Issue 47: Teaching by Rote

All music lessons, at every level, in every situation, will probably involve some teaching by rote.

For example, at a very simple level:

Today, with my youngest class of recorder players (year 3), we spent the last lesson of term learning some simple recorder tunes (Recorder Boppers, by David Moses). The children have learned the notes GBAC over the year, and many of them are fairly confident music readers, but they are now very tired and very end-of-term-ish, and last lesson on a Friday afternoon isn’t the greatest place in the teaching schedule for tackling anything too challenging.

| played the first phrase to the children, and invite them to tell me what I had played. A girl – let’s call her “Alice” – was the first one to correctly name the notes (AAAABA). We all had several goes at playing “Alice’s” phrase.

Then on to the second phrase – and a boy – “Edward” gave the right answer. We all copied “Edward” as he lead us in playing the phrase (BBBBAB). Another child observed that it was the same as “Alice’s”, but the other way round. Brilliant – made me very happy to hear that.

It was now a simple matter to finish learning the whole piece; we had to play “Alice”, then “Edward”, then “Alice” and finally “Edward”. There is a linking section before you repeat the whole Alice/Edward bit.

I find that associating phrases with children, or objects, gives the class a “handle” to aid recall.


In a more advanced setting, it may well be that the phrase has a confusing appearance which prevents the student from being able to read and understand what the notes are. For example, the third and fourth bars of Chopin’s prelude no 15;

especially in an ancient edition where the printing is rather old-fashioned and cramped. My student had stalled out; the complexities of 5 flats and sorting out which hand played which notes at which point were too much for her to deal with. It was simpler to teach the bar by rote, and then go back to the music and “see” what she now “knew”. When the same bar comes up again, she can play it by recalling the rote learning, rather than re-interpreting the visually mind-boggling appearance of the music. Result!



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