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Piano Technique: Playing beyond the fingers to sculpt beautiful phrases (Debussy Arabesque no. 1)

Many piano students who practice Debussy’s Arabesque no. 1 tend to grab and articulate notes, rather than let them flow from energy streaming down relaxed arms into supple wrists.

Reliance on fingers-down playing becomes the panacea for accuracy, while it sacrifices poetic musical expression.

In the video below, I demonstrate how phrases can be sculpted with a relaxed, supple wrist, that moves up, down, and rotates from side-to-side when needed. It can even draw little circles of motion to curve musical lines.

Above and beyond the wrist is the central fuel provider: arms free of tension.

In harmony with undulating wrists, they realize an Impressionistic palette of rolling arpeggios and melted cadences that characterize Debussy’s music.

***

One of my favorite quotes from Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase pertains to beautiful phrasing:

“You can learn much from nature. Take a moment to look at a tree. Find the branch that is moving the most quietly. Feel how it might feel, as though a gentle breeze is moving your hands. Your hands may sway gently, back and forth, similar to the way a branch moves. Let this feeling move into your arms, enabling them to increase their span of movement and change direction. Imagine that the breeze is carrying your hands on gently curving paths of air currents. You are releasing your expression through your own individualized choreography of movement.”

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Relaxation in piano playing and setting a good example for students (Videos)

By all accounts, the piano instructor should be the model of what she embraces as her teaching philosophy at lessons. For example, as I slip into my weeping willow tension-free state, I keep hammering away at my students to relax. But sometimes they’re just too wired from pressures at work or at home to unwind on command. The pairing of incongruous words like “Hammer” and “Relax” (add in “command’) was meant to be funny, but as it happened, I once watched a Masterclass Foundation video where a distinguished cello teacher screamed “RELAX” at a poor student who became doubly knot tied–even worse so, when the teacher poked the student’s shoulder with his bow while admonishing her. Shame on the instructor for causing a paradoxical reaction, or dishing out a scoop of negative reinforcement.

(An important lesson for teachers: Watch your lingo. You may be working at cross purposes by the tone of your communications and body language.)

***

This morning one of my adult students who’s been studying “Fur Elise,” the medallion piece for many, was as tight as a board when she sat down at the piano bench. I saw the tension in her whole body, especially down the arms into the wrists, and eventually the fingers. She held onto her thumbs for dear life, self-clamped her wrists, and curled up her third finger in each hand making them orphans among their companions.

She also poked the keys, and didn’t let any sound flow out naturally from her fingers.

My sitting at the second piano, a Steinway upright, provided enough distance to be an observer and helper at the same time. This particular student didn’t relish my staring over her shoulder or moving into her space. After years of teaching, I’d learned to respect boundaries that students marked out.

I next had to devise a way to break through my pupil’s body blocked state–a powerful plus for a tight end football player, but not in this field of endeavor. No sudden death goals at the tie-breaker, please!

But YES to setting long-term GOALS that were wedded to relaxation, but not the kind where fingers turned to jelly fish. The student needed supple wrists that supported securely connected fingers into the keys. And that’s when I broke out a hair band for Irina Gorin’s signature wrist relaxation maneuver, well demonstrated at her You Tube Channel:

What about ways of inducing relaxation:

How about putting mental imagery to work combined with relaxed breathing–a form of auto suggestion—Not just pretending to be a weeping willow tree but letting the hands, arms, wrists and fingers listen to the cue. My student and I practiced together as we fine tuned our Oneness with the piano. My flowing, floating motions were mirrored back and forth.

The desired Hand Position:

By my illumination, the student was shown the unnaturalness of her fixed, rigid hand position. When I asked her to shake out tensely arched hands, she couldn’t perform the task. But then something clicked, and she let her fingers fall into their graceful symmetry.

Once we’d gotten over the first bump, we were able to deal with the wrist and its requirement to be flexible. In “Fur Elise” I demonstrated a forward rotation of my wrist, thereby avoiding a crash on the first beat of every measure. She was able to model this back after a few tries.

Balancing voices

What about that smacked down beat in the bass, smothering the gorgeous treble melody? That had to do with BALANCE between lines, but not separated from the physical means to the end. I told my student to play a little deeper into the right hand as she lightened the left. It took several attempts but over the course of the lesson, things worked.

The Unifying Breath

How about Breathing. Well, that was fundamental to the whole time spent at the piano. The student had to unlock the breath and BREATHE naturally. It seemed like a piece of cake for some, but for others it was like digging teeth into a chunk of raw deer meat.

Just in time:

And right on cue, when most needed, Aiden cat jumped onto the piano bench and saved the day. He was so effortlessly lithe that my adult student disarmed herself and released the tension in her arms, wrists and fingers all at once. (Here’s Aiden in an ice-breaking pose)

It was smooth sailing from then on…

***

To conclude this sermon on relaxation, I’ve posted tonight’s video of “Fur Elise,” as an example of what I tried to teach today. Not everything came across in the relaxed sense, but the student watched, listened and absorbed the essence of what our lesson had been about.

RECOMMENDED:
Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney-Chase

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/some-ideas-about-playing-and-learning-beethovens-fur-elise-even-in-the-dark-video/

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The Art of Phrasing at the Piano: Starting the process with Beginners (Videos)

For some unexplained reason, my earliest piano studies never included the art of phrasing. My primer teacher stressed naming notes, finding them, affixing correct fingering and counting out robotic beats.

I knew nothing about feeling a melodic landscape; putting the vocal model center stage in my playing, and breathing through contoured musical lines. My pieces were flat-liners.

By the time a bass clef staff popped up on the pages of John Thompson’s Pixie platitudes, expanding my sketchy musical universe, I had no idea what to do with these new notes besides naming and locating them.

From my Beginner perspective, such unwelcome bass line strangers had no other role than being feebly attached to the right hand part. The black sheep of my musical cosmos, they owned a non grata status along with the black notes.

To say that I had no idea how to PHRASE these bass line notes, would have been an understatement. My awareness of shaping a musical line in either hand was non-existent until I met up with Lillian Freundlich, my piano teacher during years spent at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. During this period she turned my complacent universe upside down and transformed music making into a living, breathing experience with contours and shapes.

Lil Freundlich made me “sing” what I was studying, with parceled out treble and bass parts. (Often she would vocalize over my playing, nudging along phrases) When examining complex fugues, like those composed by Bach with multiple voices, she had me sing and shape all individual lines. Above and beyond contouring each voice, she taught me that the harmonic (vertical) dimension of a piece, offered insight about how to phrase the melodic line. “Resolutions” of Dominant to Tonic, for example underscored a tension/relaxation relationship that affected the total landscape of a composition from the top down.

Examples:

In a previous blog with a companion video I had explored harmonic rhythm as applied to phrasing and interpreting Mozart’s Sonata in C, K. 545.

Example, A Skype Lesson-in-Progress to Greece:

Andante movement:

Mozart sonata 545 Andante revised

In the posting below, I’ve turned the clock back to the Baroque period, using the two voice G Major Minuet from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook, BWV 116 as a springboard for examining phrasing and interpretation.

And a Skype Lesson in Progress on this Minuet (Notice the hand rotation in the arpeggiated figures)

A step-by-step approach

1) I start with the Right Hand and ROLL into the G Major arpeggio, not in any way accenting the first note. All arpeggios have this natural, out flowing organic shape. In the first measure, the Dominant also appears through the progression from A to F# in the right hand. (The Left Hand beneath provides the root “D” of the Dominant)

Dominant to Tonic relationships suggest LEAN to resolve or relax.

It takes a bit of finesse to cross over to measure two, and RESOLVE the leading tone F# to the downbeat G, since the beginning of a new measure often ushers in a strong impulse.

In this case, it’s best to tastefully shape down the G in the second measure as it is a resolution note from the dominant in the proceeding measure. This whole figure with the G arpeggio to its resolution is in fact the subject or MOTIF of the minuet. It will thread through the composition from beginning to end.

A note of reminder that phrasing is assisted by phrase marks and inserted dynamics. (Keith Snell edited the Anna Magdalena edition I chose for this instruction)

2) Putting the treble and bass lines together is the next stage of the phrasing process.

In the G Major Minuet, a conversation transpires between two voices, so this dialog should be fleshed out, along with echoes of it.

The Minuet’s harmonic dimension is revealed once the treble and bass interact. Dominant (V) to Tonic (I), and Sub-dominant (IV) to Tonic (I) relationships suggest resolutions: Lean on Dominant/relax to Tonic; Lean on Sub-Dominant/relax to Tonic. These progressions permeate the first page and assist melodic contouring.

For Beginners

On the Primer Level, take the very popular piece “Russian Sailor Dance,” in Faber’s Piano Adventures, Lesson Book, and map out the lean and resolve notes.(Insert slurs where necessary) A student doesn’t have to know Dominant from Tonic to shape down notes. In a supportive role, the teacher will play the accompaniment to this piece, and voice down the Tonic resolution chord after the Dominant. She can sing the melody alongside the student as the duet is played with conspicuously resolved or relaxed notes. The echo phrases can be similarly fleshed out.This form of modeling makes a significant musical impact on the student. Duet playing, in particular, gives a pupil an opportunity to be part of an ensemble, to balance his part alongside the teacher’s secondo and emulate the staccato notes that bounce along in both parts. All these phrasing ingredients that include observing dynamics, blend together to create a satisfying musical experience.

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Piano Instruction: Teaching Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, Movement 1 (VIDEO)

Beethoven didn’t attach “Moonlight” to this first movement of his very popular C# minor Sonata. (Music critics often invented these tags that stuck over centuries) The composer, himself, said his opening was like a fantasy, “quasi una fantasia,” and he took particular care to compose his Adagio Sustenuto movement in alla breve, which meant that each measure should be played in two, not four. (Think of two groups of triplets, as taking up the space of one beat, and then another pair of triplets comprising the second beat)

How I approach the composition when learning it from the ground up:

Start by playing every chord in the key of C# minor using the Harmonic Form (raise B to B#)

Listen for the quality of each chord: Major, Minor, Augmented, Diminished

Identify the Neapolitan chord in this Key:
Lower the second degree by a half step to D, and build a Major Chord on it. (D Major, D F# A)

Practice playing the Neapolitan (D F# A) to the Dominant (G# B# D#) to tonic, (C# E G#)

Invert these chords for smoother, easier voice leading between them. A characteristic of Beethoven’s first movement, is the smooth passage of broken chords from one to another though chord inversions.

Layered Learning: (There are more practice steps indicated here than in the video)

1)Isolate and block out chords for each triplet from the beginning to the end of piece. You can use pedal. (GOOD FINGERING IS A MUST!) Use a supple wrist, and play with a nice flow from chord to chord. Think in big groups of TWO right from the start.

Try to name the chords and their function, whether Major, minor, or diminished, etc. and if, tonic, Sub Dominant, Dominant etc.

Look for SECONDARY DOMINANTS where there are MODULATIONS to other keys besides C# minor. Identify the KEY CHANGES and how they occurred. (Notice the voice leading between chords–what notes remain the same–which ones move away–and then come back or not, etc)

2) Isolate the Bass line, and think again of underlying groups of TWO beats to each measure.

3) Play the bass line (Left Hand) and the block chords above (Right Hand)

4) Isolate the Melody (This can be tricky since fingering has to synchronize well with the alto voice below with the broken chords)
USE A GOOD FINGERING FOR THE TOP OR SOPRANO LINE.

6) Play the soprano line with the bass line.

7) Play the soprano line with block chords in the alto voice (Create a nice balance–with melody resonating over chords)

8) Play the bass, alto chords, soprano line all together (Be aware of voice balance–ring out the melody)

8) Finally Play All Parts as written. Think again in groups of TWO for each measure. (Balance awareness, once again, between soprano, alto and bass)

BACK TEMPO is always a good idea. Gradually bring the movement into tempo when ready. A piece ripens with time.

PEDALING: BE GUIDED BY THE HARMONIC RHYTHM, or changes in Harmony.

Various esteemed pianists, perform this movement at different tempi.
Check Murray Perahia, Wilhelm Kempff, Vladimir Horowitz, Daniel Barenboim as reference on You Tube.

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Are Adult Piano Students Stigmatized?

Here are riveting quotes from two adult students:
The Italics are my emphasis.

1) “I feel like I’m in the adult student ghetto, where much latitude is given and few results are expected. We’re all supposed to be doing it ‘for fun.’ In a way, of course, that’s right. But in another way, if we wanted pure fun we’d spend our free time riding roller coasters.” http://www.mymusiclifeblog.blogspot.com/

2) “Here’s what I believe teachers often find among adult students:

“Wanting to be able to play favorite music without taking much time and without getting into depth that would create musicianship. That is the experience, and therefore the expectation with adult students.

“Result: Either adult students are rejected by good teachers (leaving us with those who have to take anyone), or the teaching is geared to that mindset. This is the general picture out there.”

“…. Supposing that the adult has never studied music, and so does not know what is involved. The teacher keeps it superficial on a level the student can easily relate to; how the piece goes, a bit of reading, just enough theory to get by, if that. The pieces get harder, but it stays like that. This adult student will not know that anything is missing. No other dimensions open, no tasks or studies to stretch the mind and physical being. Even though this student has a teacher, he does not have access to the teaching, and also doesn’t know it! He is shut out. If a teacher never tries to present these other things, how can these doors ever open? How can we seek what we don’t know exists? How can we change our mindset?”
**

Both powerful statements evoke periods in history when oppressed peoples gathered in public places to have their voices heard.

Sadly, for adult students, who are not as yet part of a mass movement, their private feelings of rejection and expressions of dismay are localized to blog sites and niche driven Internet forums: Piano World, Piano Street, Piano Addict, Piano Society, Piano World Wide, you name it.

Not everyone who should, gets to hear them.

***

The tendency to characterize a whole population of adult students with a catchy one-liner is the REAL PROBLEM and music teachers, (and let’s zero in on piano instructors) are often guilty of applying stereotypes to them.

I’ve heard the full blown prejudice unmasked at music teacher meetings; at festivals with down time in the break room; and just walking past a group of chatty teachers in the lounge following a university-hosted recital. The environment can be so hostile that if a teacher dares to disagree with the prevailing sentiment, he or she is alienated from the “club.” Are we back to adolescence, peer pressure, and social ostracism?

****
Any teacher who thinks all adult students are goofing-off, time- wasting, billable units, needs a wake up call, or a serious form of psychotherapy.

In a previous blog that was meant to be humorous, I had insisted that adult students sometimes said the “darndest things.” I was not referring to the greater population of 20 plus to perhaps 75, but just those pupils who had occupied a significant amount of weekly time in my studio over years.

One pupil, an attorney by profession, in his 50s, took his piano studies so seriously, that to come to a lesson without sufficient preparation (in his mind) had required a “pardon” of sorts. He wanted me to know that the session would be a “practice,” only. In jest, I ran with that, and suggested he feared the dire consequences of not meeting his own expectations. It was a bit of an extreme image, involving a public flogging, but it illuminated the intensity of this student’s musical study.

Another student, age 70, posted at the Fresno Beehive that her GROUP lessons were unsatisfying and wasteful. She admitted that private lessons afforded an in-depth journey on multiple levels: Theoretical, musical, historical, which ironically related back to the second quote at the opener of this writing.

To be completely honest, this pupil, whom I’ve know up front and personal for years, can’t always devote the kind of time she needs to progress as quickly as she wants, but it’s not quantity that’s relevant to her studies, but rather, quality.

Still another adult I’ve worked with comes from the other side of the spectrum. She has a list of repertoire of such an advanced nature that to keep up with her is a daunting task. Certainly, she does not fit into a boxed category for her demographic, and could not be easily dismissed by piano teachers as barely treading water from lesson to lesson. Yet, she has periods where her work and travel interfere with a forward-moving curve of progress, but this is real life with accommodations that have to be made to keep a sensible perspective.

If we step back and examine why teachers insist on harping about adult students winging it from week to week, having no commitment to practicing and wanting only superficial musical exposures, then we might just figure out that these instructors are WINGING it themselves and not INDIVIDUALIZING their teaching to meet the needs of each and every student regardless of age.

Students from 7 to 70 cannot be easily categorized. If they are, then we as teachers, should reconsider our career choices.

An eight-year old student with a very pushy mother, might practice daily under a form of coercion. (A Tiger mom, perhaps?) Another could have a parent who views the lessons quite casually, not supporting the framework introduced by a very committed and conscientious teacher. Such a pupil, even if motivated by a competent instructor, might find lessons to be culture-alien. Culture encompasses a lot more than an ethnic association. In the main I’m referring to baseball, football, soccer, and basketball that unswervingly compete with piano. These sports-related activities often absorb a lion’s share of a child’s life, leaving piano practice on the sidelines.

Adult students come to lessons as free agents….

Adult pupils, in my experience, are not forced by anyone to sign up for lessons or to practice. To date, I’ve never had to deal with interfering soccer practices, or high school tennis matches. There are no hovering, pushy moms or dads to get in our studio space.

Most adults want to learn as best they can given complicated work schedules, and family obligations. That’s a fact!

Ruling them out as prospective students because of rampant innuendo is an injustice to the group as a whole and to each and every one who has a unique past, present and future.

Getting down to individuals and their needs is the bottom line best way to proceed.

Just as some younger students don’t make the best use of their time, or fail to practice assignments with any degree of regularity, there may be adults who do the same. I’m sounding like a broken record!

Educate!

Piano teachers and adult students need a lesson or two in how to communicate.

The first interview should enlighten, and encompass the following:

1) What does the student set as goals for his/her piano study?
2) How much time can be realistically devoted to practice from week to week?
3) What music genre is of special interest to the student?

The Teacher should spell out the program or curriculum in detail as well as the requirements for optimum advantage to the student and his progress. It should include the materials recommended that will lay a substantial foundation for the study of a wide variety of repertoire. (Include incremental doses of theory, music history, and keyboard harmony)

If there’s a meeting of the minds about the goals and how to reach them, the path to a harmonious two-way relationship between adult student and teacher can begin to be paved. (Incidentally, cancellation and make up policies should be explored in detail from the outset, barring future misunderstandings)

Along the way, any bumps in the road should be addressed without a long time delay that could cause a deteriorating relationship and a resentment build-up on both sides.

A reasonable perspective embraced by the teacher, stripped of perpetual myths about adult students would get the ball rolling in the right direction.

***
P.S. If you’re an adult piano student, please feel free to share your experiences.

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/adult-piano-student-themes-and-issues/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/?s=adult+students+say+the+darndest+things

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The Big Baroque Festival!

I cleared most of my Saturday morning lessons so I could be on time for a special rehearsal at Fresno State. I took no chances given the steady rain these past few days that caused dangerously deep puddles along Shaw Avenue. The inevitable flow of traffic to crowd-jamming Bulldog games would also be a time delayer. (What season were we in?) My ignorance reminded me of the time I inadvertently scheduled a student recital on Superbowl Sunday. I had booked Northwest Chapel well in advance for a particular weekend afternoon, and naturally a specific Sunday in February was the only one available. Not a mystery with all the sports hoopla engulfing the city of Fresno. Since a pile of tailgate parties had to be canceled on account of my recital, the inconvenience cost me 4 students. And by coincidence, these kids all lived on the BLUFFS, a pseudo wealthy northwest enclave where homes overlooked a custom contrived pasture. (I noticed similar landscapes along my weekly train route to the Bay) It appeared that almost every city had set aside acres for panoramic views of a deep, expansive ditch decorated with trees, a few roaming horses, and some wild dogs chasing a few rodents that needed easy disposal) Here in Fresno there had been a fever pitch rush to buy such properties on the newly fabricated hills back in the late 80’s. (But I often wondered if the people hawking these houses, realized that a chugging, whistle blowing train would whiz by at frequent intervals, turning their dream homes into railroad flats)

***

Despite the fact that these Bluffs parents were put off by my recital scheduling on the day of a mega sports event, they still managed to show up for their kiddies’ concert with a variety of television hook-ups. Since iPhones had not yet arrived, I wished I had brought my camcorder to videotape some of the instant replay videotaping going on. No joke. The unpleasant distractions virtually ruined all of my students’ performances.

***

Flash forward: Thank God, today’s musical event at the university didn’t compete with football mania. (I happily reminded myself that the Superbowl came and went)

A high brow Baroque Festival sponsored by the Music Teachers Association of California had been planned in the afternoon, and one of my ten-year old students eagerly participated. The event had a competitive edge because only 1/3 of the entrants would be selected to go on to the Regional recital. In simple terms, those who were picked in this round by two esteemed out of town judges, would play in March at an Honors performance. It came with a Certificate of recognition and a handsome medallion. Not exactly an Olympic event, but for some keyed up students, it was a good comparison.

For starters, at 11:30 a.m. my student and I met at the concert hall to test out the stage piano.

Just last week, I had nearly died, thinking I missed my student’s run through, because a mistake was made in the announcement put out by the local music teachers association. Or maybe it was last year’s flier that got sandwiched into my branch’s Yearbook with an erroneous date of 2011 instead of 2010. Naturally, with the old dating, the February Festival would have been past history along with me.

What a relief to have come back from hell this week with another shot at being this kid’s teacher. Close call.

Today this very talented youngster performed two Bach Inventions weeks after she had appeared faceless on You Tube demonstrating her technical prowess. With only her HANDS on camera, she was put through grueling technical paces, playing every scale and arpeggio known to mankind. A bit of an exaggeration, but used to give her credit for hanging in there with a camcorder gaping over her shoulder.

Here’s a snatch of her anonymously rendered keyboard agility:

(Note that one of the pianos on video was waiting for a tuning, while the other had just received one. Hence, the warbling between them.)

In any event, the formerly invisible student, finally emerged with a face attached to her name, along with an assigned number that followed her to the Walberg concert hall stage that was equipped with a 9 foot size Yamaha.

Incidentally, last year I had learned a mighty lesson about Festival pianos and warming up. Mistakenly, I permitted a student to practice on a small upright piano in one of the university’s cubicles after she had tried out the concert hall’s concert grand. The diminutive practice size instrument had a very light action by comparison to the house piano’s resistant touch, so when my pupil played the first few notes of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on stage, they totally disappeared. Naturally, she was caught by surprise and remembered the most recent piano she had tried. Live and learn.

The atmosphere at today’s Festival, or COMPETITION, was superficially low keyed. Everyone was supposed to be celebrating the age of the Baroque without a second thought, and I guess I should have joined in the fireworks, or the candle lighting ceremony but neither took place.

In preparation for the ordeal, or golden opportunity, however one wanted to spin it, I gave my student a copy of Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase and told her to meditate over several selected, underlined passages.

I made sure to recommend my favorite mantra:
“To be a pianist, in one sense of the word, is to think that a daddy long legs on the window sill is dancing to your playing; it is to think that the breeze came through the window just to talk to your music; it is to feel that one phrase loves another; it is to think that the tree is a teacher of the tranquility you need in your playing. It is to know a loneliness crowded with the beautiful as you play.”

These words had worked like magic with another student who had made it to the Regional recital two years ago. In honor of her sterling playing, I had framed a picture of her holding a Certificate and wearing the medallion. But by far the truest memento of her 2009 Baroque Festival appearance, was a DVD that captured a portion of her “live” performance.

Here’s the c minor fugue from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book I coming from Fresno State University’s concert hall. (excuse the raw footage with some sound irregularities)

PS An in depth documentary is in progress about what transpired at the MTAC sponsored Baroque Festival. In the meantime, winners will be alerted by email on Sunday Feb. 20, 2011 so the suspense is killing most of the participants.

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Great Piano Teaching Moments

This remarkable piece of film footage inspired a stream of others.

Nadia Boulanger (b.1887-d.1979) the esteemed teacher, composer, theoretician, organist, pianist, taught and influenced so many great musical creators such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland, Virgil Thomson, Walter Piston and Philip Glass.

From Wikipedia:

“Boulanger’s teaching methods included traditional harmony, score reading at the piano, species counterpoint, analysis, and sight singing (using fixed-Do solfège). She disapproved of innovation for innovation’s sake: “When you are writing music of your own, never strain to avoid the obvious.”[7] “You need an established language and then, within that established language, the liberty to be yourself. It’s always necessary to be yourself – that is a mark of genius in itself.”

In this brief teaching encounter with a 10 year old student, Boulanger identifies a change of key or “modulation” in a Mozart Fantasy as a moment of poignancy. She illuminates a harmonic transition from the somber B minor tonality to the brighter D Major as the student draws closer to the composer and his intention.

Madame Boulanger’s teaching, albeit just a snatch, puts into perspective why a total musician cannot just read notes, learn proper fingering, and perhaps identify a few rudimentary chord progressions.

Layers of learning over years foster an in depth exploration of the musical art form.

Rosina Lhevinne

I turn to another influential teacher with a video sample from her studio. The wife of esteemed concert pianist, Joseph Lhevinne, Rosina came into her own after her husband’s death and subsequently joined the esteemed Juilliard faculty. Van Cliburn, John Browning, Misha Dichter, John Williams, and Edward Auer were among her well known students.

By way of anecdote, I heard Madame Lhevinne play at the old Juilliard School at W. 125th Street in Manhattan on the occasion of her 80th birthday. She divinely performed the Mozart Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major under the able baton of Jean Morel. It was a historic performance, surpassed only by her appearance at age 82, with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, playing the Chopin E minor Piano Concerto.

In the course of this film, Lhevinne helps the young Misha Dichter by singing phrases herself while artfully shaping them. She also demonstrates weight transfer between fingers in fostering a legato, or smooth and connected touch. In the introduction preceding the masterclass, Artur Rubinstein, John Williams, John Browning, Robert Mann, and Misha Dichter make compelling comments about Lhevinne’s approach to teaching.

Here are a few other snatches from classes of inspiring teachers:

Richard Goode shares his ideas about Chopin and Beethoven.

Murray Perahia: Words of wisdom about the music of Bach and mood setting.

Alfred Brendel presents a Masterclass at the New England Conservatory:

I was fortunate to have observed one of Brendel’s classes at the Oberlin Conservatory and he, like Rosina Lhevinne sang phrases to communicate shape, and stroked the keys rather than attacked them. He played with an immaculate singing tone, and encouraged the participating students to do the same. It was very inspiring, to say the least. The masterclass given by Georgy Sebok was as illuminating for the same reasons.

Finally, Lang, Lang, mentors young Derek Wang, who plays a Liszt Rhapsody. (The teacher fleshes out the color dimension of the composer’s work and demonstrates hands on, expressive possibilities)

If you have your own favorite teaching moments, please feel free to share them.

Footnote: I participated in two masterclasses that took place in Fresno, Calfornia with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. The first was more lengthy, and very memorable. Murray worked with me on the first movement of Beethoven’s d minor, “Tempest Sonata” and fleshed out the structural dimension. Yablonskaya did a lot of demonstrating herself, but was more focused on the singing tone as it applied to a Chopin Nocturne.