The piano learning process at all levels of study

In spite of my having studied piano for decades, each learning experience is filled with challenges that I must approach with a glut of patience. A new composition has its own form, architecture, harmonic rhythm, fingering that requires a big reserve of self-acceptance in a deadline-free frame.

To the contrary, many of my students, who are 95% adults, have a built-in timetable plaguing them from day one. “How long will it take me to learn this piece?” They demand certainty about reaching a tangible goal on a fixed schedule. The End result is what most matters.

Since we live in an information age, strategies of mastery are in vogue along with a mandatory guarantee of knowledge acquisition in so many weeks. “Quick,” “easy-fix” consumption are the Millennium’s catchwords. CD sets are compiled and promoted to learn piano “in a flash.”

***

I have a pupil, who epitomizes the insecure student, searching for a micro-wave cooking equivalent for learning piano.

She’s an accomplished writer and retired lawyer. On more than one occasion she’s confessed to doing “everything well” except for piano. “I just don’t understand why my wrist can’t roll forward, why I stumble, stutter at the piano.”

If she stepped back and thought about how many years she’s been writing and practicing law as compared to playing the piano, she’d acquire instant insight about her personal quandary.

Irina Gorin, inspired piano teacher and author of Tales of A Musical Journey has often said, “We’re not born playing the piano…. we have to learn to physically relate to the instrument.”

That’s why she starts her kids young, using silly putty to dip tiny hands into. They experience “touch” as deep, densely probing, and sinewy, to produce the singing tone, not a poked out, pencil point sequence of notes. Dipping into jello is Gorin’s metaphor, nicely channeled into the keys:

The time old analogy of crawling before walking applies, yet so many adult students, will obsess about how long they have been working on a piece without the advances they expected of themselves.

Yet, if I think about the students who have made the most gains this year, it’s been those who accepted the baby-step paradigm without precondition. They learned to love the journey with its precious awakenings along the way.

Examples:

A pupil is shown working on a section of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” absorbing a sound image before translating it into physical expression at the piano. She practiced separate hands, behind tempo. Call it mindful practicing; attentive listening. They belong together.

***

An adult student embarked upon the Chopin Waltz no. 19 in A minor.

Sight-reading was not a parcel of our work.

It was delving into the fundamental bass, measure by measure in slow tempo.

What was the relationship of one note to the next as each was played? Lean on some, relax others.

“Feel,” “hear” and know at the same time.

Then practice the melody at snail’s pace, but with a singing tone–no delay in contouring. The shapes must seep in from conscious to unconscious.

The student explored wrist motions to curve and shape lines. These poured out of her scale work.

Where an arpeggiated figure appeared, all her caring and conscientious practicing of buoyant broken chords, bristled with relevance.

In graduated steps, the after beat sonorities were separated, and played with a “spongy” feel. We thought of a “lighter” third beat. Not a parade of downbeats.

In time the layering process followed as melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords came together.

As I look back on this step-wise progression and its implications for the musical development of the Waltz, I can say with confidence that the student eventually played it with a wonderful sense of personal mastery and joy bundled together.

Patience and self-acceptance at every stage of the learning process was our paradigm.

If considered a mantra, it becomes a reminder of what teachers and students need to embrace.

LINKS:

How Long Should a Student Stay with a Piece?

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Quality Spot Practicing by an adult student, “Fur Elise.”

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

The Value of Slow Practicing

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/piano-learning-and-technique-the-value-of-practicing-in-slow-motion-or-behind-tempo/

Out of a Rut with Quality Spot Practicing
http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/piano-instruction-out-of-a-rut-with-spot-practicing/

RECOMMENDED READING


Just Being at the Piano
by Mildred Portney Chase

About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
This entry was posted in "Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, Chopin Waltz in A minor no. 19, classissima, classissima.com, Irina Gorin, phrasing at the piano, pianist, piano, piano blogs, piano instrruction, piano lessons, piano lessons for adults, Piano Street, piano studio, piano studio in El Cerrito, piano study, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano technique and breathing, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, practicing piano, practicing piano in slow motion, practicing piano in slow tempo, practicing piano with relaxation, relaxed arms in piano playing, scales, scales and arpeggios, separate hand piano practicing, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Shirley Smth Kirsten, slow mindful practicing, slow piano practicing, teaching Beethoven Fur Elise, teaching Fur Elise, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to young children, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The piano learning process at all levels of study

  1. Gina B. says:

    As a 71-year-old beginner (with rather arthritic fiingers), I am trying to resist the temptation to skip stages, and it’s not easy. As a consolation prize for my patience, I am planning on learning some popular songs (the Beatles’ “Yesterday” in “easy piano” is my first goal; on my list are some Bossa Nova songs that I love, also in “easy piano”). I think this is going to work for me.

    Luckily, I love theory, scales, arpeggios and other muscle builders.

    Following your blog is another one of my strategies!

  2. Gina B. says:

    I also ordered “Just Being at the Piano”. Thanks for recommending it.

  3. Hi Shirley,
    Your retired lawyer is very much like me (a soon-to-retire professor) and I share her impatience. What both you and my local teacher have said is invaluable: ‘it’s the journey that matters, not the end-result’. So the comparison with how long it took me to learn to write publishable stuff in my job is totally apt BUT, and there’s the rub, that thought does not stick first time, any more than a fingering sequence sticks first (or tenth!) time.
    Marie-Noëlle

  4. Thanks for sharing. Fingering can be sticky for all of us–depending on the context. In Bach’s Little Fugue, BWV 952, where one voice is suddenly divided between the hands, and a second and third must be accommodated, separately trailed, that’s an enormous challenge. Then, of course there are tricks to aid absorption as you previously enumerated including mnemonics. But more relevant are BLOCKING techniques–grabbing clusters of notes, and thinking GROUPS or chunks, rather than individual ones. Are they in a closed position? or are shifts a part of the spectrum. I could go on and on. Many language-based modes of acquisition apply to piano learning. It’s finding them that’s a joy if approached with patience and self-acceptance. I think I said that before.

  5. Pingback: Four Days Left | Music Motivator – for students

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