Taking piano lessons should be a deep-level growth experience with a metaphorical tie-in to life. This means that pieces studied and technique applied should be interwoven to realize emotions of sadness, happiness, grieving, elation, disappointment and whatever comes to mind in the full panoply of human feelings.
This is why hearing the word “fun” tossed around like Sour Patch Kids popped in the mouth for a sugar high, has a thin relationship to piano lessons. And even if it’s fun to play the piano, it’s also a journey toward self-realization that entails a commitment to practicing attentively and with meaning.
One of my former adult students would begin her learning process with an intense devotion to shaping phrases, separating parts in each hand, and finding a spiritual connection to Romantic period music that bore descriptive titles matching the mood of her piece. No sooner than she found herself deeply immersed in her practicing, she suddenly retreated and expressed a desire to simply “play through” her “songs” and have “fun.”
What did her fun alternative suggest?
1) Sight read through pieces in a wrong note/right note, halting, way.
2) Put the pedal down and wing it, thinking maybe sustaining the notes would do what the fingers couldn’t.
3) Focus on the right hand while tacking on the left, hoping both might come together the way the composer intended, or the student imagined.
4) Move on to a “new” piece as soon as the “old one” became tired, old and boring. (that might occur three weeks into “reading” it haphazardly)
As a piano teacher, firmly embedded in a layered-learning process that brings long-term playing pleasure, I couldn’t get on the “fun” bandwagon. If I went along with the ride, this student and I would reach a point of no return—the return being next to nothing on both sides of our musical engagement.
Unfortunately the perception that piano lessons need to be “fun” in order to have value, has the paradoxical effect of killing any joy that might be associated with them.
And that’s where educating our students and their parents about the nature of a musical journey at the piano is necessary.
It’s a given that piano teachers should be role models in the same way mom and dad are.
If we approach our art with love, a depth of emotion, and a commitment to realizing what the composer had intended, then our process should trickle down to the student.
What about an associated role of choosing pieces to nourish interest in learning at a level of excitement, enthusiasm, and anticipation?
Many parents tell me I should find the latest pop tune to ignite their child’ s interest in the piano, where he would otherwise be in the doldrums of apathy and indifference.
Ironically, a few of my students are studying Burgmuller’s Op. 100, Twenty-five Progressive Piano Pieces that are a repository of emotions intermixed with an engaging palette of colorful harmonies. These selections have been taught beside “Phantom of the Opera,” and the “James Bond Theme.” All are gratifying to play once they’re mastered with the same attention to detail in the practicing phase.
As I study Burgmuller’s Op. 100 tableaux, I post them on the Internet, and send some to my students. By osmosis they ingest the care I take when learning these pieces.
Communicating the pairing of an emotion with the music reveals a challenge shared during our mutual learning adventure. Fleshing out this “feely” dimension of music-making will naturally tap into the imaginations of students and inspire them.
For many curious pupils, how I move Burgmuller’s character pieces from slow to fast tempo awakens interest.
I tell them that to play briskly and smoothly without falling apart or losing control, involves a layered, parceled out approach to practicing that they’ve been exposed to at lessons. It’s also given, that integrating the singing tone, supple wrist, and phrase-shaping into the mix produces a form of beauty that warms the heart and feeds the soul.
One of my 9-year old pupils is in her third week practicing Gillock’s “Splashing in the Brook.” It’s her fourth romp through the composer’s engaging repertoire contained in Accent on Solos, Level Two.
Each “new” tableau has been a horizon of fun for her, once she pledged to a patient, step-by-step form of practicing. (Patience cannot be over-emphasized as the underpinning of progress)
Here she rehearses her piece in slow tempo in a relaxed frame. Over weeks, her understanding of “Splashing in the Brook” will deepen as it moves through developmental stages. (I always tell students that babies crawled before walking which is a perfect spoon fed analogy that supports their early learning efforts)
Fritz, 8, is enjoying “Clowns” by Gillock. In the circus spirit it’s imbued with droll harmonies, and lighthearted staccato.
Here, I create my own “fun” by playing pieces that have become dear to me over time, while others are refreshingly new.
These Romantic era tableaux encompass a full range of emotions while growing piano technique and musicianship. They are eternal gifts of musical beauty.
The joyous “Wagtail”
“The Little Party”
“Inquietude” or “Restlessness”