Amidst my morning journey to Huffington Post, Salon.com, Slate, NY Times International edition, Twittle-Tweet and Twittle-Trumpf, Democracy Now, and Facebook’s Headline HQ, I check the latest humdrum at the piano forums. Some of these Internet-driven PRIVATE GROUPS by invitation only, differ by a subtle nuance of interpretation so that “Art of Piano Pedagogy” and “Art of Piano Technique” will have permeable borders without crossover consequences. But the key is to land at the right chat venue among THREE or FOUR with the same TECHNIQUE tag. (that includes LINKED-in groups). And if you factor in the challenge of a fading memory that blurs one’s last posting, it could have unknowingly instigated a world-wide teaching CONFLICT.
How about a contentious STICKER CRISIS!
In literary circles, it could be re-framed: “To Give or not to Give a sticker as the burning controversy of our Time.”
A Facebook “search and destroy” term search, led me astray, before “Art of” this or that had me well-grounded to add my two cents to morning after apologies directed at those whom over-reacted to rejections of human generosity of a “sticky” nature. There were two camps, thankfully unarmed: one that aligned with the Forever sticker contingent while the other felt it was a false and dubious OTHER-centered route of approval.
A young piano student, (the sticker detractors asserted) should have an inner sense of satisfaction for having practiced and achieved a self-satisfying result.
I would not join the fray, having once straddled both sides of the issue, and not wanting to be enmeshed in a sticky back and forth, I decided to register my opinion in blog format, obtaining a pseudo-safety net from tribal warfare.. i.e. the kind that encircles the Taubman method, for example. Whether the “forearm” is the sole piano playing proprietor of the human anatomy had frequently burgeoned into a battle of wills on multiple forums increasing exponential divisions. It could lead to pedagogical rifts with global consequence without hope for a discernible climate change.
Refreshing my fuzzy memory of a previously bickering cosmos, I had posted that the whole arm funnels energy to supple wrists and relaxed hands. It was in response to a posted video that celebrated the “forearm” as the principle route to a crisp and resilient staccato. Others on on the forum embraced Irina Gorin’s leap frog spring forward staccato motions generated by the whole arm into supple wrists. (Gorin created Tales of a Musical Journey, an early instructional method for children that opposes early five-finger position ideologies, and supports a singing tone with embedded physical/musical demonstrations.)
Her holistic approach to technique was channeled in a filmed staccato excerpt where she enlisted a tiny plastic frog perched on the pupil’s wrist. As I watched the child’s improved efforts to produce a crisp set of animated detached notes, I wondered if he would get to keep the cute little toy following the lesson. It would certainly incentivize his practicing–breathing life into it, while a lifeless sticker mount of the reptile would have little practical use.
To her continued credit, Maestra Gorin encourages her students from day one to breathe through their “weeping willow arms” without circulatory restrictions or anatomical cut-off points. She embraces a “healthy approach to piano technique” that comes “armed” with enough “toys” in its arsenal to entice the young student. A collection of them come with her Tales of a Musical Journey packet, one which is a miniature monkey puppet that’s affixed to the pupil’s wrist with velcro. It swings back and forth, with teacher prompts, encouraging flexible arm/wrist motions.
Having tactfully veered away from stickers, I return full circle to question their role in the piano studio.
Is not the joy of making beautiful music its own reward? And what happens to a child’s psyche when a teacher doesn’t offer the expected sticky reinforcement?
Does its value diminish if it’s routinely offered for showing up to a lesson, or for 100% attendance during the year? Might a child feel personal rejection, or internalize the lack of a concrete reward as a reflection of inadequacy? Will he notice that the student following him, or preceding got a sticker and he didn’t?
From my perspective, Words of encouragement seem like the best source of affirmation during and following lessons, and such imparted positives evoke memories of my very first teacher, a Russian woman, who lavished praise upon me in her thick, Russian-accented English. If I didn’t practice or stumbled, she was an ever-present partner to learning without dispensing harsh judgment. At just 6 years of age at the time, I couldn’t become addicted to what was not given, and hence I have no sticker archive to revisit.
My very young piano students in Fresno used to choose among an assortment of paste-ons which became a weekly ritual without much significance but the adults were particularly astonished to nail a gold emblem for whatever improvement it indicated.
I even erected a “Front Door of Fame” for all students who received a companion medallion.
Now 4 years into my Berkeley relocation and teaching mostly by the Internet, stickers have became obsolete.
Skype students can’t reach over to pick a favorite, but they can check their you tube lesson wrap-up video for a weekly pep talk:
“Hey now, remember to give yourself a pat on the back!”
My mantra seems to be working with my brood, though in other studios, time-honored stickers will always be dispensed and cherished.
Irina Gorin’s You Tube Channel