‘Tis the season for exam and recital preparation and you’re likely helping students polish, perfect and memorize pieces for upcoming performances. And while there are a million ways to prep kids for successful performances, today we’re sharing a clever teaching tool that is underused: piano piece verbalization.
Think back to the last time you gave a speech from memory. How did you practice that speech? If you’re like most, you read it aloud over and over again. The physical act of speaking and hearing one’s own voice is a powerful tool for committing an action to memory. It’s very likely that you already do this more often than you may think. When remembering what to get at the grocery store, recalling a street address, or retaining the name of a new acquaintance, we all turn to verbalization as a tool for recall.
In the post below, you’ll read about 4 “verbalization” strategies you can teach to your piano students when they are preparing for anxiety-inducing exams or performances.
How To Use Verbalization For Performance Preparation
Piano students are being held back by keeping their mouths quiet while they play. So it’s time to encourage a little chattiness! Teaching students to use verbalization for memorization and polishing means that they will not be solely dependent on muscle memory to get them through tricky bits during performances. When they “talk through their troubles” during lesson and practice time the helpful words that they use will echo through their minds when they’re up on stage.
Here are 4 ways to use verbalization when prepping for exams other performances:
- When Their Hands Must Move: In instances where students’ hands leap, change position or reach, instruct them to call out the note (or notes) that their hand(s) will leap to or reach for. Verbalizing these notes requires your students to fully process the movement they will be making, rather than relying simply on “how it feels” under the hands or “how it looks” on the keyboard.
- When Recalling Starting and Ending Notes: The only thing worse than ending a piece on a wrong note is forgetting your hand placement before a performance begins! For students who struggle with anxiety, having them verbalize their starting note(s) and ending note(s) each time before they play helps create a “learning landmark” that is more easily recalled when their brain is in overdrive.
- When Remembering Dynamics: If your students are playing pieces with big dynamic contrasts or with many different areas of dynamic change, encourage them to call out the dynamic marking as they approach a change. This helps to solidify those areas where dynamic contrasts are mixed-up or overlooked.
- When Fixing Problem Areas: As your students begin to play more advanced repertoire there will likely be sections that cause them trouble. Whether they’re stumbling over fingering, rhythm, note combinations or other issues, learning to “talk through” the measures is a great way to clear up areas that are continuous stumbling blocks. Instruct your students to speak the fingering, call out the notes, or count the rhythm out loud before the play and as they play.
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Do Your Students Verbalize Their Piano Pieces?
Hearing our own voice is a powerful memorization tool. Because we are both producing a sound and processing that sound, our brains are fully engaged and ready to remember. In contrast, only relying on muscle memory or “feel” can lull us into a false sense of preparation; there is nothing tangible to fall back on when nerves take over. So, give your piano students permission to “chat through their piece” when it’s time for exam and performance preparation.
Do you use verbalization with your students? How do you implement it in your exam and performance preparations? Share in the comments below.