Pedagogical Analysis: Preparing to Teach a New Piano Piece


in Methods

From Guest Blogger: Maria Rainier

When you’re thinking about introducing a new piece of music, you often have an agenda or are helping a student learn a piece that he or she has requested. New pieces are great ways to teach new concepts, but you need to be careful and avoid introducing too much at once.

Overwhelming students and disappointing them with pieces that aren’t challenging enough are two ends of the spectrum that we all want to avoid. Finding that delicate balance in between the extremes can be difficult, and it’s always hard to tell when your student might finally be ready to learn that piece he or she has been begging to try.

To help you determine whether or not a new piece is right for your student, try conducting a pedagogical analysis using the following steps.

1. Identify Familiar Concepts

Study the new piece you’re thinking about teaching. Which parts of it would already be familiar to your student? Analyzing the basic components of the piece may seem simple, but it’s easy to overlook details that might overwhelm or confuse your student. For example, make sure you take note of the following and determine which of these are familiar to your student:

  • Time and key signatures
  • Note and rest values
  • Melodic and harmonic intervals
  • 1 vs. 2 hands playing at once
  • Hand-over-hand crossing
  • Fingerings
  • Accidentals
  • Octave displacement
  • Symbols like 8va, fermatas, legato phrasing, pedaling, accents, staccato markings, etc.

2. Identify New Concepts

List any new concepts, ideas, and skills that your student might be required to learn in order to play the piece with confidence and success.

3. Contextualize Balance

Make sure that the familiar and unfamiliar concepts will balance to create an ideal learning piece for your student. Depending on how talented your student is and how he or she feels about learning new pieces, you might need more new concepts or more familiar ones in your piece.

Try to gauge your student’s comfort level and push just a little bit beyond it by teaching more new skills.

4. Choose Review Activities for Familiar Concepts

Ideally, you’ll need time to review what your student knows as it pertains to the piece. Depending on how soon you’d like to introduce the new piece, you can assign both warm-ups and pieces that your student already knows to review familiar concepts.

Worksheet pages and new exercises are always helpful to temper the “boredom” of reviewing, but if you don’t have time for these, you student probably won’t suffer.

5. Plan Introduction of New Concepts and Supplemental Exercises

Before you can introduce the piece, you’ll need to teach any unfamiliar concepts it contains and make sure that your student has internalized them.

You can check your lesson book for exercises and short, basic pieces that will serve to introduce unfamiliar concepts and teach new skills. Digging through your archives to pull out any original exercises you may have designed for previous students is also a good option. If nothing else, you can come up with something fairly easily by choosing a basic motif in the new piece that you can use to develop an exercise.

This is a great way to teach the new piece without teaching it, which is especially helpful for students who are easily overwhelmed. Once you do introduce the new piece, you’ll be able to point out sections that will already be familiar to your student.

Make sure you have a few weeks to assign the new exercises and get your student familiar with the material before introducing the piece.

6. Plan Introduction of New Piece

If the new piece is longer than your student is used to, you might want to break it up into more manageable chunks. To do this, you can make photocopies of selected portions – just cover up any sections you might be saving for later with a sheet of blank paper.

If your student is responsible and you know that he or she won’t jump ahead if you only assign the first few lines, you can go ahead and give the whole piece. Keep in mind that you don’t have to start at the beginning. For students who have memory problems, it’s actually helpful to learn the piece in smaller chunks, which is facilitated by starting somewhere other than the beginning.

If you have new, young, or struggling students, make sure you don’t assign anything you haven’t covered extensively in the lesson. You’ll want to observe these students practicing the same lines a few times before you send them out to practice on their own. Often, it helps to keep the “new concept” exercises on your student’s assignment sheet as you go into learning the piece. This provides continuity and a resource that can help students ground themselves in the piece if they start to get overwhelmed at home.

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Brad_C October 16, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Maria, it’s a balancing act trying to find a good fit between concepts and application. Planning really is a must if you want to make accelerated progress.

I believe that spending a little extra time up front on theory makes it a little easier to introduce new music. Planning on covering the concepts in theory that will be introduced in the song often allows for a reinforcement of concept as you work the new piece of music. The review, new concepts, and slow application is a proven method that works for me. Thanks again for a thought provoking article.

tutorials December 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

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