Faster Rote Learning Using YouTube

I have been teaching piano for a very long time. Over the years I have followed a number of different method books (Faber, Marlais, the Music Tree, Celebrate Piano), gone without a set method, and even written my own pieces. The results are always mixed - a few students progress fairly quickly - while the majority struggle through slowly - with sighs and the ready phrases - "this is hard" and "this is confusing."

It is not that my students don't like playing piano - it is the amount of effort that it takes to become musically literate that is really the challenge. Their ability to memorize the facts of the staff is quite weak and so there is a lot of struggle to move forward since the notes and intervals (bigger than a third) just aren't there - at their fingertips. (That is for a different post)

I know that as a piano teacher I am most likely only going to have my students for a fraction of the time that I really need in order to develop them into competent players. The only way I will keep most of my students playing through the adolescent years and beyond is to speed up their learning. I need to get my students sounding competent by middle school so that they can add "piano player" to their adolescent persona. I can speed up their learing using rote lessons that I create and post on YouTube.

We all know that students can play at a higher level than they can read. Rote pieces allow students to play at their playing level - not at their reading level. When a rote lesson is posted on YouTube, the actual in-person piano lesson can focus more on reading, aural skills, technique, and improvisation (to name a few possibilities), since there doesn't need to be as much time devoted to learning the repertoire on the lesson.

With an iPad or comparable device it is easy to make a recorded lesson of a piece and have students learn it from the video. I actually use these videos as make up classes for my students who cancel.

Here is a video lesson for Teresa Richert's RCM Level 2 Little Red Wagon.


Some Tips for Teaching and Hearing Harmonic Intervals

The new syllabus for the Royal Conservatory of Music and Music Development Program has introduced harmonic intervals into its aural skills curriculum. The 2008 syllabus only required the candidate to hear melodic intervals, and now starting at Level 5 harmonic intervals are being introduced alongside their melodic forms. At Level 10 the candidates are asked to identify stand-alone harmonic intervals.

For students who are used to hearing melodic intervals in relation to specific songs or scalar patterns, this skill can seem a quite daunting. I am hoping that these tips can help.

Firstly, I play each harmonic interval and ask the student to listen carefully for the mood or character of the interval without even trying to think about distance. This leads to four categories of character:

Irritating - Crunchy - Harmonious - Medieval

The words are not always the same as above, but the characters are similar.

-Minor 2nds, Major 7ths, and Minor 9ths are irritating.
-Major 2nds and Minor 7ths are crunchy.
-Thirds and sixths are harmonious
-Perfect 4ths and 5ths are Medieval.

Octaves are generally heard well in the harmonic form, and Tritones fit into Irritating usually, but some students hear them as crunchy.

Secondly, once a student has categorized each interval and really hears them in this way then we add more traits - like medieval and hollow for the Perfect 5th, or harmonious and sad for a minor 3rd. The clearer the character the more confident the student becomes.

Thirdly, once a student has built consistency with their vocabulary and always says crunchy and distant for a Minor 7th then they can start converting these traits into the intervallic names.

This process does not need to be rushed, and the first steps can be practised for a while to build confidence.

This type of learning works well with younger students on melodic intervals since they can often understand the mood and character more than the terminology. For example I use the terms: bright, dark, and empty for Major third, Minor third, and Perfect fifth.

It is best to practise aural skills with a positive mindset, and just listening to the qualities of the sounds without having to give them a number value keeps things positive. It also leads to better listening - and we all want that.