Archive for January, 2010

This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Schumann.  Schumann’s genius extended in many different areas; one of which was piano pedagogy.  He wrote a work – Album for the Young – that’s still a favorite of piano teachers.  Here is an insight into his pedagogical genius.

Listen most attentively to all popular songs: they are a mine of most charming melodies, and afford an insight into the character of different nations.

This insight was picked up by Ruth Edwards, past Chairman of Piano Pedagogy and Teacher Training Department at The Cleveland Institute of Music.  She wrote a little volume that was a great influence on me when I began my teaching career some 34 years ago called The Complete Music Teacher.  In her chapter on what literature to teach children her very first point was …

(Teach) superior collections of folk songs. Select those which appeal to the child’s imagination and which have skillful harmonic progressions.  They should contain interesting melodic and rhythmic content.

This contrasts to her point in what not to teach to young piano students.

Do not teach pieces of a programmatic nature which lack any qualifications of a good composition.  Their chief allure may lie in a catchy title bearing little relation to the unoriginal and meager musical content.  Thousands of these compositions are ground out each year as if by a mill.  The deluded teacher who seeks for novelties to stimulate his pupil’s interest will receive a poor reward.

This little blog post will not go into how to evaluate a good piece of program music by contemporary writers; but I heartily agree that there is a great deal of music published that is of poor quality that does nothing to help the student develop his musical sensibilities.

One thing that I have done is to take quality compositions by art composers that have taken an interest in writing for the young and have used their compositional ideas and transferred them to folk songs.

Here’s an example.  Dmitri Kabalevsky wrote an attractive piece for beginning students called Chit Chat.   A short little melodic fragment is first played in the left hand and then echoed in the right hand.  The popular folk song This Old Man works well with this same echo effect.

The reason I arranged folk songs to mimic the little classical selections was to take the “mystery” out of music.  By seeing how a familiar folk song directly imitates what piece of “classical music” does makes the classical piece more understandable.  Also, it gives the student a second opportunity to master a familiar technique.

I don’t think anything can devalue folk music; it’s in its nature to survive, whether it’s popular at the moment or not. — Janis Ian


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