Bringing the Groove Back into Music Studies with Pattern Play

Yesterday, ARMTA Calgary hosted a workshop on Pattern Play with piano pedagogue Forrest Kinney. He and his wife Akiko developed this extremely aural-kinesthetic approach to music playing. Seeing as I've been incorporating more of the VARK Learning Preferences into the music lessons I teach, I was looking really forward to this session. Forrest & Akiko Kinney In a nutshell, students are taught two patterns. These are imparted in a "talking drum" fashion: the teacher improvises a short motif using one of the patterns (e.g. E, G, A, B). The student answers with their own improvised motif. With young students, perhaps that is all you want to give them for that lesson as their "pattern play project".

Once the student has gotten the hang of that, the teacher can show the student a simple accompaniment pattern and they switch roles at the keyboard (e.g., E, B). (BTW, the pattern I just described is called Japan).

The next step is to get students to jam hands together. Forrest advises to have them start by playing the same pattern in both hands. When one hand is bored, melodic and rhythmic variation start to creep in.

With this approach, the feeling drives and shapes the music (not the brain) just as equally as boredom does. Forrest said that "boredom makes us receptive to new ideas and to change."

That was an extremely condensed version. Check out Forrest and Akiko's website and their books for a more in-depth explanation.

Two very important points to keep in mind when working on Pattern Play - eyes closed and tap the heel. Yes, that's a very jazzy approach. When Forrest said that, it made me recall my jazz lessons last year when Derek Stoll said the exact same thing.

Pattern Play can be used to help develop students' inner ear, phrasing, and rhythm and flow. Wait a minute, didn't I write about rhythm and flow at some point?

Hiyoshi is a Japanese concept called "rhythm-timing". In his Book of Five Rings, 16th century samurai Miyamoto Musashi said, "In the field of martial arts, one finds rhythm-timing in the techniques of shooting an arrow, firing a gun and riding a horse. The concept of rythm-timing should not be ignored in any profession or art."

Forrest said that somewhere along the way, we lost our hiyoshi. We lost the groove. In the quest to reach a certain playing level by age X and our quest for perfection, we lost the tamashii (soul) and the kokoro (heart)of music. This isn't the first time I've heard this. I heard this during my jazz lessons too and variations of this in my Iaido training.

Pattern Play was developed as a way for musicians, music students and music teachers to get back their groove. To just close our eyes and feel the music. Feel the beat.

Now Kinney's approach won't work for all students or all teachers and Forrest is the first to admit that. However, there are many nuggets teachers and students of all walks can take and use form the Pattern Play approach.

For those of us teaching Royal Conservatory students, we have to follow the syllabus for technical requirements. As supplemental material for the traditional exam students - Pattern Play will be a life saver. Conservatory Canada students do get to improvise in their exams. Pattern Play is a great springboard. Pattern Play will inspire students of all levels who want to go home and be able to play something "cool" each week.

Final thoughts? I jammed on D Dorian last night (eyes closed). I selected one of the "golden chord progressions" and started with one octave arpeggios in my LH and single melody notes in my RH. I soon tired of that and remembered that Forrest jammed on doubled thirds. I hate doubled thirds and normally avoid practicing them. Jamming on double thirds? Much more do-able....and fun. Soon, I tired of that and tried parallel 6ths and the "Mozart trill". I haven't tried transposing the pattern yet into all the Dorian modes, but I know I'll get to it eventually.

When playing back the recording, I got the sense my "inner child" was having a blast. I was giddy in the recording and as I listened to it. I can't wait for my Pattern Play books to come in just so I can play.

Ditto for when I checked out the lesson videos I uploaded yesterday. The kids were pumped and they're stoked that we're going to jam "lots" this month. How apropos that this month's focus in our Musical Exploration is jazz, blues and ragtime.

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