, early music education, Irina Morozova, music education, piano blog, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano to young children, The Special Music School/Kaufman Center

A six-year old child is awakened to the singing tone and how to produce it

The earliest exposure to the piano in the primary lesson learning environment comes with an opportunity to teach the singing tone– to sensitize young ears to the instrument’s capacity to resonate with beauty. It’s not just an ear-training experience. The exploration of physical/musical expression, with imagination intertwined, can fill a very young child’s lesson with the most essential ingredients of learning. These lay the groundwork for further growth and development over time.

Irina Morozova, an inspiring pianist and teacher, invited me into her elementary learning sanctuary at the Special Music School/Kaufman Center. It was on a balmy autumn Monday afternoon that I propped my tripod in a crowded corner of a room with two grand pianos; a small child perched at the Steinway; her dad watching, and a camcorder in automatic recording mode.

In the morning I had observed advanced instruction with Olivier and Daniel. The latter, a sixth-grader, had been mentored by Irina since Kindergarten so I was about to understand how a student could progress from musical infancy to a level of conspicuous maturation under the wings of a great teacher.

In summary, a rich musical journey taken in baby steps becomes meaningful when all the senses are tapped into, and imagination infused. Even the very youngest piano student can absorb what it means to “sing” through the piano, and how to enlist graceful, supple wrist fluid motions to create beauty and experience sensory fulfillment.

Thanks to Irina Morozova and Hana’s parents for permitting this glimpse at a lovely work in progress.


During the interview below, Irina Morozova discussed her approach to teaching Daniel from the very beginning of his studies. (included is a 2012 sample of her student’s artistry)

BIO: Irina Morozova

Piano; B.M. with Honors, Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music; M.M., Manhattan School of Music; piano studies with Vladimir Shakin, Galina Orlovskaya, Arkady Aronov; performances include Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, New American Chamber orchestra; participated in Film America’s “Music in the 20th Century” series; awards include Frinna Awerbuch, San Antonio International Piano Competitions; teaches, performs at International Keyboard Institute and Festival in NY; faculty, Mannes College of Music, Manhattan school of Music, Special Music School.

“Irina Morozova made her New York debut with a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in 1996 after winning Artists International Auditions. Critics raved, “Morozova possesses an astonishing beauty of sound and power of ideas…she is the sort of pianist who can turn a simple phrase into magic….”

“Born to a musical family, Irina Morozova began her musical studies at the Leningrad Special Music School for Gifted Children and graduated with honors from the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music where her major teacher was Galina Orlovskaya. Studying with Vladimir Shakin at the Saint-Petersburg Conservatory, she performed in the concert halls of Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and many other cities in the former Soviet Union. She also toured former East Germany and appeared with the Berlin Radio Symphony in the famed Schauspielhaus.

(A list of performance credits is too long to tabulate, though they encompass a variety of international venues.)

“Ms. Morozova received her Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music where she studied with Dr. Arkady Aronov. Since 1997 she has been on the faculties of Mannes College of Music and the Special Music School at Kaufman Center.”

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Irina Morozova’s inspiring words flow through a lesson with an adult student (Beethoven’s Fur Elise-in-progress) Video

“From watching great pianists it is obvious that they incorporate quite different movements to achieve the same goals, because people do not play piano with fingers but rather with the mind and the ear. Again, it is the clear image of what kind of sound one wants to achieve, combined with the knowledge of how to get it….”

To frame a lesson with these ideas, helps to infuse it with the spiritual, analytical, and nonverbal elements of exchange.

Within this paradigm, one of my adult students continued her study of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” (C section, treble chord voicing with bass tremolo)


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The Suzuki Method for Piano, Pros and Cons

The traditional Suzuki method, devised by its pioneer advocate, Shinichi Suzuki applied originally to violin instruction. Students as young as 2 or 3 learned to play their instruments in the way language was acquired, through imitation. (I recalled black and white film footage showing hundreds of Japanese children lined up in rows with baby-size violins, bowed in unison. It looked like a holiday celebration)

The music, a CD package of folk and classical offerings, featured “Twinkle, Twinkle” as a primer favorite. It gave impetus to volumes of published Suzuki albums that were hot-sellers almost overnight!

David Cerone, a violin teacher at the Oberlin Conservatory during my undergraduate years was the official player-soloist on all Suzuki recordings, making his effort a lucrative one.

The philosophy of Suzuki instruction embraced an early immersion in instrument study without exposure to note-reading. The latter would be shelved for a future time. It mimicked the sequence of language-learning with a delayed development of writing skills.

Part and parcel of the Suzuki construct was aural absorption of recordings to the point of saturation. The child would listen to pieces he was playing and basically “copy” the melody, tempo, phrasing, nuance etc.

During private or sometimes group lessons, the teacher was the leader with her copycat student as a full-blown follower. And mom or dad’s required presence at lessons was a mandatory prelude to a pulverizing and feeding process that took place during the week.

Peers, teachers, parents, and an assortment of relatives, provided a solid support system for the “method,” which could take on village proportion.


Ironically, the Suzuki Violin method one day was magically transferred to the piano, with its original precepts remaining.

Some Suzuki piano teachers, however, integrated traditional methods into their approach, while others were more strictly orthodox. (religious wars in the making?)

From my personal experience, piano student transfers who had been immersed in a pure Suzuki learning environment from age 4 or 5, turned out to have poor note-reading skills when I interviewed them at age 9, 10 or 11.

One 12-year old admitted that her “Suzuki” piano training made her resistant to reading music. (she definitely displayed a lag)

I did, however, notice her physical comfort with the piano. She had a nice hand position, supple wrist, graceful, relaxed arms and could be easily prompted through any technical routines. (A tribute to her teacher’s technical skill and agility in the modeling process)


Disadvantages of Suzuki instruction:

1) note-reading was far too delayed.

Because a child relied on copying the teacher or parent during his formative years of study, there was no particular motivation to read music.

The Suzuki-saturated students had considerable difficulty psyching themselves up to the cognitive challenge of staff note identification–A predictor of permanent “notation avoidance pathology”–N.A.P.


2) While it was valuable to have a good pianistic model for the physical side of playing, I’m not sure making a child ingest one particular way of interpreting a piece, or standardizing it made sense.

3) Having students churn out the same pieces at recitals fostered comparisons of performance between students.

I once attended a Suzuki recital in four parts that lasted for three cumbersome hours. Pieces like,”Twinkle, Twinkle” were played relentlessly with little relief, though by and large, the Suzuki miniatures were delightful.

4) Enlisting parents to be surrogate teachers during the week could be a living nightmare for some children!

How many moms or dads would have enough emotional distance to mentor their own kids? Too many had little patience and made unrealistic demands on their children to play perfectly.

On the positive side:

The idea of mirroring back a good physical relationship to the piano in the earliest years of study was sound, but traditional mentors could provide the same, while integrating elements of note-reading into the lesson.

Depending on a child’s age and readiness, a teacher could expose children to parcels of notation in digestible form, as I had done with Rina when she started lessons with me at age 4.

My approach to a child this young would be creative and innovative— borrowing materials from varied sources where it applied. (For example, I used Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey as my springboard) but on my own, I developed simple duets based upon transcribed versions of Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals.

I didn’t adhere to any deadlines, preferring to take cues from the child. Any other instructional modality, whether it be PURELY Suzuki-based, or a strict instructional path with little room for variation, didn’t seem to work.

Why, then, I asked myself, were piano teachers so dependent on organized teaching materials instead of tailor-making a learning journey to suit each child’s needs?

Food for thought.


Comments from Suzuki-schooled students


Suzuki Association of the Americas

Mark O’Connor blogspot and his interchange with Suzuki Association about alleged fraud of founder S. Suzuki