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#37 Patchwork your Music into a Quilt

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

By Christy | The Practicing Pro

Let’s talk about “seaming”

When you learn a piece of music, there’s a method of practicing that you can use called seaming. This is a very effective way to learn a song! Seaming is when you split a piece of music into different sections to practice. BUT what’s special about seaming is that when you split the piece into parts, you include the first few notes of the next section. This allows you to learn each section separately without forgetting what comes next, and then you combine, or seam, each of those sections together to play the complete song.

Did you know?

“What section comes next?” is the most common cause of memory slips for musicians in concerts.

It's common practice to learn each section, then put them together. BUT practicing with seaming is an easy way to say “goodbye” to memory slips!

Wait, what??

Yes, please!

Here’s how to use seaming in different stages of practicing:

  1. Seaming sections together in a piece:

Let’s look at Gavotte by Gossec, the last piece in Suzuki violin book one. This piece has five parts or sections. Each part is two lines long.

To begin working on a new piece with lots of sections like this one, I like to ask younger children to give each of the sections a fun name. Often we find out titles by asking “what does this part sound like”? Maybe they think that Section A of Gavotte sounds like a grasshopper. Maybe the B part sounds like a ladybug. Maybe the C part sounds like an opera singer, the D part is popcorn, and the E part is the funny part. Each part now has a name!

If you play the two lines (or one section) it sounds like a little song!

Music Theory Moment

Sections in music are called and labeled by letter names. So, instead of saying “Section One”, the five sections in Gavotte by Gossec would be section A, section B, section C, section D, and section E. When teaching younger children, breaking the song up into five tiny songs makes the piece much more manageable, and less intimidating!

Let’s imagine that each one of these parts we gave a fun name to is a square patch in a quilt.

To practice with seaming, you would learn the first section (or A part) plus the first note or two of the second measure (or the B part), then you would learn the second B section including the first few notes of the third C section. Confused? Imagine each section as a square patch in a quilt and by adding the next few notes of the next section when you practice it’s like sewing the A section patch to the B section patch. This is much better than learning each section separately and ending up at the end with a basket full of little squares, unattached.

  1. Seaming a drill spot into a phrase:

The same concept works when you are drilling a harder spot within a phrase of music.

You play the trickier few notes in your music that are the hardest - like an interval, double stop to tune, shift or timing, etc...(use the magic practice formula - Link to the waitlist for a free masterclass to learn the Magic Practicing formula) After repeating it correctly multiple times so that it feels easy, DON’T stop! Sandwich the drill spot back into the phrase a few times to make sure that you can play it both out of context, in a drill, as well as in context, within the full phrase, where it is found.

To practice with seaming, you would play the drill spot measures plus the first note or two of the next measure. Then play the whole phrase seaming the drill spot both front and back into the phrase.

  1. Learning a whole piece by phrases:

This can be more difficult if you’re learning a piece phrase by phrase. When you practice playing the first phrase, seaming means that you won’t end on the last note of the phrase like you would want to; instead, you would end with the first note of the next phrase. This way you seam the phrases together as you’re learning them which saves you time and helps you to learn faster. This type of seaming while you practice also has the benefit of helping students to not have memory slips while they’re playing.

  1. Quilting a Book Concert:

We can also apply the seaming practice technique to prepare for our book concerts.

We want to seam our songs together to make up a Book Concert. For example, the first Suzuki violin book concert has 17 pieces. Even though students learn them in order, they usually review them for a very long time, out of order, so they often don’t know automatically which song comes after which song anymore.

When doing your daily “review/upgrade” pieces, I recommend students play 6 songs a day IN ORDER.

A piece is a “review/upgrade” piece once it has been performance-ready for a few months. Generally, students will play games to choose which songs they will play on a review chart to both organize and to make it more engaging and fun. Many students have a “review/upgrade” checklist where they get to choose which song they play next. However, at least a month (I suggest three months) before the students’ book concert, I recommend that they only play their pieces in order using seaming.

Let’s say a student is practicing five review pieces. They would begin their practice by reviewing pieces one, two, and three, and then end the practice they would play pieces three, four, and five. We can tell that the student is seaming because they have played section three both times, making section three the seam between the pieces. They are “sewing” these two patch square sections together!

However, if the student were to play 1 to 3 and then finish the lesson by playing 4 and 5, they wouldn’t be seaming. If there is no overlap, the two sections of the quilt are not sewn together. 123 would be one square and 4&5 would be another square but they’re not attached! To seam them, you need to play 1 to 3 to start and 3 to 5 to end your practice.

(You can also make the habit of always playing the next piece’s first few notes whenever you finish a song.)

  1. Listening to support Quilting a Book Concert:

Each song in your book is like a square of fabric in a quilt. Listening to the concert pieces in order is like sewing the squares of the quilt all together in a whole blanket. The more you listen to the entire recording in order, the stronger your seams will become.

Familiarity with the order of songs is important, particularly when preparing a young child for a book concert. Each piece from book one begins with a piano introduction, which helps the student to know the next piece, but it’s always great if they “know which song is next” before the piano starts.

A simple way to understand this is if you’re old enough you might remember the CD, cassette tape, or even the record days where you could only listen to a recording with the songs in the exact same order. In the days before “shuffle” was an option.

I remember listening to my favorite Amy Grant Christmas CD. I would listen to it for the whole month of December! When it would come to the end of a song, I would sing The next few notes of the next song out of habit (and it was just fun to do). I noticed that my kids would also do it, which I thought was funny; but it’s because the songs were seamed together. We didn’t think of the recording as separate songs, we thought of it as an entire recording and the songs were just like the musical sections.

In the same way, if you listen to the Suzuki book recording every day in order, without mixing it up, it makes it so much easier for the child to know the order of the songs, just like my favorite Christmas CD. For this reason, I recommend listening to your recordings in order and not putting them on the random feature. By listening to the recording every day by the time they get to their concert they usually automatically know what song comes next from seaming the songs together by ear.

How a super practicer seams songs together:

  1. Identify and learn the different sections in a piece

  1. Seam any drill spots into longer phrases

  1. Seam each section of the piece together

  1. Seam each song into a longer performance

Have an amazing concert and practices leading up to it!

Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

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