It’s 8 days and counting to recital day in my studio. I always enjoy this time of year – at lesson after lesson I get to hear polished, or “almost-there” music. It’s a treat for my ears!
For most students the week before the recital means that their piece is ready to go… except for that one measure that’s still hard to play with both hands, or that section of rhythm they never remember to count right, or the place that the dynamics aren’t second nature, or that other spot….. A stash of leftover candy from last week’s group games has been just what the doctor ordered to get these trouble spots perfected!
Several years ago, I picked up the idea for a “4 times” game from a magazine article. It’s really simple (I’m sure many teachers do something like this): We take 4 small objects and place them on one side of the piano. Every time a student plays a tricky spot correctly, they move one object over to the other side. Their goal is to get all of the objects moved with the least number of reps possible. If you’re really going for polish, you can decide that every time they miss a note they have to move one back, which means they’ll have to play the section 4 times perfectly in a row to complete the game. Talk about a challenge!!!
In my studio, we usually play with these colored gemstones. Some students LOVE getting to arrange the colors and pick which gemstone they’ll be trying to earn first:
This week, though, for a little extra fun, we’re using the leftover M&Ms and Skittles from group classes. Instead of moving a piece from one side of the keyboard to the other, when the student correctly plays a measure or section they get to move the candy directly to their mouth!
I’ve been a little devious with the candy version – with many students, I didn’t tell them ahead of time that we were playing the “4 times” game. I simply said that they could take “a few” pieces of candy and place them by the side of the keys. The more they took, the more measures I got to pick that had to be performed correctly before the student got to eat a piece of the candy!!
I also play a variation of this game with some students. Instead of using the gemstones or candy to drill the same section 4 times, we’ll pick a whole line or phrase to work on. To earn each different color, the student must demonstrate a different skill. For example, to earn the dark blue gemstone, I might ask the student to play all the notes correctly (we don’t worry about rhythm or anything else at that point). Next, to earn the light blue stone, they must play both the notes AND rhythm correctly. For the green one, they add dynamics or articulations. For the clear one, they might have to do the whole shebang – from memory.
This is a great drill to teach students how to learn a line of music at home, and really “clicks” with kids who thrive on clear sequential learning. It also came in really handy when I was prepping students to perform for a festival. I assigned one color of gemstone to go with each category on the judge’s sheets (i.e. accuracy, rhythm, musicianship, stage presence, memory). By the time they got to the festival, the kids knew exactly what the judge would be listening for.