Music educators at any grade level know what it’s like: you’re rehearsing music, you did not think it was too hard for your kids, but things are not getting better. The kids just aren’t getting it, and what you’re doing isn’t working. Here are a few strategies to try in that situation:
- Slow down.
Slow the tempo down. How much? Slow down until they can play the notes without making mistakes. “Mistakes” includes not keeping a steady tempo. Then let them play it at least 3 times at this slow tempo, then gradually increase the tempo. If they start making mistakes, slow back down. This is the most effective practice strategy for any grade/experience level.
- “Tizzle” the rhythms.
“Tizzle” means making the “tsssss” sound. I prefer this to clapping because you can sustain the note. If your group is struggling with a difficult rhythm, counting rests correctly, etc. then tizzling can isolate the problem without also having to also deal with pitches or playing an instrument.
- Tizzle while the teacher models.
Have the students tizzle their music while listening to you sing it or play it on your instrument. Or, have them tizzle while listening to a recording of the music. You may also do this when learning a piece of concert music: have everyone tizzle their part while listening to the professional recording of the piece. It’s a great way for them to understand how the whole piece fits together.
- Say the note names.
If they are struggling with playing the correct pitches, have them say the note names of each note. It forces them to slow down and actually think about what the notes are. You probably want to slow the tempo down while doing this, too. This also works with rhythms. If students are struggling with a difficult rhythm, have them say the note values out loud, like “half quarter quarter eighth eighth quarter half.”
- Use a tuner to give feedback.
Students may not even know if they are playing the correct note or not. Allowing them to watch a tuner while playing/singing the music gives them instant feedback so they can see for themselves if they are playing the correct pitch. Mobile tuner apps are great tools for this purpose.
- Take a break.
The brain needs some “down time” to process things. Take a break or go do something else for a few minutes, and then come back to it. Or just stop and come back to it tomorrow – never underestimate the power of sleep, when the brain really processes and “saves” the muscle memory it learned that day.
Justin Dickson is the Band Director at Carroll Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, NC, and has been directing high school and middle school bands in North Carolina since 2006. He is also a member of the Technology Committee in the North Carolina Music Educators Association.
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