Sight reading, singing

Short lesson today because I had a class tonight. M and I did:

  • Sight reading in Read This First. We worked on the transition from one line to the next, to eliminate the pause she introduces at the beginning of a new line as she orients herself.
  • We practiced the first 8 bars of Meadow Minuet and moved on to the next 8 bars. We listened first, and she can sing the melody easily, but she struggled with playing it. So we sang it at the top of our lungs a few times.

Before our lesson, we were discussing review, and she asked, “Can we do a lesson that’s all review some time?” I said yes.

I’ve been watching some videos that the Suzuki Association is making available in their “Parents as Partners Online” webinar. Some are very helpful, and I plan to post my notes for future reference. They really reinforce the importance of review.

Starting Meadow Minuet, working on wandering eyes

Today we did:

  • A little note reading off of the instrument.
  • Meadow Minuet
    • First, we listened all the way through. Then we worked through the first 8 bars, stopping at one point to listen and sing along a few times. M got frustrated at one point when she wasn’t hearing the next right note, but eventually she got it when I played it on my guitar out of her sight. M also kept trying to play the bass part along with the melody, and I had to remind her that it wasn’t part of our assignment.
  • Song of the Wind with the metronome.
    • M did well on this when she watched her hands, but her gaze and attention often wandered, and she missed a lot of notes whenever that happened.
    • To combat this, I gave her a noticing job along with her listening and playing jobs: I asked her to notice where her eyes went as she played. And after each repetition, we compared notes about where her eyes had been. During one repetition, she played the first half of the song nearly flawlessly while looking at her left hand, and then botched the second half the minute she started staring around the room. I pointed this out to her right when it happened, and I think it had an effect — I think she’s buying in to the notion that if her eyes wander, her mind wanders, and her playing suffers.

New song: Meadow Minuet

M started Meadow Minuet in today’s lesson. Oddly, given how much she’s been listening to this song (it repeats 10 times on the CD she listens to at bedtime, rest time, and usually in the morning), M thought that there were four bass notes instead of two at the end of each snippet of melody. Other than that, she picked it up easily. We’re supposed to learn the melody only for now, in 8-bar sections.

For both Meadow Minuet and With Steady Hands, her studio teacher emphasized letting the melody dominate over the bass line. We need to work on this.

As for exercises, M and her teacher played the “open A” scale (the foundation for Meadow Minuet) three ways, alternating i-m: sounding each note 4 times, 3 times, and 2 times.

With respect to technique, M needs to open up her right hand to get a fatter tone.

Finally, I mentioned that I had been asking M to play the A scale with i-m-a triplets, just to give her a finger some work, and her teacher recommended instead playing Perpetual Motion with a-m or m-a alternating, rather than i-m, as a better way to get the a finger involved.

Group class — musicianship exercises

Excercises in today’s group class:

  • The G-scale knocking exercise. The teacher again asked the kids to shout the note names — inside their heads.
  • A listening/note geography exercise with the G scale on the G string. While the kids’ eyes were closed, the teacher played a portion of the G scale and stopped, then asked a student what note he just played, on what fret. Then he made it harder by getting more and more melodic. The kids did better than I would have.
  • Note geography: The teacher showed off the “five-fret” rule, i.e., the fact that 4 of 5 strings sound like the next-highest string at the 5th fret. The kids are supposed to learn the name and location of the notes on the first 5 frets.
    • Coincidentally, the flash cards I ordered from Andrea Cannon arrived Saturday, and this note geography is precisely what they cover.
    • I went over the note geography at lunch time with M by drawing a diagram of the neck on an index card and working out with her what note was found on each fret. She bought into it so much that she made sure we showed our drawing to her studio teacher at our lesson after lunch.
  • Scale construction: The teacher took the kids to the piano to give them another look at whole steps and half steps and how a scale is constructed. (They’ve been building it in terms of frets — 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 — rather than whole and half steps.) He used a mnemonic that was new to me:
    • Babies Cry = only a half step between the notes B and C
    • Elephants Fly = only a half step between the notes E and F
      • M later came up with her own mnemonic for this: Ernie Feather.
  • Radio on/radio off: He asked a student to be the radio switch for “radio on/radio off” Perpetual Motion. In radio on/off, the students play while the switch (the leader’s arm) is up, and stop playing — but keep the tune going in their heads — while the switch is down. It’s a great listening exercise. But the student ignored the teacher’s instruction to turn on or off at the end of phrases, not in the middle of phrases, and thus it was too hard for the kids who were playing to stay with the music.

Continue reading Group class — musicianship exercises

It pays to take a break

M’s left-hand index finger finally healed enough that she could use it again. M  worked on three things in tonight’s lesson:

  1. Played Strawberry Popsicle until I got a satisfactory take;
  2. Did some note reading off the instrument;
  3. Played With Steady Hands for the first time since her private lesson last Saturday (almost a week ago); and
  4. Played French Folk Song for the first time in probably six months.

I posted Strawberry Popsicle with the rest of the Twinkles.

I expected With Steady Hands to be rusty — she hasn’t played it in almost a week. (I would have brought it back into our lessons a few days earlier, but her injured finger threw things off.)

But far from being rusty, it was better than ever. This is a good reminder that significant breaks are sometimes helpful (as long as you’re still doing lots of listening during the breaks) — they give the mind time to process things.

I have posted below her performance of With Steady Hands, along with our post-song discussion. I’m getting in the habit of asking her to self-evaluate, and she can pretty reliably identify key areas to work on. Today, she forgot to introduce dynamic contrast — but she knew it.

French Folk Song was very rusty, but in playing it M did two things that I loved:

  1. First, just to sound serious, she asked, “What time signature? 2/4? 3/4? 4/4?”
  2. Second, when (about 1 minute in) she couldn’t find a particular note, she listened her way to the right note (with only a little help from me).

I’m posting the French Folk Song portion of our lesson below too.

Still injured

M’s still got a cut finger, and we got started late today, so in a short lesson we did:

  1. Conducting: M conducted me playing Aunt Rhody and Lightly Row. We used the metronome.
  2. Perpetual Motion on the G string. She is really getting this.
  3. Allegretto and Lightly Row in “zero position,” i.e., played with the 2/3/4 fingers instead of 1/2/3.

Proof that she listens at group class: At breakfast, as she was holding a banana in her hand, she exclaimed,

Look! It’s like a guitar! It’s a ganana!

And in fact, she was holding the banana with all four fingers on one side and the thumb on the other, in (almost) the proper position for the left hand on the guitar neck — a position that her group teacher demonstrated last week:

holding a banana like a guitar neck

Working under constraints

Today, M cut her left index finger while doing a craft. It was a pretty good cut, right on the tip, so I knew that (at least for today) she wouldn’t be able to fret any notes with that finger.

To work around this, we did four things in our lesson, two with the instrument and two without:

  1. note reading off of the instrument;
  2. review of the first floor or the music-theory memory palace (she remembered everything even though we haven’t reviewed it in days);
  3. Perpetual Motion on the G string only, fretting each note with the middle finger (2) of the left hand; and
  4. The Twinkle Theme in what I called “zero position.” That is, she used fingers 2, 3, and 4 (middle, ring, and pinky) in place of 1, 2, and 3 (index, middle, and ring).

The “zero position” exercise forced M to pay close attention to her left hand — she knew which notes to fret, but her hand kept trying to use the normal fingers. M had to actively intervene on each fretted note and consciously choose to use a different finger.

This exercise would not have occurred to me had I not been forced to think about how M could still practice without her left index finger. It goes to show the value of practicing under constraints — in adapting to the constraint, you may have to do something different, which both creates interest and calls for heightened awareness.

I think I’ll sometimes ask M to play other Book 1 songs that use only 3 fingers in “zero position.”

Still Twinkling

Today we did some note reading, using the note page I posted a few days ago. Then we kept working on the Twinkles, doing repeated takes of the Theme, Ice Cream Cone, and Strawberry Popsicle. We got good takes of the first two, and I added them to my earlier post of Twinkle recordings. (I added a Strawberry Popsicle too, but it’s not a great take.)

This makes three days in a row of playing nothing but Twinkles.

You might expect M to get bored, but the opposite happened. Indeed, today she volunteered, “I kind of like playing Twinkle.” And she’s learning that it’s okay to practice the same thing over, and over, and over — a crucial lesson.

On an unrelated note, we got our confirmation today of registration for the Colorado Suzuki Institute. It’s nice to have that on the schedule as a motivator for M.

Dynamic and pitch contours

In our studio lesson this weekend, M’s teacher diagrammed the dynamic shape of a passage in With Steady Hands, M’s working piece. She numbered each note in the phrase, then drew the numbers from small (quiet) to large (loud) and back to small (quiet again).

Because M and I are still working on recording the Twinkles, and particularly on incorporating dynamic contrast into them, before our lesson I decided to try making a similar diagram for the A section of Twinkle. The diagram is below.

Looking at the staff, M noticed that the notes rise and fall just like the volume, so  we discussed the similarity between the dynamic contour and pitch contour. She did the “pitch shape” drawing in the upper right-hand side of the drawing and labeled it. Her pitch shape is more accurate than mine!

This exercise translated unevenly into her playing. Yesterday, she typically had great dynamic shape on the first A section and both B sections, but when she got to the last A section, she played it all at the same volume. Today, she had some dynamic shape in both A sections, but the shape was too flat — she started piano and never got much louder than mezzopiano.

The trick now is to get her to use her range. (You’ll note that I ruled out the extreme soft and louds in my diagram: when she plays very soft, her right-hand technique falls apart, i.e., she brushes the string rather than lightly plucking it.)
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – dynamic and pitch shapes