Making technique fun

 

In part 1 of this series (which you can read here) I likened technique to a plate of vegetables- it’s colourful, has lots of different textures, you can do lots with it, and it is terribly good for you. But not everyone likes to eat their veggies, and sometimes even the best cooked Brussel sprout just needs a little something extra to help it go down. So here’s 3 tips for making technique fun (or at least palatable!)

 Yes, it's those Brussel Sprouts again.

Yes, it's those Brussel Sprouts again.

 

Tip 1- Use props. The most success I have had with teaching technique came about when I introduced about 20 Angry Birds into my studio. Everyone, from the youngest to the oldest of my students, loves them to bits. Literally to bits as there are now only a hand few surviving.

Forgetting to keep that elbow up? You need Froggy! And what about getting out the Pink Envelopes, or Fluffy Dice?

These are all props that I use regularly in my teaching. All my students know them and what they stand for. And they all make technique fun.

 Let these bad boys sort out your technique.

Let these bad boys sort out your technique.

 

Tip 2- Swap roles. A harp lesson is not just about playing, but also about observing and learning from others. Changing up the roles of student and teacher enables the students to see, not just do, technique. They can also learn to use their ears and hear what it is that happens when the hand position is changed, or scales left lumpy. Teaching a group class is also a fantastic way to encourage those skills of observation and then application while reassuring participants that that troublesome 3rd finger can be a common problem, and that time and practice has worked for others, and can work for them too.

 

Tip 3- Make it real. Learning how to use your fingers and hands or churning through countless exercises is not an isolated undertaking with no relation to real life and real playing. Listen for the difference in sound if you hold your finger a certain way. Feel how easier it is to put your 4th finger under on a scale if you keep your thumb up.

Having trouble with a passage in a particular piece? Look at what is happening technically at that point- are there some tricky arpeggios in the left hand perhaps? What a great chance to focus on the tasty vegetable of arpeggios. Throw some relevant studies into the pot, give it a stir and, hey presto, that tricky passage has got a whole new flavour.

Take technique away from being academic or theoretical, spice it up and inject it with some real world purpose. Because that is what it’s there for!

How to plan a concert programme

It’s time to put together another concert programme. There’s 30 or 45 or 60 minutes of music (or even more!) to be found and curated into something resembling a cohesive running order. You’ve got a shelf full of music and a head full of ideas. You’re like a kid in a lolly shop.

Or on the other end of things, you have absolutely no idea where to start or what to include. How much music will you actually need? How will you get it all ready in time? What to do?

It seems a bit counterintuitive, but whether you’re bursting with things you want to play, or completely stuck as to how to make it all happen, the music on your stand is not always the best place to start.

 If that was me, there would be even more crumbs.

If that was me, there would be even more crumbs.

 

Instead try asking these questions-

What is the purpose of your performance? Is it an exam for uni, or a performance for school, or perhaps even a concert you are putting on yourself?

Is there an expectation from the venue or the audience for a certain style of music?

And, importantly, how long are you expected to play?

In short, what criteria have to be met before you even start thinking scores?

 

Then take a look at things from your perspective as a person and performer. First up- how long do you have before the performance date? This is crucial in terms of mapping out your preparation time, and thinking about music which you can comfortably bring to completion within the time allowed.

Only got 1 month to prepare? Maybe leave that 3 movement sonata that you haven’t looked at before for another time. Got 6 months to prepare? Well, there’s a great opportunity to start working on some new repertoire. Realistically appraise how long it takes to learn, polish and perfect music for you (and this can really vary between performers) and then take a long hard look at the time allowed.

Sometimes this can mean leaving out that piece you really want to play, or that you know would be just perfect for the programme if you also know deep down that it simply won’t be ready in time. A perfect programme and a perfect performance are sometimes two very different things!

 If it only were as simple as just buying the right notebook.

If it only were as simple as just buying the right notebook.

 

Once you’ve figured out how long you’ve got to prepare, take a look at your calendar between now and the big day. Are there any other recitals you need to prepare for, or other demands upon your practice time? Make a list of all that you have to practice, including time for keeping on top of technical work (Check out this post about why you should practice technique ).

Also think about any personal commitments you might have- are you going away or have a big family do on the night before your planned performance. What’s your teaching schedule like? Is there a school project due, or does one of the kids need you to be taxi driver the week prior to the big gig?

This is the time to make a realistic appraisal as to what you need to do, balanced with what you can do. Once you have done that, we can move onto the fun bit- picking the music!