Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Making Playing Easier, part 2

In the second part of Working hard to make it easy, Nancy Jackson and Jennifer Burton discussed some strategies in Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code.


Nancy has each student (as young as first grade) take a goal card home at the beginning of the year to bring back the following week with three goals to accomplish by Christmas, only one of which can be related to which piece they want to be playing.  Some examples she gave from her own students' cards were: playing with a straight bow, have a more flexible hand, improve 4th finger vibrato, play scales with 12 notes to a bow at 50, improve sight reading of rhythms.  The teacher and parent support the students with the goals, but the students own the goals.  The teacher keeps the card, but the student has a copy in his violin case, so he sees it each time he gets his instrument out.  Half way through the term, they evaluate progress.  For the summer term, with irregular lessons in her case, she would have the students only choose one goal.

Coyle's book speaks about the importance of setting goals that are JUST beyond reach.  At the edge of your ability.  In lessons the teacher might test the student by setting a metronome at progressively faster tempos - letting her know in advance that they would be going to the point where it didn't work, and that it was okay to reach that point.  Then they could set a goal to work towards that tempo that is just beyond her comfort zone.

It's not just about struggling, but seeking out a particular struggle.  These are the steps suggested:

1) Pick a target
2) Reach for it
3) Evaluate the gap between the target and where you are able to reach
4) Return to step one - either choose a new target or the same one, tweaked a bit.

Deep practice

Another strategy from Coyle's book is deep practice.  His three rules of deep practice are:

1) Chunk it up - break it into small pieces, and slow it down. Football coach Tom Martinez said, "It's not how fast you can do it, it's how slowly you can do it correctly."

2) Repeat it. "By repeating it's like a sled run - the more you go down, the faster the sled goes."  Can I add to that?  Did you ever have your sled go off track?  And then have the sled get caught in that wrong track the next time, too?  It gets hard to fix the run! The more times you go off track the more likely the sled wants to follow that new, but wrong, route!  Careful about those repeats!!  BE there, to help your child should the sled start to go off course. 

3) Learn to feel it. It should bug you to play out of tune or with poor posture.  We can help the students to feel it by making sure they aren't depending on us wholly for feedback.  They might need to turn their back to us to focus, rather than watching us.  We can give them a reminder that, "You are the teacher for...." the one item we want them to focus on such as that pinky finger that wants to lean over, or that bow that wants to creep up.

Ask yourself...
In summary they offered these questions:
Do you have a rich listening environment?
Do you ask your child for feedback on goals?
Can your child evaluate their work?
Do you have a review routine?
Can your child play in slow motion?
What are you doing to ignite your child's desire to practice?

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