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#12921 - 02/26/05 05:51 AM Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
Emilymae Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 01/19/04
Posts: 191
I have a lot of trouble with this piece and teaching phrasing in general. I either have students imitate my demonstration of phrasing, do it very well but have no idea what they're doing or I have students make jerking up and down wrist movements and also have no idea what or why they are doing it. I personally find the Woodchuck a tough piece to feel the flow in anyway. I spend a lot of time on the Famous Phrases because I think they can hand;e it a little better with one hand at a time.
I would never dream of skipping Woodchuck or The Riddle Song just because I don't really like them but I really need some suggestions. Right now I'm teaching them, hoping for the best and then really tackling phrasing when we get to 3A. That's when I have a lot more success, I think it's Wrist Takes a Bow or in that area of pieces. I know i could be doing better with teaching phrasing in 2A.

#12922 - 02/26/05 06:21 AM Re: Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
pianoannie Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 07/20/01
Posts: 946
Loc: midwest USA
I don't really like the Woodchuck song either, but it is actually one of my students' favorites! Seems like every year someone wants to play it in our recital. I don't know what they see in it!

As for phrasing, this is the process I use in teaching it. Some kids get it the first week, others take more time. But overall this seems to work for them:

1) Sing the words together, and at first exaggerate your breath in at the phrase break. Explain that the song needs little "breaths" between phrases. After a couple times, just inhale normally between phrases (helps avoid that "wrist-jerking" movement you mentioned).

2) As you listen to the CD, have your student trace the phrase lines with his finger. He'll need to lift his finger slightly when one phrase ends and the next one begins.

3) Let the student place his hands on top of yours as you demonstrate the slight lift of the wrist.

4) I tell them to imagine a helium balloon is tied around their wrist, and I hold their wrist and gently lift it up and back down as their fingers play. I tell them it's not a very strong balloon, so the balloon is not able to lift their wrist very high.

5) Then I draw a little balloon with a wiggly string in between each phrase break to remind them.

(sounds long but only takes a few minutes)

#12923 - 02/26/05 07:58 AM Re: Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
Emilymae Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 01/19/04
Posts: 191
Those are great ideas. I have the students sing it and talk about where in the music they feel like taking a breath. I also demonstrate what it would be like if I sang the entire piece without taking a breath, I try to make them laugh but also see the difference. I feel like the idea of phrasing is understood by the students, it's relating it to the wrist motion. They can imitate me and they can understand where in the music it occurs, I just don't think they get how the two ideas are related. It's hard for me to explain! So I haven't been dwelling on it knowing we'll spend more time on it later.
I really like suggestion #2 - the idea that the finger has to lift between phrases, this may help me explain how the markings and motions are related. I've used the balloon idea, is that a suggestion from the book? I know I've heard or read it somewhere. I didn't think about drawing a balloon though, that's a great idea.

#12924 - 02/26/05 09:31 AM Re: Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
Lisa Kalmar Offline
Star Member

Registered: 04/10/00
Posts: 4277
Loc: KC
Other thoughts: The trick to teaching phrasing is having the student identify the "point of arrival", mark it in the music, and then play accordingly, much like the exercise in 2A does. This needs to be done for every single phrase in all of the music they do in order for them to get the picture. I also like to point out that one of the point of arrivals is the Giant One for the entire piece.

They need to know they are going somewhere and (usually) coming back from there, and if that point is not identified all of the lifting of fingers, wrists, etc. is kind of beside the point (because, initally at least, it really should be about subtle dynamics or articulation.) The other thing they need to know is that not all points of arrival are the loudest note in the phrase, nor do they all happen in the middle of a phrase.

#12925 - 02/26/05 06:52 PM Re: Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
pianoannie Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 07/20/01
Posts: 946
Loc: midwest USA
Would you elaborate more on how you get kids at a 2A level to grasp things like "point of arrival" and "going somewhere"? By "points of arrival" do you mean the high point of the phrase/piece? I do teach my kids about shaping the phrases with dynamics; I talk about "sneaking in and out" of the phrases to avoid "thumps" at the beginning and end of phrases. It sounds like you go beyond that. I'm going to admit that I'm not sure myself how to do much more with something like the Woodchuck song.
Thanks \:\)

#12926 - 02/27/05 02:11 AM Re: Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
Dolce Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 06/04/02
Posts: 934
Loc: USA
Yes, I know what you're saying, Pianoannie. Sometimes it's hard enough to get my students to practice the rhythm of the piece correctly, and often I'm just satisfied with that. We do mark crescendos and dimenuendos in the piece, but sometimes I have to practically dance a Jig in order to get them to actually remember (care???) to make dynamic changes. I do have 1 or 2 students who are very interested in using dynamics, which is great.

I talk about phrasing and dynamics in lessons from the primer book on, but some of my students seem to think that it doesn't matter. What can we as teachers do to make sure that when our students practice at home, they think of things like dynamic changes and phrasing (along with fingering, pedaling, correct notes, tempo, etc.)
If a student comes to a lesson and can play a piece very well, but is not caring about the dynamic markings, do you make them take it home again? do I sound confused???????

#12927 - 02/27/05 03:16 AM Re: Teaching Phrasing, The Woodchuck
Emilymae Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 01/19/04
Posts: 191
I'm getting good ideas and will try anything and everything because it going to be better than what I'm doing now.
My students do seem to get the concept of musical sentences, they just don't get the wrist motion.
Dolce, you mentioned a really good idea - start it earlier, maybe I won't be teaching phrasing in the primer and Level One, but I can at least use the term or have them be aware of my wrist motion. Right now it's like phrasing comes out of nowhere when the Woodchuck appears. That has to be contributing to my difficulties.
I've learned one major thing from reading this webboard this past year - to prepare students for what's coming up several weeks before it comes up in the book. There are several teachers here who bring that up again and again and now I'm thinking that is really important. So how would you bring up phrasing before Woodchuck, without adding confusion or just extra verbage they will ignore.
I also just don't like the Woodchuck. The lyrics are great to demo phrasing but the tune is not flowing.. I have asked them if they liked it after we've passed it, if they didn't I'll agree with them and they always seem shocked that a piano teacher wouldn't love every single piece.
I break up Woodchuck into at least 2 lessons, the first lesson is just to learn the notes and I briefly talk about phrasing. The second week, or whenever they are comfortable with the notes, then we add phrasing.


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