A Structured Method for the Teaching and Learning
ofDifficult Pieces and Passages


presented to string music educators of the Houston Independent School District,

Houston I.S.D. Job-Alike Conference, August 19, 2008;

format revised for presentation at 2009 Convention of the

Texas Orchestra Directors Association, July of 2009



†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† byJ. Marshall Bevil, Ph.D.


††††††††††† Fostering growth by having students confront music that is at or perhaps even a little beyond their current level of advancement can be a difficult task for the teacher. Too often, teachersí efforts to overcome studentsí mental blocks in the face of complexities focus early, if not immediately, on the details of dense, intricate, or otherwise demanding music, with the only adjustment being perhaps a slowing of the tempo. Widespread recognition of the way in which the mind processes data in blocks rather than in individual units, usually described as holistic processing, dates from no later than the middle of the last century, which was marked by the rise to popularity of Gestalt psychology, named after the German word for shape or outline. However, many who teach music continue to take the older connectionist approach that emphasizes getting it all right, down to the last detail, from the start. While that is workable for the student or ensemble reading an easy or relatively easy piece or section, it can and usually does create problems when the music is difficult.

This presentation sets forth a method of reducing a complex piece, section, or passage to graduated levels of complexity, from the elemental through the broad details to the specific details. The procedure, which is based in part on my research into oral melodic transmission of folksong and partly on my teaching experiences, uses objective, consistently applicable criteria and is easy for teachers to use. In addition, it is not overly difficult for students with basic theoretical knowledge to incorporate the methodology into their individual preparation outside of class and not depend entirely on the teacher to do simplifications for them.