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Blog posts of '2018' 'July'

What to do with Sleeping Students....

What to do With Sleeping Students….

 

We all know the feeling…. It’s the last couple of weeks of term. The kids are tired, the teachers are tired. If it’s the summer term everyone’s too hot… if it’s the winter term then everyone’s full of cold.

 

So rather than dragging students through the same pieces they’ve been working on, but you know they won’t practice over the summer why not use the time to do something fun and something that works out their musical ear and brain in a different way.

 

You know yourself that if you’re tired you don’t work as well and that things are more of a chore – and it’s exactly the same for your students.

 

So here’s my go to end of term games:

 

  • Improvisation – so much fun, works on their listening skills and gets them working creatively too

  • Don’t Play This One Back – play or clap rhythms that the students have to copy – but they shouldn’t copy if if you clap the rhythm to the words Don’t Play This One Back

  • Beat the Clock – students have to say and play a series of notes against a time limit – usually I give 30 seconds then they have to beat the number of notes they said in the next round

  • Dictation – Can they write a rhythm or melody down that you play

  • Copy Me – Can they play a melody back – I usually start with one note then gradually increase the phrase (a bit like that annoying Bop It game!)

  • Spot the Difference – Play a piece of music and see if they can see what note / phrase was different

  • Speed Scales – how fast and accurately can they play their scales – who’s the fastest – student vs teacher

  • Speed Pieces – who can play a simple piece the fastest – student vs teacher

  • Creative Composition – writing a piece of music using a story – so not focusing on melody or harmony – just using sounds to create a musical landscape

  • Graphic Scores – if you’re doing some creative composition they might like to draw a grahic score to go with it

  • Long Note Competition

  • Musical Maths – Can they add the tied notes together

  • Musical Word Searches etc – There’s lots of theory based written games that you can find online that are great for the hot weather

  • Backwards Playing – Can they play their piece backwards?

  • Musical Hangman – This is my students favourite game – Write down a musical word for them to guess – but in order to be able to guess a letter of the word they have to do something musical – it might be say the name of some notes, say what key it’s in, clap the rhythm etc etc – then normal rules of hangman apply. (Needless to say this game does take the longest but it’s a great lesson filler and gets students thinking about all sorts of aspects of theory etc.) (And when we play this at Christmas I do get accused of cheating – I’m sorry but no – Sprouts is not a cheating word…. I just quite like to win!!)

 

Any fun games I’ve missed – why not add them in the comments!

 

Happy end of term!!!

Why Aural Tests Count!

 

Why Aural Tests Count!

 

Just because aural tests are the last bit of the exams doesn’t mean they should be the last thing you practice!

 

But sadly they are.

 

Even some teachers leave them until the last minute – putting more emphasis on getting marks up for the pieces as well as worrying about scales and finally sight-reading.

 

Just recently I was asked to accompany a grade five exam and in the rehearsal a week before the exam date the student asked me when she was supposed to start practising her aural tests?!?!? And after a bit of a twitter rant it seems that this isn’t unusual. Some teachers do indeed not rehearse the aural test section at all and leave it to the accompanist to do.

 

But why?

 

They’re a good chunk of marks so they can make the difference between a pass and a fail.

 

Also aural is important.

 

It shouldn’t just be something that gets dragged out near an exam date. It should filter through into every lesson. Yes I know it’s difficult when you have students who only have 20 minute lessons, even 30 minutes is a push to get everything done in time.

 

But people should be well rounded musicians.

 

The aural tests are annoying I know, but their focus is on elements that students should be encouraged to do and should just be part of lessons regularly (then they become less of an exam only worry).

 

The clapping – this is great to see whether their musical memory is working and if they can externalise what they hear in their head. Clapping the pulse is also perfect for working on their sense of ‘in time’. If the rhythms flow then everything else will make sense and then they have a bit more brain power free to think about other things (hint hint… dynamics!)

The singing – has so many benefits including memory, pitch and getting students to understand the relationship between the distances between the notes

The listening – students should be regularly encouraged to listen and appraise what they’re playing, so if they’re listening to a teacher or another student play it starts to get their ear used to listening while they’re thinking.

 

Like everything I’ve written about recently that’s focused on the exams – it all boils down to regular practice.

 

Aural skills should be part of a regular lesson and it should be things that students are working on their own too.

 

So – if you’ve got an exam coming up – don’t just leave it to the last five minutes of your lesson to work on them. Ask your teacher what will be in the exam and get friends, family and loved ones to sing at you, or clap things for you to copy. Or be self-reliant. There’s loads of examples on youtube for all of the aural tests for every exam board. So go and look.

 

Practice. Practice. Practice.

 

You can find some clips I’ve done for the aural tests here

 

And if you want some more hints and tips about loving the singing element – check out the blog post here

 

Everyone Hates Singing

Everyone Hates Singing

 

Unless it’s in the shower or with their favourite CD – that’s different.

There’s loads of studies available to tell you why singing is good for you physically and mentally. It’s also not just good for your general playing, but also your sight-reading. But everyone always hates the singing element of the aural tests!

Every grade level there’s a singing element – a lot say this isn’t fair and I really can understand. But singing is so good for you. It works on your ear, your memory and if you can sing what you have heard it’s a great to show that your brain has understood and can externalise sounds.

For the early grades it’s just copying sounds and repeating them, then as the grades progress they do get harder. If you want help with the singing element of the aural tests – check out my youtube channel for some handy videos.

Once you get to grade four that’s when the singing takes on a new edge with: sight-singing

What is sight-singing?

Sight-singing is basically singing something you’ve not seen before and pitching it out loud rather than using an instrument to find the notes (unless you’re a singer).

Just from a confidence point of view you will be more likely to play a new piece better if you know how it goes. And if you can sight-sing then you can hear how it goes before you play it!

You can start working on this at any level of your music experience and even if you’re not thinking about exams.

Start with something simple like just singing back a few notes that you hear, then increasing the length of the piece you copy. This will help you get used to singing and listening to the sound you make, as you will need to make sure it is the same as the original.

Then start by practising singing your scales and arpeggios -remember this is what music is built on.

Then pick a nice key and draw a few notes (unless you have a handy aural test book - grades 4-5 have good examples of this) on a piece of manuscript paper. Just work on the first 5 notes of the scale. Draw them, sing them, play them.

Like everything – it does just come down to practice.

 

How to Take the Nerves out of Nervous

 

How to take the Nerves out of Nervous

 

You’re sat in the waiting room. Your mouth’s gone dry. Legs are shaking. Palms are sweating. You feel sick and dizzy, your mind has gone blank. It can only be… time for your next music exam.

 

But it doesn’t have to be a horrible experience.

 

It can be easier said than done *but* nerves can be overcome… or at least they can become less of an issue.

 

No matter your age or level experience, nerves can really turn an exam into a really terrifying experience. But they don’t need to ruin it completely. I’m not saying you’ll ever really love your exams, and indeed if you really hate them I would ask whether they’re worth putting yourself through the stress. For why you shouldn’t do an exam maybe read this post

 

But if you’re determined to do exams but the nerves are something you want to tackle then read on!

 

There’s three things you need to remember about nerves:

 

Everyone feels nervous (yes they do – it’s not just you!)

Examiners know the difference between nervous mistakes and what’s just wrong

The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll feel nervous

 

For me I find exams a really nervous time – even when I’m just accompanying. But I do have quite a nervous disposition, so I find supermarkets at Christmas a stressful situation!

 

Being prepared can really help anxiety on the day. Don’t leave your scales to the last minute. Don’t just practice the aural with your teacher (find extra examples on youtube etc) and don’t neglect your sight-reading practice either.

 

Also embrace the fact that it won’t be perfect. You won’t get full marks in everything – it’s just not possible. There will always be more you could do on dynamics and articulation, the intonation can often be stronger… so don’t put the pressure on doing amazingly well. Just do your best – and that will be more than good enough.

 

There will always be an annoying bar or phrase, or even piece, that’s not quite as good as the rest. That’s fine. Over prepare on everything else and relax on the bit you’re not sure about – you might just surprise yourself.

 

BREATHE!

 

Deep breaths. Slow and steady. Breathing really can help calm nerves, or at least help your body regain a bit of control. Breathing too fast will only raise your level of anxiety, so do try slower breaths and take a moment before you start to play your first piece and in between the sections on your exam.

 

Embrace the nervous feeling.

 

The worst that will happen is that you will feel nervous.

 

You might feel sick, but you won’t be. You might be dizzy, but you won’t faint. Small sips of water will help your dry mouth, your hands won’t slip off the keys – but maybe just wipe them before you go in.

 

That’s all.

 

Breathe.

 

Embrace them.

 

It’s all just part of a performance. I would be more nervous if I wasn’t nervous (as weird as that sounds).

 

And you know what – the exam will be over in the blink of an eye and you will be wondering what you were so nervous about in the first place.