Rote pieces (AKA pattern pieces) are those which are taught by teacher demonstration rather than notation. Repertoire that is designed to be taught by rote should be highly patterned. Many of these pieces can be challenging to read but are designed to be easy to play.

Intentional Not Accidental

Do not confuse rote teaching with what I call “accidental rote”. Intentional rote teaching is an important tool for teachers of beginning level students and can greatly aid the development of technique, listening skills and musicianship. It is not the same as students who rely on teacher demonstrations to memorise pieces they are supposed to be reading. Good rote teaching should supplement and enhance reading, not take its place.

Teaching Process

The basic process for teaching any rote piece is as follows:

  • Teacher demonstrates the full piece to give the student the bigger picture.
  • Teacher shows the student one small section and points out any important details which will make the learning easier.
  • Student repeats this small section until it is secure.
  • Teacher moves on to other lesson activities and revisits this memorised section several times at intervals.
  • Teacher adds another section if and when the student is confident with the first section.

You will be able to break down the piece as much as necessary or speed things up to suit each student, but the most important thing to note here is the interleaved nature of the rote work within the lesson. Rote teaching will be more successful if you work on it in separate chunks of lesson time rather than one big chunk. This is because this allows the student time to forget the piece and work to recall it or work with the teacher to relearn it several times within the lesson which makes them more likely to be able to recall it successfully at home. 

Listening Tracks

Although rote pieces are not learnt by ear, listening to the piece regularly can be a great help as the student will have a clearer aural picture of the piece in their mind’s ear. Rote repertoire often comes with mp3 tracks for this reason. Make sure that parents have access to these and know that this listening is an important part of the student’s practice assignments.

Reminder Videos

Reminder videos can also be helpful to allow students to review the rote pieces at home. Many rote repertoire collections will come with reminder videos. You can also record your own and upload them to YouTube or another video streaming service for your students to review pieces at home. 

In general, however, I would not rely on these reminder videos. They provide a wonderful backup plan and prevent students from being stuck in-between lessons, but your goal should be that students can recall their rote pieces without needing to use reminder videos.

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