Development Levels

Keeping the playing-based component with reading students

Kym N., California

I have some students finishing level 9 and when I look at all the streams they will continue, almost all of them involve reading: Level 10 and up, Jazz Clues (clue 1 and 2), reading project of own choice. If they do composition, I may want them to transcribe their work too. The only projects that may still be playing based are improv and accompaniment. Even with accompaniment, it may involve some degree of reading. My question is: How do we, as Simply Music teachers, still keep the playing-based component in our lessons for our students?

Stephen R., California

There’s also all the blues projects which unfold over time. I think even with reading we’re still trying to be conscious of playing-based tools (i.e. looking for patterns/sentences and shapes, structure/order, speaking/voicing rhythms out loud, fragmenting, mapping, positions). To me all these tools come out as I’m reading and learning pieces. I think it involves consciously applying and using these tools.

Kerry H., Australia

It’s important to understand that the long-term purpose of the playing-based tools and strategies is to ultimately equip students to be able to learn songs independently. However, it is still important that they can sit down anywhere, anytime and just play a whole bunch of songs. This means they must still maintain a decent repertoire of songs that they can play without the music.

They must learn to transfer their knowledge of the playing-based tools, to both 1) figure out from the music how to play the songs, and 2) as the way to memorize them. And learning how to apply the tools for themselves is a process.

At first we have to guide them to figure out how to apply the tools. Sometimes you can work with them in the lesson (in a shared class working on it together with everyone’s input), to come up with some strategies, other times you can set them a project to figure out some strategies at home and come back ready to present them. It could be just a line or two. This is learning the songs from the music by applying the playing-based tools. The more they do this, the better they get at doing this themselves.

This is where the responsibility of figuring out the songs shifts from you teaching them, to them figuring it out from the page. Of course you will at times have input. Perhaps you point out the use of a tool they didn’t see, or correct them with the rhythm, or help them when they get stuck. But you’ll also be taking them into the new territories like the Jazz Clues etc. There is still much for us to teach.

Having students apply the tools in this way IS their practice at remembering the playing-based tools. But if we don’t insist that they keep alive a bunch of songs that they can play from memory at all times, then we’ve missed the point. We don’t want students now to only be able to play if they have the music in front of them. The music should be purely a source of instruction about what to play. The tools just get them there.