I’ve just completed a speaking tour in Australia taking in Melbourne, Sydney, Bathurst, Newcastle, Launceston and Ulverstone. My talks were directed to staffs and students – general and music-specific – in school classrooms, assemblies and at conferences. I’d like to share a little about my keynote address ‘The Tools for Musical Progress’ for the Sounds Great! conference at the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, July 2015.
It really is a simple message, but sometimes simple truth gets lost in the forest of new ideas. That is – the greatest motivator, trumping all else – is making progress. People just love to get better at what they do. The converse is a concern; should children make no progress with their musical endeavours, they will almost certainly give up. The greatest contribution that an education can give a child is the autonomous tools for making progress. Clearly, the greatest predictor for musical progress is the quality and the quantity of practice time.
[Please note that in my presentations and in my book on this subject each discussion point is accompanied by research, historical anecdotes, examples and personal stories.]
How do you practise, and how do you teach it? It is easy to fall into the trap of telling a pupil that they ‘need to do more practice’, or to ‘practise more slowly’. Unfortunately these words have little effect. Students need these skills modelled to them, and to have the chance to copy. It gets forgotten that mimicry is still the greatest meta-skill that underpins the successful acquisition of all physical skills, including talking and walking. Virtuosic music-making demands the greatest sequence of co-ordinated muscular skill possible. It represents the pinnacle of human skill capacity. In my talks, I distil practice into a simple three-part model: Repetition, Chunking and Slow Practice. These are the essentials, and nothing is more important for consolidation. BUT you must know how to practise. Take repetition, for instance; you must know how to repeat. Students need to learn about the enormous power of spaced repetition, an aspect of variable repetition as distinct from the usual but less effective model of blocked repetition (drills give a false sense of competency). You see, not all repetition methods are equal. I explain the neuroscience and the psychology behind each method, along with examples from marketing, sport and other areas of learning. Likewise, what happens in the brain that renders slow-practice so utterly effective, and therefore why is it the hardest aspect of practice for children to actually do? This blog-length limits what I can explain, but it is all perfectly clear in my book. Educators need to be able to articulate the how and why of what we teach to children.
Yesterday I arrived in the UK. This September/October I am presenting on these learning concepts – from short keynotes to interactive workshops of several hours – to music services in Hampshire, Wandsworth, Guernsey, Bath & North-East Somerset, Devon, and East Sussex. (I have room for more…) This excites me because the message is so important, and it can be kept simple without losing its profundity. The testimonials I receive consistently indicate a positive impact on musical learning and teaching. Whilst I love engaging with music educators through the music services and conferences, most of my work is still in schools, of which presently number about 250 schools in more than 25 countries. I speak and demonstrate on the piano to all levels of music students, differentiating for prep through to a more appropriate level for senior secondary students. My favourite presentation model invites parents to join their children and music tutors in a twilight 75-minute presentation. Schools will often invite members of the community to join in. For example, I will be speaking at King’s High School in Warwick on Wednesday September 16. Director of Music Matthew Smallwood has opened this lecture to members of the public. If you would like to attend this or another presentation (schools in Bristol, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Devon, Berkshire to name a few counties) I can tell you when I am in your part of the UK, and at which school. Alternatively, if this is something that appeals for your school or music conference, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with preferred dates and times. United Arab Emirates – November 2015. Schools in Australia and New Zealand – bookings for Term 1, 2016. South Africa – April, 2016.
“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.
“Deeply impressive, the breadth of research is fascinating!” – Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.
Also by Michael Griffin
Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents. “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at Amazon.com
Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.
View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!” – St George College, Australia
Available at Amazon.com
Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a wonderful collection of 130 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.
“Will prove useful for almost everyone”- Rhinegold Music Teacher Magazine.
“This is a great resource to add to one’s library of rehearsal tricks.”- Anacrusis, ACCC, Canada
Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging. Available at Amazon.com