It is officially too hot to do anything.

It’s during times like this that I most need a plan. I need a to-do list made and waiting, because in my numbed, over-heated state, all I can do is blindly follow orders. If I don’t have one ready, I will most likely succumb to the lure of sparkling lemonade and a chair in the garden during any empty minutes.

Practice charts serve the same function, gently holding us responsible for tracking our work. It’s hard to account for practice days in the summer. During the school year, practice requirements are consistent and predictable: five practice boxes to fill in week and week out. But during the summer, lessons around here are irregular. Students are required to take a certain number of lessons during the summer session, but camps and vacations interfere. Sometimes I see students twice a week for a few weeks and then not again for a month. Sometimes students come every Thursday for four weeks and then every other Monday for the remainder of the summer. There’s no telling. Thank goodness for practice charts.

“I will see you after ten practices,” I said to a Little One last week. Ella is five; this is her first summer of piano lessons. She will take a total of six lessons this summer, spread out over two months.  Hence the ten-day gap. “Ten practices!” Ella wailed.  “Too long!”  Her mother laughed.  “So from on now life is measured in piano practices.”

When the heat is high and the gaps are long, I need not just a clear number of practices, but a ready-made blueprint of ideas and structure to lean on. My notebook of scribbled technique exercises—Five-Finger Positions, scale patterns, chord progressions, and so on—may very well be one of my most valued possessions, perhaps the first thing I’d grab in a fire (after my husband and two cats, of course). The dog-eared pages of my trusty teaching notebook have saved many a day lately, when without such resources I might very well throw in the towel completely.

Here are eight more Five-Finger Position variations to get us through the next heat wave…Any of them could be done in either major or minor. Or both!

1. Do Re

    Do Mi

    Do Fa

      Do Sol

      Sol Fa

       Sol Mi

       Sol Re

        Sol Do

 

 2. Do Re

Re Mi

Mi Fa

Fa Sol

Sol Fa

Fa Mi

Mi Re

Re Do

 

I love to teach both of the above as two-note slurs if students are ready, guiding students into “leaning” into the first of the two notes and releasing “back” off the second. (“Lean-back, Lean-back…”) But if a student isn’t ready for such subtleties of touch, the first one can be one legato phrase going up and another going down, or the whole thing could be staccato. Because of the repeated note, the second one is written in such a way that any legato is going to require the notes to be grouped in twos. This doesn’t mean you have to teach the two-note slur gesture, but with a little guidance it almost teaches itself.

The next two are simpler patterns, but demand musical finesse and control of touch. Five-Finger Positions are a great way to practice our control, especially on patterns that by this point we know inside and out.

 

3. Do Re Mi Fa Sol Fa Mi Re Do

Crescendo going up; Decrescendo coming down

4.Reverse:Decrescendo going up; Crescendo coming down

In my studio, we call the next two Singles and Doubles. The two hands will be playing at the same time, one in quarter notes (the “singles,”) one in eighth notes (the “doubles”).

 

5. RH: Do Re Mi Fa Sol Fa Mi Re Do (Singles and Legato)

LH: Do Do Re Re Mi Mi Fa Fa Sol Sol Fa Fa Mi Mi Re Re Do Do (Doubles and Staccato)

 6. Reverse—LH Singles and Legato, RH Doubles and Staccato

 

The next two are harder. Obviously, #5 & 6, and 7 & 8 all these work the technique of one hand playing legato while the other hand is staccato, but the next two get right to the point. I suggest doing #5 & 6 Singles and Doubles first before tackling #7 & 8. It’s also a good idea not to assign both the original and the reverse variation on the same week. Often beginners can handle one way—RH singles, LH Doubles for example—but the other way isn’t simply an easy reverse for them, but rather a whole new coordination to conquer. Take it slow. It’s too hot to move quickly anyway.

 

7.Do Re Mi Fa Sol Fa Mi Re Do—RH legato,LH staccato

8. Reverse—RH staccato,LH legato