piano, piano blog, piano learning, piano study, piano teachers, piano teaching

Our self-made tutorials grow teaching skills

Ever since I embarked upon my very first lunge at globalizing my ideas over the Internet—devising a “chunking” strategy to play black key weighted scales B, F#, and C# Major, I realized that I was teaching myself while helping others. A “blocking” technique in its infancy, blossomed into more sophisticated analyses of how to approach a brand new piece from various angles. Naturally, scales in Major/minor keys studied through the Circle of Fifths wove in and out of practice routines, providing a sense of order and tonal orientation. Yet it was only fraction of what was needed to enlarge the perspective of a new learning experience.

As years passed, my Online “tutorials,” as I termed them, grew in awareness, allowing a transformation of ideas based on experimentation and reconsideration. In summary, further self-driven trials and analyses coupled with student interactions, grew new insights that ripened my playing and teaching.

Most recently, I uploaded two tutorials related to the Chopin Nocturne No. 1, Op. 72, in E minor that had gained an additional layer of understanding as compared to former examinations.

The latest illumination was tied to a metrical feel of TWO through relentless measures of bass line triplets. While I had instinctively sensed this flow over years, I had not consciously labeled it. (For mentors, musical intuition must meld into meaningful communication so students can “understand” the how, why and way to create beauty.)

Aside from a “seamless” triplet flow in two, I focused on “balance” between the hands–crystallized by observing an ONLINE student over-pumping the Left Hand so that it robbed attention from a molto cantabile (“singing”) treble line.

I asked myself, HOW can a pupil subdue strands of broken chordal harmony, while giving deference to a well-spun soprano line?

And how should the composition begin with its introductory measures set forth in the bass? I had discovered that the second half of the bar should be a tad lighter than the first. The insight derived from my conducting experience–I could tangibly demonstrate a “lift” of the second beat with my hand as if leading an ensemble.

“Conducting” gestures often invade my teaching, replacing long-winded sermons on why it “feels” right to lift the second beat. A physical demonstration in “space” is worth a thousand words.

Speaking of “space,” the word “spacing” (adding “-ing”) has become one of my favorite prompts to myself and to my students. If notes crowd in, and cannot “breathe,” then a “natural” outpouring of ideas or phrases are interrupted. I have only to reference Mildred Portney Chase’s diary, Just Being at the Piano, to validate what I “feel” as it translates into how I communicate emotions in the here and now of playing.

(In this vein, emotional expression is best bundled with strategies that wed technique to an internal image of what the player wants to hear.) Still, it’s only a partial ingredient of a big, enveloping, complex process of musical creation. “Singing” at lessons, in particular, cannot not be underestimated in crafting gorgeous phrases. (Chopin, without doubt, had emulated the opera in his works.)

In the e minor Nocturne, Op. 72, I query about “mood” changes, occasioned by key shifts, both temporary and of longer duration. What are the “unexpected” events in this piece–triggered by harmony for the most part? Where are they located, and how does one create a magical surprise that can be subtle and not overbearing? How are dynamic shifts enlisted at these unexpected moments? Will arms “float” with less weight–having a buoyancy governed by physical awareness, cognitive and affective “control” and attentive listening.

Finally, musical growth must be never-ending to have worth. It needs steady infusions of new ideas and replenishment shared by teachers and students.

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