Rote Learning...
Is This How to Teach Music to Piano Students?

Rote learning - is this how to teach music? Only sometimes, but it can be fun for you and your student!  It is frequently the way I will start a student on a famous theme with a short motif, such as Bach's Toccata in Dm, or Hark How the Bells.

Last week a young student asked me if I had any music by Rossini. Yes, this is an unusual request from a little girl! Turns out, she and her classmates in school have been watching " Rossini's Ghost " a family-friendly movie that introduces viewers to Rossini, his music and his times through an engaging story. 

I told my student I would look into it this week. I had a pretty good feeling that I wasn't going to be able to find anything like what she wanted that was written for her level of reading (at least, that would still be interesting enough for her to play).

Besides, so often kids just want a taste of something they are interested in, and they turn reluctant when you try to push a new book at them that they know their folks will have to pay for. The solution? A little teaching by rote, or "rote learning", as it is known!

So of course I went to YouTube and typed in "Barber of Seville." Lots there! I ended up listening to one version of the overture several times over (plus several videos of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd set to Rossini's music), and decided that the exciting fast minor tune would please my student. That's the tune that goes:

eeefe (LONG REST) eeefe (LONG REST)

eeefe (REST) ddc (REST) bbaa

And that is just how I showed it to her. Instead of writing it out on staffs as sheet music, I just plunked out the tune on the piano (one hand at a time - actually, just one finger, my index finger!), and then wrote "eeefe" etc. on her lesson sheet to help her remember. This is a stress-free, no-pressure approach to learning the song that I call rote learning for the piano.

I chose the key of Am because there are few or no black notes to worry about. After I played that bit of the theme from the Barber of Seville, I showed her that an easy left hand part was possible too, in which two notes, A and C, are played together:

c   c   c   c   c   c   c
a  a   a   a  a   a   a

Listen to the first 10 - 15 seconds of this video of excerpts from the 2011 Seattle Opera presentation of the Barber of Seville -- the tune I gave my student is barely there before the actor begins with "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro..." 



My student will probably want to add to this piece bit by bit, very slowly with one new change or addition each week over the next couple of months until she is satisfied. I have found that this is a pleasant way for my students to learn new music they desire that I either do not have, or that I know is too difficult for their reading level. Just a little bit goes a long way.

The same student is playing Pachelbel's Canon, (by rote learning!) which she also requested -- I would not have thought of it for her, as she is still in the Piano Adventures Primer Lesson Book.  As with The Barber of Seville, it is with rote learning that she is absorbing this piece.

Showing her how to play the "canon" was fun; first I explained to her that a canon is not related to cannon balls or explosives, but that it is a pattern that repeats over and over again. Then I showed her the pattern (in the key of C instead of D, the original): C, G, A, E, F, C, F, G, start over.

But what I also showed her, to help her memory, is that there is a pattern, at least to my mind... here is how I say it to myself, in rhythm with the music:

"C -- down 4, up 1, down 4, up 1, down 4, turn around (up 4 to F), up 1, start over (and you should be back at C)"...

Once she had memorized that pattern and could play it one note at a time with her left hand (one week), I suggested that she add chords in the right hand to go with the left hand notes. She can already play broken chords well, so she got it right away:

Left hand: C           then:       Right hand: c, e, g

LH: G                      then:       RH: g, b, d

LH: A                      then:       RH: a, c, e

and so forth. Of course if you wish to identify the chords by their correct names, Am and Em are what you must call the chords when the LH goes for A & E.

This kind of rote learning is good practice for the ear, is immediately engaging for young students and new students who don't read a single note yet, and it even makes a nice break in routine for older piano students! 





The Adventures of Tonsta, Volume 1, is a book about a young boy travelling over mountains and fjords from village to village, encountering trolls and helping folk in distress.

The Adventures of Tonsta

A perfect read aloud storybook
for little boys or girls. 

The Adventures of Tonsta highlight the travels of a very young boy with a good heart, who goes about helping folk in trouble.  

With a red cap on his head and a sack of tools slung over his shoulder, Tonsta seems to meet people in distress wherever he goes.

Lots of trolls in this book.

Available at Amazon!





Recent Articles

  1. Beginner Guitar Song Boil'em Cabbage Down

    Beginner guitar song Boil'em Cabbage Down - now with eighth notes for flat-picking readers. This is a great beginning technique song for strings!

    Read More

  2. There Were Three Ravens Sat On a Tree PDF Score

    There Were Three Ravens Sat On a Tree in five different keys! With all the lyrics, short and long versions.

    Read More

  3. Free Guitar Tabs: Devil's Dream in Tablature and Standard Notation

    FREE guitar tabs, now with an EASY-to-read 2-page version. These arrangements include standard treble clef notation as well.

    Read More

  4. Free Fur Elise Sheet Music - Beautifully Readable Copies

    Fur Elise sheet music in its entirety, with quarter notes for easy deciphering! These beautiful transcriptions are perfect for students who've just mastered coordination of right hand melody against l…

    Read More

  5. What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor Chords & Guitar Tabs

    What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor chords & guitar tabs, with standard notation for fiddle players too! A short solo and a fancy flatpicking duet!

    Read More

  6. "I'll Fly Away" Free Fiddle Sheet Music & Easy Guitar Tabs

    I'll Fly Away free fiddle sheet music, with an easy lettered version for beginners! Also, solos & harmonies for voice and guitar.

    Read More

  7. Home on the Range Free Guitar Tabs & Sheet Music

    Home on the Range, free guitar tabs are an easy way to show your guitar student how to dress up a song with secondary chords. First show them the simple version with 3 chords, then move on to the fanc…

    Read More

  8. Hark the Herald Angels Sing Lyrics & Sheet Music

    Hark the Herald Angels Sing - an easy Middle C piano arrangement for young students still learning to read notes, and a guitar tab arrangement too!

    Read More




35 Christmas Songs & Carols music book for piano

Marta:
Thank you for the free downloads! I'm a private teacher and I teach piano and beginner voice as well. :) I've been running my studio for about a year and I've come across the same issue; I don't want my students to have to purchase an entire supplemental book for only a couple of songs. So thank you for this site...some great downloads!!

Disney's Princess Book I for piano and voice

Sue:
...like everyone, I'm trying to open ears, encourage the active use of eyes, develop reading skills, and above all, keep the musical spirits engaged. I've spent countless hours copying out simple tunes to supplement the published books. Your approaches and scores for the beginner will
be invaluable!

The Hobbit 3: The Battle of Five Armies sheet music bookHobbit 3: The Battle of Five Armies

Comments

Do you have a funny story about this music, or does it remind you of something you'd like to share with other readers? Do you have a question? I'd love to hear it!

Please note that all comments are moderated, and will not appear until I have approved them. Also, IF YOU ARE ASKING FOR MUSIC THAT IS NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, YOUR REQUEST WILL BE IGNORED. That's pretty much any music written in the last 75 years...








Sign up for "Take Note!" to see what's new every month.





Search Music-for-Music-Teachers:



Comments

Have your say... Leave me a comment in the box below.