Group class: mindful scales, note reading

At M’s group class, the teacher led the students through two mindfulness-enhancing scale exercises plus a note-reading exercise. All three help build key mental skills.

Exercise 1: G-scale with knocks

The G-scale with knocks is hard even for adults.  It’s kind of like the B-I-N-G-O song, but in reverse: you repeat the G scale, saying the note names as you play, but dropping one more note from the end each time and knocking on the back of the guitar neck instead. The final repetition is all knocks, and then you shout “Hey!” in time, on the beat that follows the last imaginary note. So it goes like this:

  • G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G (played and spoken or sung)
  • G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-knock (each played note spoken or sung, silent on knock)
  • G-A-B-C-D-E-knock-knock
  • G-A-B-C-D-knock-knock-knock
  • G-A-B-C-knockknock-knock-knock
  • G-A-B-knock-knockknock-knock-knock
  • G-A-knock-knock-knockknock-knock-knock
  • G-knock-knockknock-knockknock-knock-knock
  • knock-knock-knockknock-knockknock-knock-knock-HEY!

To be successful, you have to hear in your head the notes you’re not playing, which helps kids strengthen their imaging skills. You also have to remember what you just played (“Did I just play G-A-B, or was it G-A-B-C?”) so you know when to start knocking, which helps kids (and adults!) build concentration.

Exercise 2: D scale, “prepare in the air”

This second exercise gives kids practice at explicitly preparing themselves to play what comes next — i.e., at “imaging ahead.” They played a D scale, but they played each note 4 times (if I recall correctly). As they played, the teacher told them to “prepare in the air” for what comes next. So while the student is playing a D, he is “preparing in the air” to fret the upcoming E, and the multiple repetitions of the D give the student the time she needs to think ahead.

This exercise also helps kids learn to focus on good left-hand shape — fingers curled in evenly toward the fingerboard, rather than splayed out wildly. (The teacher demonstrated this shape in a way I hadn’t seen before. He placed a pen on the left thumb, then curled the fingers in to meet the pen, forming the optimal shape.)

I’m luck that M already has good left-hand shape, because I made it a priority early on — I would sit in front of her and hold my hand flat in front of hers, gently adjusting her fingers if they started poking out.

Exercise 3: Note reading

The teacher handed out the page below and discussed two uses for it (other than the obvious one of asking your kid to read the notes).

First, he picked an arbitrary note — say, A — and asked a student to start with the first one and race his finger along the line until he came to the next one, saying the number under each one he encountered. The goal here is to move as quickly as possible, thus developing the ability to track along the staff.

Second, he suggested we practice with a metronome, and ask our kid to stay with the metronome, skipping any unknown notes and maintaining forward progress. In effect, he suggested that we teach our kids to “read through their mistakes” in the same way we usually teach them to play through their mistakes.
See-Say note page – treble clef

Watch where you’re going!

At group class yesterday, the teacher discussed the key to shifting one’s left hand around the neck: looking at the fret you are aiming for, not the fret you are coming from (nor at the moving hand). It struck me that this is the concrete manifestation of the importance, as you’re playing, of keeping in mind what’s coming next, or “imaging ahead.”

“Eyes on the target” is a universal principle, governing not just sports and pastimes (golf, basketball, tennis, pool, archery, fencing) but even something as simple as driving, as I explained to M as we were driving around yesterday afternoon.

So today in our home lesson, when M was playing wrong notes and shifting her right hand toward tosto at the wrong time in Huckleberry Apple Twinkle, I paused to do a fret-jumping exercise in which we broke down every step:

  • fret and play a note at the 5th fret;
  • look at the 12th fret;
  • pause;
  • fret and play a note at the 12th fret;
  • look at the 5th fret;
  • pause;
  • fret and play a note at the 5th fret; etc.

It took several repetitions to get her to look at the target fret before moving her hand — she naturally wanted to watch her hand as it moved, rather than looking ahead. But she did get the hang of it.

I then tried to explain that just as she looked ahead to see where she was going physically, she needed, when playing a song, to look ahead mentally and know what was coming next.  Continue reading Watch where you’re going!

Effort, not outcome

Today was a busy day for M and me: first a group guitar lesson, then a swim lesson, then a private guitar lesson, then an extra private guitar lesson with the new teacher our school is looking at.

As I reflect on the day, I’m struck by how hard it is to have the right goals. A bedrock principle of sane living is to focus on effort, not on outcomes. After all, you can control your own effort (usually!), but you cannot control outcomes. To be sure, you can learn from outcomes, and they provide valuable feedback. But if your ego is invested in getting a particular outcome, your ego’s in for some regular bruising.

But during the group lesson, I couldn’t help but compare M’s performance (an outcome) with that of other kids. And I noticed myself feeling envious and competitive — even though I simultaneously know that M’s performance is, in most ways, better than the very same kids that arouse feelings of envy! Specifically, I found myself thinking, “I can’t believe [Girl X] is already on that Book 2 song and we’re still in Book 1! We’re behind!”

But I have made a conscious choice to embrace the Suzuki principle of mastery before progress, and I have deliberately resisted advancing faster through Book 1. Further, M has markedly better technique than Girl X, so what sense does it make to be envious when Girl X hacks her way through a song that she can’t even really play? I don’t even want M to do that — and yet my competitive, reptilian brain thinks, “We should be further than we are!”

Then, after the group lesson, I had a funny conversation in which M showed herself to be focused on an outcome in an unhelpful way. Several weeks earlier, she had shared the “killer tone award” in group class, but she hadn’t taken the trophy home because the student who previously had it didn’t bring it to class. So today, she got her chance to take custody of the award for a week. As we walked home, she was holding the trophy. We had this exchange: Continue reading Effort, not outcome