Ipod learning – how to use audio to teach songs

This post is for teachers and pupils on how to use audio to help learning of songs on piano. It is important for the pupil to be able on some level to develop good aural skills in order for them to play their favourite songs.

This means they should be working on:
  • recognising notes
  • scales
  • understanding key signatures and what they mean
  • intervals
  • rhythm as well as being able to sing back a melody they hear or clap a beat.
It is an ongoing process (listen to audio of how for a basic understanding of note positioning)

If you can, get your pupil to plug an ipod into an amplifier or start up Youtube will full sound.If possible, use either a laptop or an iphone.

Get them to pick either the melody (I recommend the melody if it starts together with the bass as it is easier to hear) or the bass and listen to it many times over. Start by playing a short segment of the music. Break it down so that what they hear is easily retainable. For pupils, you can do this also yourself. Play a short extract of your song then stop. Sing or hum it back what you hear. It doesn’t need to be pitch perfect as long as you understand the rise and fall. If you can recognise the rhythm/way in which the melody moves, even better.
Doing this repeatedly (it can stretch to days or as long as you want to focus on each segment) will enable your pupil to gain insights each time they hear a section of the music.
Next teachers should write down what they hear for their pupil to read and remember. When a melody is transferred to paper it is easier to retain. So using “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for example, after hearing the melody the teacher can then write down on paper:
“C, C, G, G, A, A, G”

Another example is Justin Timberlake’s song “Cry me a river” which I taught one pupil. I got them to hear the melody and after some repeated listening, where able to decipher the melody as:
A (rest), EEEE D, DDDDC, A CD

This then leads to the bass. If and when you focus on this, you will again need to do a lot of listening and this responsibility will fall on the pupil after the lesson. They will need to listen to lower notes and go through the process of playing little segments and taking in what they hear. Again it doesn’t need to be note/pitch perfect a long as they understand the way the bass moves. You can get your pupil when playing the music to ask them whether the notes sound like they are below middle C on the piano. That is a good start because they will then know the range of the notes they hear.
However, the easiest way to use bass to compliment the melody (which will be played with the Right Hand) is to get the pupil to use chords. So using our previous examples:
“C, C, G, G, A, A, G”
“C, C, G, G, A, A, G”
  G        G      C       G
  E        E       A       E
  C        C       F       C
and A (rest), EEEE D, DDDDC, A CD
A (rest), EEE Tied E__E D, DDD Tied D­_D C, A CD
E                                        A                          C                 D
C                                        F                           A                B
A                                        D                           F                G
This is far easier than trying to pick apart the intricacies of a possibly elaborate bass (note and rhythm wise)
The next part is getting the beat right. Get your pupil to listen to the song in order to understand what time signature it might be in. After some listens, see if they can clap to it and nod their head to the beat. Be aware though, some songs are so slow and irregular with the speed that it is better to focus on the notes instead.
Finally, after making some progress, get your pupil to play along to a segment of the music. It might well sound messy, but it also enables them to understand what the music is doing that they aren’t able to replicate yet, be it speed, execution of certain notes, rhythm etc.

Throughout this, make sure your ipod can be easily rewound so you can play your particular piece repeatedly to get used to the music. This can be done by:

  • going to the main menu of your iPod. From the main menu, click on “Settings.”
  • scrolling down to “Repeat” in the Settings menu. Click the centre button while “Repeat” is highlighted. This will change the setting.
  • set how you want your music to loop. Choosing the “All” option will loop your music continuously. If you choose the “One” option, your music loops once and then stops. Individual songs and playlists will loop according to these settings.

Embrace technology and learning songs will become easier.

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