In my last installment I mentioned the importance of the ‘5 minute’ goal. In fact, there are actually 3 goals, and they should be interconnected and operating concurrently.
- Goal 1 – The long-term, ‘vision’ or ‘romance’ goal… I would love to play… I want to play like…! I would love to play that music…! etc. The student is motivated to take up the study of an instrument for many reasons, but whatever the reason, there is a desire born of a dream of possibility.
- Goal 2 - The mid-range goal, which might be described as that ‘next concert’, a ‘tour’, an AMEB, Trinity or school exam, a recital, a specific piece of repertoire, the next note in the mastery of range, … etc. Often, the pursuit of this goal forms the centrepiece of our teaching strategy. The problem here is that mid-range goals tend to take on a ‘final destination’ quality and often leave students disappointed, frustrated or dependent on an external ‘final result’ such as a contest or festival score rating, a trophy, or that ‘special’ performance.
- Goal 3 –The short-term or ‘5 minute’ goal. This is the most important and, in my opinion the most neglected of the three goals - This goal generally involves the application of a newly acquired skill towards mastering a specific technical exercise or etude. It can also relate to mastering a particular passage, or section within a work. Alternatively, it could be the process of acquiring a new skill piece of knowledge. The key here is that the goal can be successfully achieved in a short time, and that the achievement of this short-term goal is a necessary step towards achieving longer-range goals, much like connecting pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. It is the experience of realising the successful outcome from the short-term investment that is most important, for it will lead to further investment in self-motivated, rewarding practice.
Our rehearsals should therefore regularly employ ‘five minute goal’ strategy moments with both training material and repertoire selections, thus providing clear demonstrations of their effectiveness in producing rewarding and lasting results.
Develop a set of definitive, measurable 'Student Learning Objectives/goals' for both students and ensembles alike, eventually leading students to develop and set their own goals.
What performance skills and knowledge bases do you wish for them to obtain? In other words, what do you want them to know, what do you want them to be able to use, to demonstrate? What values and habits do you wish for them to value and incorporate when they finish their year with you? How do you transfer those goals from you to them?
Attention to detail: For what specific sorts of things should we be looking and listening? Learn to develop a set of 'templates'. Templates constitute an underlying sub-programme guided by experience and confident wisdom, running continually throughout the rehearsal. However, on the other hand we cannot become obsessed with the details.
The Templates: A correct skill, response, knowledge base or objective, which is superimposed over that which is observed as correct/incorrect in order to identify and establish the proper response - We need to therefore establish a set of visual and aural ‘templates’.
Are we aware of what is really happening in our ensembles? We can increase our powers of observation by comparing the correct response to that which we are actually hearing/seeing through visually and aurally ‘cross sectioning' the ensemble. We can't hear/see everything, so observe 'samples of activities' and learn to aim your field of focus around our ensemble. Besides, we generally should know beforehand what is going to need attention, so be prepared! We will need to have studied these rehearsal exercises/scores, consequently knowing what we expect to hear. However, we must also have solutions and practice strategies ready to apply to the problems.
Throughout the rehearsal make regular visual checks the following:
- Ensemble member posture; remember, as well as promoting good sound, posture/body language is also a reflection of one’s ‘inner attitude’ and learning engagement! What is your template?
- Ligature positions (sax & clarinet) what should they look like?
- Flute head joint and foot joint alignment, as well as ‘right thumb position’.
- Proper finger placement: arm and hand alignment and ‘right thumb position’, are essential for rapid, accurate, technique development in all wind and percussion hand applications.
- It is necessary to see ‘naturalness’ in both posture, instrument angle and hand position!
- Clear understanding of both the proper mouthpiece placement and embouchure formation for each wind instrument is absolutely crucial for the continued future success regarding range/compass, tone quality and intonation production.
- Mouthpiece placement: trumpet - 50/50 upper/lower lip, horn - 70/30, trombone & euphonium - 60/40, tuba - 50/50
- The student’s ‘head angle’ is especially important in trumpet, sax & flute students; natural slight angle down. Clarinet neck straps must remain an option, especially for smaller students with regards to weight and right thumb placement; Oboe position should replicate the trumpet angle. Bassoons need a chair strap with cup to hold bottom of instrument. (reed position is essential)
- A clear understanding of breath control and air usage is essential.
- For percussion mallets and snare drum stick hand position, matched grip has become the most widely accepted method, but you must be vigilant in reminding, demonstrating and demanding compliance. (Stick position; thumb follows the angle along the side of the stick, not on top)
- Snare drum and keyboard stand heights are essential for encouraging proper mallet/stick grip and body orientation. The snare drum, and mallet instruments should be at waist height; don't let the student stand too close to the instrument.
- Chair style is also important in regards to proper posture formation, feet flat on the floor, sitting on the front 10 cm.
- Be sure to check your student’s music stand height.
- Developing student’s listening focus will increase ability to acquire reliable listening habits with application for both present school music experience, as well as preparing for lifelong musical enjoyment.
- For example, when I introduce a new exercise I generally ask students "On what 3 things am I to focus; what are my 3 targets"; what purpose lies behind this exercise? After allowing time to examine the exercise, I then ask them to suggest 3 specific points; i.e. full-value notes, articulations, sub-dividing, tone quality, etc.
- Rehearsal structure should include demonstrations of successful individual practice strategies, followed through by experiencing the intrinsic pleasure when designated targets/goals are achieved! It is essential that we transfer decision-making and problem-solving into their hands. Success is contagious!
Throughout the rehearsal make regular aural checks of the following:
- Characteristic sound & tone quality: provide ‘hero’ models on recordings, or personal demonstration.
- Tonguing/articulation - Identify the correct response of tonguing through listening for the subtle ‘tah/dah' of tongue. However, don't allow the tongue to stop the air as this creates an obvious, identifiable unpleasant sound. The tongue merely divides the air.
- How do we exit and enter silence? The tongue should never draw attention to itself. To stop the airflow, merely stop blowing.
- Slurring, tonguing. Correct articulation is not optional.
- Correct pitches: introduce and use tonic 'sol fa' with the accompanying Curwen hand signs to re-in force pitch recognition and kinetic understanding.
- Starting together - exiting silence. Use ensemble breathing to start, not conducting. Get them to listen how and when to start.
- Finishing together – entering silence. Again, through listening, not being 'cut off'.
- Rhythmic vertical alignment within the ensemble. Encourage them to listen to discover how to stay together. Refrain from the urge to conduct them. Instead, rely on their ears instead of you! Use tongue articulation versus clapping. The tongue is most connected with rhythm, not hands.
- Full value notes; not optional. Use sub-division and your hands to assist 'full value shape. Firmly insist on this, becoming the 'full value note' enforcer!
- Phrasing, dictated by the melodic line and harmonic support. Again, use your hand gestures to assist in shaping.
- Breathing, as related to phrasing.
- Sub-division – syncopation - ties and dotted notes. Teach a counting system and use it regularly! French notation is a good place to start (tah, te, te.
When considering employing ‘template’ strategy and function in identifying errors, remember that a successful manual arts teacher does not teach one how to make a boat, but how to care for, and effectively use the tools to create the boat, or any other item they wish to construct. So it is with music...show how a mastery of music fundamentals/tools enables one to create beautifully expressive music. So, don’t give up too soon on mastering the tools. The mastery of the tools is an on-going process.
Engaging in both consistent aural and visual scrutiny is absolutely essential for the young student. Keep illustrations, metaphors and analogies simple and relevant. Be patient, consistent and do not compromise in reinforcing the correct responses, but encourage personal accountability. Share your passion for the pursuit of excellence with your students. They will value what you value by the intensity of your passion.