Samek Music


My feelings about circles/ringing as a tool of learning

I teach a young and very enthusiastic student. With my students now all 16 and over I am very aware that while teaching considerations both technical and musical stay the same what ever the age, the way the information is communicated and indeed the balance of concentration needs to be adjusted – a little bit of chat thrown in amongst intense learning or correction point.

My student came to her lesson with her new study for grade 6, Yellow from Colour Studies by Jeffery Wilson. A lovely group of studies not only technically but also musically, giving the student the opportunity to learn a ‘modern’ piece without realising it, allowing their ears to learn contemporary intervals and phrases; the perfect bridge to embracing new music both to hear and to play.

As we had only just selected the study in the previous lesson, her first week of practice was clearly an anxious one as the music came back with lots of circled notes.

When I asked her what purpose they served her response was to ensure she didn’t forget those notes. This raises several complex issues, but the most over riding question must be to qualify their usefulness. Do rings honestly ensure a better learnt piece and a more effective, secure, musical and indeed confident performance? My opinion is a firm and most unequivocal NO!

While rings identify the location of the problem, rings don’t offer a solution. In addition it is often frustration, rage or some other negative feeling, which compels the teacher or the player to circle the spot in the first place, thus ensuring that while the ring itself has not enabled a solution, the player will also associate the ring with the mood it was placed.

The other equally unhelpful use of circling a note or passage is to identify an urgent practice spot. In some cases the simple identification of a spot to practice can for some students be a get out clause for any further practice, “I know I need to practice that… some point, but at least I’ve identified where”. Even if used as a reminder to practice, this in itself should be a temporary marking and yet it leaves a permanent reminder of either work not yet done or that there once was a problem.

In terms of my little student, while noting where the rings were placed, we looked at alternative visual supports for example:

Arrows (pointing directly to the note – to clarify a note possibly being overlooked a needing extra attention.

Marking a left (L) or right (R) little finger to ensure there is no confusion.

Drawing spectacles are another gentle way to alert the musician to an area, which might need extra focus. These can also help in performance to see at a glance where attention is needed; avoiding a feeling of “where is THAT passage”.

Marking in breaths. I feel this is essential in the same ways string player would mark in bowing. It ensures that breaths have been thought about and planned in advance; imperative for musical integrity and indeed can be a massive distraction and cause of note or finger errors.

Identification of a pattern, eg chromatic or scale even without marking can increase familiarity and therefore a degree of memory. (I will explore this in greater detail in another blog).

We don’t want to clutter the page but where we feel necessary, well-chosen and positive visual solutions that will empower us with confidence and therefore increase our attentiveness to all musical considerations is certainly to be explored.

As in the non-musical side of our lives, if we are preoccupied, worried or anxious, we will be less tolerant to the people around us. If we can reduce this anxious state, our consideration and sensitivity to the world in which we live in will be massively increased.

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Samek Music

Samek Music