Sometimes repetition just doesn’t do. Those tricky measures where little fingers just don’t want to cooperate can spoil an entire piece for a piano student. “I don’t like this piece.” “This one is too hard.” It’s often just because of one small yet struggle-inducing section.
As a piano teacher, one of our (many!) jobs is to give our piano students the tools they need to effectively practice at home; to monitor their own learning and apply strategies and methods to help themselves conquer obstacles and commit things to memory.
Brain Tricks Made Easy
If you watch some of the most amazing “memorizers” around they always have some sort of trick to committing things to memory. Mnemonics, associations… they are all ways we can train our brain to remember something.
You can use the following fun activity to introduce the concept of consciously training your brain to your piano kids and quickly watch those “tricky bits” disappear.
The next time your piano student stumbles, bring out this free printable and try this activity.
1. Isolate the troublesome area.
Talk about what is happening in that measure that makes it difficult. Is there an unexpected change in pattern? Is there an unfamiliar note? Is there a tricky rhythm? A large leap? Decide what it is that is “bugging your student’s brain”.
2. Apply a fun brain trick to the problem!
My personal favourite ones to use are listed below. You can come up with others that work for you – its basically anything that creates strong imagery and an association with what you want your piano student to remember.
My Favourite Piano Student Brain Tricks
Use notes as letters in a silly sentence. The best memorizers use mnemonics to help them memorize. How can this translate to piano? Say you are trying to memorize the note pattern EGFD? Instead memorize Every Goose Fears Dogs. Is there a large leap from A to F and you need to remember the two notes it involves? Think “Alligators Fly!”.
Find an association. Need to remind your student that it’s a leap of a 5th or that there are 6 repeated notes in a bar? Find an association they have with that number (a favorite Basketball player’s number, the age of their sibling etc.) If you can’t find an association… then make one! Have your student draw a silly picture of 5 mice with balloons or something that is visually striking that they won’t soon forget.
Make a grouping. Look for commonality among notes in the measure. Is there something that allows you to group them easily (like the skip notes and the step notes, the eighth notes and the quarter notes etc.)? Circle grouping in its own color and the refer to them as the color name… “The green guys” or “The yellow guys”.
Use Words. This works well for difficult rhythms – find a set of words that match the pattern of the rhythm and use this sentence to trigger memory of the rhythm. For example quarter quarter eighth eighth quarter would be “I like app-le pie”.
Make it Stick with This Printable
Download this printable. You can use these cut-outs to paste above the difficult measure. Write the brain trick you have adapted for your student inside the “head” in a short-hand version. For example, you may draw a quick picture of a mouse holding a balloon (if this was your imagery). This serves as a reminder for their home practice time to really solidify the brain trick.
Watch the magic happen! It really is remarkable what happens once we give our brains something to “cling” to in a difficult section of music with vivid visuals. By creating these landmarks in our pieces we rid ourselves of those areas that habitually trip us up… simply by making ourselves conscious of what it is that is causing the hiccup, and giving our brain a way to remember.
Teachers who are using Shhh…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Practice have written to tell us that the techniques used in the activities are having the same effect as these brain tricks – the vivid (and often hilarious!) imagery leaves a lasting impression on their students… who are flourishing as a result!
Piano Brain Tricks are For Everyone!
Give this activity a try the next time you encounter something difficult in your own piece. Often simply drill and practice alone isn’t enough to completely get rid of difficulties. Wake up your brain, create a landmark and let those fingers fly!
Intrigued by this topic? Check out this really cool video about the 2011 USA Memory Champion!