Music Mapping with Piano Students

With nearly every piece I teach, the student and I analyze and label the form: Q&A phrases, AB form, ABA form, sonata form, etc.. Understanding the structure of a piece helps the student learn the piece more thoroughly and make well-based decisions relating to the interpretation of a piece.

Back in early March, a student of mine demonstrated he had his piece memorized all the way through but found he was “fuzzy” on the details in certain places and could not always remember what came next between phrases without taking time for thought. In a moment of inspiration (or perhaps desperation!), we decided to construct a visual map of the piece — an activity I have found to be beneficial in the past with certain students. I took a blank sheet of paper from my printer and handed my student a few colored pencils. Taking a few minutes to turn our analysis into a simple, visual graphic proved to strengthen and clarify his memory of the piece.

During my college years, I was exposed to this kind of music mapping thanks to a book I found in the university library: Mapping Music: For Faster Learning and Secure Memory, by Rebecca Payne Shockley. She shares many examples in her book to learn from, but emphasizes that music mapping is a very personal thing: the map must primarily make sense to the person who makes it.

Music Mapping with Piano Students graphic

As you can see from the image above, we used boxes to represent the 4-bar phrases as well as the larger A and B sections. Within each box, my student drew lines or shapes to represent the melodic contour of the phrases. We also added a few chord symbols to help mentally clarify the B section and the ending.

As a final step, we added dynamic markings in pink and green shading to represent pedaling.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 12.51.20 PMAfter completing the music map, I asked my student to play the piece by memory again. It was not a perfect performance, but it was definitely better because his memory of the piece’s structure was stronger and more clear.

After creating a map, it should not be necessary to have the student read from the music map while playing, although that is an option. The point of the exercise is to be able to rely on a strong, mental picture of the piece during performance. In my student’s own words: “It’s the process of creating the map that is beneficial; not the finished map itself.”

Have you ever created a music map with a student?

[Note: In case you are interested, the piece my student was learning is called “A Quiet Lagoon” by Dennis Alexander and Martha Mier. We were using a sampler piece of sheet music I received during a conference, but the piece is readily available in the Technique Book Level 2B of the Alfred Premier Piano Course.]

Memorization, Practicing

Practicing, Learning, and Memorizing for Piano Teachers

I’ve blogged before about my thoughts on and struggles with memorizing music.  I can definitely see improvement over my college years as far as successful memorization goes, but I admittedly still find it discouraging.  I think what makes it frustrating for me is the fact that sight-reading is so easy for me, and memorizing is so not easy.  🙂

Some days, I feel like I’ve finally find a method for this memorizing madness, and other days, I feel so far away from reaching a dependable process!  A few weeks ago, I made the decision to when practicing, only “learn” as much music as I can also memorize during the same sitting.  During some practice sessions, I only learn 4 or 8 bars.   On a good day, I can learn a whole page of music.  It’s slow, tedious work, but I looking forward to seeing the results of this experiment once I finish a few pieces using this method.  (It will be awhile.)

So, I’m curious — what do other teachers do?  First, do you find it difficult to find time to practice regularly?  Do you make it a priority to continue learning new classical repertoire?  Do you find opportunities to perform solo classical repertoire, or do you learn it only for your own enjoyment and personal development?  Do you memorize?  HOW do you memorize?!  🙂

Photo Credit: MaltaGirl | CC 2.0


Memorization, Practicing, Teaching Piano

Thoughts on Memorization: A Skill Integral to Piano Playing?

Last week was Spring Break from college for me!  My husband and I had a wonderful time visiting our families and spending time with them.  Our days were full doing all kinds of family activities — however, I did manage to keep an eye on my blog, especially the Forum Q&A about memorization that was posted last Tuesday.  Many of you left comments regarding whether or not you require memorized performances within your studio — but not many of you addressed my initial question about whether you consider the skill of memorization is essential to piano playing.  At first look, it appears to be essentially the same question…perhaps I could have phrased this a bit better?  In any case, today I’d like to delve in a little bit deeper into this question about the necessary or not so necessary skill of memorization.

To further clarify exactly what I’ve getting after here, a distinction must be made: There is a difference between memorizing and playing/performing by memory.  I will use these two terms distinctly in this blog post: memorizing refers to the process of memorizing a piece of music during practice with the intent of later playing by memory, while playing/performing by memory refers to actually playing the piece of music from beginning to end without consultation of the score.  This distinction is important because a teacher might, for example, consider memorization to be a necessary skill to develop in his/her students, but might be flexible in actually requiring students to play by memory during performances.

Let’s begin by listing some reasons why pianist might choose to perform by memory or choose not to perform by memory. Continue reading “Thoughts on Memorization: A Skill Integral to Piano Playing?”

improving as a teacher, Memorization, Performances, Questions

Forum Q&A | Memorization for Performances: Required or Optional?

Last week we discussed how to teach legato pedaling to students, and we got a few great responses – click here to check them out!  As always, feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion!

This week, we are considering the topic of memorization.  I’ve seen great discussions about this topic on many websites and forums, and thought we’d explore it here too (hopefully with a different twist)!  Here goes:

First, do you consider memorization to be an integral part of piano playing?  Meaning, would you say that a concert pianist should or must perform by memory?  And do you therefore also require your students to perform by memory, or are you more flexible with your students depending on their goals?  What kind of memorization policy have you found works best for your studio?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: hsingy | CC 2.0

Memorization, Music Theory, Practicing, Technique

Top 5 Reasons to Learn Scales

an excerpt from Kuhlau Sonatina Op.20 No.1

Why do we learn and practice scales?  Have you (or your students) ever asked this question?  Is it just for tradition’s sake that piano teachers assign scales to work on?  I think it’s important not only for we teachers to know the WHY behind scales, but also for our students to know!   Continue reading “Top 5 Reasons to Learn Scales”

Group Classes, Memorization, Performances, Printables, Teaching Piano, Worksheets

Just added: Performing at the Piano Worksheet

Just added: a new free, printable worksheet called:

>  Performing at the Piano Worksheet

Just in time for the spring recital season, this fill-in-the-blank worksheet is intended to help prepare students for an upcoming recital or other performance by discussing stage presence and performance etiquette.

Terms/concepts covered in the worksheet:

  • Memorizing
  • Applause
  • Bowing
  • Checking the bench
  • and more.

This worksheet can either be sent home with students, completed one-on-one with the student during the lesson, or — my favorite — done as a group as a studio class or group lesson.   It would be fun to complete this worksheet as a group just before a practice run-through of a recital.

To download, visit the Printables > Worksheets page and scroll down to the P’s for “Performing at the Piano worksheet.”

Your turn!  Share your ideas for preparing students for recitals in the comments!

improving as a teacher, Memorization, Performances, Practicing

12 Tips for Memorizing Piano Music

I’ll be the first one to admit: memorizing music does not come easily to me.  I really have to work at it, and it takes a lot of time.  Over the past couple of years, I have been reading and trying out everything I could find about memorizing music, and I’ve come up with a number of tips that have been helpful for me.

Some people memorize effortlessly, without even trying.  These are practical tips for the rest of us.  🙂

12 Tips for Memorizing Piano Music:

  1. From Day 1, practice your music with the intent of internalizing and memorizing it. Don’t wait until you’d got the piece learned to begin memorizing it.
  2. Use good fingering and use it consistently. It will take a lot longer to learn the piece if you are using different fingerings every time.  Writing your fingerings in the score will help (especially if you decide to use fingering other than what is indicate in the score).
  3. Always memorize the dynamics, articulations, and other markings on the page along with the notes. Don’t wait until you have the notes mastered!  It’s difficult to go back and fix things later.  It’s better — although perhaps more tedious initially — to learn it right the first time.
  4. Continue reading “12 Tips for Memorizing Piano Music”
Memorization, Resources

Practice Tips @ “The Practice Notebook” blog

I was recently introduced to “The Practice Notebook” blog, created by flautist Zara Lawler.  She has tons of excellent tips for practicing efficiently, no matter what instrument you play.  Most notably, I found some excellent blog posts about her method of memorizing music.  In my experience, many teachers have their students memorize their pieces, but very few teachers actually teach how to memorize.  I am thrilled to find this blog that lays out a specific step-by-step method.  I am taking her suggestions to heart as I prepare my piano pieces for my midterm next week!

I hope write my own post with my own tips for memorizing music as well, but specific to piano music.  Watch for it coming soon!

improving as a teacher, Memorization, Motivation

3 Benefits of Incorporating Improvisation | Part 6 of the series

We’ve arrived at the end of the series on incorporating improvisation!  We’ve already discussed the obstacles, history, and value of improvisation.  And in the last few posts, we discussed at length a practical, 4-part method for incorporating improvisation into the piano lesson.  Today’s consideration is the last of the series: what are the major benefits of incorporating improvisation into the piano lesson?  Here are the big three:

  1. Students are more likely to remember and understand concepts when learned creatively through improvisation.  This is largely related to the strengthening of the connections between theory and practice.
  2. Students are more likely to be motivated to take lessons when they are doing creative tasks.  There is so much more to music than learning to follow directions on the page!
  3. Students are more likely to memorize securely, and more likely to easily recover from memory slips.  Students who understand what is going on in the music (i.e., can identify the key, the form of the piece, and even some of the harmonic progressions) they are more likely to have their pieces memorized securely.  And in the event of a memory slip, students accustomed to improvising can simply improvise until they get back on track!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on improvisation!

What benefits have you found in conducting improvisational activities with your students?

Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in the series:

Series: Incorporating Improvisation into the Piano Lesson

  1. Creativity in the Piano Lesson – Introductory musings.
  2. Top 3 Obstacles when Teaching Improvisation
  3. A Brief History of Improvisation
  4. The Value of Improvisation
  5. Incorporating Improvisation:
    1. part a
    2. part b
    3. part c
    4. part d
  6. 3 Benefits of Incorporating Improvisation (now viewing)
Memorization, Motivation, Performances

Benefits of Holding a Piano Studio Recital

Recitals are an important part of having a piano studio.  Performing is a important skill for any pianist.  Despite the hard work involved, in the long run, the students find it a rewarding activity.

Benefits of having a recital include:

  1. Parents enjoy hearing the progress their student(s) are making under your instruction.  Grandparents and parents love attending these performances and getting pictures/video recordings of their child’s performance (esp. when it’s their first).  There’s something special about watching your child all dressed up and playing a special piece for an audience onstage.   Continue reading “Benefits of Holding a Piano Studio Recital”