Dear Parents,
The recital was really wonderful in so many ways. The children were all happy to be a part of the recital. They listened intently to the performances. The video of the performances is at the bottom of this post.

I noticed this week the students were eager to play new pieces. I tried to let them play without giving them too many instructions. This can be difficult for adults to do. It’s good to remember how important this is to preserving the intrinsic drive/motivation. This preservation of the freedom of the child is a large part of the Montessori method:

From Dr . Montessori’s writings:

“If it were necessary to compress the description of the principles of the Montessori method into a single phrase, perhaps the most comprehensive would be that it was a method based on Liberty in a prepared Environment.”

Similarly, in Suzuki lessons, the child is motivated by the “prepared environment”- (listening to the disc many hours a day, attending recitals, observing other students lessons, singing solfege, group classes, having an in tune quality instrument to play on.) The child can then freely learn to play the songs they hear. When the student is intrinsically motivated to create the sounds they hear, they will try as many times as needed to acquire the right sound, as long as there is no outside interference or instruction.

The Book 1 pieces are also an integral part of this “prepared environment”. In A Montessori Handbook, EC Orem discusses the development of the child through a multi-sensory approach with carefully structured materials in her method:

“The didactic (teaching) material, in fact, does not offer to the child the ‘content’ of the mind, but the Order for the “content”. It causes him to distinguish identities from differences, extreme differences from fine gradations, and to classify, under conceptions of quality and of quantity…The mind has formed itself by a special exercise of attention, observing, comparing, and classifying.”

This exactly describes the material in the Twinkles and Book 1 pieces. They are the raw material from which the children learn tonal patterns, harmonic patterns, phrases, rhythms, the rudimentary elements or framework in the language of music.

Individual children will use these beginning materials differently. Some students will learn the pieces in the exact order of the book, phrase by phrase with the help of their parent singing the solfege. Other children will pick out songs solely by ear near the end of the book, then come back to other pieces in a seemingly random order. It is important to allow this process to unfold naturally. It is the child’s individual sensibility and motivation that we preserve this way.

The ability is then developed with the assistance of a mentor who gives the right instruction at the right time to aid in the growth of the child. The teacher is coming “behind” the student working on body balance, working on tone, making sure the basics are taken care of. It may be important for the teacher to hear the “new” piece in order that the child feels listened to, and it is a good way for the teacher to evaluate what skills are becoming part of the child’s ability to play. The majority of the teacher’s time is spent developing ability on what the child already can do.

In terms of giving instructions to the child R.C. Orem says about Dr. Montessori’s approach:

“Montessori says the teacher should “count her words,” that is utilize carefully chosen words purposefully.”

In her book Sensibility and Education, Dr. Kataoka says:
“The senses cannot be taught anything with verbal explanations.”

The natural body balance and tactile sense is related to the sound so that the child learns through the senses. The instructions are by example, with only a few words, and are the most fundamental point at that moment to allow for maximum learning. This is very much like using composted organic soil amendments for plant health rather than trying to force growth with high nitrogen fertilizers.

It is important to make sure our instructions are really focused on THE most critical point that will enable quality, ease of learning, and skill development. Understanding and utilizing the most fundamental point in instructing students is both subtle and critically important to maximizing learning and avoiding over teaching. This Basics principle of skill development is one of the seven Core Education principles.

So, the way of knowing how to help the child is to always to start with the most basic point. Dr. Kataoka used to use the analogy of building a house to explain this to teachers -You do not want to put the walls on before the foundation of the house is strong.

Skills develop in a spiral so that we are always coming back to the most basic points. So, even at an advanced level of playing such as when a student is playing a concerto with orchestra, we are working on the bow, the ready position, the tone. Of course the balance between the orchestra and the piano, the phrasing, the concept of the whole are all necessary as well, but not possible without continuing to reinforce the most basic points. There is then this basics level of ability that must always be increasing in depth to enable the horizontal progression of advancing levels of difficulty.

Each week I will listen to your child play and will seek to find the most basic point that will produce the best result. Sometimes I will try different words to see what effect they have. I may try different ideas before I determine what is best. If you can understand how the instruction is uniquely suited to the child at that moment, you can really enable your child with the help you give them, and avoid the trap of too many instructions which make the child feel controlled.
Please use the Core Practice Assignment Sheet Beginning Book 1 to help create structure in the weekly assignment. Beside each piece you can list a single focus point. As the lesson evolves you will notice there is one main focus point for the week. Please notate these few things on the assignment sheet to help you in practice. Remember it is not necessary to fix everything you see and/or hear that could be better. Please use the focus points from the lesson to help you from over instructing. You can mark the boxes to show how much each piece is played during the week. Naturally the child will be drawn to certain pieces at certain times. It is good to honor this, and also to make sure they are playing the pieces they already know well in order to develop their physical ability to produce good tone.
It’s always a balance between freedom and structure.

all the best,
Leah Brammer

Books Quoted in this Post:

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Here is the recording of the recital:
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Here are the lesson videos: