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2 minutes reading time (300 words)

Teaching with backing tracks

Backing tracks (pre-recorded or automated instrumental accompaniments) are inherently motivational. Why? Because playing with a snazzy drum groove is simply more compelling than practicing with a metronome. Here are suggestions for integrating backing tracks into your curriculum to enhance technique, timing, and creativity—all at the same time.

  • Technique—Demonstrate how to practice exercises such as Hanon, scales, and chord drills with a rock or even swing drum beat.
  • Method books and repertory—Take advantage of the backing track CDs or links that are now the industry standard with newer instructional books. If unavailable with older books or traditional repertory, make your own backing tracks from the implied chords in the written accompaniment. You'll be amazed at what practicing Baroque music with a rock beat does for timing.
  • Play by ear—Explain how to pick out a melody to a pop tune, folk song, or holiday favorite by ear using only backing track chords instead of written music.
  • Improvisation—Ask students to improvise a right-hand melody in various keys and styles over a left-hand chord progression appropriate to their level.
  • Transposition—If your backing track playback system easily transposes, assign primary chords, longer diatonic progressions, or simple tunes to be worked out in one or more keys by ear.
  • Performances—Some teachers hire professional musicians to accompany their recitals. To prepare, students can practice with backing tracks. No musicians available for the recital? Simulate a virtual band by playing backing tracks to accompany your students.


Headphones or speakers?

Last time we compared devices, software, and apps to play backing tracks. The next step is to decide which audio output works best for your particular situation. Some options are listed in the chart below. 


Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey! 

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William Gillock: A centennial retrospective
Expanding your vocabulary of chords
 

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