Do you or your students suffer from “turn-the-page” syndrome? Once the notes and rhythms are learned it’s easy to want to turn the page and go on to the next piece. I mean what else is there to work on? While students and parents may not ask it out loud, you can sense that the question is there. Or the parent who asks, “how long have we been on this piece?” As teachers sometimes it’s easier to keep momentum and the peace and turn the page to the next song. There are times I just don’t want to deal with what I know will be a “fight.” The rolled eyes, the slumped shoulders, the “I’m really tired of this piece…” It’s easy to think, “Hey we’ve at least got the notes and rhythms. So why not just move on?” Both students, parents and teachers can miss the beauty and joy of playing. Recently I’ve been working on “turn-the-page” syndrome in my studio and I’ve been reminded of some tips I learned in my Suzuki teacher training.
My book 1 teacher trainer, Carrie Reuning-Hummel, recommended the book The Way I Feel. The colorful beautiful illustrations communicate visually different emotions. Even with Twinkle Variations or other early book 1 pieces, this allows students to learn to explore tone colors. We can play the same piece 3 -4 times in a row looking at different pictures in this book and I don’t get, “AGAIN?!?!?!” I’ll also have them think about one thing to work on while they are playing. If we are doing the sad page, talk about legato bowing, playing right on the highway. You can always tie a specific technique in with the picture you are playing.
Another avenue is to have students feel different fabrics and textures – silk, burlap, denim, wool, or linen. There are really no wrong or right answers to these activities. How could Go Tell Aunt Rhody sound like burlap feels? Can you play Lightly Row and make it sound like silk? Sometimes these can be hard, I just want them to experiment with their instrument and try different things to make different tone colors. It’s hard to describe sound with words so we have to relate it to things we can sense. The sense of taste is another good way to tie in imagination. Make this sound like smooth chocolate with no nuts in it! My high school conductor used to tell us to imagine playing in a giant jar of peanut butter. Our bow strokes suddenly became very legato. We had an image to relate our sound to!
Everybody loves a story! Creating a story line that follows the music, helps the student in their expression. Tie it to something they know or have experienced. So when working on voicing explaining it as a conversation or argument. For example, who hasn’t had a “discussion” with their mother or sibling. At the opening of the B section of Minuet 2 in Suzuki Book 1, the lower voice states their side, then the higher voice replies, and has 2 points to make. Then moves into a monologue. Some students who love to write have written whole stories to go along with the piece they are learning.
For older students have them imagine different scenarios. Have them remember what their favorite vacation spot is like, or what the feel like playing their favorite sport or engaging in their favorite hobby. Sometimes they can create a narrative or explanation, sometimes I have to help them get started. When the imagination is connected to the music, the articulation, expression, dynamics, and the musical line suddenly change.
- The Great Dismal Swamp – What kinds of things would you see? What does the sky look like? What does the water below look like? What does it smell like?
- A Walk in the Woods
- A Rainy Day
The possibilities are endless and actually really fun to create together in the lesson. Try showing a picture of a place or activity and ask questions of the photograph? What do you think is around that corner? What are they talking about? What is behind that post? Spark their imagination. Play the same piece with different scenarios above and listen to how they are different, but remember the notes and rhythms cannot change! In the words of Louis Armstrong, “Never play anything the same way twice.”
Never play anything the same way twice.
How does these ideas help assuage “turn-the-page” syndrome? You have given the student something to work on that above and beyond notes and rhythms. Have them try these at home during practice. The stories, the images the textures can change from day-to-day. This allows the student to polish a piece as they work on different tone colors and articulation helping them connect the notes and rhythms to emotion and imagination.