Singing and song structure

Today’s thought

Singing a song while playing it — not just separately from the instrument — should become a regular exercise to help cement M’s mental map of each song she learns.

The back story

Yesterday, M picked Allegretto as a review piece. Though it’s been a while since she’s played it, you’d think that she’d know it well: she first learned it ten months ago, and at last summer’s Suzuki institute, she worked on it in master classes and performed it both in informal recitals and in the concluding recital.

But it was never secure. She is capable of playing it well, but she does not have a solid sense of the song’s structure. And part of not having the structure down is not remembering how and when to vary tone color and dynamics.

So last night, though the song’s structure is A-A-B-B, she forgot to repeat the A section and went right to B. Then within B, she forgot to introduce a color shift (from natural position to tosto) for an internally repeating section.

Now, she knows, intellectually, the structure: she can answer questions about it. In fact, she was able — after the fact — to identify her failure to play the second A section as a mistake when I asked her, after she played the song, what wasn’t right. But when she’s playing, she isn’t paying enough attention to what she’s doing to make use of her knowledge. And she’s obviously not hearing the song in her head as she plays, even though she’s heard it hundreds of times on the CD.

So today, I wanted to try to help secure her mental picture of this piece and, in the process, figure out more methods for improving her mental maps of songs generally.

We started out this part of the lesson by listening to the recording of Allegretto about three times, twice with eyes closed. I then quizzed her about what she had just heard and the structure of the song. And I quizzed her about yesterday’s run-through. She seemed to know, intellectually, everything about the song’s form.

Then we sat down to play, and sure enough, she went straight from the first A section into the B section. At that point, I stopped her, and I pondered what to do next. In fact, I sat there silently thinking for so long that she asked me, twice, what was going on and whether she could get up.

Eventually, it occurred to me to ask her to play and sing at the same time. Lo and behold, it worked (mostly): She played all four sections; she correctly played and sang the second A section softly; and in the B section, she did not entirely forget the tosto shift (she was very late the first time, and a little late the second).

This leads me to think that playing and singing aloud at the same time can be an effective method for getting an entire song inside of her head.

Final note: It’s quite possible that her teacher suggested doing this at some point and I forgot it. So I don’t claim this as an original insight. Also, we haven’t done it long enough to know whether it will really work. But I’m hopeful!

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