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What do children really think about doing their music practice?

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Why practise?

I loved doing my piano practice as a child and I never needed reminding to do it, probably because I never thought of it as ‘practising’ but more as doing the real thing – I was just having a nice time playing the piano. It is a pity, I think, that we use the word, ‘practice’ instead of ‘play’. Rather than suggesting enjoyment, ‘practice’ conjures up a tedious, isolating and difficult activity that is necessary to prepare for the real business of ‘playing’, which seems to be conceived of as some time in the future.

Why do children begin playing an instrument?

The ABRSM Making Music report (2014) found that the main reasons children wanted to begin playing were because they enjoyed music and because they liked the sound of the instrument, yet teachers thought that the main barrier to pupils making good progress was lack of practice / motivation. It seems paradoxical that children said they wanted to play and yet did not feel motivated actually to do it.

What do parents think?

I would love to know (comments welcome) what parents of musical children think are the reasons for the following:

  • why their child takes music lessons
  • why their child does their music practice, or not
  • why progress is being made, or not.

My own views on motivation to practise

I am guessing that my own experience as a piano student was fairly common in that I was never taught how to structure my practice, nor even told how much practice I should do. I just played until I could play better but, gradually, I devised strategies of my own, which I have continued to develop over years of study and teaching. In fact, as a teacher, one of the things I find endlessly fascinating is finding ways of engaging each individual student’s interest in practising effectively, using a whole range of learning strategies that continue to expand as the child’s knowledge, technique and capacity for learning develop.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to make a substantial part of lessons a template for what to do at home during the week’s practice so that students understand how, as well as what, to practise and, hopefully, feel motivated. I also welcome parents sitting in at lesson time and, if they prefer not to, I like to talk to them after lessons to update them on progress, for the child to explain to them what they have learned that day and to say what I would like their child to do over the next week.

Why do children want to do music practice?

I once asked all my younger pupils why they wanted to practise. Before I asked the children the question, I summarised my own assessment of their achievement, motivation and enjoyment of playing. The balance between these factors varied according to the child’s individual personality and preferences and I was able to see a fascinating connection between my prior assessment and the responses given, with just a few surprises.

This was the question

‘Why do you want to do your piano practice?’

Here are some of the responses.

I wonder if you can guess which children practised, which ones enjoyed their playing and who were the high achievers – my prior assessments are at the end.

Laura

I had this really horrid piano teacher before and I never wanted to practise. He used to shout at me. If you get a nice teacher you want to do it for them. Sometimes when you have a practice your friends come in and it’s annoying. If you’ve got a grade coming up you’ve got an aim so you want to practise, and the same with concerts.

George

I want to practise to be a good pianist and to get onto my grades quicker. I enjoy it at all times. It doesn’t make any difference what I play. I get them off by heart in my head and then start playing them. I’d think of the notes sometimes where I was going wrong and sometimes I’d just get them straight in my head.

Luke

I’d always wanted to play. I played with this lady up the road but she shouted and it didn’t work out. I like practising now because it learns me to play better things and you’re more encouraging than that other teacher was. She didn’t explain how to play the notes right … she just said play it.

When I start a piece I think, ‘I can’t do that!’ but then I practise it and I think it’s easy and I want to do the next one.

Jodie

I know I’ve got to practise otherwise I’ll fail the exam. I want to play something I like … it’s more important to like it if I’m not doing an exam. I don’t like my parents listening – it embarrasses me.

Lucie

Sometimes I’ve got nothing to do so I practise.

Katie

A tune you know and like, if you’re determined to get it right. I’m practising for my exam because I want to pass and I like the pieces.

Kate

My mother says, ‘Your lesson’s tomorrow and you haven’t done any practice. Don’t you think you’d better get on with it?’

Sometimes I practise to avoid doing homework … I enjoy it once I’ve started.

I like it when my mum says, ‘That was nice, the piece you played today.’ I wish my dad would like it when I play and listen to me.

Andrew

Wanting to learn … I enjoy learning new pieces. And Mum makes me. It’s a good thing she makes me practise, otherwise I wouldn’t learn and she’d stop my lessons.

Sarah

Because it helps you to learn. Whether I feel like it depends on what sort of tune I’m playing. I like dances. It’s better when someone listens to me … Mum listens and Gran and Grandpa.

Tom

When I’ve got a tune in my head and I want to play the music, like a TV tune. You practise when you’ve got time.

My prior assessments

I assessed motivation by how regularly pupils practised and, more subjectively, by obvious enthusiasm for playing, how cheerful they were in lessons and improvement from one lesson to the next.

I was able to keep a fairly accurate track of practice because most of the pupils attended a preparatory, boarding school.

Laura

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

George

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Luke

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Jodie

Motivated by exams, but otherwise does insufficient practice, enthusiastic about some pieces

Lucie

Practises sporadically, making slow progress, seems to enjoy lessons

Katie

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Kate

Variable motivation to practise, making some progress, seems to enjoy lessons

Andrew

Well motivated to practise, steady progress, seems to enjoy lessons

Sarah

Well motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Tom

Motivated by exams, otherwise usually practises only what he enjoys most, which is often his own compositions

Four main reasons for practising had emerged overall:

  • Achievement
  • Enjoyment
  • Approval of family and /or friends
  • Because of their teacher (which was pleasing!)

What do you think? What can you do?

I think that teachers and also parents of children who have music lessons would find it revealing to repeat the process and I would be really interested for you to comment on what you find out.

Help with practising Aural Tests (suitable for ABRSM and Trinity exams, all grades)

ABRSM (2014) Making Music  http://gb.abrsm.org/en/making-music/4-the-statistics/44-how-learners-learn/

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How to be a bad music teacher: ten terrible things to remember

Ten bad things to remember about music teaching … and ten good alternatives imgres

1/ Sit and listen to a piece all through, picking out the mistakes … or teach actively first – small sections, slowly

2/ Praise indiscriminately … or say what was good and what might be improved

3/ Just teach the notes first, then add on the details later … or insist, from the start, on correct fingering and articulation

4/ Count out tricky rhythms in jazzy pieces … or fit the tune to words, resulting in correct, memorable rhythms

5/ Don’t bother about tone production … or demonstrate and teach exactly how to create a beautiful sound

6/ Teach music reading by note naming (and write the notes in) … or teach by interval and pattern recognition

7/ Don’t let parents sit in on lessons … or invite parents to observe, so they understand how to support practice time

8/ Test sight reading and aural only just before an examination … or teach the concepts first, a little every lesson

9/ Don’t tell your students how to practise – they’ll work it out … or give specific advice and instruction

10/ Teach only how you were taught  … or keep up to date, with professional development courses, online resources and the best Youtube clips.

Try E-MusicMaestro resources:

Aural Test Training free at www.e-musicmaestro.com/auraltests

E-MusicMaestro Grades 1 – 5 ABRSM and Trinity piano exam piece videos with tips on interpretation and demonstration of good technique at http://www.youtube.com/user/EMusicMaestroChannel

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What really goes into creating a professional internet music resource?

Today I read Deborah Rambo Sinn’s entry in the Oxford University Press’s blog, in which she highlighted some crucially important issues regarding the problems of music teaching being an unregulated profession and also the widely varying quality of resources and advice available on the internet and subsequently posted on Facebook. Deborah drew attention to the problem of ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ with regard to professional musicians and educators as opposed to, ‘Untrained teachers whose main goal is keeping kids happy […] by using well-marketed, but substandard and mostly self-published literature that is woefully lacking in sound pedagogy.’  (See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/11/music-teacher-presence-facebook/#sthash.s9apELDQ.dpuf)

Not so long ago, in fact, I wrote an article for EPTA’s Piano Professional magazine on a similar theme regarding Youtube videos which, already ubiquitous when I wrote the article, are now multiplying at an alarming rate. Youtube is an amazing resource – I use it frequently both for myself and in my teaching. The videos are often inspirational, instructional and informative. Often, they are sadly lacking in musical integrity, technique and even, in some instance, accuracy. The worrying situation is when videos of poor musicianship or technique are emulated by other students as examples of how to play.

We have a growing culture of embracing free access to information via the internet, which is wonderful and it is my own opinion that every professional and each company using the internet to promote or sell their service or products ought, if possible, to give something worthwhile for free.

The problems arise when people become unwilling to pay for the quality that a true professional provides. It would be good, in a way, to wish that one could provide a free, quality service for the good of music students on a simply altruistic basis, but in a society where professionals need to earn a living this is not only impractical but also unethical. It is generally true, as the saying goes, that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

At E-MusicMaestro we provide free Youtube videos to help students and teachers with the basics of keeping up accurate piano practice of repertoire pieces and exam pieces in between lessons. Our main internet business, aside from our individual teaching and examining work, is providing online music education resources such as Aural Test Training online, which teaches as well as tests aural perception and helps to prepare students for taking ABRSM and Trinity practical exams. We give a few free examples for those students who already have highly developed aural skills to run through the format of the tests and for potential subscribers to try out the resource. We charge for full subscriptions to our resource because we are professional musicians and because the creation of resources is massively expensive, not least in terms of time. We do need to earn a living!

What goes into creating a professional internet music resource? Here’s a brief summary of what was involved in creating Aural Test Training:

  • Decide on the format, according to what we want to teach and test online
  • Brief our web developer, who comes up with a design
  • Talk through and refine the design
  • Write wording of examples
  • Write The E-MusicMaestro Guide to Aural Tests
  • Buy use of copyrighted artwork for the web pages
  • Pay our web developer for the initial creation of the structure
  • Create examples that are similar, but not identical to, typical exam-type questions
  • Compose music for the examples and spend hours sourcing out-of-copyright examples
  • Have the piano tuned (again!)
  • Record the examples on our conservatoire model grand piano
  • Hire professional singers for the sung tests
  • Record the vocal examples
  • Edit, master, produce the recordings
  • Produce high definition videos that are annotated to help with the learning process
  • Load videos to video hosting company (and pay fees)
  • Load files to the content management system of our own website
  • Create soundfiles that help with learning
  • Set hundreds of questions and answers
  • Have everything checked independently to ensure accuracy and quality assurance
  • Back to our web developer for setting up the payment system – hours of work again – and payment
  • Test the system before going ‘live’
  • Consult with lawyer on various business-related issues
  • Put high level security measures in place to protect our copyright
  • Put the system ‘live’ – at last!
  • Respond personally, every day, to every enquiry from subscribers
  • Pay for costs such as web server and site maintenance
  • Liaise with examining boards to keep them informed of our latest developments
  • Advertising costs
  • Social media management
  • Continue development, monitor use of our resources
  • Onwards and upwards to Grades 6 – 8 Trinity aural …

How many hours does this take? How much does it cost? It’s infinite and it’s partly a labour of love … of music and of those who play and sing.

E-MusicMaestro Aural Test Training

MontythePenguin

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The Grade Music Exam Syllabus: easy guide by E-MusicMaestro for parents and first-time candidates

© Copyright 2006 Corbis Corporation

The grade music exam syllabus is written principally for teachers who are preparing candidates for music exams. The terms therefore tend to be specialised and are not always clear to non-musician parents and first-time candidates. This guide is an attempt to explain, in non-technical terms in as far as possible, what is examined and how it is marked.

 

So first, some definitions …

Piecea piece of music or a song, of difficulty appropriate to the grade

Scales – technical exercises consisting of groups of notes, pitched step by step

Arpeggios – technical exercises made up of just the most ‘important’ notes of the scale

Sight reading – playing music not seen before, after a short time to prepare

Improvisation – making music up – a few notes are given and the candidate has to make up the next notes to produce a complete phrase of music

Technical exercise – a piece specially designed to require technical skills appropriate to a particular instrument or voice

Musical Knowledge questions – questions related to the pieces played, such as naming a note in the score or giving the meaning of a musical term

Aural tests – listening tests that show musical memory and perception

Examples:

  • notice changes in loud or quiet, fast or slow in a tune played by the examiner
  • sing back a short tune just played by the examiner
  • spot the difference when a tune is played with an altered note

Intonation – whether or not the notes are played or sung in tune (this obviously cannot apply to the piano or organ)

Musical detail – aspects such as loud and quiet playing, pace changes and playing the notes smoothly or not, using the pedal for pianists, as required by the style and character of the music.

Style – relates to the era when the music was composed and to the conventional way of interpreting music from that period in history.

Character – the mood of the music, created by a combination of many aspects, including the notes used in the tune and also the way the music is played.

 

 

Next, some information on the exam and the syllabus …

Examining boards

The major examining boards for graded music exams, operating worldwide but particularly in the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand are Trinity College London and ABRSM.

How long does a music exam take?Who takes music exams?

Grade music exams take between ten and thirty minutes, depending on the grade.

Who takes music exams? 

 There is no age limit – anyone is eligible to take a music exam.

© Copyright 2008 Corbis Corporation © Copyright 2005 Corbis Corporation

How is a music exam marked?

The examiner writes a report form during the actual exam. The report form summarises strengths and weaknesses in the way the music was performed. Examiners do not offer advice to the candidate about how to play or practise, nor do they advise teachers on the best way to teach. The report forms and certificates are then sent to the person who entered the candidate, usually the teacher.

What criteria are used?

The criteria for achieving a pass in a music exam are based on general musical elements and principles and therefore they are broadly similar for each examining board.

Because general criteria are used, examiners do not need to be experts in playing every instrument, but they do know how each instrument should sound when played well.

The criteria used by an examining board are freely available to the public, in the printed syllabus and on the website for each examining board.

Marks are awarded depending on to what extent the candidate’s performance matches up to the best standards of achievement possible in that exam.

Trinity exams have a maximum mark of 100: Pass 60, Merit 75, Distinction 87.

ABRSM exams carry a maximum mark of 150: Pass 100, Merit 120, Distinction 130.

Pieces carry more marks, relatively, than other skills in music exams. Each piece is marked separately, rather than a global mark being given for the overall standard of the three pieces.

Do all music exam boards examine the same things?

The major music exam boards ask for three pieces or songs but there are some differences between Trinity and ABRSM in the supporting tests.

 

Trinity grade music exams compared with ABRSM music exams

Trinity skills examined

Trinity Initial Grade – Grade 5

Three pieces / songs

Scales and arpeggios plus three technical exercises

Any two of these – Sight reading

Aural tests

Improvisation

Musical knowledge questions

Trinity Grades 6 – 8

Three pieces / songs

Scales and arpeggios plus three technical exercises

Sight reading

One of these – Improvisation

Aural tests

Trinity marking criteria

  • Notational Accuracy & Fluency (7 marks): getting the notes and rhythms right and playing without hesitations or stumbles
  • Technical Facility (7 marks): ability to create a good sound and to control the instrument or voice – aspects such as playing with varied articulation (eg legato and staccato) and pedalling for piano
  • Communication & Interpretation (8 marks): playing or singing in a manner that is and engaging for the listener and suitable for the style and character of the music

ABRSM Grades 1 – 8

ABRSM skills examined:

Three pieces / songs

Scales and arpeggios in selected keys for each grade (singers instead perform a traditional, unaccompanied song)

Sight reading

Aural tests

ABRSM marking criteria:

  • Pitch: correct notes for all instruments and voice, with correct intonation – ie playing or singing in tune
  • Time: correct rhythms, suitable speed / pace changes and fluent playing
  • Tone: consistently well controlled sound – clear and pleasant to listen to
  • Shape: musical detail eg gradual increase or decrease in loudness that goes with the musical phrases, or variations in loud and quiet
  • Performance: playing or singing in a manner that is and engaging for the listener and suitable for the style and character of the music

 

General advice for supporting tests

Scales and arpeggios should be:

  • accurate in notes and correctly pitched in intonation
  • fluent and rhythmical
  • musically played with a confident sound

Sight reading should be:

  • fluent and accurate
  • musically played, with appropriate detail
  • confident sounding

Aural tests should show:

  • accurate answers
  • perceptive listening
  • confident replies to questions

Improvisations should show:

  • appropriate development of the fragment of music given as a stimulus
  • fluency
  • confidence

 

How to do well in a music exam

The best advice is to prepare thoroughly in every aspect to be examined.

Pieces are, of course, the most enjoyable part of the exam preparation but those candidates who neglect to practise scales and arpeggios, who are not competent sight readers or who have not practised developing their aural skills or improvisation skills will lose marks.

 

Help with preparing for a grade music exam

Develop music aural skills with E-MusicMaestro Aural Test Training:

http://e-musicmaestro.com/auraltests

 

Video demonstration and advice – ABRSM grade exam piano pieces:

https://www.youtube.com/user/9pegasus9

 

Video demonstration – piano syllabus pieces, Trinity and ABRSM 2015-16,as from August 2014 

https://www.youtube.com/user/EMusicMaestroChannel

Practise ABRSM piano scales, grades 1 – 5 with Scalebox:

http://www.scalebox.co.uk

Pre-exam online video assessment – a new service from E-MusicMaestro, offering expert, specific advice as well as an assessment of your playing. All instruments and voice.

For details and booking: 

mail@e-musicmaestro.com

Please use email title, Performance Assessment.

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