piano instuction

No shortcuts in teaching beginning piano students

Watching a colleague teaching a child in Madrid (on video) brought home the complexity of playing just two notes with beauty. What might be construed as an innately “natural” approach to piano playing, must in reality be learned by beginning students with meticulous attention to vocal modeling, touch sensitivity, and an infusion of imagination.

Irina Gorin is a remarkable example of mentoring at its highest level as she guides a young student to attain all the ingredients of a singing tone legato, by pairing two “sighing” notes with an activation of relaxed arms and supple wrist forward movements. But the right “mechanics” of motion are not enough. The student must absorb the “feeling” of weight transfer and fluidity of motion, as she ties it to the imagined/internalized tonal ideal. And tone is tied to the way we phrase notes that have a pervasive musical relationship to each other. (Words and music partnered together are particularly effective in furthering what should be imagined before playing)

https://www.facebook.com/yanira.soria.1/videos/10103342673133385/

(Those who cannot access Facebook posted videos can check Gorin’s comparable videos at her you tube site.) This particular lesson sample below ties in nicely to the one generated from Madrid.

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Irina Mints, another inspiring mentor who’s based in Germany, lays down a thorough foundation for her primary level piano students as revealed in this exemplary lesson. Working with just three notes, she “sings” beside her pupil, “liebes kind” while physically modeling a set of sequences.

https://www.facebook.com/irina.mints.3/videos/1869818886622848/

Another lesson sample in the public domain:

Both Mints and Gorin use props to help students “feel” the keyboard as soft and and pliant as opposed to being a hard turf. Gorin will often use silly putty in which pupils can dip their fingers to experiment with density, while Mints will use a toy with soft consistency to aid in a mental transfer to the piano.

Here, Mints plays a Gliere Prelude with a student, showing a dual collaboration of supple wrist movements to produce lyrical phrases.

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Irina Morozova, an accomplished pianist and teacher, patiently mentors a 6-year old at the Special School/Kaufman Center (NYC) with her focus on relaxed arms, supple wrists, and weight application in order to produce well-voiced, singing tone chords. (Left hand)

During the same lesson she works on legato/staccato groupings for the Right Hand, demonstrating a centered impetus needed to launch a pleasing group of well-shaped notes.

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My only young piano student (who began studies with me at age 8) has benefitted from a careful embedding of a supple wrist, relaxed “weeping willow” arms approach to the piano–always being ear-attentive, and centered on the singing tone and phrasing. Our “singing” back and forth during lessons reinforces an internalized ideal of mood, tone, and rhythm, while differentiating between vowel sounds and consonants, has a relationship to phrasing. Words and music are a particularly valuable pairing in early mentoring efforts.

In summary, there are no shortcuts in learning to play the piano. A teacher must have a patient commitment to developing sensitivity to tone production and phrasing right at the outset of lessons by working with a student in well-planned baby steps.

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Trading places with our piano students

As teachers, the empathy we have for a pupil’s budding learning process with its slips and slides, is at the foundation of good mentoring. By remembering what it’s like to be in the student’s position, sitting at the piano under a professional gaze, we can increase our pedagogical effectiveness.

If we revisit our own early student experiences in the riveting capsule of a mentor’s examination, we can extract what worked to improve our playing or what sadly drove a passage further into the ground.

Yesterday, I met Online with a student who prepared her scales beautifully but had a glitch in the Harmonic form (A-sharp minor/Bb minor) It occurred when I’d asked her to replay the peak 16th note rendering to remedy a perceived overcrowding or acceleration in the initial outpouring. In her repetition effort she tightened up and lost more notes than previously, saying “I guess I’m just good for the first effort.”

In truth, she tried a bit too hard the second time, tightening up in her earnest determination to improve the peak speed staccato. It was an approach that had the opposite effect than intended, funneling tension through the arms and wrists that impeded a naturally paced flow of notes.

At this juncture, I found it helpful to personally identify with the same propensity to recycle glitches and how I found a way to unravel them: This was about taking pause, restoring natural respiration, and freeing arms and wrists through mental imagery.

Ultimately, my experience resonated with the student who benefitted by a changed consciousness. (a NONjudgmental approach) In a resumed effort, she acquired presence of mind, regained equilibrium, and created an interval of calmness and contemplation before she rippled through her third repetition.

The scale portion of this student’s lesson continued with the Melodic minor which was on a more even keel. A sensible, relaxed application of spot practicing removed a minor snag in the last two octaves.

This particular pupil, based in Scotland, has made big strides over the past two years in the technical/musical cosmos. Her peak tempo 32nds through scales are quite pleasing as she contours them in a breezy flow. (So nicely revealed in the first video segment.)

In the second portion of the footage embedded below, I worked with another student on body movement in contrary motion scales and arpeggios. In the arpeggio segment, where the student had practiced a different fingering for E Major in 10ths, I didn’t dismiss her choice but rather took the position that we should try both fingerings to see if one or the other could be reliable in triple speed tempo.

An objective examination of fingering allowed for student input, narrowing the distance between mentor and pupil. It precluded an authoritarian model of teaching–where one individual becomes the singular font of knowledge without challenge.

By such an example, we can examine, modify and refine our attitude toward a student so that it maximizes his/her musical growth and development. Periodic self-reviews bundled in empathy will definitely improve our own playing and teaching as well.

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Link:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/student-i-get-so-nervous-when-i-play-for-you-the-teacher-responds/

piano teaching

Before and After the Fall, Music Heals

As I sit under a webcam mounted on a 7 foot tripod, I have an uneasy feeling that the cam will dislodge, reviving the nightmare of my head injury, sustained in a backwards fall on June 29th. What made things worse for my noggin was a jagged incline that caused brute force contact with the concrete. I didn’t know what hit me as my limp body was lifted up by paramedics, placed on a stretcher, and shuttled off to the Emergency room. (Thankfully, a C-T scan showed NO intracranial bleeding and I was “conscious” despite the nasty impact.) Still, “concussion” that’s attached to such an injury, is a scary diagnosis with all its possible ramifications and complications, so I’ve been been treading lightly with ice-packed rest periods round the clock.

Prior to the slam, I’d stashed away some lesson footage that I’d intended to embed within two separate blogs, but they remained on hold until today when I decided to post them as a form of self-applied “Music Therapy.” (My framed NYU Master’s Degree in this field of endeavor had been collecting silverfish over decades, so it was the right moment to enlist the spirit of this particular journey that celebrates music’s healing properties.)

The two videos below certainly have a common thread as phrasing, harmonic rhythm, technique, choreography (rotation, arm weight variations, supple wrists, etc), the “singing” pulse, vocal modeling, all belong to an artistically nuanced musical endeavor.

The first lesson extract is with an adult student, followed by the second, with a child of 9 years old who’s been studying piano since mid-February, 2016, with a few interspersed breaks.

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Without doubt, music blessedly soothes during challenging times like these.