I have been reading about the phases of learning: Preparation, Presentation, and Generalization. I believe I understand the concept, and am eager to try it in my teaching, but I'm not sure I understand how it works in a practical sense. Could you take one area of learning and outline a way in which I could use it in my teaching?


Of the three concepts, the only one that needs much explanation is preparation. Since new rhythmic discoveries require more preparation than almost anything else, I'll try to answer your question by exploring the preparation for eighth notes. 


Before learning eighth notes, students need to be completely secure with quarters, halves, dotted halves, and wholes. "Completely secure" means recognizing the signs; responding to them singly and in rhythmic combinations; being able to count the rhythms while walking, clapping, swinging, tapping, and playing rhythmic patterns; being able to write rhythmic patterns from dictation; and responding correctly as rhythmic changes are played by the teacher.

Now let's put these steps into a natural learning sequence: 

1. Moving while singing children's songs that include eighth notes.

For example, "Hot Cross Buns" or "Yankee Doodle." The types of motion can include walking, swinging, clapping, and tapping.

2. Singing the song while walking just the pulse; then singing it again while walking the quarter notes and running the eighth notes.

3. Swinging and counting the rhythm. For example, for "Hot Cross Buns" the counting might be as shown in Example 1. 

Clapping and counting the rhythm.

Tapping and counting the rhythm.

Playing and counting on black keys (bouncing along on one finger).

Note that the physical motions get smaller and smaller with each experience, changing gradually from whole body motion down through smaller and smaller gestures, ending in actually playing eighth notes on the keys 

4. Show a picture of eighth notes, explaining that since it takes two eighth notes to fill the time of one quarter note, the picture of eighth notes shows two notes beamed together into a pair of notes lasting for one pulse.

5. While continuing to give various drills without reading, also begin to give written drills that combine eighth notes with the notes that are already well known.

These can be written on the board and should include single measures, two-measure pieces, and eventually simple four- measure pieces, to be practiced by clapping and counting, tapping and counting, and playing and counting.

6. Eventually, students should learn to write eighth-note patterns, and to edit patterns which the teacher changes at the piano.

I would consider all of these activities as preparation for eighth-notes, and I would do all of them (except for the actual writing) before the moment at which eighth notes go home in a piece of music for the first time, 

Example 1


This brings us to the stage called presentation. Presentation is the moment at which you know that the student is really prepared for eighth notes, that they are confident, both in physical responses and in reading and playing.

Now comes the time to send eighth notes home in a piece of music - a piece you are sure the student can count and play accurately without any help from you.

The piece should be worked out with you at the lesson. The work-out might include clapping and counting, pointing to the music and counting, and tapping and counting (tapping RH notes with RH and LH notes with LH).

When the rhythm is absolutely secure, the student is ready to play and count the piece. The music should be so simple that there is no need to worry about technique or notes. The entire concentration can be on secure rhythm.

Once the piece has been played securely and accurately, counting out loud, we are apt to move on. But once is not enough. For you and the student to feel secure, at least one repetition is necessary and more would be wise.

Before leaving the piece, be sure to ask the student to review the practice steps out loud, as you write them down in the assignment book.

Presentation is a great moment. The ultimate outcome is that next week, after 5 or 6 days of practice alone, the piece comes back accurate, secure, peppy, and up to tempo. 


The final stage, generalization (often called "reinforcement" or "follow- through"), is everything you do from now on to reinforce the student's security with eighth notes. This includes physical drills (always to music if possible), reading drills which can soon include writing rhythmic patterns with eighth notes, written dictation, and ear-training exercises in which the student notates rhythmic changes played by the teacher.

I'm sure it goes without saying that every assignment for many must include pieces using eighth note patterns, both pieces of repertoire and pieces for sight-playing. As time goes by, the eighth note pieces, like everything else, will become gradually more difficult, but the basic preparation you have done, and the use of harder and harder versions of all the drills, should result in a rhythmic performance which is steady and secure. 

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