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.

He also discussed two songs: With Steady Hands and the Carcassi Andante (song 4 in Book 2).

  • With Steady Hands: He made two suggestions:
    • Think of the rhythm (eighth notes) as “Apple, Apple.” Apparently he uses “Peach” and “Pear” as quarter-note rhythms.
      • Just today I read in The Inner Game of Music an anecdote about helping a musician get an elusive triplet rhythm by saying “Pineapple.”
    • Try to play the bass line quieter to let the melody come out.
      • He also offered a lyric for the beginning of the melody: “Who will buy the chocolate ice cream?” Fortunately, M knows the melody well enough already that we don’t need to use the lyric.
  • Andante: He proposed two different lyrics, one for the bass line and one for the melody line, and suggested trying to play and hear each melody separately. (He called them the lyrics of two competing teams.)  The lyrics were:
    • Melody: “If you like ice cream / then you should try some. / First try the chocolate chip / and then the peppermint.”
    • Bass: “We hate ice cream / we’re not kidding / it tastes really / really bad.”

I have mixed feelings about this lyrics-based approach to learning songs. On the plus side, the lyrics can be incredibly catchy. On the minus side, the lyrics can be incredibly catchy. That is, the catchiness is good and bad: The lyrics really cement the tune in your brain, but they get cemented right in there with the tune so that you can’t hear the music without them. Basically, the lyrics can become an earworm.

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