One Line + One Measure

 I love this picture of Dora showing off the vertical alphabet she wrote when she first started. This was the beginning of her owning her own learning process.

At her lesson today we learned a strategy for practicing a piece with a homogenous texture. The continuous eighth notes in this piece make it look like all the measures are at the same level of difficulty. Since the chords change each measure, some are harder and some are easier. Keeping a steady tempo while negotiating the different chords was challenging for Dora. 

Mischief Maker from Attention Grabbers Book One.

As a composer, I know that four-bar phrases make for a neat appearance. This is ideal when one wants a breath between the phrases. Here's an example from Attention Grabbers Book One. In this piece, dedicated to Dora, practicing line-by-line makes sense. Each line is a self-contained unit and taking a breath or slight pause between the lines makes good musical sense.

The problem comes when the texture is continuous, as in this piece Daydream by Robert Vandall from his useful book Celebrated Piano Solos, Book Four. Dora needed a way to practice for continuity.

The solution? Practicing One Line + One Measure. Here's her music with One Line + One Measure marked off for practice. She is going to practice the "blue" line plus the first measure of the purple line. Yes, we could do this by writing out the measure numbers, but it isn't as much fun. Notice the emphatic writing on the post-its. These are Dora's instructions to herself. (I would never employ so many exclamation marks except maybe on my own music.) Dora was using the metronome to make sure she kept a steady tempo.

The beauty of this kind of practice is that the student practices the visual transitions - the end of one line and the beginning of the next. The first measure of each line gets practiced twice as much as the others. After the student has mastered each One Line + One Measure section, the student can then string the phrases (marked with washi or highlighting tape) together to make longer phrases.

It's important to be specific when giving practice instructions. Simply saying, "Work for continuity," or "Try not to stop so often" doesn't do much to help a student do either. It will, however, probably increase their anxiety as they head out the door feeling, "I have no idea what she's talking about and even less idea how to do it."

Take that valuable lesson time to teach specific ways to practice. It's worth the time it takes to teach strategies, not just repair damage.

Would One Line + One Measure help one of your students?

Here's Dora happily writing out her practice chart with check-off boxes.

Dora concentrating hard to practice One Line + One Measure.