anne katherine davies - teaching a rote piece

The following post has been written by the pianist and pedagogue Anne Katherine Davis. You can find more information about her at the bottom of the post:

Here’s some of my routine when introducing a new rote piece (I call it a “pattern piece” in lessons). I’ve tried to keep things simple and straightforward, so not too much detail given here.

For discussion purposes I’ve imagined a beginner, around seven years old, after two years of lessons.

Lesson One

– We listen to a recording while doing something else. Maybe coloring a picture, maybe practicing drawing treble clefs, maybe doing something as simple as hanging up the child’s jacket and unpacking the bookbag.

– We listen again while moving to it in a variety of ways. Usually free flowing first, using a lot of space for expressing ourselves, and then we listen again while moving only to the pulse.

– We identify the meter (duple or triple) and the tonality (major, minor, something else).

– Piece is included in the listening assignment that week (along with several other pieces they will eventually play).

Lesson Two

– We repeat the previous lesson.

– This time we pay attention to the resting tone by doing various activities, we identify the resting tone (e.g. G in G Major), and we identify the starting tone (for some students it can be as simple as saying, “does it start on the resting tone or something else?” for others it can be “does this start on Do or something else? It starts on Mi!”).

Lesson Three

– Repeat lessons one and two.

– I chant the rhythm patterns from the piece, and the student echos. We usually do this while moving in a variety of ways.

– We listen again and assign a movement to one rhythm pattern (e.g. arms above the head) and a movement to another (hands on hips), noticing when the rhythm is the same and when it’s different.

– Student improvises with rhythm patterns at the piano, either solo or with a supporting duet from me.

Lesson Four

– Repeat previous lessons. Try not to be surprised if the student spontaneously goes to the piano and plays part (or all!) of the piece.

– I sing a scale and cadence to establish tonality, and then I chant a rhythm to establish meter, and then I play the piece this time.

– We sing specific tonal patterns from the piece (from both right and left hand parts).

– We identify the tonal patterns as tonic or dominant or something else (depending where the student is in their understanding).

– I establish tonality and meter, then play again and student calls out, or performs a movement, for each harmonic function.

– I establish tonality and meter (hopefully the student is joining in!), then play yet again ,and we identify how many phrases are in the piece, and then identify the form.

Lesson Five

– Repeat previous lessons!

– Student shows me where each of my hands start on the piano.

– Student sings and then plays a scale and cadence to establish tonality. Student then chants the rhythm. And I play the first phrase.

– Student takes it from there. One phrase at a time, one hand at a time if needed (but that should be rare).I will rarely interrupt the student when the expression, tonal, or rhythmic content is off by jumping in and saying/ singing it the correction. Missed a rhythm? I suddenly chant the rhythm. Student bangs through a pianissimo section? I sing that section. But, truly, the first attempt at the piece is 99% there and I leave it at that until the next lesson.

What kinds of activities do you use in your lessons when learning a new rote piece? Did you have a favorite piece in mind when reading through this? How do you ensure that your students are listening to their assignments at home?


Anne Katherine Robinson

Anne Katherine Davis is a pianist and teacher living in Central Mexico. She has received the Steinway & Son’s Top Teacher Award, which recognizes quality and excellence in teaching, for 2017 and 2018. for her passion for excellence in music education, her students placing in national competitions and even performing in Carnegie Hall. Anne teaches students of all ages and also conducts teacher training both in person and online.

For more information you can contact her by email:


1 Comment

  1. Laurel Carroll

    Thank you for this post! I think we often try to skip steps in rote teaching to get to the piano quicker, but this is really great for me to review!!


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