April 22, 2010 Logan, a student from yesterday’s Music Tree 1 class returned for a private lesson with Lis. Because the group class is the primary lesson for these students, the private lessons follow the same lesson plan, reinforcing the activities from the class. Logan began with his recital piece. In classes and lessons alike, I was struck by the fact that every time a student played through a piece it was called a “performance.” In this manner, Lis let Logan play through the piece completely before making suggestions about phrase-shaping and playing with a nice, firm sound. The remainder of the lesson reviewed content from the class (Take a Trip, two new pieces, two rhythmic preparation activities, and a review piece of Logan’s choice).
Lauren Thompson taught another group of Music Tree 1 students in the afternoon. I imagined that the content would be very similar but thought I might observe some difference in teaching approach. “We begin each class with singing,” Lauren said, as the students gathered around her at the piano. Immediately, the classroom was a different environment from what I observed yesterday. The familiar melody from the students’ book was transposed to an appropriate singing range and Lauren smoothly segued into an echo activity with three-note tonal patterns using sol, mi, and do. Soon, Lauren performed the patterns with a neutral syllable and had the students determine the direction and solfege syllables. “I have pictures of these patterns,” Lauren said as she arranged four flash cards on the music rack. “Which one do you think goes like this?” she said, demonstrating. In addition to selecting the appropriate pattern, students were asked to name the intervals and direction notated on the card. The next activity was a circle dance incorporating movement, form (counter-clockwise rotation, clockwise rotation during the repeat, and in towards the center during the B section), and singing in a minor key. This easily segued into an echo activity using minor three-note tonal patterns with la, do, and mi.
The first playing activity was a review piece. Two volunteers played the instruments at the front of the room while the rest of the class sang and played along on the wooden keyboards set out on the tables. In order to build ensemble skills, Lauren appointed one of the volunteers as the leader responsible for cueing the beginning of the piece for the whole class. “When the notes go higher do you think we should get louder or softer?” Lauren asked. Following this discussion, the class performed the piece again with beautiful phrasing and lifts. Drawing attention to the white board in the room with two rows of rhythm notated, Lauren said, “I forgot where the barlines go! Can you believe it?” Students took turns adding barlines for a duple example and triple example and together they performed the rhythm (clapping while counting).
One of the new pieces for the week was taught by rote before students looked at the notation in their book. Lauren played the piece multiple times and asked a different question at the end of each performance. “Was it smooth or bumpy? Soft or loud? Am I playing on the white keys or the black keys? Which hand played first? Raise your hand if you hear me play two right hand notes together.” After several repetitions, Lauren asked one student to play the piece while the rest of the class played “air piano.” Following this experience of sound and feel, students were invited to look at the score. Lauren guided their study by having them circle the signs and add check marks after each slur.
The warm-up assignment from last week was peer-evaluated in what the School calls “players and checkers.” Two students play the exercise while another two students check for crossed ankles, good posture, a relaxed arm, and a good hand position (space under the hand and strong knuckles). After evaluating the performances, the students switch places. Reading and writing activities preparing new concepts were also included during class time. For reading, students were asked to identify the starting landmark of a notated phrase, name the intervals, and point out any repeated material. For writing, Lauren drew a note on a line or space of the grand staff and asked students to “spot-place” the nearest landmark, naming the direction and the interval. This activity reviewed seconds, thirds, and fifths. The class concluded with work on another new piece and performances of the students’ recital pieces.
My final observation was a private lesson with Natalie Gibson and Kaelen, a second-year student. In an effort to include me in the exchange and assess Kaelen’s interpretation, Natalie asked him to describe his recital piece prior to performing it. Afterward, Natalie made a few suggestions regarding dynamics and phrase-shaping and the second performance was polished and musical (four weeks in advance of the recital). Kaelen played his most recent composition–a waltz. In preparation for the upcoming faculty’s “all-dance” recital, the New School students were learning about different types of dance music. In preparation for Kaelen’s newest piece, “Star Wars,” Natalie asked him to transpose the familiar “High Dive,” a piece from last year into the key of G Major. This was a way to reinforce the tonality and key of the piece and work on phrasing considerations. This was the second lesson on “Star Wars” but surprisingly, the difficult rhythms and position shifts were fairly smooth. Natalie assessed Kaelen’s self-awareness by asking him to identify ways to practice and particular measures that needed the most attention. “Thank you for your great work on this piece,” she said. “Next week, I can’t wait to play the duet with you because you’ll be ready!”
The remainder of the lesson was spent on activity book assignments reviewing tonic and dominant and triplets. The four sight-reading series were studied at home so Natalie asked, “Which one of these is your favorite?” After selecting one series, she asked, “Can you name the intervals?” Next, Kaelen played on the keyboard lid while counting the rhythm followed by a successful sight-playing performance. The last few minutes were spent reviewing a piece from Side by Side, a duet book by Ted Cooper and Amy Glennon. Together, Natalie and Kaelen discussed a few considerations and identified practice steps for the coming week.