chunking sections of music

Tags:

Amy said: Jul 3, 2018
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
59 posts

Dear All,
I’ve run into a challenge I’ve never before experienced with a 10-yr-old student who is one of my most consistent and deliberate practicers. When I assign a very small and specific unit of music to practice repetitively, every time she plays it she deliberately thinks about each note, what finger to use, and what part of the bow to use. Most students, after playing a series of notes a dozen or so times start to think of that particular series of notes as a unit and no longer have to be so intentional with each note.

How do you help a student go from thinking of music as a series of individual notes each of which should be played beautifully, to the goal of beautifully playing the connected whole?

Despite practicing more than most of my more advanced students (ie, she spends more time doing very specifically what I have assigned), it has taken her every bit of 2 years to work through book 1. Her mother and I agree that it is a very valuable asset to be able to focus through small specific tasks, but this student has trouble seeing the forest through the trees with just about everything she does, and her mother and I are struggling with how to help her make the transition from looking at small individual tasks as ends to themselves to seeing them as small objectives towards a larger goal.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and idea!

Sheryl Shohet said: Jul 3, 2018
Sheryl ShohetInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Waipahu, HI
13 posts

Hi Amy,
Yes, this is an interesting case. We all wish that our students would practice more carefully, but your student seems to be stuck on that step. Have you encouraged her to memorize and perform her pieces? Sometimes getting away from the printed page will usher them into the flow phase. Also a faster tempo might force her to listen to the big picture instead of her individual notes. Has she done extensive listening to her CD? That could expand her views of the pieces also. Perhaps you could ask her for an image or mood or story for one of the pieces, then ask her to concentrate only on that when she plays it.
Good luck, and please let us know what works!

Elizabeth Erb Sherk said: Jul 3, 2018
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Recorder, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Guitar
32 posts

As Sheryl Shohet has already suggested, I was going to suggest the idea of playing her Book 1 pieces with the CD….I remember Merlin Thomson saying that “playing with the CD can be like having a dancing partner keep you swinging and in the flow”.. Your little student sounds like she has done a lot of the kind of work Daniel Coyle writes about in “The Talent Code”, but now she needs to feel, hear and sing the music….

Yes, keep us posted on how musicianship grows in your diligent student.

Joanne Shannon said: Jul 3, 2018
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
117 posts

Lots of listening to the recording. I sometimes ask my students to make their piece sound just like the cd, and even pretend they are the person on the cd playing for all the children in the world who are listening.

Edmund Sprunger said: Jul 3, 2018
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Saint Louis, MO
101 posts

I made this video to help with this very issue:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlzI6zEQZog

Edmund Sprunger
sprungerstudio.com
yespublishing.com

Amy said: Jul 5, 2018
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
59 posts

Dear All,
I really appreciate all of your thoughts. This particular student spends a significant amount of time listening, because that is part of her practice assignment—sometimes clapping beats, sometime clapping rhythm, sometimes ghost-fingering or bowing with the cd, sometimes following along in the music. I love the idea of asking her to pretend she is the person playing the cd, and will start assigning that. I have not typically assigned her to play with the cd. That is a really good idea that I should try more often with many of my students.

I feel that this will be a long-term growing process for both of us, and I am grateful for your input.

Barbara Rylander said: Jul 6, 2018
Barbara Rylander
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Saline, MI
25 posts

I would choose segments to play, maybe even just groups of notes in the pieces with scale patterns, or triads to play up to tempo.

then I would link one to the next and the next.

Probably boxing the spots in the music or on a copied part in colored pencil.

And then, my thought would be make a game out of it. Play it juuuuust this fast with the metronome correctly, then juuuuust this fast, a little faster.

It seems like when I have a student that is at such variance from the norm, something else is usually going on, some sort of visual tracking issue, or learning disability issue or interelational issue with parents or peers.

Just my two cents. Barb

Alan Duncan said: Jul 6, 2018
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
69 posts

I think invoking imagery may be another aid. When we take in a visual scene, more often than not, we don’t start with the details, we see the “big picture” first. (Obviously, that’s a generalization, we differ in our perception of detail vs. context.)

Back when my daughter was working through the Seitz concerti, her teacher wrote “RSM” in her part over a certain passage. Later we asked her what is “RSM” and she told us with great joy and enthusiasm “Oh! That’s a ‘rose-smelling moment.’ Savour it!” She has lots of these sorts of metaphors. You can’t help but treat a passage as a “chunk” when you imagine it visually in this way.

MaryLou Roberts said: Jul 7, 2018
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
265 posts

Of course our collective first thought is more listening, and you clarified that this was happening. So here are a few ideas:
1 Chunking needs to be fluent and up to a reasonable tempo. A very important aspect is what I call “compartmentalization”, which is related to fluency. After having the big picture through listening, we think one thought per note as we learn. As we get more familiar, one thought = 2 notes, then one thought = 4 notes come out. In order to teach this, I use a bouncy ball. Play when the ball hits the floor, first one, then 2 then 4, etc. So if I understand what you are describing, this part may be missing, and the student will be slow, and get tired quickly because they aren’t compartmentalizing.

2 I take care of the hardest part of this in the lesson, then it is easier to follow up at home. It’s important that the student not start from the beginning, which they sometimes do at home. This is also great ear training.

3 Put the practice chunk in to context of the phrase. At first it will not be great. I use Suzuki’s idea of stop-prepare-play to make each repetition successful.

4 Guide the parent in effective home practice, doing the steps.

Read Daniel Coyle’s “The Little Book of Talent” and share a page or two with all your parents!

Best Wishes,
MaryLou

Joanne Shannon said: Jul 7, 2018
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
117 posts

After my students barely put a piece together— correct notes and fingerings—they play (stumble thru) it straight to the end 25x’s….very little fixing, no practicing a hard part, just get to the end with all the help your parent can give. Now we can start “working” on it. We always start with “scramble”, by dividing the piece into sections and numbering the sections— usually 8 bars unless it’s a short folk song. Each day at home practice they draw numbers until they’ve played the whole piece…each part gets hands alone & together 3x’s in a row. Then they finish by putting the piece back together, beginning to end. A couple things are accomplished: they learn how to practice a section with repetition, they start hearing each part as a phrase (musical sentence), and if they need to, they can break it down into an even smaller part. And best of all, each part is equally practiced— no wonderful start and terrible end. The advanced students try to put everything they are capable of into that first 25..i.e. dynamics, articulation, etc.

Amy said: Jul 12, 2018
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
59 posts

Thank you all for the additional thoughts. This week the assignment is to play the grace note into primary note of Gossec Gavotte until she can think of those two notes as a single unit. (We even named that unit “peaches”) The repetition counting is not to start until after she has become capable of playing those two notes quickly, thinking of them as a single unit.

She was skeptical at her lesson, but I think there is potential here.

Joanne Shannon said: Jul 12, 2018
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
117 posts

Got a piano handy? Smash them together on the keys where she can see them. Then smash them together again while quickly lifting the grace note. Keyboards are so wonderfully visual!

g

Kiyoko said: Jul 25, 2018
 91 posts

The simplest thing is to have the student close their eyes. Now they can’t see to be so deliberate about fingering and bowing. Playing becomes more sensory. Ask her to imagine a scene or image the music describes or feeling it evokes. An easy one to start with is, “Does Allegro make you feel like you want to march?”

Later, to start with phrasing, I describe it as waves, or rainbows bridging music together. Playing with them helps them get a sense of the flow and accentuation of the music. I ask my child to outplay me on dynamics, as exaggerating helps them learn and become more mindful of it. It’s fun too!

You must log in to post comments.

A note about the discussion forum: Public discussion forum posts are viewable by anyone. Anyone can read the forums, but you must create an account with your email address to post. Private forums are viewable by anyone that is a part of that private forum's group. Discussion forum posts are the opinion of the poster and do not constitute endorsement by or official position of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Please do not use the discussion forums to advertise products or services