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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teach students HOW to practice

My beginning orchestra has been working on a piece called 'A Spark of Courage' by Doug Spata.  It's a bit of a stretch for them, but they love the music so much they are really working hard and it has helped students solidify fingerpatterns and notereading.  Today I wanted to work carefully with each individual section.  In order to do this, I created an assignment for students to complete while waiting for their turn to work with me.  It worked out really well and students picked up some really helpful tips for practicing.  This is a great assignment for any level.

1.  Read the article "8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently." 

2.  Complete the worksheet:

This was great for the day before Thanksgiving break - it left students motivated to keep working and practicing over the holiday.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Post-Conference Reflection

Last week I presented at the NAfME National Conference in Grapevine, TX.  I love presenting and had a great experience...this is the 4th presentation I've prepared for the national conference and I've found that presenting in another one of my passions.

Attending this conference was very rejuvenating for me.  Teaching 275 students every day is a lot of work and can be exhausting.  After attending sessions at the conference, I felt my energy return and I was excited to get back to my classroom and try out some new ideas.

My favorite session was by Christopher Selby - author of 'Habits of a Successful String Musician.'  I enjoyed his insights about how to get your performing group to the next level.  I am confident in my ability to teach proper notes, intonation and rhythm, but something seemed to be missing in my groups.  Dr. Selby's session helped me realize what I was missing.   Since my orchestra groups are very large (70-100 in each group) I have struggled with helping students learn to perform as a team.  They all play pretty accurately, but we sometimes have trouble with rushing and balance since students are not listening to each other.   Upon returning to my students I immediately set out to train my students to listen to each other and make beautiful music together.

Here are some of my notes from Dr. Selby's session to help students listen to each other, work as a team, and achieve the next level of performance:

  • Agree on what part of the bow should be used.  Decide on style and phrasing...make sure each student matches each other by asking questions.  For example:  "What part of the bow is your stand partner using?"  "Can you make your tone disappear inside your partner's tone?"  "How much bow is your section leader using?"
  • Have students practice with their eyes on each other.  Get out of the music.
  • When fixing intonation, have players tune to each other.  Must match the person sitting next to you.  Tune unison as well as intervals.  Fix blend - don't allow one to be louder than the rest.  Each player should be able to hear themselves as well as people around them....and other sections.
  • Teach students to breathe together and move together.
  • For a responsive group, change conducting...different tempos and dynamics.  Train students to follow you by making it necessary that they pay attention.

I noticed a difference in my students as soon as I began implementing these ideas.  I'm so happy I attended the conference - totally worth the new insights!

I also appreciated Dr. Selby's thoughts on teaching high school and upper level orchestra students.  He spoke about the need to teach technique in high school.  Since there is usually no method book used at the high school level, many teachers work to perform music but never drill or reinforce technique.  I totally agree...students need constant reinforcement of skills learned during their early years.  One cannot assume that a student who performs one piece in the key of A Major (even if it is flawless) would never need to drill extensions and G#'s again.  Every skill requires consistent attention and practice.  That means a high school teacher may need to re-teach and review many skills students previously learned.  I believe Dr. Selby's book is excellent for the high school level to drill technique.

In the session, there was also a discussion about music selection.  Many teachers select music that is too hard and the performance ends up being less than successful.  I agree and believe music selection in crucial. However, I do sometimes give difficult music to my students.  Every year we perform a just a few grade 2's with my first year players, 3's with my 2nd year players, and 4's with my 3rd year players.  It stretches my students and they rise to the challenge.  Still, each piece must be carefully selected and I have to be confident that I can teach my students to achieve the demanding technical skills in the music.   I've found a great deal of success balancing our concert load with a carefully selected mix of music levels.

Have you attended a conference, lately?  I highly recommend it!