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Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting the Most From Scales

I feel that my students benefit by "overlearning" a few fundamental skills, rather than skimming or surveying lots of skills.  The question becomes, how can I keep the students engaged while repeating a fundamental skill like the 17 natural notes?  Here are some ideas:
---The most obvious is to vary the right hand picking or fingering.
---The next most obvious is to vary rhythm figures such as dotted quarter/eighth.
---Less obvious, but very interesting and "fun" is to play the scale in:
-------Contrary motion.
-------Parallel octaves.

---demonstrate the skill in repeated notes.
---echo the skill.
---play in unison.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Learning Targets vs. Performance Goals

It is important that students know why they are working on a particular piece.  There is a difference between the "objectives" (learning targets) and the "songs" (performance goals), and students benefit when the learning targets are made explicit.  Here is an example of how this would look for the song "House of the Rising Sun"
The Performance Goal: to memorize and overlearn the song.
The Learning Targets:
---Fingerpicking the circular arpeggio, with roots on the D, A, and E strings.
---Playing chord progressions (Amin-C, C-D7, D7-F, Amin-E)
---Fingerpicking chord progressions.

Check for understanding:
Materials: paper & pencil.
Teacher demonstrates:
---Play the circular arpeggio, and ask students to identifty the skill: "the circular arpeggio".
---Finger the chord progression, and ask to students to identify the skill: "the chord progression..."
---Fingerpick the chord progression and ask students to identify the skill: "picking a progression"
---Sing and play, etc.....

Popcorn Reading

Students enjoy collaboration, and partner reading can be an enjoyable way to spend "time-in-text".  "Popcorn reading" is when two students read together - the more advanced student plays a note, and the partner echos or "pops" the same note.  The goal is to play the notes without a pause.  Rhythms can be ignored at first.  As the students progress, they can alternate notes, echo measures, or play in unison.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chunking: Breaking a Guitar Song Down to Fit the Individual

Students come into my guitar class with varied backgrounds and skills.  My goal of "engagement of all students" is accomplished by teaching the students how to "chunk" the material. 

Students should be encouraged to find their "learning edge", and working at the level where they can succeed.  In guitar class all these levels may occur simultaneously.  I will give two examples.  The first is on a sing-and-strum song, and the second on a written melody.

Chunking and Sing-and-Strum Song
1. Finger the left hand only
2. Strum the right hand only, while muting the strings with the left hand.
3. Finger pick the right hand only
4. Play the bass notes only
5. Strum whole notes, half notes or quarter notes, while fingering the chords
6. Strum the rhythm pattern only.
7. Strum the rhythm pattern and finger the chords.
8. Sing only, with goal of memorizing the words and melody for later use.
9. Sing and strum.
10. Sing and strum by memory.

Chunking a Melody or Ensemble (simultaneously)
1.  Play the key tones only.
2.  Play the first note of each measure only.
3.  Spell the notes.  (A,B,C etc....)
4.  Play the rhythm only on muted strings.
5.  Play the rhythm only on the key tone.
6.  If there are multiple parts, students focus on one part until they move to the next part.  7.  The advanced students can play through all the parts sooner.
8.  Advanced students can play two parts simultaneously.
9.  Remedial students can take time to write out the note names and fingerings using a reference chart.
10.  Advanced students can focus on tone, or playing in higher positions.

Ask you students to define chunking: Breaking a song down into skills that fit the individual.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Depth Learning

In-Depth Learning

Students find comfort in repetition, and knowing what to expect.
On the other hand, too much exact repetition leads to "boredom".

A challenging and rewarding goal for me is to find interesting ways to look at a subject or skill from various angles and parameters - to emphasize different aspects of the same skill.

In my second year guitar class, we were working on a chromatic pattern that was presented in tablature - 121-232-343 - in the open position.  It didn't take long for the students to learn to play the pattern proficiently.  Rather than dropping the pattern and moving on to something else, in the spirit of in-depth-learning, I looked for way to build on the skill that they had established.  Further, in my class, I always ask, "how can I point the "stuff" I do towards music reading?"  The following is a list of the variations that I used.

1. I would play excerpts of the pattern, and have students write it out using sharps only.
2. I would play excerpts of the pattern, and have students write it out using flats only.
3. Play an excerpt a fifth away, and have student determine the interval.  Divide the class in two groups and let them hear the pattern in parallel fifths.
4. Have them finger and play the pattern on their guitar in parallel fifths.
5. Repeat the process in other intervals such as octaves, thirds and sixths.
6. Convert the pattern to a diatonic scale, and repeat the variations.
7. Play the pattern completely on one string, as well as across the neck.

As you can see, with a little creativity, I was able to create varied repetition of a single idea.  The students find comfort in linking a known skill to a new skill.  The objectives of finger independence was expanded to include, note reading, interval theory, and theme-and-variation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Use Fingerpicking to Support Music Reading

How can I point the "stuff" I do in guitar class to improving music reading?  Nearly all guitar skills can "point" towards music reading in one way or another.  Fingerpicking is no exception.

1. Have students spell the C chord CEGCE and notate it vertically as a block chord.  For beginners you may notate it for them.  Do this on the left side of a stave.
2. Circle the bass note.  This represents the "thumb" (p)
3. Draw a bracket connecting the top three notes.  These will represent the fingers (i,m,a)
4. Draw the stems and beams for the ascending arpeggio. (More advanced students will not need you to draw the stems and beams.)
5. Students add the noteheads (from the block chord on the left).  Be sure they spell the arpeggio C-G-C-E.
6.  Do this for the chords in a song you are working on.
7.  Read and loop the arpeggios.
8.  Play the song.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Use Tablature to Support Note Reading

Tablature can be used to support reading. To do this it is essential
that students always 1) write in the note names, 2) recite and sing the note names while playing. If students simply play the notes without comprehending or hearing them, the tablature may create a diversion from note reading. As an additional exercise students may convert tablature into notation. The good thing about tablature is that it gets students "doing" music as soon as possible which is a positive step towards learning notation.
Recite (comprehend)
Write (comprehend)
Convert to notation (comprehend)
Sing (hear)