Shared Lessons

Practice Pads and Controlling the Events

Tracy E., Connecticut

I’m in my second month of teaching Simply Music, and I have groups of mostly 3-6 kids. I have four practice pads that I got laminated but not mounted. ¬†Initially I tried using the practice pads, but I found it frustrating, especially with the younger ones, so I haven’t used them at all lately. I know they’re an important component to the program, but I’ve found it difficult to control the events on them.

For instance, with a group of 6-7 year olds, I tried to have them put both hands together for Dreams on the pads first, and it took so much time for them to just find their position (and then they would move slightly, and I’d have to adjust their hands again, or the parents would try to help). And this is all while I’m looking at their hands upside down, which is confusing to say the least. The students were just not getting it on the pads, and it felt like a big waste of time. I’ve found it much easier to control the events, especially when it comes to putting hands together, directly at the keyboard, where I can physically make each student stop and pause when needed, while all the other students watch the process.

I recently read through many of the discussions on the Forums regarding the use of the pads, so I now better understand their importance (and the danger of using them too much…there was a word of caution from Neil that the pads should only be a small part of the lesson, so the class doesn’t become a series of “private” lessons). But I still don’t feel ready to pull them back out. I know you’re supposed to have two students play on them while a third student watches, and then rotate, but how do you coordinate this when each child is sitting next to their parent? Do you have them change seats so the students are now sitting next to each other, or should you just have child and parent work together on one pad, with the child playing and parent watching, and then switch roles and have the parent try?

Cheri S., Utah

I’m quite new, but I’m working with several groups of kids with about four in each shared lesson. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far. Everyone likes using the keypads to work out patterns with hands separate. I taught them right from the start why keypads are a learning tool, not just a pretend piano. We talked about how sometimes people learn “by ear” without really absorbing the learning strategies, and without their mind and fingers really knowing the building blocks of the piece. The keypad makes them focus on the patterns themselves, and they can add another level to that learning by singing along as they play.

Another huge advantage of the keypads is every student gets to participate more actively in the lesson. Observational learning is powerful, but if they spent the whole lesson gathered around the piano usually watching someone else try things, that might be too much observation and not enough doing. Also, with the keypads we can cover more ground in each lesson. The keypads allow all the students to experience a new pattern more quickly, so they’re all more prepared once we come up to the piano.

And the keypads add another dimension to the learning–learning by teaching. I love to see students coaching each other. It’s fun, and it’s an educational “2 for 1”–they learn when they’re the one getting coached and when they’re the one coaching. It does take some direct teaching to help them learn how to coach each other. My students are still learning this skill.

I do have them change seats often, sometimes to work with their parents, usually to team up with other students. The most engaged parents will stay involved even if it is kid-to-kid coaching. Getting up and moving around keeps everyone lively and engaged. Sometimes, if the upside down keypad is confusing me, I have gone around behind the students’ chairs to see the keypads from the normal perspective.

So far I haven’t used keypads for hands together, but I can see that controlling the events might work best at the piano.