'Once Upon My Cheek'
'Flight of the Bumblebee'
End of Year Dances
Why Group Class? What do Parents do at Group Class?
During a typical year, we will have around 30 weeks of private lessons, while 20 of those weeks will also include a group class.
It is the most efficient way to teach
Our private lessons focus on the unique learning style of each player. We are focussing together the particular ways your child learns artistically, physically and aurally. Group class allows us to learn about many other areas of our musicianship. Group class is a place where the group learns music theory, musical terms, composers, musical styles and periods of history. We solidify, practice and polish repertoire together, stretching and challenging our capacity to memorize.
We might go through a “workout” with the class. This shows you and your cellist that you can do this at home too.
Group class is where you receive many practice techniques you can use at home. If you can take note of some of the games and strategies we have done in class, you’ll have a “card to play” on a day when you need something refreshing at home.
Simply add information to your weekly practice sheet. Then you can spice up your practice at home.
Learn to play in a group by playing in a group
As Ed Sprunger points out, we do not go home and practice baseball by ourselves without also practicing how to play the game with the whole team. Group class allows musicians to learn how to play in a group by doing just that; exploring the ways we can:
Sound like one voice as a group
Shape phrases together
Craft a performance, polishing pieces together as a group
Create different interpretations of the songs we know and love
Use old songs to learn new techniques
Have consistent rhythms together
Practice both listening to oneself, and also listening to the group
Practicing bow strokes and bow distribution, looking and listening
Practice having all the bows working in the same way, together
Imitating musical ideas around the circle
We learn “Vanilla”
Sometimes a young player will bring so much personality and expressiveness to a piece that their rendition of the piece will have some unusual quirks. Their personal touch will have so much flavor that it may even be unlike what the composer intended for that piece. Another player might simply play the notes with so little expressiveness that the piece actually lacks the flavor we are looking for in order to make the piece interesting and memorable. Group class allows us to find ways to meet in the middle at a “vanilla” flavor. This cultivates greater control at the instrument for both kinds of players. To play masterpieces together with a uniform degree of expressiveness of the “words” in the piece, the “sentences” in the piece, and the “paragraphs” in a piece builds important musical skills we use in concerts, chamber music and orchestra playing.
You can listen for strategies to bring some of this into your home practice too. (for example: “Can you show me one of the “words” in this review piece? Sentences? paragraphs?”….If that is tricky at home, feel free to ask about that in our next lesson.)
We Create Community
In group class, we see a circle of players, all of whom are unique and brilliant. They are in a friendly, relaxed routine of practicing together. We want to have our home practices to be routine, relaxed, normal opportunities to learn music, day after day. The community of the group class helps us cultivate whole brain learning; it helps us cultivate performance skills, creativity and more. That same community helps each player in their learning process, even bringing all of us through a “slump” if there is a slump.
If your child did not follow the instructions
If your child refuses to do something
If your child is uninspired and unmotivated today
If your child forgot, for today, a song they knew yesterday
Welcome to the club. This is real life. Together, in group class, we love them through all of this.
Musical performance is unlike any other human activity in that it invites and demands the participation of the entire brain at once. No-one is born with strengths in every category. No-one. In group class, we gradually cultivate this whole brain activity with others who are doing the same. We are all born with different things that are easy for us. We are also born with different “blind spots”. Together,we are aiming to attain the wide spectrum of skills required to perform on a musical instrument.
As we play beautiful music together, we are all playing the same composition as a shared project. We are all playing the same instrument with bows that are basically the same. The cello itself does nothing to help our children play it. Each player, in his or her own way, must traverse that territory which lies between them and the cello, between them and the composition. Each learner in the group is unique. You are in the room so you can observe your child, of course. Our job, as teacher and practice partners, is to chart that territory between the player and the instrument. We are present so we can understand the distance which lies between that child and the skill they need to play the music that is inside them.
Players help one another in Group Class
-Observe how the intuitive players blend, seemingly effortlessly with the group.
-Notice how the more willful players receive opportunities to refine their playing in the group.
-Notice how the “convergent thinkers” (see Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”) telegraph their careful work on memorizing exact bowings and fingerings.
-Notice how the keen readers invite others in the group to love reading music.
-Notice how the “divergent thinkers” (Malcolm Gladwell Outliers) invite friends to improvise with freedom and abandon.
-Most players go through different phases which are helped by the group class community. For example, your child may be in a temporary phase where s/he refuses to read music at home. Group class might be the place where that phase seems to disappear. We all naturally experience countless temporary phases on our own schedule. This is natural. Our aim is to become experienced in getting ourselves through all the different ups and downs, the different phases and chapters of our journey toward artistry. Over time, in Group Class, we help one another through all of this.
Group Class cultivates an ability to perform
We create community in many ways in group class. The class becomes an arena where we practice performing, taking a bow before and after our piece. We become habituated to the feeling of playing alone in front of other people. The assembled practice partners create a benign atmosphere in group class for solo performing. This will be a little different than the way home has a benign safety to it. Together we will take this supportive experience of performing into yet a larger arena: the recital hall.
Group class is a place where players and practice partners learn to evaluate someone’s playing. This means they learn to speak to one another in the same ways you have spoken to them during your home practice. The first, and most important step is to notice how to appreciate something that is working well. When a musician performs, the number one thing they want to know is how their playing was appreciated, respected and enjoyed. Being perfect is not the reason why we are doing this. At group class, players learn how to speak to one another as performers.
Parents and practice partners appreciate the other performers at group class as well, so you want to get ready for this.
At evening concerts and recitals, parents and practice partners are asked to appreciate the playing of at least two other players in our group. That means you will be ready to say kind, thoughtful, positive things to other people’s children. Great! We create community!
We practice listening and speaking just like we do at home:
- Actively listen to the performance. Look engaged, appreciative, respectful, moved or delighted with this player doing their best. Insightfully observe something that is working well that would be meaningful for that player to hear. You have lots of information from lessons, and lots of practice from being at home. It is ideal to be specific. For example, “That was nice” does not actually convey much information. “During all your shifts, your left elbow was floating!” is appreciative, specific, and it conveys useful information. During any performance, you will be able to see many things that are working well. (If you cannot think of anything, notice out loud how lucky you are to have a performance given just for you right now by such a beautiful player…)
- Finish a sentence that could start with, for example: “I like the way you________” It is great practice to learn how to observe these things in the playing of other people’s children: these are players who you do not practice with at home each day. The shared community of group class shows each player how their music really matters to other people in our community.
we may have The “Stadium Phenomenon”
When we are at an exciting game, we will holler, cheer, whistle and chant to help the good guys win the game. These are things we don’t usually do at home, much less when we are all by ourselves. The assembled crowd gives us permission to cheer with real gusto. This also happens in group class. It is so great for players to play with gusto and expressiveness while they are hidden in the comfort of the larger group. It’s a good thing, and is one of the reasons why we attend group class.
Group Class cultivates Creativity and Improvisation
Artists always steal ideas. Great artists steal tons of ideas. In the field of art, this is not plagiarism, but is just right! Improvising in group class is a chance to listen to the musical ideas of our friends (and steal them). We generate musical ideas together, sending a particular kind of music around the circle. Each player is cultivating their own unique musical voice.
As we engage in improvisation games, we learn skills of chamber music where we play in simultaneous parts. Here, we have different musical “jobs” or “roles” occurring simultaneously. We name the different musical roles, then we create music using those elements of music. We have to be on our toes, using cellos, eyes and ears.
We create music in different musical styles.
We read music, then improvise together.
During improvisation, you may notice something your child plays that is especially expressive, juicy, interesting or funky. Admire it in the car!
I take the opportunity to teach many things about music during improvisation. We may be using drones, rhythms, bass lines, ostinati and intervals. We may be naming the members of the notes of the scale, or learning Greek modes. This is an efficient way to teach. Feel free to talk about a new musical term in the car to see if you both know what it is.
Here is a lovely You Tube which you might want to watch together on a day when it is hard to get going in the practice room:
“How to practice effectively for just about anything”: