Practice makes permanent, and as a result, students need to learn how to practice efficiently.
Efficient practice involves understanding music as a language that is comprised of concepts, namely time, pitch, form, scale, texture, and phrase. I introduce students to these concepts through the skills of playing by ear, transposing, improvising, reading, harmonizing and technique. These concepts and skills are based on the pedagogical model, Keyboard Musician: The Symmetrical Keyboard by Dr. Guy Duckworth. Ultimately, students learn to play easily from memory, because they understand music as a language, and they become independent learners, able to teach themselves.
So that students understand the musical interplay of beats, rhythm and meter, I incorporate whole body movements into the learning process. Students step beats as they clap and speak the rhythms of pieces they learn to play. Eventually, students integrate the performance of meter, or grouping of beats, into their performance as they count out-loud the number of beats in each measure.
I teach students to recognize pitches by their upward and downward movement and by the intervals, or distances, between them. Students sing and shape with their arms the contours of melodies to appreciate their pitch structure. Reading is a matter of pattern identification, rather than simply note naming. As a result, students read in all scales and transpose easily.
I use a multi key approach. From the beginning, I teach students to play in all keys. Students begin with five-finger positions that are experienced with skills of playing by ear, transposing, improvising and technique so they conceptualize, or picture hand positions on the keyboard. Once students can identify positions, they begin to read by recognizing patterns on the page that correspond to those on the keyboard. Gradually, students’ knowledge of scales is expanded to eight notes and they begin to change hand positions within and between scales and build chords. Students learn to harmonize, or play chord progressions, is one hand as they play a melody in the other.
As with any language, music is phrased, or organized into sentences. I encourage students to identify phrase lengths. At the beginning level, students learn to hear phrase lengths as they sing, play by ear, and transpose simple folk songs. As they progress, students see and hear phrases as they read and recognize patterns of pitch, rhythm and chord progressions.
Sentences are organized into paragraphs, and paragraphs form chapters. So is it true with music. I introduce basic binary or two-part, and ternary or three-part formal designs to beginning students. As they advance musically, they encounter lengthier and more elaborate formal designs, such as sonata-allegro and rondo forms.
At the beginning level, I introduce ostinato patterns or repetitive accompaniments, to help students develop coordination between the hands. As they advance, they experience triads in root position, then inversions, and then seventh chords.
The above concepts are best learned through musical activities that involve aural, visual and tactual senses. To encourage the use of all three senses, I incorporate six skills into the learning process: playing by ear, transposing, improvising, reading, harmonizing, and technique. These skills encourage students to engage their aural, visual and tactual senses in their learning process. Ultimately, the skills reinforce each other and students become well-rounded musicians. I utilize these skills in all levels of the curriculum.