Friday, December 14, 2007

Musical form

Fiona has done all the picky work on Gavotte from Mignon and has most of the teaching points mastered. She can do the slur before the repetitive sixteenth-notes in the D-Major section and the separate bows before the repetitive sixteenth-notes in the B-flat-Major section. She can "tunnel" her F-natural finger on the E-string beneath the D & E-flat 3rd- and 4th-fingers on the A-string, and she can pizz. the chords at the end.

But one of the disadvantages of working through a piece in bits, though this is very necessary in the case of a piece with as many technical points as the infamous "Mignon", is that it can be tough putting all the bits together into a cohesive whole that flows from one bit into the next.

Nothing some scissors and construction paper can't fix, though.

"What colour does the first section make you think of?" I asked, fanning the pad of craft paper for her. She chose a light green. I cut out some rectangular bits. "See, pointy corners for the staccato bows," I told her. "And two sections for the first bit and the last bit," I remarked, notching the larger rectangles, "because you play the section twice, with two different endings those times."

Next we moved on to the D-major section, for which she chose a blue-green paper shaped like a triangle. And the B-flat section was a red circle, because the circle reminded her of a tunnel, and that's where the tunnel-fingers come. I cut a hole in the last green section to represent the surprise bar of rests. I can hold it up and poke my finger through the hole when she reaches the rests in the piece and it makes her giggle every time.

We put the sections in order on the floor, talking about what each one meant. Then I switched two around and challenged her to fix the mistake. Another game involved me holding up a random section's paper symbol and she would be challenged to play the first two notes of that section. At first when she played the piece in toto, I would stop her at the end of section and hold up the cue for the next, reminding her what it stood for and what to think about. Soon she was able to put the sections in order by herself without help, and to play through the piece referring to them visually as she went, without pauses. And slowly she developed a mental image of the sections in order, and could play the piece without actually using the physical objects as a guide.

At her lesson this week we shared our system, and her grandma/teacher decided that we needed something to denote the "coda" on the end of the last section. "It needs a tail," she said. I was, of course, knitting at the time, and Fiona and I knew right away that taping a piece of yarn onto the last piece would do the trick. So our Gavotte from Mignon is now complete with its tail.

With beginners I often use full sheets of paper for this exercise and treat them as stepping stones. The child plays the section denoted by each 'stone' while standing on it, and then pauses and moves to the next stone to play the next section. The pause required for the step gives the parent or teacher the chance to slip in a verbal reminder or a sung cue.

Fiona has finished putting together Lully Gavotte now. She learned this piece much faster, not surprisingly, as it's more straightforward, and is having much less difficulty sorting out the musical form. But I suspect that when we get to Martini Gavotte we will be back to using visual aids. I believe Noah had animal cards for Martini. Erin had an entire necklace of custom-made FIMO beads for all the bits and pieces and repeats for the Gavottes in D that begin book 5. I once did an entire group class focusing on musical form, using Duplo (the giant Lego stuff) to represent sections. Representing musical form in visual symbols, especially when the child's own input guides the process, is fun and very helpful.


  1. Amanda2:56 pm

    Interesting - I too have used Lego a lot - initially to help with all the Alberti bass patterns in S. Piano Book 1, we named each one after a fruit and used matching Lego bricks to lay out the patterns in order on the music shelf - then moved on to using lego to represent sections, eg for the Ecossaise at the beginning of book 2. I was just thinking of using it again to help her keep Minuet 2 in her head , which seems to slide out and need relearning every week.

    I also have her use Lego to represent rhythms - a 4x2 brick for a quarter note, 6x2 for a dotted quarter note, 2x2 for an eighth note etc. I have found this particularly useful in sections where one hand is playing a simple rhythm and the other something more complicated, eg a dotted rhythm.

    She has just started violin too and at the moment is still working on Twinkles but I can see that Lego is going to be useful soon, and I very much like your paper-trimming to add an extra level of information to the visual aid.

  2. Hi Miranda - someone may already have mentioned this to you, but there is something a bit buggy about your page. I can see the little edit tools on your items - but I can't use them (not that I wanted to use them - I was curious what would happen and it just directs me to the login page).

    It's not a big deal but I've never seen this before and other blogger blogs I've looked at tonight seem totally fine.

  3. This is such a wonderful idea! I just started reading your blog and love you music teaching hints. Thanks a lot for sharing this creative idea.


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