teacher Tip: If you’ve never been able to play from memory, start by memorising a super simple piece that’s full of patterns. In other words, a piece of rote repertoire! Download ‘S for Storm’ and aim to memorise the first 4 bars *away from the piano*. Then give it a whirl and then keep going until you can play the whole piece from memory.
I played the piece again and asked Molly a series of listening questions.
“What is the time signature?”
“What would you count?”
Even though Molly has explored 6/8 in numerous lessons (she played a couple of Grade 3 pieces last term for goodness sake!) I discovered that she was still a little shaky on the whole concept. Now that I know it’s an area that needs work, I can incorporate that into my planning for Molly’s lessons this term.
Other questions I’ve been asking students this week, when listening to their new rote piece, have included:
“Tap the rhythm. What would you count? Now count aloud as you tap.”
“How can you figure out how many bars the piece has? Now I’d like you to figure it out!”
“Listen to the bass line pattern – is it ascending or descending? – in steps or skips?”
“Does the piece sound major or minor?”
“What is the mood/character of the piece?”
“Listen to this musical phrase. Now listen to the whole piece – how many times do you hear that phrase altogether?”
“What’s happening with the dynamics?”
“Sing back this phrase”
I particularly love asking students to engage with this activity:
“I’m going to play the first note of this phrase somewhere between here and here”
I place erasers on 2 notes, usually at least an octave apart, to mark the boundaries.
“Close you eyes while I play this note – then play it back to me”
I’m not expecting students to find this note first time around, but I do expect them to keep trying (and I’ll play it back to them again if needed. So don’t give away the answer before they’ve already had a good go!)
“Describe where that note ‘lives’ on the stave?”
I’m expecting them to say (e.g.) 4th line on the treble/G stave.
“Now draw that note as a dotted minim on this stave card”
This can clarify that they understand various theoretical concepts (e.g.) stem direction, where the dot is placed
Next, Molly learnt to play ‘S for Storm’ by rote
Molly’s quick to pick up patterns, especially when she gets to see what I’m doing on the keyboard.
She initially stumbled a little over the change at bar 16 (compared to bar 12) and needed to think about the storm ‘calming down’ to achieve the diminuendo and rit. But otherwise, the simplicity of this piece allowed her to really enjoy ‘performing’ the piece by the end of her lesson with energy and drama. (It’s great when they bring their iPad to the lesson, enabling a videoed performance to be made, and providing a fab memory-prompt at home).
Finally, I asked Molly to write out the score for next week
So that she can relate the patterns (aural and keyboard shapes) back to written notation, I’ve asked Molly to write out the music that she’s playing. I’ll keep you posted…
I hope that this blog post has given you some inspiration – and if you haven’t already downloaded ‘S for Storm’ click here now to get your complimentary copy (with BIG thanks to June Armstrong!)
Also, to get access to our monthly Curiosity Box on the topic of “Teaching by Rote” (where you get to see this fab range of piano teachers, pictured below, teach by rote in their own piano studios) we’d love to welcome you into The Community.
The Community is our online membership site where piano teachers learn as much as they teach, bringing even greater student and teacher success.
This blog post was written by Sharon Mark-Teggart | Co-Founder of The Curious Piano Teachers