adult piano instruction, adult piano students, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano to adults

My Gold Standard Adult Pupils!

I’m the proud mentor of seven COMMITTED adult piano students, three of whom were TAGGED with body stickers for doing GOOD time at their lessons yesterday. NOTE: None have been coerced by authorities to sign up. (i.e. Parents) Each is a VOLUNTARY admission. (LIVE or in Cyber)

Ravi, a thirty-plus chess champion/financial analyst, is one of my most piano-crazed first-year pupils. If he can’t manage to locate an acoustic during his lunch hour, he becomes a threat to society.

Sam blue eighth note stickers

Once he was bounced from a bar and grill for hogging an old upright. First he refused to move off the bench. Then after being prodded and officially handcuffed, he continued to play with his nose.

***

Eva was STICKERED ON THE RUN!

adult student tan eighth note stickers

En route to SFO, bound for China, she rushed out the front door in the grip of regret, “I didn’t deserve these glue-bonded stickers because my staccato was under-developed. I promise to try harder after I SCALE the GREAT WALL!”

NEXT YEAR in Jerusalem! (she’s already booked!)

***

Setsuko EARNED her stickers and more! She bedazzled RAVI who arrived early to listen, though he desperately wanted to OCCUPY the Baldwin. Why not! It’s Berkeley!

Yukiko excellent stickers

***

Rachel, (not pictured) declined a body sticker because of religious beliefs and Kosher dietary laws. While she has no piano, she envisions one in the foreseeable future. (Dream on!)

***

Finally, to a growing list of headless headliners, I proudly add your heroic images to my Wall of Fame!

Congratulations!

LINKS:

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

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/are-adult-piano-students-stigmatized/

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Piano Practicing: Breathing into phrases and blocking out passages (Mozart Sonata, example)

I’ve picked the first two pages of Mozart’s Sonata in Bb Major, K. 281, last movement, Rondeau, Allegro to explore breathing and blocking techniques in the learning process. (These principles can be applied to practicing music from a variety of eras)

Starting a composition is often taken for granted. Sometimes students will land on a first note, for example, with the force a belly plop into a pool. Others will forget there are opening notes, (as the 4-16ths upbeat of Mozart Sonata K. 333 in Bb) They’ll breathe a sigh of relief, once they’ve managed to elude them, moving with alacrity to longer, spaced-out notes.)

Yet, this very “sigh of relief,” can be utilized as a relaxed stream of expressed air to usher in a pleasing opening note or notes.

Naturally, breathing into phrases with ease should be ongoing as a composition flows, so biofeedback becomes a vital practicing ingredient. (I recommend that students keep a journal of awakenings)

Blocking

Blocking out passages to obtain fluidity is a simultaneous part of the learning spectrum. Thinking in “groups” of notes, especially with fast passages, encourages “fast melody,” instead of chaotic crowds of notes without shape, meaning or contour. Knowing the geography of notes, therefore, is an organizer that helps smooth out phrases (Relaxed arms and supple wrists accompany)

The first video below spotlights the aforementioned practicing areas, adding an awareness of dynamic contrasts/ weight transfer, and the use of solfeggiated syllables (do, re, mi, etc) to follow and absorb voices. (Separate hand practice and voice parceling within a slow, behind tempo frame are recommended)


Play through
(still behind tempo)

Mozart k281 rondeau p 1

Mozart k 281 rondeau p 2

LINK

Chopin, Warm-ups and the Art of Breathing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, Chopin Waltz in A minor no. 19, classissima, classissima.com, Irina Gorin, phrasing at the piano, pianist, piano, piano blogs, piano instrruction, piano lessons, piano lessons for adults, Piano Street, piano studio, piano studio in El Cerrito, piano study, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano technique and breathing, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, practicing piano, practicing piano in slow motion, practicing piano in slow tempo, practicing piano with relaxation, relaxed arms in piano playing, scales, scales and arpeggios, separate hand piano practicing, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Shirley Smth Kirsten, slow mindful practicing, slow piano practicing, teaching Beethoven Fur Elise, teaching Fur Elise, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to young children, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

The piano learning process at all levels of study

In spite of my having studied piano for decades, each learning experience is filled with challenges that I must approach with a glut of patience. A new composition has its own form, architecture, harmonic rhythm, fingering that requires a big reserve of self-acceptance in a deadline-free frame.

To the contrary, many of my students, who are 95% adults, have a built-in timetable plaguing them from day one. “How long will it take me to learn this piece?” They demand certainty about reaching a tangible goal on a fixed schedule. The End result is what most matters.

Since we live in an information age, strategies of mastery are in vogue along with a mandatory guarantee of knowledge acquisition in so many weeks. “Quick,” “easy-fix” consumption are the Millennium’s catchwords. CD sets are compiled and promoted to learn piano “in a flash.”

***

I have a pupil, who epitomizes the insecure student, searching for a micro-wave cooking equivalent for learning piano.

She’s an accomplished writer and retired lawyer. On more than one occasion she’s confessed to doing “everything well” except for piano. “I just don’t understand why my wrist can’t roll forward, why I stumble, stutter at the piano.”

If she stepped back and thought about how many years she’s been writing and practicing law as compared to playing the piano, she’d acquire instant insight about her personal quandary.

Irina Gorin, inspired piano teacher and author of Tales of A Musical Journey has often said, “We’re not born playing the piano…. we have to learn to physically relate to the instrument.”

That’s why she starts her kids young, using silly putty to dip tiny hands into. They experience “touch” as deep, densely probing, and sinewy, to produce the singing tone, not a poked out, pencil point sequence of notes. Dipping into jello is Gorin’s metaphor, nicely channeled into the keys:

The time old analogy of crawling before walking applies, yet so many adult students, will obsess about how long they have been working on a piece without the advances they expected of themselves.

Yet, if I think about the students who have made the most gains this year, it’s been those who accepted the baby-step paradigm without precondition. They learned to love the journey with its precious awakenings along the way.

Examples:

A pupil is shown working on a section of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” absorbing a sound image before translating it into physical expression at the piano. She practiced separate hands, behind tempo. Call it mindful practicing; attentive listening. They belong together.

***

An adult student embarked upon the Chopin Waltz no. 19 in A minor.

Sight-reading was not a parcel of our work.

It was delving into the fundamental bass, measure by measure in slow tempo.

What was the relationship of one note to the next as each was played? Lean on some, relax others.

“Feel,” “hear” and know at the same time.

Then practice the melody at snail’s pace, but with a singing tone–no delay in contouring. The shapes must seep in from conscious to unconscious.

The student explored wrist motions to curve and shape lines. These poured out of her scale work.

Where an arpeggiated figure appeared, all her caring and conscientious practicing of buoyant broken chords, bristled with relevance.

In graduated steps, the after beat sonorities were separated, and played with a “spongy” feel. We thought of a “lighter” third beat. Not a parade of downbeats.

In time the layering process followed as melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords came together.

As I look back on this step-wise progression and its implications for the musical development of the Waltz, I can say with confidence that the student eventually played it with a wonderful sense of personal mastery and joy bundled together.

Patience and self-acceptance at every stage of the learning process was our paradigm.

If considered a mantra, it becomes a reminder of what teachers and students need to embrace.

LINKS:

How Long Should a Student Stay with a Piece?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Quality Spot Practicing by an adult student, “Fur Elise.”

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

The Value of Slow Practicing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/piano-learning-and-technique-the-value-of-practicing-in-slow-motion-or-behind-tempo/

Out of a Rut with Quality Spot Practicing
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/piano-instruction-out-of-a-rut-with-spot-practicing/

RECOMMENDED READING


Just Being at the Piano
by Mildred Portney Chase

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The C Major Scale universe: metric and muscle memory; shaping and tapering

Most piano students celebrate the C Major scale as an “easy” journey over 8 notes and back.

But as the attached video instruction proves, the ingredients of playing this scale with a fluid, well-shaped legato (smooth and connected) in transition to a crisp and vibrant staccato touch (forte and piano) is a “challenge.”

One of my out-of-state Skype students amply described the terrain as she patiently practiced her 8ths to 16ths, (legato/staccato)

“It’s hard!”

I’d second that for these reasons:

Keeping a steady, singing pulse, ascending and descending requires presence of mind, and a sense of “breathing” through the notes.

Anticipation is out the door as 8ths double to 16ths. What about 32nds?

All the more reason to RELAX and psychologically BROADEN your perspective. Don’t crowd the notes!

Metric memory, especially, is a great asset when memorializing the scale over and again. One doesn’t want a shaky landscape to embed a curvaceous spin from C to C.. or from Sea to Shining Sea.

On a patriotic note, I love oceanic analogies when I play the piano, though more often, I draw upon images of smaller bodies of water, like babbling brooks. (Think of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, or rippling piano accompaniments to his Lieder)

Why digress with mental imagery? Because using one’s imagination to play the C Scale will help it rise to the occasion, not crash and burn!

To play a C Major scale beautifully, sing it, shape it, and taper at its conclusion. (A supple forward wrist motion is recommended)

For certain, a lesson-in-progress is worth more than a thousand words:

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A Purr-fect sedative for a Cat

After a long day of teaching and house hunting, I settled down at my Steinway grand piano to play Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels.”

An enchanting character piece in the Romantic genre, it’s the perfect sedative for humans, cats, dogs, even birds who skim the branches of my fertile fig tree for a treat each August.

Late last night Aiden soaked up the lush harp-like figures of this musical gem from his cushioned seat beside my upright piano. The cover is soft enough to lure him from his favored nesting place at the Haddorff console. Only when the piano room is insulated with heat, my furry feline will return to Haddy, the “singing nightingale” where he’ll cool his belly on its polished wood surface.

The morning after, the wandering minstrel finds a new home on the Steinway piano bench:

Music that calms

“Harmony of the Angels,” when played as a prelude to Rina’s early piano lessons, was the perfect accompaniment to her floating movements across the room. With her fluid arms and wrists moving gracefully in soft curves, she enjoyed an entree to the main course– a feast of melodies at the primer level, rendered with a beautiful singing tone.

***

For my adult students, this divine musical creation is a favorite that has drawn videos of lessons-in-progress.

From California to London, England, its undulating figures bathe players in rich sonority, if their wrists are “spongy” while arms melt phrases in wave-like motions.

In this videotaped instruction, an adult pupil and I explore an early layer of learning that focused on legato flowing hands, supple wrists, and relaxed arms. (Chord blocking was enlisted to acquire a “feel” for the keyboard landscape as the piece unfolded)

***

C# minor Arpeggio for the piano, classissima, classissima.com, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano to adults, word press, word press.com, wordpress, you tube, you tube video, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Technique: Practicing a C# minor arpeggio, in rolled four-note groupings (Adult student lesson-in-progress)

We start by blocking out the Right Hand with a good fingering, reinforcing depth into the keys, and follow-through motion. The arpeggio is then unraveled with curves of energy assisted by relaxed arms, fluid wrists. The turnaround at the top comes with a rotation.

Related: Practicing a C# minor scale

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When a beginning adult piano student wants to learn popular music….(Video samples)

I have no problem indulging the musical appetites of my adult students, as long as they keep up their technical routines, and balance their intake of popular servings with Classical. Same applies to my younger pupils who are up to the task of reading music well enough so they can tackle music in various genres.

Today, I prepared a few videos for an adult student who can handle pieces I selected from Faber’s Older Beginner Popular Repertoire Books I and II. (She had past lessons as a child)

Here’s a sampling of those I shot off by e-mail:

1) “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played alone as a solo, and then in accompaniment form. The student will eventually enrich her melody with satisfying harmonies when she more thoroughly learns the piece. The harmonic cushion will be appealing.

2) “James Bond Theme”–This is very catchy, and has a patterned set of bass chords. The sonorities, alone will be an enticement to practice. This piece will also work for Fritz, my 8-year old student, who’s now practicing selections in Faber Developing Artist, along with a Carnival of the Animals arrangement by Saint-Saens, Gillock’s “Clowns” and “Bear” by Rebikov. It adds up to a well-rounded repertoire of compositions supported by five-finger warm-ups in Major and minor along with “Skipping” and “Hopping” romps.

3) “Hedwig’s Theme” — A lovely meandering melody, with appealing chromatic movement makes this a favorite.

The adult student who is recipient of this music, is playing a Canzonetta and a few extracts from Adult Beginner Faber: “Midnight Ride,” and” Gypsy Band” which have her riveted to the piano.

She’s also playing five-finger positions in legato, and has dipped into staccato through Dozen a Day “Hopping” routines.

The momentum should be sustained with a mixture of popular and Classical pieces. Among the latter are “Minuet” by Reinagle and Beyer’s “Melody.”