How to Teach Sonatinas to 21st Century Piano Students
Why is it important to know how to teach sonatinas to kids and teens in the 21st Century?
As you already know, a lot of piano students would rather just play pop music, movie music or video game music. So introducing them to and getting them excited about a sonatina from the 18th Century can be a daunting task. Let’s face it, the word “sonatina” even sounds old and dated.
No Need to Get Rid of the Sonatina!
But the solution is definitely NOT to get rid of the sonatina! And it’s certainly not to teach only 21st Century Sonatinas, though those should definitely be in our repertoire. The solution is to come up with a way to:
- Inspire the student to want to play sonatinas.
- Introduce the sonatina creatively in a way that is relevant to the student. [Sometimes this is easy, sometimes not.]
- Teach the sonatina in a way that helps them master it easily. [Many times students are overwhelmed at their first sonatina.]
- Get the student excited about playing this genre!
Sounds simple, but we know that with many of our students, it is not easy.
So I’m excited to give you these 41 ideas from creative teachers that will help you to accomplish many of these things. These ideas were generously submitted a few months ago by creative ComposeCreate teachers during the Sonatina Contest.
I was delighted by all the creative ideas and you can download all of them here.
I want to announce the winners, their ideas, and also some highlights from the ideas that everyone gave:
The Winners of the “How to Teach a Sonatina” Contest:
Grand Prize Sonatina Idea
The grand prize winner is Debbie Noble of noblepiano.com. Debbie wins studio license of the 21st Century The Soggy Sonatina as her prize (Debbie, I will email you on Tuesday afternoon about this!)! Here is her stellar idea for introducing a sonatina to 21st Century students:
This game is called “Three-Course Sonatina.” Students currently working on the Clementi, Op. 36, No. 1, are running the game. They will take turns playing the three movements while game-players eat a different “course” for each movement. The first movement: they will be eating portions of a salad quickly-lettuce during the first theme/exposition and recapitulation, olives during second theme, cheese during development, etc. The second movement: eat entree slowly. The third movement: eat dessert quickly. Objectives: understanding of sonatina form, and customary tempos of each movement. The students studying the Clementi can hardly wait to run the game!
Why does this idea work with 21st Century Kids? Well, first it uses concrete objects that students can see, touch, and even taste! We talk about this in the “Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to be a Child?” workshop. Kids lose interest quickly when you are talking in the abstract. And obviously scales, chords, form and all music theory is pretty abstract! So, using concrete objects that incorporate so many of the senses is a brilliant idea!
In addition, she’s not only use concrete objects, she’s asking the students to use their bodies to depict tempo. So, for the middle movement, they not only get to eat their entree, but they have to eat it slowly. Do you think Debbie’s students are going to remember that the middle movement is usually slow? You bet they are! And of course they’ll remember that the last movement of a sonatina is eaten, I mean played, fast!
First Runner Up Sonatina Idea
The first runner up is Denise West whose idea incorporates matching the personality of the performer to the movement. Denise’s prize is a studio license of View from the Canoe, the second movement of The Soggy Sonatina! [Denise, I will email you on Tuesday afternoon about your prize!]
For my 2016 Spring recital, I taught 3 young girls (age 10) one movement each of Lynn Freeman Olson’s “First Sonatina” from his Signature Collection, Volume 1. I matched each movement to the personality of the child. At the recital, I explained to the audience what a Sonatina is and explained the “character” of each movement and how it matched the character of each girl. Each girl played her movement and after all 3 movements were performed, the 3 girls came up on the stage and bowed together while the audience applauded. Not only did the girls understand that each movement of a sonatina has its own “flavor” or “character”, but the audience was able to learn this as well and appreciate the meaning behind a sonatina.
Why does this idea work with 21st Century Kids? I love that Denise acknowledges here that kids are busy. Instead of putting the weight of learning and performing the entire sonatina on one student, she has three of them share the pleasure. She’s also connecting at a much deeper level with each of her three students when she purposely assigns the piece based on their personality. What student doesn’t want an adult in their life to “know” them more? In addition, she’s appealing to the magical influence that friends can have on each other. What student would want to play her part of the sonatina unprepared while her friends played theirs brilliantly?
Second Runner Up Sonatina Idea
The second runner up is Laura Nguyen and she capitalizes on gamification to teach the sonatina. Laura’s prize is the Music This or That Game, a great icebreaker game for private or group lessons that will help you get to know your students better and put them at ease. [Laura, I will email you on Tuesday afternoon about your prize!]
The first sonatina my students learn is Sonatina in G Major (Anh. 5) by Beethoven. It comes towards the end of the book (Suzuki Piano Volume 2). Recently I decided to add some “gamification” to build up to learning this piece. I created a sheet with a list of a number of pieces in the book before the sonatina. Once the student completes the piece (or in some cases, learns one hand of the piece), they “unlock” part of the sonatina. Each part they unlock is only a few measures long. I teach them that part, and they add it to their practice. I paired measures that have technical similarities to the piece that unlocked that part so that they are building on what they just learned. Students who have begun this are already looking eagerly ahead at what the next goal is to unlock part of the sonatina. I made sure to tell them that once they reach the sonatina, they will already know a lot of it! One student also found it motivating to know who else is, or will be, working on unlocking the sonatina. It is great to know you are not alone when working on such a large project!
I love the way that Laura appeals to 21st Century students by adding mystery to learning even more literature! What part of the sonatina will this piece unlock? Then, Laura also divides the sonatina into small manageable parts (Remember that part of “Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to be a Child?” It’s such a key to success!) in such a way that by the time the student gets a piece that seems big and daunting, it’s quite easy!
Other Great Ideas For How to Teach Sonatinas to 21st Century Piano Students
First, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to download the full idea list for How to Teach Sonatinas to 21st Century Piano Students here! Or click the button below:
Here are some of the highlights of other ideas:
Most teachers suggesting aligning the sonatina with story. This might seem obvious, but any time you can engage the creativity of a child, that student will retain the concepts much more effectively and their interest in practicing will go up!
Janice Hubbard of www.musicalmomentsnh.com had a wonderful idea to help the student discover the form by putting plastic cups labeled with A, B or the components of sonata allegro form etc. in the correct order. She also suggested some variation of this to label cards with A, B etc and have the student hold up the correct card or pick up the correctly labeled plastic cup as you listen to the sonatina together. You can do similar activities with the key changes and chords progressions.
Several teachers suggested using lyrics for the phrases to make them come alive or to help communicate emotions. But I like Carol Jilling’s suggestion to put words to just the first phrase of music (she suggested catchy or ridiulous words even) and then have the student count how many times it appears in the sonatina!
- Divide and Conquer:
You’ll see several suggestions for this in the document, but Susan Petters had a great idea to highlight patterns that repeat themselves with different colored tape! Of course, if you’ve ever ordered printed music from the ComposeCreate store, you can use the little see through colored tape flags I sent you in the “ComposeCreate flag book” to do this! [It’s a bonus gift that I like to give teachers who order printed music!]
Repertoire Suggestions for Teaching Sonatinas to 21st Century Kids
We’ve talked about creative solutions for how to teach sonatinas, but some of you mentioned that you wished there were more 21st Century sounding sonatinas! Something that would be appealing to kids or pre-teens. So I wanted to tell you that in celebration of this “How to Teach Sonatinas to 21st Century Kids” project getting done, I’m putting The Soggy Sonatina on sale this week! This sonatina was commissioned by the Katy Music Teachers Association and is being used in several sonatina festivals this year!
The late elementary/early intermediate movements are all in the proper sonatina forms.
- Springs and Sprinkles is the first movement and includes the full sonata form: A theme, B theme, Exposition, Development and Recapitulations and also includes glissandos!
- View from the Canoe is the second movement and one of my melancholy favorites.
- Snakin’ Through the Bayou is the final jazzy movement (with optional snapping)
You can purchase the entire sonatina as a print, a studio license, or each of the movements separately as individual studio licenses. They are ALL ON SALE this week!
Patti Bennett mentioned that she begins sonatinas in as early as the first few weeks of lessons. I’m so glad she left a few suggestions for these:
- Five note Sonatina by Bolck. It’s in this book.
- Sonatina in Adult Piano duet Book 1 by Dennis Alexander. I think that it’s this book, could someone who has this book confirm?
- Beginning Sonatinas by Lynn Freeman Olson
Whew! This has been a fun, but big project! Do download the entire set of ideas for how to teach sonatinas by clicking the button below! If you read these and implement just a few of the ideas, I’m sure you’ll feel like you better know how to teach sonatinas to 21st Century kids!
- The Future of Piano Teaching – Are You Changing With It? – An insightful interview with Pete Jutras
- Controversial Things We Don’t Discuss: Memorizing Music
- Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to be a Child? – Online workshop you can start today!