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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Before and After practicing assignment

The day before Christmas break, I taught students about the progress that occurs after dedication and focused effort.  This idea came when I was visiting the orthodontist with a couple of my children that have braces.  My son was instructed to brush his teeth more often and to make sure he got the message, the dental assistant showed us 'before' and 'after' pictures of patients who had brushed their teeth diligently and those who had not.  I decided that it would be good for students to discover their own 'before' practicing and 'after' practicing videos so they could see the benefits of regular practice. 

This video works well to demonstrate the point:

After watching the video, I want to make sure students understand that they can make progress every day when they practice correctly.  We talked about different ways to practice a small section of music.  For example:
1.  Play all notes as half notes - fixing intonation
2.  Practicing 1 measure at a time
3.  Playing the rhythm on open strings
4.  Playing open strings only to solidify string crossings
5.  Playing repetitions - 10x perfect
6.  Drilling eighth note passages using dotted rhythms

I divided each class by section and provided an iPad for each group to record their first try playing specific measure I selected from their music.  Students were then instructed to drill and rehearse those same measures - then record themselves again to see how much they could improve after just 20 minutes of hard work.  I was impressed with the diligence of the groups.  They were on task and determined to make their 'after' video a success.  At the end of class, we watched each groups videos and it was easy to see that there was progress made in every case.  I then gave the students an option to do this assignment as extra credit over Christmas Break...just a way to keep them practicing.  Most students took the assignment and they seemed excited to try this at home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Next Project: Shifting Method

I was really excited for Christmas vacation.  December is a tiring month for musicians/teachers.  There are so many performances in December - to prepare for, to direct, to perform, to watch.  Two weeks of no school is a much needed break.  I have been savoring sleeping in and staying up late reading fiction novels  (Wow - I haven't had time to read fiction in years.)   Today, I am starting to wonder if I am a work-a-holic.  I am still enjoying my vacation (day 2), but am the type of person that needs a project.  So far, I have cleaned out the pantry, organized my kids' bedrooms, ate my share of chocolate treats....already I am running out of things to do and I feel the need to begin something new.  That is why I am now on page 13 of my new book:  Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra.

I've been meaning to collect my shifting exercises and write a book about shifting for a while.  In my situation, students need to learn this skill earlier (beginning in their 2nd year) because our district does not offer beginning orchestra in school until 7th grade.  I feel we must learn quickly (yet effectively) in order to prepare for the high school level of playing.  After studying many different method books and analyzing how shifting is presented, I decided that method books do not spend enough time on this skill.  Students need more exercises that don't sound boring.  They need to be given the time to develop the shifting motion for accuracy and smoothness.  Students need a logical progression of exercises as they learn new fingerings for notes they had previously only known in 1st position.

I hope this will be of use to other teachers who need to teach shifting in a string orchestra class.  Here is a sample of the first few pages.  (I haven't even proofread, yet....but here it is anway...)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Developing good intonation in beginning string orchestra: Note Twins

In order to help students listen to their intonation, I teach them about note twins.  The first note twin they learn is open D, and high D - we talk about how they are not 'identical' because one is high and one is low, but they have the same sound - when played together, you can tell when they 'match'.  We listen and adjust to make sure those two notes sound the same - like when twins wear the same outfit.

 After some basic finger exercises to strengthen the pinky finger (L.H. pizz, finger taps on the fingerboard), we learned 4th finger A's on the D string.  Students were quick to understand that there is an identical note twin - open A.  They were immediately able to adjust their fingers and match their pitch to the open A - especially after I showed them how to swing the elbow to the right to help the pinky reach.  For the cellos, I taught them that they also had a A note twin - and we learned how to shift to 4th position on the D string and play an A with the 1st finger.  My young cellists loved to feel 'advanced' and I believe it is never too early to make these connections on the fingerboard.

I feel that students are able develop quality intonation more quickly when they know about 'note twins' and frequently practice matching identical notes, or notes in different octaves like open
D and high D.