Friday, February 24, 2012

Sonatina Rote Exercises For Music Students Blog #4

One simply can not say that studied for a test.  Studying involves looking over notes, rereading chapters, and any other method, such as flash cards, one may use to earn the highest grade possible on an exam.  The same can be said about practicing a piece of music or repertoire.  In the article, “Preparing Students For Vibrant Classical Sonatina Performances Using Rote Exercises”, Courtney Crappell demonstrates how rote exercises can be used to break down even the most complex pieces for a musical student during instruction by remembering “if we take the core elements of a passage and reduce the overall difficulty, our students will experience the essence of the music and gradually build a feeling of ease” (Crappell 17).  There are many techniques that may be incorporated into a student’s music lesson; however, as the difficulty of the musical work heightens, so does the ability to retain the piece of music.
Learning a difficult piece can be frustrating for a student no matter what level they are at.  In the beginning steps during a lesson, a music instructor may have the student listen to the selection a couple times.  According to Crappell, since we tend to learn by imitating sounds, the same should be applied to when we are learning music.  “We actively engage in sound based coaching every time we demonstrate passages for our students and say things like ‘try it this way” (Crappell 17).  Teachers must have an understanding that by having a student analyze a piece of music by listening and following notation, it allows for the student to learn it more quickly.  Once he or she has an idea of what the music should sound like, the instructor should commence the breaking down of the piece itself.
The rote exercises break down a musical piece, such as a sonatina, into elements including specific phrases, rhythm, and simple notation or measures.  Crappell mentions that by making each exercise simple, they will be quicker and take up less time during a music lesson.  For example, the teacher would take a complicated part of the selection (a couple measures to simulate the musical phrases the student will encounter while learning the music on their own) and have them focus on that one part until they can move on to something more difficult.  “This entire process consumes about three minutes of preventative teaching time in the initial lesson and will save 10 times that amount in subsequent lessons” (Crappell 18).  It may seem fitting that a teacher break all this down for their student while they are learning a piece; however, Crappell fails to mention if the students have the skills to comprehend this or if the teacher actually takes the time to do this.
Some students may not encounter long difficult music selections.  Crappell states, “Due to their length, teachers tend to spend less time introducing and exploring sonatinas in the lesson before the student has learned the notes at home” (Crappell 16).  With that being said, it is as though he is assuming with the exercises he mentions that every student can work with them.  Music teachers have their own preferences and they decide how to help a student with a complex work based off of what their initial observations on the student’s learning are.  While the rote system may work for some students, it is not “one size fits all”.
Taking on a complex piece is a challenge for any music student.  Simply going through the whole repertoire on their own is not enough and the teachers have to incorporate good techniques to learn the music.  Crappell shows in his article that by having the student analyze the composition, in other words break it down to make the piece easier, will allow the student to perform better.  Although there is the question of whether or not he contemplated the student’s learning capacity or the exercise preferences of the music instructor, it would be a good method to include in the music lesson.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Enhancing Musical Motivation Blog 3

As with any activity students participate in, the issue of maintaining motivation may arise at any given point during the learning process.  The article, “Maintaining Student Motivation on the Musical Journey Towards Mastery” by Pamela D. Pike, suggests techniques music instructors should consider to help students keep high motivation while gaining the musical skills necessary to play the instrument chosen.  Such techniques involve allowing the student to decide which musical piece he or she may like to work with, “creating a technical exercise for a tricky spot, or creating an accompaniment for the melody being practiced” (Pike 22).  Pike believes that by understanding each students’ musical interest, only then can the instructor focus on their potential musical capacities.  Today, students tend to lose the motivation necessary to learn a musical instrument and it is important to realize how simple things, like changing up the lesson plan as mentioned by Pike, can really make a difference in their musical endeavors.
No one said learning a musical instrument would be easy.  It is all about practicing, that is of course if the student is is motivated enough and that motivation is reliant on how the music instructor takes the time to fully understand the student’s interest.  They have to remind the student that if they believe in themselves and put his or her time into the instrument, they will have success.  According to Pike, “if students believe the effort they have to expend to accomplish the objective is not worth their time and energy, they will likely not be motivated to complete the task.  Since motivated students believe that a reasonable amount of effort needs to be expended to learn a piece of music, effective repertoire selection and the assignment process for students is especially important.”  Although, belief can also decline over time, other techniques must be instituted into the music lesson.
Music teachers need to remember that each student works differently and learn at their own pace.  One can argue that if the teacher challenges that student profusely, they will succeed; however, if the instructor assigns a piece of music that is beyond the student’s capabilities, discouragement will arise.  Techniques that are beneficial include providing ample time to learn a piece, help them decide where to begin based on their level of playing yet still allow room for a challenge.  “Students motivation can be improved and maintained through out the journey of music of study if we remember students practice differently when they are working on pieces of music that they like, break down complex material, provide time for reinforcement of new concepts, encourage students to become comfortable with struggle, and have students try various practice strategies” (Pike 23).  These techniques will not only build belief and confidence, but also the motivation needed to continue learning a musical instrument.
Today, a student’s motivation decreases over time as they learn to play a musical instrument.  A music teacher can influence a student’s motivation by understanding how to incorporate the techniques mentioned.  Pike’s techniques enhance the musical student’s experience should be considered by all music instructors.  It would certainly make a great difference in their ability to learn challenging music.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Early Stages of Playing a Musical Instrument

Children aspire to be whatever they want to be in life and do whatever seems fitting.  They see the world as a place where anything is possible and it is that very thought that lets them gain knowledge.  Motivation is what sparks a child’s interest to learn.  Playing a musical instrument is more than just interest, it takes commitment and most importantly practice.  The study “Commitment and Practice: Key Ingredients for Achievement During the Early Stages of Learning a Musical Instrument” by Gary E. McPherson, illustrates how a child’s value of an activity before they commence learning impacts his or her motivation.
McPerson’s purpose of they study he conducted was to see what children’s opinions were of learning a musical instrument before any instruction and if they would continue to play through out the years.  He states that forty eight percent of six year olds in Britain show an interest; however, that percentage shrinks to half by age seven.  “These findings are consistent with results in countries such as the United States” (McPherson 123).  His explanation for this is that children who display low interest are more likely to quit after a short period of time.  To further support this, he conducted a study in Sydney, Australia in eight different schools.
The children were asked various questions before they began their instruction.  Their answers about how long they intended on playing ranged anywhere from through high school or maybe they will quit when they are teenagers.   A survey was given in addition to the interviews to pin point their interest.  Some said “all my life while others circled “just this year”. From that point through out the nine months they would learn to play a musical instrument, the children were subjected to interviews to measure their progress and interest.
After the nine months were up, the children were interviewed and tested on their performance.  They were tested using “the Watkins-Farum Performance Scale, a standardized sight reading test for measuring performance and progress” (McPherson 124).  Each child’s playing was recorded and later assessed to determine how practicing coincided with how long they thought they would continue play a musical instrument.
Commitment to play the instrument and average weekly playing was how McPherson analyzed which child scored lower and which ones scored higher.  The result of the study was that the highest scoring children were the ones who practiced extensively and would continue to play as they grew older.  As for the lowest scoring children, he wondered what other reason they could have had for playing.  A series of questions resulted that some of the children joined the band because their friends were in it too.
Most of the children who scored in the middle viewed playing an instrument as if it were any other sport or hobby, something they could enjoy but not important.  “The children could differentiate between their interest in learning a musical instrument, the importance of being good at music, whether they believed their learning would be useful to their short and long term goals, and also the cost of participation in terms of the effort to continue improving,” according to McPherson.  For the most part, children foresaw how long they would continue to improve on their musical knowledge.
Practice and motivation are key in learning to play an instrument.  While some children may not aspire to be prodigies, for some it is a form of entertainment.  The early interest in a instrument is not the only thing that makes a child want to learn.  It is their reason behind it, whether it be wanting to be with friends or making a career out of it, that motivates a child to learn to play.