Can Practice Be Like a Box of Chocolates?
Have you ever been given a box of chocolates and lost the menu card which comes with the chocolates so you don't know which one is which?
Anyone who knows anything about chocolates knows that not all chocolates are created equally. Some are really delicious, like dark salted caramels, and others fall into the desperation category (like marzipan, which I won't touch unless I am starving and it is the only one left).
I remember when I gave a really special box of Halloween chocolates to my sister-in-law, it was full of beautiful chocolates in kid-unfriendly flavors like pistachio-saffron, and cardamom-orange. Her youngest daughter, who was 5 at the time, climbed up the counter to take chocolates. She didn't like them, and my sister-in-law found 7 or 8 of them under her daughter's bed, gooey and sticky, little nibbles taken out of them.
Anyway, how does this relate to practice?
Just like the box of chocolates, not all measures are created equal.
Some are easier than others, some are harder to get through. Unlike the chocolates, if a student wants to play a piece, all measures must be learned equally well (no leaving unwanted measures under the bed to be discovered by mom later).
Starting with Random Number Generators
Here's what we started doing in lessons:
My student chose the section of the piece she wanted to learn
I googled "Random Number Generator"
I entered the first and last measure of the section
I hit the "generate" button
My student would figure out the measure
I made a check in the box on the bingo sheet for that measure (bingo sheet generator here)
Steps 4 through 6 would be repeated until each measure had been played correctly a preset number of times, usually 4-5
This was working really well, but while it was easy to do in a lesson, it was only for diehard practicers. It was impractical for students to do it on their own- it took hands off the piano and took too much time.
What we do now is use the random number generator you can find here (it is the same site as the bingo sheet generator). When you enter the range of the measures you want to work on and the number of times you want to play each measure, a grid is created which you and your students can use to learn the piece.
Why does this work?
Using randomness is effective for several reasons:
each individual measure is learned independently of the others so students are able to start a piece on any measure
students enjoy the process of the novelty of not knowing what comes next
figuring out each individual measure is initially harder and because of it, the learning is more durable and lasts longer.
Some measures end up being easier than others which gives students a boost when working on harder ones.
The random number generator and bingo sheet generators are web based beta versions. Unfortunately they don't yet work well on an iPad.
Random Number Generator
Here is an example of what a random number generator page looks like. It took Olivia around 15 minutes to play each measure 29 to 36, 4 times.
After using the Random Number Generator
When Olivia was finished with measures 29-36, we used a bingo sheet to figure out how many new measures there were left of the piece. In this case, the orange boxes are the measures that have new materials, and the numbers in blue are the measure numbers that are the same. This piece has 52 measures.