In the past few years, there has been a resurgence in the idea of teaching by rote, with numerous articles and books dedicated to the subject. But how exactly do you go about teaching a piece “by rote”? And more importantly, how does rote teaching benefit your students?
Read on for my thoughts on rote teaching and the step-by-step process I use for introducing a piece by rote.
Why should I teach by rote? Won’t my students’ reading skills suffer? I asked myself these same questions--but after incorporating rote teaching into my lessons over the past few years, I have seen many benefits to teaching by rote.
- Rote teaching allows students to play more difficult repertoire than they are able to read right now. This is very helpful for older beginners and reluctant readers, who may feel frustrated by playing pieces they consider to be too simple.
- Rote teaching allows students to focus on technique and musicality. When students are freed from the written page, they can focus on listening to the sounds they are creating at the piano and understanding how technical gestures should feel as they play.
- Rote pieces are a great launching pad for creativity. Encourage students to use the patterns found in their rote pieces as a starting point for improvising their own music.
How do you introduce a piece by rote?
I have found that successful rote teaching involves more than just having students copy what you play. You can create an entire lesson plan around a rote piece--including theory, technique, ear training, and improvising!
After teaching a piece by rote, I also like to go through the piece once again using the sheet music to help students make the connection between the patterns they have played on the piano and the notes they see on the page. Then, students can use the music for reference as they practice the piece, along with a video or audio recording.
Here is my step-by-step guide for introducing a piece by rote:
- Choose the right piece. Not every piece is a great candidate for rote teaching. Look for a piece that uses lots of patterns, or one specifically designed to be taught by rote. (If you are looking for potential rote pieces, check out my new beginner rote pieces that I blogged about HERE, or a selection from my “Perfect Patterns” series, found HERE.)
- Introduce the piece without showing students the music first. Rote pieces can often look more difficult than they are to play. Introducing the piece away from the music prevents students from being intimidated by the way the piece looks, and ensures that they are focusing on you--not what’s on the page!
- Start by giving students an overview of the notes found in the piece, and get them playing these patterns on the piano right away. For example, if a piece uses broken chords, you might call out the root of each chord and have students quickly find and play each chord on the piano. Introducing the patterns this way is a great way to incorporate music theory into the rote learning process.
- Introduce the rhythms found in the piece. Call-and-response clapping activities are a great way to introduce students to the main rhythmic patterns found in the piece.
- Give students a chance to explore. Once students have played the main rhythmic and melodic patterns from the piece on the piano, encourage their creativity! Ask them to try playing high and low on the piano, or to transpose the patterns to different keys. Model different dynamics and articulations, and have students describe how they think these affect the sound. Encourage students to improvise their own short piece using the patterns they have learned.
- Provide a performance model of the piece. Once students have the patterns firmly under their fingers, model a section of the piece and have students repeat it back. Talk about the technical concepts students will need in each section of the piece and how they affect the sound (for example: “Hear how I am bouncing each of these notes lightly? What animal do you think that sounds like?”).
- Finally, open the music and ask students to find the patterns they have just played in the written score. You might ask, “Which measure has the broken C chord? Where are the staccato notes we practiced? Do you see the rhythm that sounds like this (demonstrate)?” Even beginners should be able to spot notes high or low on the staff or rhythm notes such as quarter notes and half notes. Students will be excited to see that they already know how to play the patterns they are seeing in the music.
What do you think? Do you use rote pieces in your studio? What are your favorite tips for introducing a rote piece? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!