Today let's finish up those Intermediate Piano Practicing Tools. These twelve techniques give teenagers smart approaches to learning new repertoire plus the strategies they need to solve their own problems in the practice room.
#9 Tap n' Count
#10 Leap n' Land
#11 Articulation Perfection
#12 Shaping Phrases
Here are some repertoire samples from the Grade 5 Perspectives album to illustrate each tool in action.
We can use two valuable tools in "Postlude" by George Fiala. I would first work out the entire left hand using blocked chords while counting 1 + 2 +. Blocking is a great way to establish tactile memory and encourages students to study how the chords are connected.
When hands are played together, balance becomes an important artistic element. Most intermediate students are still developing the technical ability to achieve control of balance. I find that using those blocked left hand chords together with the right hand's melody is valuable as a first step. Think of volume dials on each hand, turn LH down to a 2 and RH up to 6.
Sounding the Accordion by Jeno Takacs provides a good opportunity to review "e" counting with students. I would begin by clapping and counting the RH with 1 e + a syllables. Do the same with left hand to make sure students are observing the eighth rests correctly. But the important learning step here is the hands together Tap n' Count. This helps students work out the large motor coordination before diving into notes and fingering.
The leaping left hand makes "A Slow Waltz" by Dmitri Kabalevsky a bit of a challenge for intermediate students. So we need to train that left hand like a figure skater would need to train a triple salchow. We'll use the Leap n' Land technique, which is a little trick I learned in university (thanks Jani). I find it makes a such big difference in ease and accuracy.
Have your student begin with the very first leap: Low A to the A Minor triad (m. 1) Play the staccato Low A and bounce up to the A Minor triad - but don't play it! Just look and notice if your fingers land perfectly on A-C-E. Do it again. And again. And again. The goal is to train every leap with efficient and flawless tactile memory. Eyes closed? Even better.
Bartok loves to fill his music with staccatos, accents, slurs and such. Students should learn "Jest" with Articulation Perfection from day 1. This is an ideal opportunity to make a little glossary of articulation signs and terms for your student. We work out the touch, sound and choreography of the right hand as if we were getting ready for "Dancing With the Stars". It is the articulation that brings this piece to life with energy and a sense of humor.
"Melancholy Reflections" by Mike Schoenmehl is a beautiful, reflective piece with rich harmonies that appeal to the intermediate student's ear. The phrase structure in this piece lends itself to encouraging students to study melodic contour to help determine expressive shaping. The first phrase is a wonderful example, where we can add a crescendo and diminuendo to suit the rise and fall of the melodic line. Remember, Shaping the Phrases can happen in the initial learning stages, no need to wait to add expressive artistry like a final layer of icing on a cake.
Hope you enjoyed my collection of strategies for the Toolbox. The goal is to teach students to teach themselves.