When my students are getting tired of practicing a piece, and I feel my own teaching energy draining-it’s time to get out the stickers and the dice. Students love playing games and so do I.
My goal is to keep them practicing, but it has to be effective. I want to teach them how to practice right so I began asking them to show me what repeated patterns they can find. We analyze the form together. For beginners, say it is ABA. The student gets to choose two matching stickers and label the top of the A sections with that sticker. Say its a yellow flower sticker. We have now named the A sections Yellow flower. Than we move onto the B section. The student chooses a sticker for the B section. Its a rocket ship. The B section is now called Rocket Ship.
Our Form is:
Observe that at the end of yellow flower we have a different ending. Discuss the direction it moves- How is it different from the First Yellow Flower? Hum it together.
Secretly congratulate yourself- your student is now fully engaged. Your student also wants to know what the dice is for. (I have big rubber dice that I use in the studio, but any dice will work and we only need one die.)
Ask the student to choose which section they want to work on. This is important! Let them choose everything !! This is their practice game not yours! Your student says, “Rocket Ship.”
Awesome- let’s work on Rocket Ship. Which part of Rocket Ship is the toughest? The student will show you the trouble area. They usually know. If they don’t choose the section you want them to target you can guide them in this. Roll the Dice! Your student gets to throw the dice on the floor. Whatever it lands on is how many times you practice that tricky part of Rocket Ship. If they are struggling or working on memorizing it should generally only be two measures at a time.
We all know that they need to work on it at least 6 times- but if they get a 1 they only have to do it 1 time. That’s the game. If the teacher changes it, it is no longer fun and just forget about it!
Or you can make them roll until they get a six. Get out the metronome and make them play it until they cry. Hold and stroke your pet cat while doing it. Roll your eyes behind the back of your problem student, watch the clock. Only twenty more minutes to go…
So, they rolled a one. They play it one time and they play it awfully. Usually the student knows that it was a disaster. If they are unaware, you can point out that they missed counting the half note, or need to watch for the staccato or whatever. You can circle or highlight the problem, but that is only future reference for both of you. Keep it light!
Immediately go on to their trouble spot in the first Yellow Flower. It is the last two measures. Roll the Dice. This time they get a 4. The student is happy because they got a higher number this time. The student now wants to practice the last two measures of Yellow Flower four times!!!
You didn’t do anything but let them roll a die. The student gives their full attention to all four times. Notice, that if they make a considerable mistake during that time, the student will usually do a restart on their own. Don’t count that as one of the four. The student really wants to play it right during the four times. We are encouraging them to practice correctly and not gain any muscle memory of playing it wrong. So, we just say something like “Whoops, we crashed there. Let’s try that one again.” Then count the better version as one of the four. The students tend to feel better about their efforts that way.
You can keep playing the practice dice game as long as your student is fully engaged. You can connect the measures into phrases and roll for the whole phrase. At the end of the session, praise them on how far they came in such a short time of focused target practice. Ask them if they would like their own dice to go home with and practice that way. Then give them a die to go home with and play at home. (You can get them at the dollar store.) Yay! The time was used effectively!
You kept your students attention during the lesson.
They feel empowered.
They have a practice strategy for at home that they actually want to do.
They learned that it takes several times to get a difficult section down.
They also learn how much they can accomplish in a short amount of time.
Sip your Musical Mocha-mmm….