I have two children who study different instruments.
My 7 year-old plays every piano piece once straight through from beginning to end, mistakes and all, and then declares practice time over.
My 11 year-old spends more time practicing his guitar, but often repeats the same mistake over and over until he quits in frustration.
So, I jumped at the opportunity to review Maestro’s Music Tricks, a set of practice drills for instrument or voice.
Set Includes Drill Cards to Hone Musical Skills
Music teacher and accompanist Rhona-Mae Arca developed Maestro’s Music Tricks (MMT) after searching for better ways to encourage her own students to practice.
She says the tricks offer a “gamer vibe” that makes practicing difficult or recurring trouble spots more fun. The complete “studio set” includes a deck of 34 drill cards, 3 reference cards, instructions, and a set of dice, sold at the regular price of $14.40.
Each set also includes access to a password protected “MMT Extras website,” where one can view videos of Arca using the cards with students, get an extra copy of the cheat sheet, and find ways to combine the drills to create new ways to practice. Arca is currently working on a digital version of the drill cards.
When our set arrived, they were not what I expected. For weeks, the boys anticipated a “game” to help them practice their instruments. Not only was I worried that the cards wouldn’t seem like much of a game to the boys, the instruction sheet was also a bit intimidating.
I chose to dive right in, thinking it would all make more sense once we actually worked with the cards. It did.
Identifying and Naming Trouble Spots Enhances Learning
To use the cards, the child practices a piece until he or she comes to a “trouble spot” (known as a T.S. in Maestro’s Music Tricks lingo). The first step in using the drill cards is to identify the source of the T.S. In other words, is the child playing the wrong notes, having difficulty with phrasing, playing incorrect rhythm, getting their hands tied up, or something else?
This step actually represents my favorite part of MMT – encouraging the child to reflect on what aspect of his or her playing is causing the mistake or problem. This metacognition, or having awareness of what you are learning, enhances what a person learns and allows them to more readily apply the knowledge to new situations, like the next piece of music they play.
Once the child identifies the source of the T.S., the child, teacher or parent uses the instruction sheet to figure out which drill cards to use. The instruction sheet charts 12 T.S. types and lists the drill cards that correspond to each type. The cards come in four levels, Starter, Novice, Advanced, and Maestro so that each T.S. has 10 or so corresponding drills.
The child chooses a card – my children just picked numbers they liked, but rolling the dice to pick a card or closing eyes and pulling one from the deck would make it more of a “game” feel – and completes the drill, which works for whatever piece of music the child has.
For example, at one point my 7 year-old said that he was forgetting to play staccato notes. I scanned the T.S. list and decided that this was an error of articulation, or playing with the incorrect touch. He chose a drill that instructs the student to play the notes in 1 – 4 measures surrounding the trouble spot 3 different ways – first as all staccato, then as a crescendo, and finally as all legato.
After really focusing on the touch and what each different style of articulation sounds like, the card instructs the student to play the 1-4 measures as written. When my son finished focusing on the trouble spot, he went back to the beginning of the piece and played through the trouble spot.
Pros of Maestro’s Music Tricks
The cards helped my children use their practice time as learning time. Rather than simply playing the same spot over and over in the same way, the drills forced them to think about phrasing, musicality, and dynamics – the essence of musicianship.
My worry that my children would not find the cards “fun” enough was unfounded. Both children showed excitement about using the cards. In fact, I had to limit the 7 year-old to one T.S. per piece per day or he would happily forgo homework to keep picking out new drills to practice on the piano.
The cards greatly increased the amount of time he spent practicing and his eagerness to get started.
Finding the Right Drills Can be Complicated
The cards do require the assistance of an adult with musical knowledge. Even my 11 year-old did not have sophisticated-enough musical knowledge to fit errors into one of the 12 listed categories in order to find appropriate drills.
He could tell me that he was playing half notes instead of quarters or forgetting to observe rests or that the notes were “buzzing,” but he could not decide whether he needed articulation cards, rhythm cards, tempo cards, or something else. Their father, who has never played an instrument, also found the 12 categories confusing and quickly gave up trying to find matching drills. High school students could probably use the set independently.
My children’s music teacher, Ron Murvihill, agreed that the system was “complicated,” but called the drills well-crafted and effective.
I believe that, although it does take awhile to figure out the MMT system, it becomes much easier with time. Their brief time using the cards has helped measurably improve their musical abilities and made them excited to practice.
Ideal With Guidance and Time
My younger son has chosen to continue to use the cards after our review trial ended and now can do his most commonly used drills on his own. I recommend MMT to parents who have the musical knowledge and a little bit of time to help their children get off to a good start with the cards.© Copyright 2014 Nicole Fravel, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting