Chat – More Teaching Arrangements
Gordon Harvey, Australia
Gordon H (Aus) Today we’re moving into some more specific strategies for the arrangements pieces.
In arrangements, more of the “when & how” is left up to the teacher than in other parts of SM. It’s easy, when we’re given such clear, step-by-step instructions for the foundation pieces, to feel somewhat lost with the more loosely structured strategies of the Arrangements. We talked about this in a recent teacher meeting here in Melbourne, and it became clear that Neil deliberately makes the strategies for arrangements less structured in order for us to train ourselves in seeing and presenting pieces in the SM way. Learning A Way Of Teaching, if you like.
I really see a benefit in having us feel less guided, and a little less secure, because that’s exactly how a student will feel, with no notes, no video, no CD. It’s really worth remembering that. Having said that, I think it’s great to share our strategies for the arrangements. As we move into the Development program (level 10 and beyond), we’re relying more on ourselves and less on the video, and the same goes for the students….
That’s why I like to have students give me their ideas for learning Arrangements pieces – it’s a training ground for becoming self-generating. We can also train ourselves by sharing strategy ideas. So I’ll share some of my ideas for unfolding Arrangements pieces, but we may be able to open up some of your ideas later.
Firstly, though, one or two items I didn’t get to last time…
Who has students who ask for Note Book entries for arrangements?
Janita I do.
Gordon H (Aus) it’s important to remember that you’re undermining the purpose of the Arrangements by writing notes. If you’ve prepared them well, this won’t happen all that often, and when it does it’s often more of an expression of mild frustration than a request. Do you know what I mean?
Gordon H (Aus) So you can usually deal with those with a reminder of the “arrangements foundation conversation”. It doesn’t mean writing notes is a total no-no… you need, though, to be thinking of what might be behind a request for notes, and making a judgement call.
The only time I might write notes is if the student has forgotten after a week, but usually just repeating the teaching will have them remember anyway… usually you get half way through and the penny drops, in which case you can say “there you go, you remembered it after all, with just a couple of hints”.
If they still haven’t remembered after two weeks, and you’re sure they’ve done the right things, then chances are you’ve presented it too soon or presented too much in one sitting. No problems, just put it aside and return to it later.
You can write notes just to clarify exactly the component to work on, or a detail they need to attend to, but avoiding any memory clues. So you can write, say, “night storm 3 LH only”, but nothing explaining how to play that component.
Any questions about that?
SueCAus What about small notes ie NS 1RH Zigzag
Gordon H (Aus) It depends why you’re writing it
SueCAus I do it to help them differentiate between NS 1,2 or 3
Gordon H (Aus) Exactly. That’s why I tend to use different names….in some cases. I wrote about that in the last chat.
carolineAUS can you give us an idea of the names?
Gordon H (Aus) Check the last chat notes, but I may mention some later. Let’s move on…
The other question is how often should we present arrangements… anyone have concerns about this?
SueCAus Yes, sometimes they only want to do foundation songs
carolineAUS yes, someone said maybe after level 3
Gordon H (Aus) Have they done some variations?
SueCAus Am breaking down the resistance a bit & they’ve done a few now, trying to end the race to get through levels
carolineAUS if you’re talking to me, some of my students are only interested in doing the impressive variations
shamara I find the simple variations like Honey Dew 1,2 or the blues arrangements are easy to introduce without a fuss. Some of them seem ‘scared off’ by the jucier arrangements.
Gordon H (Aus) I think a lot of this is about pacing. Both when you first introduce them, and how frequently. Also the setup conversation of course. they firstly have to get used to the idea of memory projects. Often this resistance is a symptom of doing them too soon or too often.
I’ve found experience has helped me know the right pace, but I always err on the side of less.
SueCAus I have a student from a different culture who will only do what is on video, not even variations. With her I think it is cultural (very structured). Have decided to wait til she is ready.
Gordon H (Aus) You cancertainly make the arrangements as strucured as possible by giving very small doses and being very clear about what they are to do, just like foundation projects…
Most resistance is to do with fear! That’s a good platitude.
SueCAus Yes, I think it is fear in this case.
Gordon H (Aus) Anyway,if you’ve handled the Variations well, they’ll be used to regular memory projects, and in time will come to be relaxed about them. No need to worry too much.
shamara Do you always have one arrangement project running?
Gordon H (Aus) I’d say most students would have started at least a few Variations during Level 1, and during Level 2 would be moving seamlessly from L1 Variations to L1 Arrangements and L2 Variations…
At this stage they might typically be doing some kind of new memory project every 2-3 lessons. This would vary greatly from class to class. Eg a student with prior experience could be doing more, although not a lot more. Just because they’re experienced, it doesn’t mean that even the simplest arrangement will be easy for them.
When I say new memory project, I mean a major one, like a typical Arrangement. I think most students will be working on something every lesson that won’t be on the video, if only a simple variation, which is as it should be, but for nearly all students, I’d avoid having more than one of the more complex ones going at once. I hope I’m being clear here.
shamara yes, thanks
SueCAus Would it be OK to make one small dose say of Dreams 1 – just play fingers 1 and 5 in RH and later add fingers 2 & 3?
Gordon H (Aus) If you think that’s appropriate. But the way to think of it is to follow the steps in the program and manage the dosage… so Dreams 1 first step could be just playing the four note chord in one position. If they can’t manage that, it may be too soon for that project.
So let’s move into some specifics. A couple of features of how I present Arrangements…
Presenting a basic action as a separate project, eg the two RH chords of Dreams Come True 1. I might present these two chords anywhere on the keyboard, and perhaps without even mentioning the song they’ll be used in.
Student strategy generation – having students find their own clues, make diagrams etc. Great training for the future, as I said earlier.
I present most Arrangement projects over more than one session, perhaps up to four. The general principle as I’ve said is to present too little rather than too much, and usually less than I’d present of a foundation project.
hilary What about maintaining the consistency of the 135 already known and adding the 2 later?
Gordon H (Aus) Yes Hilary, that would be possible, but again if they can’t manage four notes as a separate project, it may be too soon to present it.
So what follows is basically a bunch of tips that I’ve found helpful as additions to Neil’s strategies, based on common traps and errors students experience. Of course, they don’t replace Neil’s strategies, they supplement them. I won’t cover every piece, just a selection.
For each piece I’m talking about today, I’ll outline the stages I use, but of course there’ll be plenty of times when I’ll present more than one stage in one lesson. I should say that it’s a bit of an experiment to be trying to explain this stuff in writing – often strategies seem much more complicated on paper than on the keyboard. Let me know if you can’t keep up with any explanation. If you can have the written notation at hand, and be at the keyboard, that’ll help.
Dreams Come True 1 (I call this Dreams Accompaniment)
First stage, I present the two RH chords as an exercise, just so they can get comfortable with the physical experience in the hand (as we’ve said).
Second stage is first half both hands.
Third stage would be LH second half. Here I focus on the student distinguishing sentences, seeing if they can see a pattern… maybe singing the note names or finger numbers – EFEFEDC…
Final stage is the altered chord in measure 15. I find talpieces, even as simple as this one, need to be separated.
Clear on that one?
Gordon H (Aus)
Dreams Come True 3
I usually do the LH pattern as a separate exercise. The student could do the exercise anywhere on the keyboard (white keys only), just to get used to it. I remind them that down the track, they’ll be able to use the pattern in other pieces, such as compositions or jazz arrangements…
This LH pattern introduces a concept that I refer to many times in the future – that is, the idea of getting a stretch into the hands before playing. I may go as far as having students, away from the keyboard, stretch their hand out as far as they comfortably can, then plonk their hand anywhere on the keyboard and see how much stretch they have, getting used to maintaining a stretch even as they play each note within it.
They don’t actually have to stretch the exact octave required in the song. All they’re doing is approximating the distance, but most importantly getting used to keeping the stretch in the fingers in a similar way to maintaining a chord shape. The benefit in this case is that finger 2 naturally lands in the right place for the middle note. I’ve found that if I present the stretch right, I don’t have to talk about the middle note at all.
The Bb pattern can be trickier, so you could start with just the D and C patterns, and add the Bb later, even if it takes a few weeks…
The tailpiece can be confusing, so to begin with I ignore it, and get them playing the entire normal LH on D with the final RH note. Know what I’m saying there?
When they’re totally confident with the whole piece, I have them play, and stop them after the first two notes of that LH, and bring in the RH DEF. Make sure they hold all those notes down (LH A & RH DEF), so they can see the notes they are to move up the keyboard.
The key is really controlling the events, and distinguishing the moment where they add the tailpiece
Night Storm 1 (I call this Night Storm Accompaniment)
First thing I point out is that the RH is in exactly the same position as it is in the original Night Storm.
First stage is RH first half, getting clear about the half-step movement.
Second stage could be simply adding the LH A and the ratio.
Next stage is the entire second half, which definitely challenges the memory, but that’s okay, just spend plenty of time at it in class. The chord in measure 7 I describe as reversing the action from the first half, ie keep both hands the same except thumb, which this time goes up instead of down…
Night Storm 2
We spend a lot of time strategy-generating in class. Students really come up with lots of ideas, and all I do is include our strategies as options they can consider. But we may discuss among ourselves why one strategy might work better than another. So we’ve arrived at a consensus. Again, training for the future, and real generative learning.
One thing I do point out is that the LH bottom note moves down in half-steps, all the way to the E, which may not be obvious immediately.
I always treat the last two measures, with that new, stretched-out shape, separately from the rest of the sequence – another tailpiece issue.
hilary With NS 1 and very small hands i have put the descending semi-tones in to the left hand
Gordon H (Aus) That’s interesting Hilary. What does the RH do? Does it stay on the Am for the first half?
Gordon H (Aus) and you’d change at the F?
Gordon H (Aus) Cool. But it shouldn’t be too far down the track before they do the correct RH, especially since they’ll use it elsewhere.
I treat all of these arrangements as stages of a single project, which I call Humpty Dumpty Blues, and which may unfold over several weeks, if not months.
At each new stage students can temporarily put aside the humpty rhythm, just to focus on the new events…
version 4 is a tricky one. I break it down.
First is just getting used to moving the hands in opposite directions, without the humpty rhythm.
Then I add the humpty rhythm, one hand at a time if necessary
Then, when the student is thoroughly confident to that point, I look at the rhythmic change in the RH. You can see this in meas. 2 where we play the second and third chords once only, and hold the last. Fitting this with the LH can be a real brain-bender for the student. It took me ages to get it. I don’t quite know why.
I’ve found I have to very much control events. I first have the student get clear on the RH on its own, voicing while playing. Then I get the microscope out on one tiny moment of two events – the RH C chord, with the LH C & A, followed by LH C & Bb.
SueCAus Do you call it Humpty 4?
Gordon H (Aus) Sue, all the Jackson Arrangements have one name for me of Humpty Blues, and for the student we’re just continuing to unfold it in stages… luckily each stage sounds good enough to stay with until we’re ready to continue…
shamara measure 2?
Gordon H (Aus) Yes, measure 2, last RH chord, & two LH events. They just repeat that till clear, then with the rhythm, voicing “te-dum”, till that’s clear.
Then I go back to the beginning of that measure and do the events that precede this moment. Even though this part is not changed form the previous stage, I still control the events, ignoring the rhythm…
When you’ve stepped through that, you attach the previously processed events onto the end, still controlling events, and gradually letting the proper rhythm come back in. Then you can usually add the final couple of LH events by feel.
Like I say, harder to explain with words than just doing it, so have a go when you can. It’s just isolating the exact moment, and real micro-events…
shamara Do you play the full version of ‘Humpty Dumpty Blues’ when they begin it?
Gordon H (Aus) Shamara, I sometimes do, just to give them a taste of where they’re going… but I don’t want them thinking that the earlier stages are not the real thing, if you know what I mean.
We’re running out of time, so we’ll cover just one or two more…
Amazing Grace 3 (I call this Amazing Grace Melody)
I like to teach this one like Ode to Joy – don’t play or say what it is, but see how long it takes for the student to recognise the melody as it unfolds.
Fur Elise 1
This can also be quite challenging. I avoid presenting it too early, although I make sure we’ve done it before we start on the full version of Fur Elise in Level 5, because I don’t want students to have stopped playing the Level 1 RH.
Firstly we review the RH of Night Storm 1, and see that we’re just going to transplant it into the LH. This doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to do physically, because the fingering is different.
I’m very specific about fingering for the first four chords – first two use fingers 1234, then we switch to 1235…I sometimes find it necessary for students just to get used to switching fingers. Again, this can be done as a separate exercise, anywhere on the keyboard, white keys only.
Then I have students play through the first four chords, observing fingering, then adding the pulses of 3.
When ready for marrying the hands, I go only as far as RH sentence 3.
A good way of looking at the marrying at this stage is that the second LH chord of each group of 3 is always on its own, ie TLT. Try it and see. If that doesn’t help, don’t dwell on it.
Next bit where we return to RH sentence 1 is the real brain-bender. I find simply controlling the events is the best way, although sometimes it can help to point out that the relationship is nothing but TRTR. The main thing they will need help with is changing the LH chords as they play the 54545 of the RH.
Just jump in and manipulate the fingers as needed, and allow plenty of repetition and observatory learning. I don’t care how long that project takes once we’ve begun. Give them plenty of time with each step, and prepare them for it to be tricky.
I have a few more pieces, but this seems to be a suitable moment to stop, because I’d be moving on to Level 2.
SueCAus Great help Gordon thank you
shamara I’ll look forward to implementing some of this very soon. Many thanks Gordon.
Gordon H (Aus) Thanks everyone for attending. I hope you feel free to explore strategies for yourself.