Using Arrangements to Slow Down
Mary R., Michigan
I am having trouble staying ahead of some students and have been advised by several wise teachers to use lots of arrangements to slow the pace down a bit. The problem for many students seems to be lack of any support materials. Many have expressed great frustration at being asked to learn something in a lesson that they have no way of reviewing at home.
Others insist on taking copious written notes that, frankly, don’t seem to help much. Others just plow ahead as best they can, learn it the wrong way and then are even MORE frustrated when they come back for the next lesson and have to unlearn and relearn. I had two 50 year-old women tonight just flat out DEMAND a new song as the arrangements were driving them mad! Any ideas?
Gordon Harvey, Australia
Firstly, you must present Arrangements in small doses. Briefly, I’d make a few other points:
Make sure you’ve fully justified the Arrangements. You need to be very clear why you’re presenting them (noting that, of course, their purpose extends well beyond simply slowing down the pace of students’ progress), and you need to have explained this well enough for the students to be willing to go along with you. This includes not letting students take notes! This subverts the whole purpose, and as Mary has noted, rarely helps anyway.
Prepare the students for the different nature of the experience, especially at earlier levels. Let them know their memory muscle is still under-developed, so they should be prepared to forget things sometimes!
Make sure any arrangement you choose is at a suitable level for the students. Some level 1 Arrangements are well past the capability of most Level 1 students.
Don’t overdo it. Regardless of the need to slow students down, I rarely if ever present two arrangements in a row, without a foundation piece in between.
If any of the above points seem unclear, I’d recommend going through Neil’s explanation of the function of the Arrangements in the training materials.
Karen G., Tennessee
Are you breaking down these pieces into small enough bites? Without any home materials, you might not be able to unfold as much of a song as you might otherwise do. While it may seem strange at first, in the long run, it will be worth it. For instance, when I unfold the Dreams #2 Arrangement, the first week, I rarely go over anything more than the 3 chords used in the left hand. We might get into the order (pattern) they are used in, but that is as far as I will go. If they don’t have it quite right the following week, we’ll review and go no further. Once they are comfortable with the chords and then the pattern, I might spend a week working on BH with just sentence 1, the next week, BH sentence 2, then the whole song.
When I first started teaching, I often gave more than I should have – of course not realizing I was giving more than I should. It’s so exciting to share this program, you really have to watch for that. Now that I’ve taken more through the early levels and seen how different people respond, etc., I know I am much more effective in the doses (most of the time!). Less truly is more.
Vonnie L., Oregon
I have had pretty good luck teaching Arrangements to adults. Here are some things I have done that seem to help:
1) I introduce only a portion of an Arrangement at a time, no matter how simple it seems to me. For example with Dreams-Arr 3, I usually only teach the LH pattern on D and C at first. Then add the Bb position after the first two are solid.
2) I tell my adult students that they may forget what I have taught them during the week, but that it’s OK if they do, that we will just review it in the next lesson or two until it sticks. I say this very matter-of-factly and stress that they should just try to reproduce it at home but stop if they start to feel frustrated.
3) I try to introduce it mid-way through the lesson and then ask them to quickly run through it again right at the end.
4) I suggest that they go home and practice the new part ASAP and often during the week.
5) I ask them to notice how many notes are in the pattern, what the beginning and ending notes are, and ask how do you find the second note, etc., trying to get them to vocalize just what the pattern is.
6) I write just a small clue in their books, such as “Dreams-Arr 3”
7) If they return saying they just couldn’t get it, I don’t act disappointed or concerned at all. I just say “Well, while you were trying to figure it out, you learned a lot about what doesn’t sound like the pattern! Your time wasn’t wasted at all.”
8) We review the pattern and I point out how much faster they picked it up the second time, which shows that they didn’t really completely forget it, they just couldn’t find where they had stored it.
9) If they come back with something not quite right, I sometimes comment that they have discovered a new pattern that they might be able to use in a different arrangement later on.
10) I tell them bluntly that writing down more than what I put in the notes will just delay the development of their ability to remember patterns. It’s like using crutches to walk and wondering why your legs aren’t getting stronger. They really seem to understand then that learning how to learn is a process and takes time.
Cindy B., Illinois
I really appreciate what Vonnie and Karen have said. To add one more thing to the pile, something that has helped me immensely as a teacher, but is completely foreign to the traditional piano teacher’s way of thinking —- The student will be a learner if I am a teacher.
Put another way, the success of the student is my responsibility. I used to always blame the student for the failure – but if a student comes to me a week later and has completely lost what I tried to teach them the week before – it’s my fault – and it’s my responsibility to discover what happened, and fix it. And, of course, not make the same mistake again!
An extreme example is my student who not only was unable to progress in the Arrangements, but also actually lost at least 4 of his recent foundation songs and had to back track in his lesson from Level 4 to Level 3, which you can imagine was potentially a disaster. He wasn’t practicing, or watching the video, or listening to the audio. He was ‘bored’ with his Playlist and wanted to learn new stuff.
How can I call that MY failure? Well, HIS MOM FINALLY CALLED ME, as equally discouraged as her son. After 2 emails, he showed up at his next lesson, nearly caught up again on his own! I SHOULD HAVE CALLED HER INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR HER TO CALL ME. I failed to communicate effectively with his Mom, who then was unable to be his ally at home, both in encouraging him and also leading him in the discipline necessary to forge ahead when the “shine is off the apple”.
Two lessons later, we moved on to the next new song in L4.