Teaching Pattern Recognition in Group Lessons

By Mayron Ellis Cole
(This article appeared in the Summer 1991 edition of "THE MUSIC & COMPUTER EDUCATOR")

I teach four to six students per piano class using electronic digital pianos with headphones. One advantage is that I can teach pattern recognition to many students simultaneously in a "game" atmosphere by slowing down the music so that they can study note, fingering, interval, and rhythm patterns. Doing so with the aid of a sequencer frees me to move about the class monitoring students more closely.

My beginning students usually work through a difficult portion of their music "hands separately," starting with right-hand notes. I have them pretend each note is a half note and they hold each key for two, slow beats as we say the note's letter name--all the while using correct fingering. Using a sequencer with a metronome, I program this exercise before the class begins, using "markers" so passages of any length may be studied and automatically repeated.

One they understand the notes and correct fingering, we turn to patterns. The sequencer is set as before, but now the intervals are identified. I program passages with similar or identical intervals so that they can easily be identified and practiced. After students are secure with the notes, interval sizes and fingering, they begin with the rhythm. If the rhythm is exceptionally difficult, it can be "tapped" on a specified key as the sequencer plays the correct rhythm on a preprogrammed monotone; to make this more enjoyable, I'll assign different keys to different students. This chordal tapping helps identify students using an incorrect rhythm.

When students have mastered these exercises, I have them slowly play the right-hand part along with the sequencer. This analyzing/teaching technique enables me to teach difficult music to piano classes and works especially well with two-part inventions.

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