Into her seventh month of music study, Liz has more clearly defined her approach to practicing various pieces by devising a well-written outline of phrase-loving reminders. And though her vocabulary is an understandable offshoot of her teacher’s, with its emphasis on floating, flowing wrists, side-by-side with “pokey” finger prohibitions, she manages to offer an original spin for preparing her latest piece by William Gillock, “Summertime Polka.” (It’s in the ripening phase)
Not surprisingly, children and adults who embark upon a journey of musical discovery, inevitably face common challenges that Liz well-articulated.
These are fleshed out below:
1) Keeping a framing rhythm in legato and staccato
Subjectively, a pupil might “think” he/she has preserved a singing pulse in transit from smooth/connected playing to short, detached notes, but on playback of a recorded segment, rhythmic irregularities become conspicuous.
Liz tended to rush the staccato section of “Summertime Polka,” not to the extreme, but a trace of anxious rushing can disturb the expressive flow of a composition.
The remedy, is not necessarily metronomic reinforcement, though it can be helpful. I prefer, as teacher, to assume a conductor role, assisting with beat driven gestures, together with singing prompts steeped in vibrant/musical pulsations.
Such SINGING fused with a framing pulse provides a memory reservoir that a student can draw upon in the interval between lessons.
In successful playings, with pertinent prompts, Liz improved the rhythmic stability of her staccato notes.
P.S. The student was similarly made aware of the need for buoyant, “bright,” and crisp staccato releases that she’d enumerated in her practicing plan, but like most pupils, she will benefit from teacher driven reminders that refine the character of detached notes, and contrast them with those that are “tenuto” marked. Ironically, Liz’s own written header attached a tenuto designated note with her self-imposed admonition to “lean” and not “poke.”
2) Preventing the thumb from making fall down, obtrusive accents
This is a universal vulnerability that can be addressed in part, by mentally configuring the shortest finger, as “featherlight,” and by thinking “UP” rather than down.
With my adult students, I talk about “folding” the thumb- played notes into the texture; thinking of it as having a soft cushion, while imagining its levitational dimension.
Liz improved her thumb approaches in consecutive playings of “Summertime Polka” as I sang “soft thumb” at pertinent junctures in the music.
3) Phrasing with horizontal fluidity; not succumbing to “Rosie the Riveter” percussive down strokes
Liz eradicated any semblance of a pencil point, pokey, approach to the keys, though as with all students of diverse ages and levels, I will continue to reinforce the singing tone, and how to produce it. The vital ingredients include the use of supple wrists, full arm relaxed energies and creating musically pertinent “delays” into notes.
Forward wrist motions similarly promote graceful resolutions at cadences in their status as “shock absorbers.”
4) Promoting Attentive listening and awareness of note decay
Early learners and those at more advanced levels always need reminders to fine tune their listening skills. When a teacher exposes students to how music travels in a before/after sequence, notes that were insensitively played at incongruous auditory levels, can begin to flow more sensitively with an imbued consciousness of balance and voicing.
Liz expressed her awareness of “decay” and how she planned to respond to it, as part of our recorded conversation.
5) Making Dynamic variation
Through various degrees of arm/hand/wrist delivered weight transfer, students learn the art of expressive dynamic contrasts, though the imagination must be ignited before the first note is played. All students are timely nudged to energize their mental framings of pieces that include “visualization,” and mood-setting among other strategies.
In summary, piano students of all ages and levels are confronted by a host of common challenges that should drive an enthusiasm for creative adventure, and progressive musical growth.
Piano technique segment of Liz’s lesson at the 6th month juncture
Liz’s first piano lesson/February, 2016