Occasionally, I discover that some of my students who should know their finger numbers backwards and forwards, do not actually know their finger numbers at all. This week, we got a head start on St. Patrick’s Day, learned an Irish song by rote, and reviewed those finger numbers with absolutely everyone.
The song we learned was the traditional Irish tune called “The Rakes of Mallow.” You can listen to a symphonic version by Leroy Anderson here.
The key to teaching a song by rote is to break it up into easily remembered sections. Here’s how I did it:
- The first six notes. I played them and had the student tell me what finger numbers I used and then play it back.
- The next four notes. I slowed it down so they could call out the finger numbers as we went (4-3-2-1). We pointed out that this is just a scale, which all of them have done. Then they played it back.
- The main theme. I played steps 1 and 2 together in time. They played it back.
- The variation on the main theme. We have done motifs before, so we talked about how our ears like repetition. The next phrase is the same motif that we have already learned. We just need to slide our hand down one note and play it again. (This is not necessarily the fingering I would use if I were playing it myself, but it is the easiest to remember when you are learning by rote.) After learning this step, we played everything we knew so far. We are now half way through the song.
- The third phrase is another variation on the theme. We slide our hands back up to C position, so we think we’re going back to the beginning, but at the end there’s a surprise. Again, we played everything we knew.
- After the surprise, we get to have the same scale that we skipped at the end of the last phrase.
- Except we keep going past the C and then come back up to an E. Here I fingered it differently, depending on the student. For beginners, they brought up their left hand to play the B. The more advanced students did a 2nd finger cross over. This was the hardest step for everyone.
- The very easy grand finale.
For some of my students, this took all the time we had. For others, we had time left over, so we:
- Played it as a duet. I accompanied.
- Played it with different dynamics.
- Played it with different speeds.
- Made it minor.
If you’d like to see the entire song together, check out Rakes of Mallow here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!