Written by: Suzanne Greer
Summer is such a great time to rest and read. For the next three months I will devote my blog to reviewing three small wonderful “self-help pedagogy” books written by Marienne Uszler that have really influenced my teaching.
There are three books in the series: Play it again, Sam…What, Why, and When to Repeat, Time Flies…How to Make the Best Use of Teaching Time and That’s a Good Question…How to Teach by Asking Questions. All three books are very practical and give specific teaching techniques, helpful hints and references for further research. They are short on words and length, but long on ideas and concepts.
Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, when repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex. – Norman Vincent Peale
Play it Again, Sam… is particularly appropriate for right now in my studio as students are learning new repetoire for the summer. Learning a new piece requires so much repetition. How many times do you have a student repeat a new idea in your studio? What types of repetition do you espouse? At first glance of Uszler’s book, I thought it might contain suggestions to make repetitions more fun using games and so forth. Well, not quite. This is not a quick fix – Uszler’s approach is holistic. It is about teaching concepts that will stick and developing independent learners capable of transferring skills.
Much to my surprise, the first idea presented in the book is to begin by examining your own use of repetition, both in your own practicing as well as teaching. Set up a camcorder or audio recorder for a few hours of practice or teaching, and then critique yourself. If you have never done this before, it is a very eye-opening experience. Even though it may be hard to watch yourself, so much can be learned. Uszler guides the reader through a series of questions to determine how the repetitions were done. For example, here a few questions she poses regarding your own practice:
How often do you play through an entire section, despite inaccuracies, then return to work on the sore spots?
Do you think before you repeat?
Do you ever vary dynamics, tempo, or articulations when you repeat a difficult passage?
Are you a compulsive repeater?
Here are questions dealing with your teaching:
When you call a halt to repetitions in a lesson, how do you know the student knows that the actions or sounds were successful?
Do you guide each repetition with some kind of directive-for example, “Be sure that the last note of the slur comes up softly” or “Watch that your fourth finger makes the crossover.”
Even though you’re not positive the concept or skill is grasped by the student do you sometimes reduce the number of repetitions because it takes too much lesson time?
What I find interesting in doing this exercise is that I too, like my students, slip into mindless repetition. Realizing this not only helps to empathize with students who often do the same thing, but also helps to inspire a search for solutions to more efficient practice. As the great pedagogue Ingrid Clarfield said,
Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.
In order for repetitions to be effective and productive, the teacher must be able to give the student opportunities for variety in repetition as well as having a thorough understanding of both motor skill development and conceptual learning. The remainder of the book explains both of the aforementioned. In addition, more ideas on how to help students listen to themselves, learn the “Big Ideas” first, and become self-aware are presented.
I highly recommend these beautiful little nuggets of knowledge that Marienne Uszler has given us! You can find them at Amazon for a very reasonable price! Happy summer!