Managing the Playlist Portion of the Lesson
Found in: Practicing & Playlists
Shari G., Colorado
Up to this point in my Simply Music teaching, I have had groups of two students. In September I will begin an adult group with 5 students. How do you handle the playlist portion of the lesson? What do you have other students do while someone plays a piece from the playlist? Are they watching, sitting in their seats listening, playing the piece themselves on the keypad? Do you have them clap when a student is finished?
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
When Neil was here in Omaha last year, I had a similar question for him. He put me on the spot and acted as a student with me being the teacher, doing what I would normally do with the playlist portion of the lesson. I had him play Dreams. He played it really slowly to the end, and I told him he did a good job (if you can imagine telling Neil Moore that he did a good job on Dreams Come True).
He said not to have students play through the whole piece. You are just checking to see that they can get started and proceed a little way without difficulty. Also, you don’t even have to have every student do it every week (especially in larger groups). They never know who you will pick or what song you will pick. So the playlist portion should take just a minute or two. If someone has a problem with a song, we may take a few minutes to review at that time, but I consider that part of the “review and resolve” portion of the lesson. I try to always have the other students help resolve the issue. It’s a good review of the tools they used. Other times I instruct the student to review a particular section of the video at home rather than use class time if I feel that they didn’t really make an effort to follow through on the assignment at home.
I can see where some students might get the idea that they only have to know how to start a song to get through the playlist check. So sometimes I will have them start in the middle of a piece. Gotta keep them on their toes.
I typically have all the students around the piano during playlist review. It doesn’t take long, and they are usually interested in how the others do and like to listen. It’s a good mini-performance opportunity for the playing student when the others are not otherwise engaged. As far as clapping, I don’t mention anything one way or the other. If they clap, they clap, and if not, that’s fine too. Sometimes I tell students I will be asking for specific feedback after each student plays to encourage active listening.
Occasionally if I can tell a class is slipping on their playlists, I will spend an entire class on playlist review. I sometimes use the Playlist Assessment form in class. I have them take turns pulling sticks, and I rate them on the form. Then I send the form home with them to have their parents finish rating the songs we didn’t get to, and have them bring it to the next lesson. I find it’s usually a good reality check for them. It’s a good reality check for myself as well – I can see where I may have fallen short in my teaching, if, for example, everyone is having trouble with the same song. I occasionally take some time during lessons to review the reasons and importance of the playlist in general.
I hope that is somewhat helpful. Playlist management is one of the more challenging aspects to me, one I continually strive to get better at. It’s so important to success.
Sheri R., California
Some more thoughts on the playlist review portion of the lesson:
Sometimes I have a student start a song and tell them to skip the middle portion and play the end. For example, they play sentence one, then two, then the tailpiece of Dreams–that way I see they have all the components. Often I’ll just call it out as they’re playing and often they don’t skip a beat! That is, they’re in the middle of playing sentence two and I say as they’re playing, “just go ahead and play the tailpiece at the end of that.”
With multiple students, often one will play line one of Jackson, a second will play line two, a third will play line three. You can do this with lots of songs, breaking it down this way.
Or I just say “stop” or “freeze” randomly in a song and the next student has to come in where the other left off–I don’t always do it at an obvious break, and when they get it, they also get tons of compliments on doing something that isn’t exactly easy.
Sometimes I just tell them to stop when they want and then the next student continues from where they left off. It’s good training I think and it also really keeps them on their toes and focused during the playlist review when it’s not their turn. This is all part of the entire lesson being for everyones’ benefit. There really are not any portions of the lesson that are private time.
Sometimes I have two students at the piano at the same time so four hands on piano. Great ensemble practice and you get to see two students in the same amount of time. Sometimes three students are at piano.
Sometimes I have two students at the piano with person on right playing right hand of song at same time that person sitting on left plays the left hand. This can be challenging, and again, I think it’s a great exercise to be able to isolate the hands that way. Often people can’t easily do it.
I always have students around the piano during playlist review, for varying reasons (observatory learning, checking that they’re doing the same thing, watching in case they need reinforcement, etc.). Also, if someone needs help with a starting hand position, or whatever, the students can help. I will also ask students if they are using the same fingering (when a student makes a fingering mistake–like Bishop chords using finger 3 rather than finger 2) I want to go over that with everyone–and if they’re not at the piano they won’t notice.
Having said that, sometimes a student plays something and the rest play along on their keypad, so it’s not exactly 100% of the time that everyone is standing during playlist review.
Here’s something some kids think is fun and it’s another way to have two people playing same song at the same time. This can probably be done with all the songs, but two of my students invented it with Chester Chills Out and I’ve never tried having anyone do it with any other songs. Students’ hands are interlocking. I’ll try to describe it: Student on left (Louis) has his left hand on low c. Student on right (Rachel) has her left hand on bass c. Louis has his right hand on middle c, and then Rachel has her right hand on treble c. Their hands are criss-crossed. Have fun with that!
Keeping the playlist alive and having time in the lessons for review is certainly my biggest challenge too, but I think these ideas might help a little. I kind of don’t think the challenge will ever go away, and maybe we’ll just keep thinking up more ways to approach it all. The playlist assessment once in a while is certainly a very good idea.
Joanne J., Australia
My way to describe this is not to use the word ‘thoughtless’ for the very reason you have stated but say it needs to be completely understood so that when automatic takes over there is a solid foundation that remains intact. This way they are always able to recognize the building blocks within the piece and can pick it up at various points. This deeper knowing is crucial to being able to effectively ‘reverse engineer’ the piece back to the page in the reading process when a certain level of awareness has to be employed!
Another point is that, while I have always been very conscious of the need to really KNOW a piece, I am much more careful about the strategy for each piece being retained now that I see the level of understanding that is required to use these strategies to MAP the music off the page in higher levels. This may not always happen in the first instance, in fact the strategies will not be retained if the only time we talk about them is when we first teach a piece as the student’s focus is entirely on being able to play the piece at that point.
I find the ‘Playlist’ part of the lesson is the perfect time to ask what strategies were used to learn the piece played. I have introduced incorporating the relevant strategies on the pop sticks (for those who use them at home) but your email has prompted me to think further, and it occurs to me that as we build the playlist of pieces perhaps we should also be building a ‘playlist’ of strategies. I would think a weekly visit to this ‘playlist’ ie picking a piece for each strategy and playing the part of the piece that it was used for, would provide a way of retaining them at a conscious level without adding too much to the whole process (and a groan from all concerned!!!).
To continue to generate the enthusiasm to make this effort I keep reminding my families:
- We are learning a way of learning, and to ignore the strategies is to miss the incredible diamonds.
- The analogy about teaching someone how to ‘fish’ so that they can ‘eat’ for life etc.
- The right versus left brain way of processing information being why the Simply Music approach is so successful in ‘Maximizing the likelihood of our students retaining music as a companion for the rest of their lives’!
I wonder if our students have any idea how hard WE are all working to be the best that we can be!!!