Learner One started music lessons for the Classical Guitar and successfully achieved Grade One and Grade Two examination passes with the London College of Music.
Following this she decided to start the piano and learnt to read the bass clef and move hand position, albeit tentatively.
At the start of this case study the learner was approaching Grade One standard and completed a couple of Step Two pieces. The reading of the treble clef is much stronger than the bass and her understanding of the components of the stave is acceptable. She is aware of a musical pulse and can hear the difference between duple and triple time.
The course of study undertaken is to facilitate the aforesaid standard for a winter examination. The Step Two music selected allowed the learner to gain confidence moving hand position. The exercise ‘Crabs Go Walking’ permitted the movement of the thumb in both hands, following a familiar pattern from Dozen a Day 1 (Climbing up a Ladder) which had been extended to both hands in the examination book. The element of familiarity enabled an effective completion within the allotted 2 weeks. At the same time ‘Jump To It’ brought in the staccato intervals combined with the legato quavers giving a new and fun technique alongside the more difficult movement. The following week ‘Jump Up, Jump down was added in a starting G position (figure 1), the accent on the drop lift slur provided a challenge as the learner completed a challenge of listening to a set of slurs I played and jumping up when an accent was heard.
This piece moves quickly by one step to the left and back again which the learner achieved with much more confidence. The final bar on line however provided a challenge with the dotted crotchet and tied quaver in the left hand (figure 2). After a week's practise with little progress I decided to utilise a set of bongos to isolate the rhythm. This helped a lot and was extremely helpful in the lesson so we used separate instruments and a ‘Flip-a-Rhythm’ style exercise using the rhythm in various combinations which increased the learners confidence.
‘Just Bounce’, ‘Travelling Places’ and ‘Parading Triads’ from Step Two consolidate the techniques used in the previous exercises.
‘Grass so Green’ is an attractive piece that the learner thoroughly enjoyed playing. The fixed hand position made the piece very approachable and a little light relief from movement with interest from the dynamic contrast from half soft to loud. The second voice quavers in bar eight and sixteen provided additional interest, the learner only has little fingers and the fifth finger needed some additional help to stay down by way of the eraser end of my pencil on the top of the note. The sponsor duplicated this at home and after two weeks the little finger was able to hold the note independently.
‘Summer Rumba’ initiated a question regarding a Rumba as the learner had played one on the steel drums at school. An explanation was given that it was Latin American party music and that this piece should sound like a summer party. This was enough to satisfy followed by a story of a party the learner had at the beach last summer. It was decided that the crescendo in bar four was to wake up dad who had, obviously, fallen asleep. Needless to say the learner enjoyed this piece a lot and included all the details complete with commentary. A note was made that this learner responds well to characters and stories behind the music.
After demonstrating ‘Gilimi’s Jig’ and explaining that my learners hand was only just wide enough to play this piece she was determined to try. The left hand sequence of chords to the seventh and back again was practised for a week as was the dotted crotchet quaver rhythm in the right hand and the left hand while I tapped the three quaver pulses in the background. These two rhythmic motifs were played from each note of the F major scale. Once secure we put them back into context. Voicing was discussed for bars thirteen to the end where the left hand takes the melody. We looked at appropriate instrumentation for this section and decided a trombone would play it well and sound like a giant and this was the giants part of the dance which involved a lot of stamping staccato. (Apparently Guilimi IS a giant because giants like jigs.) The phrasing was the next issue to solve, the most effective way I have found is to play the phrases on my flute and let the learner put their hand up when they hear a phrase break. Following this it is beneficial to play the phrases in the left hand from bar twenty one to the end and ask the learner to put up a hand to indicate when I should break the phrase and be able to add a breath. It is worth mentioning that I had ensured the whole section could be played without a breath. A memorable exercise which had benefits with the final Step Two piece ‘Once Upon a Fairy Tale’
The final piece in the syllabus brought together many of the skills studied in the last eight weeks of lessons. The melody required two bar phrasing, the part playing is in bar nine and movement over an interval of a seventh is essential in bar eight. The melody transfer practised in ‘Guilimis Jig’ is included with the addition of a treble clef on the lower stave. This piece took a little longer than planned due to a combination of illness and stories.
At the start of the lockdown period work had started on the move up to Grade One using old examination music specifically the character filled ‘Fanfare Minuet in C’ by William Duncombe. This piece offers a theme that holds enough imagery to move towards a more traditionally named piece, that is without a stylised title. Initial work hands separately has shown more work is required on moving hand position for which I utilised an arrangement of Wiegenlied with a study pack I prepared which compensated for lessons on Zoom. This pack incorporated exercises, word searches, videos and audio files. The learners ability at the end of the study period showed significant improvement in technique and piano articulation skills however the ability to move with confidence was not yet up to Grade One standard.
Upon reflection this time with Learner One would have been more effective without the lockdown period. There were times when practise was difficult due to the change in routine, I believe had we stayed with person to person lessons the standard would have been achieved.
Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)
Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher