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Analyzing Teaching Pieces (Teacher Profile Project #2)

One of my students announced several years ago that she didn’t want to do her theory work anymore. Of course I didn’t listen to her, as I knew it would help her sight read, memorize and understand her pieces. Not long after, as we worked on memorizing her Clementi Sonatina, she accused me of tricking her into using her theory!

The MTNA Teacher Profile Project #2 (Analyze Four Teaching Pieces) helps teachers understand and appreciate the value of teaching theory concepts in the piano lesson. It’s a practical approach to ensure our students understand the music they are playing. For each of the four pieces, teachers are asked what might be explored with a student to aid in the learning of each. For the purpose of this article I chose Clementi’s Sonatina in C Major, Op. 36, No. 3, I. Spiritoso and have given possible outline ideas the teacher would expand upon for each question.

A. What would you discuss with your student about the composer.

  • Full name (students are fascinated by Muzio).
  • Gradus ad Parnassum—“father of modern piano technique.”
  • Classical period and dates and other composers of the time.

B. Discuss what elements of theory you would discuss with a student when teaching this piece.

  • Sonatina/sonata form: exposition, development and recapitulation.
  • Themes, transitions, keys.
  • Modulations, cadences, harmonies.

C. Discuss at least three specific skills a student must possess to successfully play this piece.

  • Good fingering principles for scale passages, broken chord patterns, double notes.
  • Understanding of chord structure for reading and memory ease.
  • Ability to play with a metronome at various tempos.

D. Discuss a historically and stylistically appropriate approach to interpreting this piece.

  • Touch, articulations, and pedaling appropriate to the Classical period.
  • Dynamics and nuances of the period.
  • Character and how it relates to Spiritoso.

E. Discuss at least four potential reading and/or technical problems and how to solve them.

  • Measures 7–8: the coordination of hands together is rhythmically awkward. Practice hands separately for the correct touches and then at a very slow tempo put hands together.
  • Measure 14: the small ornamental note—where is it placed when playing hands together. Begin slowly and gradually increase tempo.
  • Measures 20–21—the coordination of the trill in the right hand with steady eighth notes in the left hand. The student could meter the trill in sixteenth notes, starting on the upper note.
  • Measures 42–45: fingering is critical in this section. The student could block first in quarter notes in the right hand. Next play as written using rhythmic variations, such as long/short or short/long rhythms.

F. Where would you mark appropriate practice strategies and/or memory sections in this piece?

  • Overall large sections could follow the form of the piece: exposition, development and recapitulation.
  • Within these sections, student could have smaller groupings: Exposition, measures 1–12, 13–18, 18–16 and so on.
  • Comparison of keys of Exposition to the keys of the Recapitulation.
—Carleen Graff