Saturday, November 28, 2009

Suzuki and the Art of Piano

Suzuiki method assumes students will become a member of an orchestra and prepares them for orchestral playing.

The Suzuki Method is most often found in violin, viola, cello, flute, guitar, and bass lessons for students four and up. Piano, on the other hand, is primarily a solo instrument. A professional pianist often accompanies a vocalist, is a member of a small ensemble, or is a concert pianist.

Also called the "Mother Tongue" method, Suzuki instruction is modeled on the way children learn to speak their native tongue. The instruction, which encourages active parental involvement, aims to envelop the entire family unit.

Key program components that differ from traditional instruction usually includes significant parental involvement, daily listening, and regular group lessons in addition to weekly private lessons.

Suzuki tonalization, a word coined in violin training, is similar to vocalization in vocal training. The idea is to teach the student to produce good tone and to use musical expression. Students are given ear training and imitation of musical sound on the instrument.

Many people, with little knowledge of Suzuki, seek a piano teacher who will train in the Suzuki Method. What they don't realize, however, is that there is little difference between this Japanese approach and the typical training of a pianist under any other method. Ear training is a vital component of learning the piano as is involving the student in listening to music, listening to and imitating the teacher, and hearing the songs he learns to play on the keyboard, as well as reading notes.

The difference seems to lie in the assumption and preparation of the student for orchestra, and the distinctly Japanese idea of community and group learning, versus Western methodology that leans toward individualism.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ear Training and Imitation

Music is primarily a matter of hearing; why not use the ear in piano playing? Some teachers believe that playing "by ear" leads to carelessness and indfference to the exactness of the keyboard sheet music. When you think about it, though, much early musical experience happens naturally through imitation. The imitative faculty is one of the child's strongest means of development, one of his most effective ways of learning. Why not let the young student study to utilize this powerful process in ways that are most effective?

The only potential problem with imitation is failing to develop the child's powers of initiative and independent effort. But this failure is not due either to the use of or neglect of the child's natural tendency for imitation. It really means that the piano teacher is not terribly inventive herself to take advantage of this great natural gift and use it to further growth. It is the teacher's, not the child's, limitation.

Here are some steps that could help piano students grow in mastering music notation by learning to play by ear and imitation:
  1. The student learns to sing a song
  2. By imitation, combined with the use of his own "ear," the student learns to express the melody on the piano as well as vocally. Note that this process makes the piano an instrument of self-expression from the very beginning, and not just a medium of impressions.
  3. The student is shown the notation of the song, printed both as a song and also as a piano "variation," with the phrases in various octaves on both the treble and bass staves. He plays the familiar material in the various ways.
  4. Marginal material summarizes the essential tonal content of the song. The student uses this marginal material for sight reading and technical drill.
After repeated experiences the student acquires two powers: a) to progress through each of the above processes more rapidly and accurately; b) to discover similar tonal progressions in new material and to learn the new music without assistance.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Path to Learning Music

What's the best way to teach music? The word method means "way", and a piano teacher's method is the way she organizes her procedure, progressing step by step to the goal. Actually, method looks to psychology to tell us how to make learning progress with great satisfaction. The teacher's approach should conform with the student's level of emotional development. She needs to understand how and when to present, develop, drill and apply the successive steps of lessons. An example of this is that students may need to understand the concrete before the abstract, proceed from the known to the unknown, etc.

There really are just two aspects to method:
  1. Method should accomplish the goals.
  2. Method should lead to progress.
In the study of music, using a method guides the student toward the ability to play well, to read music fluently, to be well acquainted with musical literature, and more. It should inspire students to a deep pleasure and ear for good music - classical, jazz, contemporary - and a lasting love for it.

There are actually some piano teachers who insist on having no method. They want to use "common sense," to study each student and apply whatever means they believe is useful. Some may even resent the suggestion that they consider following a method created by someone else. These teachers don't really understand the meaning of the term "method," which simply means a plan, or orderly procedure, or progress to an end result.

What these teachers really mean is that they follow no published procedure. A teacher with an inventive and imaginative mind might develop processes adapted to her own personality. But these processes, however ingenious or effective, are only devices that in the end emphasize some aspects of piano without necessarily offering a well-rounded development of the whole subject of music.

The art of teaching piano really begins with using published procedure, whatever school of training is chosen. Then the confidence and ability that comes from her pianistic experience will lend authority to a teacher's practice. That can become a starting point for fresh discoveries in guiding piano students. Actually, piano methods are not static; experienced teachers are constantly improving their art.

In my experience, all accepted methods of teaching piano are good, whether Alfred, Thompson, Suzuki, or the like. A piano teacher who is both artistic and an excellent coach can make good use of any proven method to teach students how to play piano well and appreciate music. No single school of training is better than the other - the teacher makes the difference.

For more information on piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Creative Individuality

Encouraging Musical imagination to Self-Expression. Creative work stimulates the musical imagination of the student to self express. Beginning with little musical questions and answers, the student is taught to capture the fugitive melodies which flit through the minds of all people of musical sensitiveness, and to organize them into little compositions. The experience is not intended to develop composers so much as it is to lead the student to a keener appreciation of the music the he hears and studies.

Development of Creative Individuality. From the earliest lessons, a piano teacher NJ should encourage children to play according to their own conception of the spirit of the music they are studying, and as early as possible the study of fingerings, phrasing, etc., to encourage children to think these matters through for themselves. Such piano instruction will also stimulate the student to think between lessons, and lead him to work out his own conception of the interpretations of the pieces assigned him for study. In this way his individuality will be developed on the basis of his growing taste and musical discrimination.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music Terminology

A beginner 7-year-old student recently asked what the difference was between the meaning of notes and keys.

It is important to be aware of careful use of terms with children. Adults easily understand meaning by use in a sentence or by experience. Children, however, have no such background of general experience, and in talking to them the teacher should employ specific terminology. The word "note," for instance, is used by adults in several ways. "We see a quarter note on the printed page." "We distinguish high and low notes (pitches) by hearing." "Strike a black note (key) on the piano." "One note (tone) sounds longer than another."

If the piano teacher differentiates carefully in the use of these and other terms, students will be spared endless confusion.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Psychological versus Logical Order of Music Instruction

A piano teacher should begin where the child is, and lead him step by step through the developing stages of piano instruction. This is the emotional and psychological order of the stages of learning for children. It's where a good piano teacher distinguishes himself from one who is an artist only.

The artist, on the other hand, absorbed as she is likely to be with the music of her calling, will often present the material in logical order. That is, an artist's approach is taking a mental organization fit for adults, chopping it into pieces, and giving it a piece at a time to the child to learn in piano classes.

Psychological order is the order of experience, of discovery, and consequently of learning. Logical order is the order of arranging for later use what has already been learned.

A child's processes will be immensely shortened by having as a guide someone who knows the piano. But, to be effective, piano instruction must be presented in psychological rather than logical order. The best piano teachers are both artist and teacher.

For information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to Teach Piano

Here is an outline of one widely-recommended system of teaching piano, taken from the Oxford Method:
  1. Building a musical background; listening, unconscious imitation, rote singing.
  2. Learning to play little pieces of music through imitation.
  3. Observing by hearing or seeing new effects as they are tried out and played. Music is essentially about hearing, so all teaching should be directed first to the ear. The student should be encouraged to listen to every detail of his own and his teacher's playing: pitch, rhythm, tone quality, nuance, effect, and interpretation. Observing through seeing involves technique such as proper position, use of arms, hands, and fingering; and all the details of notation.
  4. Naming the effect and expressing it by its symbol, e.g., mf mezzo forte (playing somewhat loud). Names and explanations should follow the experience in playing. It's suggested not to precede imitative playing by a conversation of the notation involved.
  5. Drilling. Teaching theory through practice; theory and practice should proceed side by side.
  6. Applying the drill results to new material. The course of study should be cumulative, each new selection including some of the elements of the previous study.
  7. Ear training is vital during lessons and during practice.
  8. Making sure the student performs the correct action when he reads notation. Explanations and definitions can come later, after the right habitual action is learned. Sight reading should be developed by constantly repeating the experiences that notation, tones, eye, ear, and hand are related in performing the playing again and again. It takes a long time to develop the ability to sight read, so making demands on a student that he isn't prepared for by a thoroughly developed background can frustrate him.
  9. Don't dwell on the mistakes, faults and failings of students, because this just makes mistakes more vivid and pronounced in the student's mind. A mistake should simply be explained constructively.
  10. Get the student to focus on the meaning, mood and spirit of the music he is playing rather than self-consciously upon himself.
  11. Carefully watch the interest of the student. Don't persist in any phase of the lesson to the point where mental fatigue makes attention impossible. There should be concentration and persistence. But above all there must be interest, and interest can't be pushed beyond natural limits of the student.
For information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Playing Piano from Memory

Playing from memory is a skill that can easily be developed. The essential elements are a strong, clear-cut impression; varied associations that set up related ideas (visual, aural, muscular impressions; analysis of form and harmony, etc.); repetition; and a formula or cue which will bring recall, such as the title of the piece, name of the composer, opus number, or key phrases of the piece.

Music memory is complex. with many people memory is largely visual; some remember better with aural impressions, while others remember a composition with their fingers, i.e. muscle memory. The student's natural memory tendencies should be developed by the piano teacher, while at the same time the other types of memory should be cultivated so that every possible association can contribute to the accuracy and retentiveness of the student's memory. No composition is fully memorized until the pianist can actually hear it in his imagination.

To develop the skill of playing from memory, start the student with small pieces. As his proficiency develops, build out toward larger pieces. Have the student memorize stanzas and then sections and then movements of the composition, memorizing each and building upon the prior memorized sections. By following this process, the student will have memorized the entire work in easily managed portions.

For information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Attention and Distraction

Attention is a very fleeting thing. Paying attention and focusing means concentration on a single idea out of the many distracting visions that compete for space in our thoughts. If focusing for an adult is a challenge, just consider how a child's quick, diverse and shifting perspectives are like a kaleidoscope of colors each of which captures a child's interest.

The teacher's job is to keep the children attentive to the piano classes at hand. Instead of blaming a child for being inattentive, we really mean that he is thinking of something else than what we want.

A child can give only a few seconds of concentrated attention. His mind must have periods for recuperation between brief stresses of concentration. The more interesting something is, the easier it is to prolong his attention and give it greater intensity. It's also easier to return to a subject after some mental relaxation.

A music lesson must be varied, so that the student's mind is refreshed, lessens the child's mental fatigue, and keeps his attention alert. A change of topic during the lesson will awaken new interest and fresh attention.

Keeping the piano lessons varied also avoids monotony. To remain too long on one topic means loss of interest. It's also just as important, though, to relate the new topic to a prior experience in learning piano so the association rouses curiosity and interest, and thereby secures the child's attention.

For information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Piano Practice

A child during his or her early piano lessons must concentrate on every little motion and often with even the most intense effort finds it difficult to make the fingers behave as they should. A skilled pianist, on the other hand, may direct his thought to the interpretation of the music, or even to matters less directly connected to his performance, while his fingers play along almost of their own will, without thought.

The well-formed habit of practicing the piano regularly teaches our fingers to move and find keys without thinking or looking at our hands. Finger exercises and playing compositions must be repeated again and again to become fixed by the child's hands and in his mind.

Sight reading, for instance, is the result of habit and memory. The notes awaken associations and habit enables ready performance. How important is it, then, that the right impressions and habits be formed early.

Habits should be established in technique, sight reading, interpretation and all other activities in piano playing. Remember that a wrong action can become a habit as readily as a right action. It's best not to press the child forward too rapidly in his technical progress, because playing music which constantly keeps the student at his highest level of technique is likely to create a habit of tension or a habit of carelessness. Merely explaining a process won't assure correct performance by the student. It's important to see to it that the student performs the correct action again and again just as it should be performed, until you are certain not only of his understanding but also of his accurate fingering.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coaching Piano Students

By following these three Principles to Learn Piano, piano students will soon experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in their practice. Being satisfied, they will feel happy and encouraged in their pursuit of music and will want to learn more.

Readiness. Being tired, preoccupied or distracted are obstacles to a student being ready. Interest in playing is supremely important in motivating students. Teachers should encourage students toward piano playing, toward the music being studied, and all the other elements leading to success. Students need to feel successful. Today's success means tomorrow's readiness.

Satisfaction. Satisfaction strengthens; frustration weakens. Success means satisfaction, as does accomplishment as the result of creative practice. Each step forward brings its own feeling of accomplishment, with much praise and encouragement from the piano coach.

Finger Exercises. Drilling finger exercises is essential in fixing an idea in our mind, and in making fingering more accurate and rapid. But drills work only when a student is conscious of the need of them to achieve the music that the student desires. Scales, for example, should be drilled so that playing them becomes automatic, but only after the pianist has slowly built the scale and realizes that scale progressions are actually found in the music the student wants to play. The same is true of all the other elements of technique and theory. Finger exercises alone aren't enough - they must lead to satisfaction for the student.

For information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.