by Martha Yasuda
The following article is a description of an innovative new teaching practice method that I developed which enables music students to learn solo pieces more efficiently.
This new teaching practice method takes a solo piece of music and rearranges it as a duet for two players — this is the “Solos For Two” teaching dimension of my new instructional method; the notes in the duet arrangement are identical to those found in the solo piece of music. The “Duets For One” term refers to the practicing facet of my new method, which will be discussed in a moment, separately.
Solos For Two? – TEACHING In The Studio
Please Click on Figure A. Each musician plays approximately one phrase of music and is silent while the other musician plays the next phrase. A trade-off effect is created between the two players, with the music overlapping for one note. In other words, the first note played by the second musician is identical to the last note played by the first musician. (This overlapping feature prevents awkward silences and allows a merging of sound between the two instruments for every phrase whereby pitch can be frequently checked between the two players.)
Using this new Solos For Two teaching method in a music lesson, the teacher introduces a portion of music from the top line of the duet to the student. The amount played can vary depending on the difficulty of the music and the skill level of the student. Once the student is reasonably adept at playing the music on the top line (it usually takes about 5-10 minutes since the notes of the solo are now divided into two parts), the teacher and student play a duet with the teacher playing the bottom line and the student playing the top line just learned. The duet is repeated until the student is successful (this takes perhaps another five minutes).
This same process is used as the student learns and plays the bottom line while the teacher plays the top. Finally, once top and bottom lines are sufficiently mastered by the student, that is, the “Solos For Two” teaching method has completed its task, the student is ready to play the entire solo passage where both top and bottom lines are combined. At this time, it is better for the student to use the standard music score written for one player since it is much easier on the eyes. (This prevents the student from having to hop back and forth between the two lines.)
How Effective is this New Solos For Two Teaching Method?
Based on my anecdotal studio experience as well as that of several colleagues who have used my method, typically, after using this new Solos For Two teaching method for just twenty to thirty minutes in a lesson with an instructor, many students are able to play the original solo passages of music that would have ordinarily taken them anywhere from three to five weeks to learn, with the average number of weeks being four!
The process of breaking the music down into smaller increments and having the teacher actually play along with the student allows learning to take place in a systematic, non-stressful and enjoyable fashion. Those familiar with the Suzuki approach to teaching music may recognize certain similarities with this new teaching method.
A Comparison With Orthodox Methods
Please Click on Figure B. Having briefly described my new Solos For Two teaching method, I now compare it with the orthodox teaching practice method currently employed by the vast majority of music teachers (whether they use the Suzuki or traditional approach to teaching music).
Using the orthodox teaching practice method in a music lesson, students are assigned a portion of music. The amount is determined by the difficulty of the music and skill level of the student. Teachers attempt to have students practice small portions of music slowly in order to master the material. Some students have the necessary discipline and self-control needed to learn in this fashion.
However, many students become impatient and either play too fast or they get bored and want to move on to something else before things are adequately learned. Some students are overwhelmed by the sheer mass of notes in front of them; not to mention the number of musical markings, which varies by instrument.
In many cases, using the orthodox teaching practice method, both students and teachers become frustrated and impatient with the student’s slow or inadequate progress. In due time, after much stress and repetitive teaching and practicing, many students and teachers eventually achieve the results they are looking for. Others become discouraged and settle for less than satisfactory results because they are unable to untangle the seemingly endless number of challenges before them.
Advantages Of The New Teaching Method
I now juxtapose this new Solos For Two teaching method with the orthodox teaching practice method and, in doing so, highlight the advantages of the new teaching method.
The main difference between the new Solos For Two teaching method and the orthodox teaching practice method is the alternating duet structure found in my new teaching method. It is this alternating duet structure with overlapping note which significantly reduces the number of notes and musical markings a student must learn at one time. And since the teacher plays with the student, the speed of the piece of music can be controlled by the teacher.
By design and construct, the new Solos For Two teaching method inherently achieves the goal of the orthodox teaching practice method, which is to master discrete portions of music slowly. While the teacher is playing one phrase of music, the student has adequate time to prepare to play the next phrase of music. This feature significantly lowers the stress level a student can experience while playing. Simultaneously, students are given a sense of accomplishment, as goals are more easily reached. The new Solos For Two teaching method gives students a much greater chance that they will succeed.
Additionally, the new Solos For Two teaching method greatly increases the efficiency of both the student’s lesson with the teacher and the practice time at home, this subject being raised for the first time. Because the passages are smaller, it is easier for the student to decipher where the problem areas are and focus the most on those areas.
Typically, using the orthodox teaching practice method, students play everything on a given page simply because it is there. Consequently, much time is wasted.
The new teaching method allows students to get a much more specific picture of where the most difficult technical areas are located. Due to this increased awareness, time will not be wasted playing passages already learned.
Duets For One? – Practicing At Home
The discussion until now has focused almost exclusively upon the instructional interaction between students and their teachers, this taking place within the confines of the studio. In my new method of instruction, I refer to this as the Solos For Two method of teaching. To reinforce and build upon the tremendous results obtained in the weekly studio lesson using my Solos For Two teaching method, I have found from experience that students best retain what they have learned when they are given their past week’s lesson in the form of Figure A, along with a pre-recorded MP3 file, that allows the student to “play along” at home with the MP3 file (while reading the notes in Figure A) in an alternating, trade-off, fashion. What is pre-recorded is another instrument to simulate the notes played by the instructor, for both the top and bottom lines. Providing the student with all of this material effectively re-creates the studio teaching experience…only during the student’s practice time, the duet is played by one live player. Hence, I have termed this home practicing phase of my instructional method, Duets For One practice method.
Going forward, I will combine the Solos For Two and the Duets For One method of teaching and practicing, respectively, and refer to this simply as my new teaching practice method.
Having a teacher play with the student accomplishes many things. First of all, it provides the student with a musical example of all material. The student absorbs much as listening and imitating is incorporated into the process of learning. Also, students enjoy having a musical dialogue between themselves and the teacher. What better way to cement the fact that learning can actually be fun, while accomplishing much at the same time?
My new teaching practice method causes students to listen better and evaluate problems more readily. Since the passages are so small, students are often surprised when they hear themselves playing passages incorrectly. Because the size of the problem is not as large as in the orthodox teaching practice method, they are quite often driven to immediately work on the small area and correct the problem, not feeling too overwhelmed by the number of notes and symbols in front of them.
Using the orthodox teaching practice method, in the same identical passage, students often choose to ignore flaws in their playing, going on to the next phrase of music instead. My new teaching practice method prevents this from happening since the teacher (not the student) plays the next phrase of music! This built-in mechanism is designed to help students learn to listen, pinpoint problems and solve them right away.
The last and most noteworthy advantage of using this new teaching practice method is that students are able to learn passages more thoroughly within a significantly shorter period of time. It is so gratifying to both students and teachers alike to see immediate results after carefully working on smaller increments of music.
Music teachers and students are all seeking a means to accomplish learning in a time effective, enjoyable and systematic fashion. This new teaching practice method provides a groundbreaking approach which allows learning to occur in a manner never before explored.
The benefits listed more concisely below can greatly improve the music education process as we now know it. Students and teachers using this new teaching practice method can hopefully remove much stress and replace it with simple results carefully worked out.
To Summarize, here are the Main Advantages Associated with my New Solos For Two…Duets For One Teaching Practice Method:
1. Rearranging solo pieces as duets greatly reduces the number of notes and musical symbols for students to learn at one time;
2. This overlapping note, duet structure creates stress-free learning. While the teacher is playing one phrase of music, the student has adequate time to prepare for the next phrase of music;
3. Allows teachers to determine the speed at which a piece is played, not allowing students to rush ahead;
4. Enables the students themselves to detect problem areas more readily. As a result, when they go home, they practice more efficiently, not wasting time on material already learned;
5. Incorporates imitative listening as the teacher plays along with the student;
6. Allows students to really enjoy the process of learning in a novel, innovative fashion;
7. Creates manageable goals for students, giving them a sense of true accomplishment;
8. Causes students to listen better, pinpointing and solving problems in an immediate fashion; and
9. Makes it possible for students to learn music passages more thoroughly within a significantly shorter time frame.
What is the Scope of Application of this New Teaching Practice Method?
This new teaching practice method can be applied to a wide variety of musical instruments.
ANY woodwind, brass, string or percussion instrument would benefit from this new teaching practice method, as well as voice students. Keyboard instruments would be excluded. Additionally, applications include audio, written, electronic, and video. While I have briefly mentioned the audio and written functions above, a more detailed article on these two features will be forthcoming in a companion article shortly. The use of various electronic tools and video will follow after that.