Sometimes, piano students forget to bring their music books. It just happens. As a busy parent myself, I have arrived with my child at Highland Dance class with no dance shoes, and at skating lessons with no skates. Life is busy and parents are sometimes frazzled.
When “life happens” for my piano families, and a student arrives with nothing but a shrug and an apology, I’ve learned to take what could have been a wasted lesson and turn it into a hyper-focused, super-productive lesson where progress on a piano piece still occurs.
Read on to learn my 7 lesson-salvaging strategies.
7 Ways To Practice An ‘Invisible’ Piano Piece
*Note: This post assumes that you don’t have second copies of the required music on hand. While you can always start new pieces, focus on other lesson activities or review past material, often times you want to continue progress on your students’ current pieces. These 7 activities are designed to be used when you want or need to continue progress on assigned (and missing) pieces.
My piano students rarely arrive empty-handed, but when they do I immediately call upon my “Plan B”. Instead of spending entire lessons subjecting them to nothing but scales and sight reading, we are still able to make progress on their assigned pieces. This means that practice can still happen effectively at home, and that students will return to lessons the following week (with music in hand!), having made measurable progress.
The next time a piano student’s music bag has been left languishing on the floor at home, try the following:
- Improv The Invisible: Help your student recall one measure or a recurring motive in her piece. Have her practice this “musical bit” several times. Using the I, IV, and V chords in the key of her missing piece, create a simple, chorded accompaniment that is repetitive and catchy. Have your student hop in when she’s ready, repeating her “musical bit” on top of your accompaniment. As you and your student find your groove, encourage her to a) add in other remembered bits of her piece or b) improvise by changing the rhythm, adding extra notes, or changing the starting note (sequencing it).
- Create a Piece Picture: Creating a Piece Picture is a memorization technique I use with my young piano students, but it works really well as a “forgot my music” activity too! Using a blank piece of paper, draw empty rectangles to represent lines of music – one rectangle for each line of her piece (as best you can remember.) Have your student use a variety of symbols, colors, shapes, letters, and words to fill in what she can remember from her assigned piece. For example, she may remember the starting note (write that at the beginning of the first rectangle), the last note (write that at the end of the last rectangle), shifts in hand position, certain rhythms, dynamic changes, LH chords, or accidentals. Each of these can be represented in your student’s own way by drawing abstract symbols or shapes, shading or coloring, or simply writing labels in the approximate area where they occur within each “musical line” (rectangle). When you have extracted every detail from her memory, she ends up with a “piece picture” that can be compared with the actual music when she gets home.
- Key Exploration: Spend some time discussing and teaching the scale, triad, arpeggio and primary chords associated with the key in which your student’s piece is written. Key Exploration is a great time to spend extra minutes perfecting your student’s fingering, evenness of tone, and accuracy. Use our free, printable “Dragon Claw” duet for some extra arpeggio fun!
- Composition Starter: Take one small musical idea that your student can remember from her piece and use it as a “composition starter”, where the “small musical idea” becomes a motive that can be repeated, sequenced, extended, played backwards, shortened and otherwise transformed. Using an ABA format for your student’s “new piece”, use the borrowed bit of music as a springboard for creativity. Help your student create a simple composition in either the treble clef only or with simple LH chording as an accompaniment.
- Become an Adjudicator. Search Youtube for recordings of your student’s piece. As you watch together, teach your student some language that she can use to describe the viewed performance. Model “adjudicator-like” comments that include references to tempo, rhythm, dynamics, expression, phrasing and articulation. With your student, discuss what she enjoyed about the performance, and what she would like to emulate. Valuable discussions can happen when your student becomes the “judge” of another’s performance.
- Channel Your Inner Hanon. Discuss and decide on one educational concept that can be found in your student’s piece (for example, perhaps her piece contained many triplet rhythms, or two-note slurs, or an Alberti bass pattern). Together with your student, create three different, challenging warm-ups (à la Hanon) that focus on this one selected concept. Write the exercises on the back of a recipe card and send them home with your student to be included in her at-home practice.
- Rhythmic Dictation. If you happen to have your student’s piece from memory, you can jump into teaching your student rhythmic dictation skills that will carry over into greater rhythmic accuracy when she returns home to practice. Play two measures of her piece at a time, stopping to allow your student to clap back the rhythm. Then, assist her in writing the rhythms on a blank piece of paper. Send the end result home for her to compare with the original score.
Two Bonus Solutions To Fall Back On
- Print it again! If you’re using music from PianoBookClub you will always have an extra copy on hand! All of our books come with a license for unlimited printing… meaning you will always have a copy to use. Check out PianoBookClub here.
- Play a piano game that focuses on a key educational concept found within the forgotten piece. With a membership to PianoGameClub you’ll always have a game on hand that reinforces either a theory concept or an ear training skill that directly relates to commonly-found concepts in your students’ music.
What do YOU do when your piano student forgets her music? We’d love to hear your “missing music bag” solutions! Share in the comments below.