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Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

It is almost a mantra among piano teachers that they should teach artistry from the very first lesson.  This sounds very lofty.  It just sounds correct.  How could anyone disagree with something so sensible?

As a young teacher I was convinced that this would be my approach.  I was convicted to become the very best teacher I could be and that my students were going to become artistic performers.  I always was patient but I kept my standards very high.  I did my best to make sure there were no breaks in legato phrasing.  Every dynamic change needed to be clearly discerned.  We would work for perfectly timed ritardandos at the end of their compositions.  Staccatos passages needed to be perfectly even in their duration.  I would not allow a student to graduate from a piece until it was thoroughly mastered.  When my students were judged in their Guild Auditions the judges were very pleased with my attention to detail.  One judge told me that I brought each student to the potential of their ability.  I was pleased.

I was teaching artistry from the very first lesson and getting good results.  One year at Guild Auditions our judge was from the piano faculty of Carnegie Mellon University.  Her name was Helen Gossard.  She was quiet, well spoken and very intelligent.  I had the opportunity to speak with her several times during her stay judging my center, since I was the chairman of the center. I give her credit for helping me look at artistry from a different perspective.

I remember her telling me that she would give a student credit for simply making a good effort at playing a staccato passage.  I thought differently.  A good effort isn’t enough.  It must be done properly.  I mentioned previous judges comments that they appreciated my attention to detail.  She mentioned the work of another teacher in my center, a teacher in her 60’s when I was in my 30’s, who had much more experience than I.  She mentioned the high quality of her work.  I had to admit to the high quality of her work, though I thought I did a better job in teaching musical detail.  Ms. Gossard told me that the detail she taught was very good.

This experience got me to start thinking about my teaching and to consider if I was missing things because of being so strictly focused on performance artistry.  I questioned this not because I didn’t have a full class of students or that students were quitting, in fact, I would even inherit a few of this other teacher’s students through transfers.

I began to consider that there were other ways to consider artistry.  One important way is to consider the artistry of teaching itself, not only the artistry in performing music.  Everything I was teaching was driven by artistry whether it was scales, arpeggios, chords, transposing, ear training, ….. everything.  But giving thought to the artistry of teaching was a brand new avenue for thought that I had given very little attention.

I think one can learn a lot from observing artists in non musical fields and how they approach their art.  One TV show I loved watching as a young child was a show where I could observe John Gnagy, an artist, drawing landscapes and other drawings.

Observing an artist drawing a portrait of a person is very much like a piano teacher forming (drawing) a young musician.

I think this analogy will help give you  a different vision of how to develop a young musician.  Yes, it’s full of detail, but it’s not a detail where one notices a perfection on individual parts but a detail of general shapes and patterns that eventually emerge into a beautiful picture.  The artist will develop the portrait moving from place to place in the drawing adding more and more detail and the drawing emerges from the canvas.  This is NOT at all analogous to the image of my teaching, where every element of their composition had to be perfectly mastered before I was satisfied to move the student to new repertoire.

SNIP 1 – THE BEGINNING

Snip 1Here is the drawing at the very beginning of the process.  There is no detail at this juncture, just a framework to get started.  We cannot discern,with any certainty, the image from these elemental markings.  I remember in my initial interview with a student as a young teacher I would ask the student very non musical questions.  Can you say the alphabet to G?  Can you say the alphabet backwards from G to A?  I would play little games with the student to determine if they were right handed or left handed.  I would ask the parent questions about their piano (no one had keyboards in the 60’s).  I would ask the parent where the piano was in their home.  I was just laying a framework of questions to see if we had the elemental markings necessary for a successful piano student.  At least I was doing this right.

SNIP 2 – THE FIRST IMAGE

Snip 2On the second image we can discern the outlines of a man.  We have the shape of a head containing an ear, an eye, a nose, the beginnings of a neck and a mouth.  We have a shape but we do not have detail.  I can now see the concept of giving a student credit for attempting staccato even though it may not be executed with great precision and detail.  In the first months of study it’s perfectly OK to be concerned with teaching the general “shape of staccato” but, this may not be the time to be concerned with great precision in the detail in its execution.  That detail can wait for another time.

But, the obvious question is “What do we then teach?”  “What do we do with the lesson time?” At this stage, you teach general musical shapes not being concerned with the detail that can wait for a future time.  You learn to teach these basic concepts and be satisfied by the efforts of the student that they can achieve at that moment in their development.  If eighth notes are not perfectly even that’s OK.  As they develop, under you watchful eye, this will develop.  There are certainly going to be many repertoire pieces that are going to feature eighth notes. But, to become fixated on the artistry of performance waiting for perfection from the student is like our artist working on the nose of his painting until it’s perfect in every detail before moving to the eye.  We must learn to be much more holistic in moving the complete performance ability of the student in all its individual parts (shapes) forward.

SNIP 3 –  BEGIN DETAIL, BUT ONLY AT A MODERATE LEVEL

Sniip 3At the next level we begin adding some detail, but only at a moderate level.  After the basic shapes are gently sketched out we are ready to begin filling out the detail.  Also, the painting begins adding some issues of depth perception.  Also, notice at this juncture, the back of the head and the ear is still only sketched.

Applying this analogously to music performance we can make our students aware of some moderate level of detail in dynamics.  We could make students aware of some basic details on music forms.  Teaching, for example, about binary form is fine.  But, going into the detail of key changes and modulation through the A and B sections is an example of adding more detail than is necessary at this stage.  Some introductory comments about music’s style periods may be fine but the necessity of going into more detail isn’t necessary at this point.  Again, think holistically.  The goal is to keep in mind the whole image. We can make students aware of phrases in a general way but at this stage there’s no need to become specific or elaborate.  The goal is to move all the individual parts slowly forward at generally the same pace.  Why teach sotto voce when basic dynamic contrasts are not easily executable?  Maybe our student, at this level, is having difficulty in keeping his accompaniments sufficiently soft.  It would be a much better use of time to begin to work on this detail at a moderate level than the subtlety of sotto voce.

SNIP 4 –  BE PATIENT! EVEN AT MODERATE DETAIL THERE’S A LOT OF WORK TO DO

Snip 4At the intermediate level of this drawing there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to patiently be completed.  One thing I discovered when I was on artistry from the very first lesson approach was that my students could play well.  They scored very well at auditions and festivals, but they couldn’t read well.  This was a direct result of not building the whole student and being overly focused on performance detail.  It was actually a disservice to my students.

Many young students get to the intermediate level in late grade school and middle school years.  At this age their identity with popular music becomes very strong.  It’s the music of their peers.  Using popular music as a means to develop sight reading skills makes great sense.  Give them popular music, a lot of it.  It doesn’t even have to be at their performance level.  Giving students music below their performance level is perfect for sight reading material.

I find popular music provides very good material for teaching students about phrasing and the singing musical line.  It also provides good rhythmic challenges; different rhythmic challenges than classical music, but it is still good material for teaching students moderate level detail work for most students in their teen years.

But, there are many things that can be included in this intermediate level to be taught at a moderate level of detail.  The four major stylistic eras can be explored with some introductory music history.  An introduction to Baroque dances, an outline of the history of the piano, the association with composers to their style period would each make for a framework of study of music history to be fleshed out if lessons continue at a high school or collegiate level.

While students are learning their popular music, continue to work on developing the whole musician and work on music from every performance angle but still at a moderate level.  We’re not teaching students at a graduate school level.

SNIP 5 – MORE PATIENCE! Ending Moderate Detail/Filling in the Gaps

Snip 5Take time to think what are the basic shapes that need thought at the elementary level.  Think of every possible musical shape.  Often, we will think of rather sophisticated things, like unusual meters as 5/4 or 7/8.  Ask yourself, “How can I best prepare my students for these meters in the elementary level as “basic shapes?”  “How can I move my student from the elementary level to the intermediate level in teaching these meters?”  What would these meters look like at a moderate level of detail?  The goal is to lay the proper framework at the elementary level to move the student to the level of moderate detail and difficulty.  To do this without proper preparation is going to take considerably more time than with proper preparation.  Every part of our drawing begins with basic shapes before detail is added and piano teachers need to be thinking in the same manner.

The artistry of teaching is a very rich and rewarding enterprise but it only is achieved with a lot of active purpose and mental effort.  It is also a very different enterprise that the artistry of performance even though it may use much of the same information.

STEP 6 – LET’S BECOME TRULY DETAILED

Snip 6At this stage the drawing is really beginning to look like a work of art.  An image is beginning to emerge.

I look at this extended process as NOT going from Point A to Point B but rather going from Point A to Point Z.   Going from Point A to Point B just requires simple easily discernible logic.  Going from no dynamics to learning forte vs piano is a rather easy step from the point of teaching; though it takes some patience and insistence on the teacher’s part for the student to master this basic rudimentary means of expression.  The same could be said for developing a staccato and a legato touch.

But, from going to Point A to Point Z is like the long process of learning to express the musical line. This is something that is well beyond the simple logic from going from Point A to Point B.  Phrasing beautifully is a long journey that requires a sophisticated touch.  It requires nuance.  It required the development of an artistic sense to intuit the rise and fall of the melodic line.  It requires a sense of a beginning leading to an end.  It includes a sense of breathing.  It includes an apprehension of the continuity of one phrase to the next.  It requires “sound poetry”.  I think if you would write your own list you could add many other very valid points.  All this leads to the fact that for something as sophisticated as artistically expressive music lines, we have so many elements that it cannot possibly be taught as a Point A going to Point B.  To burden an elementary student with this like asking a first grader to understand geometry.

It may be a good idea for a teacher to develop a repertoire of compositions that include your major points of phrasing you feel are musical necessities to great phrasing; in fact maybe have several pieces for each point.  It may also be a good idea to make a list of several Point A to Point Z issues that need a long look for mastery.  Understand meter, simple and compound through all the basic time signatures may be one.  Understand piano technique would be another; moving the student from simple ideas to moderately sophisticated ideas to advanced ideas.  It may be easier to just allow this to happen as the repertoire advances but isolating these issues would be advantageous to both teacher and student and really add the concept of the artistry of teaching.

STEP 7 – LET’S GET REAL!

Snip 8Here’s the final picture in all its detail.  What began as simple framework shapes is now a  real piece of art.  Developing a student as a “work of art” in itself requires thought of someone that approaches teaching itself as an art form and then superimposes his educational art upon his artistic craft of musical performance.

We notice an aged man, mature, detailed down to the lines and wrinkles of his old worn face and beard.  The artist created this drawing not by drawing each feature perfectly and independently of the other.  He drew it by first outlining his basic facial structure and slowly adding general details of each feature and finally by adding the final details which distinguishes this man as a unique individual.

I think by approaching music teaching from this perspective will provide us with an approach that will keep us from an ill advised fastidiousness to detail, that I fell into in my early teaching career, to a panoramic view with an eye to the end that still begins with the very first lesson.

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Animals

Monkeys, Lions and Turtles (and even Butterflies) …….. OH MY!!

Four very different creatures.  Four very different characters!!  Let’s talk about each one.

What is the character of a MONKEY?  Think of a word that describes a MONKEY?  What’s your word?

My word is PLAYFUL.

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What is the character of a LION?  What is your word that describes a LION?

My word is MAJESTIC.  This is why LIONS are known as the KING OF THE JUNGLE.

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What is the first thing that pops in your mind when thinking of a TURTLE?  What is your word?

My word is S—L—O—W.  My mom would often tell me I was as slow as a turtle.

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Finally, what one word best describes the character of a BUTTERFLY?

That one is pretty tough.  My word is FLIGHTY.  Butterflies quickly bounce from place to place.

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Music can express these same characteristics.  Music can be MAJESTIC.  Music can be SLOW.  Music can be PLAYFUL.  Music can be FLIGHTY.

You are going to hear four excerpts of music.  Listen closely to see if you can hear its characteristics.  Is it MAJESTIC?  Is it SLOW?  Is it PLAYFUL?  Is it FLIGHTY?  Which animal is best pictured by each musical example.  Are we listening to LION MUSIC or TURTLE MUSIC or MONKEY MUSIC or BUTTERFLY MUSIC?

SET ONE

Which of the four examples was MAJESTIC ….. which one was SLOW ….. which one was PLAYFUL ….. which one was FLIGHTY?

In no particular order you just heard …..

1) March from the Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.

2) Concerto for Recorder, Oboe and Bassoon by Antonio Vivaldi.

3) Etude in G flat major by Frederic Chopin.

4) Offenbach melody from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.

Let’s try again with another set of musical examples!!

SET TWO

Listen to each example and ask yourself; which one of the four examples was MAJESTIC ….. which one was SLOW ….. which one was PLAYFUL ….. which one was FLIGHTY?  Are we listening to LION MUSIC or TURTLE MUSIC or MONKEY MUSIC or BUTTERFLY MUSIC?

The MAGIC of music is that it can express almost anything even without using words.  In fact, some people say music is one of the most powerful languages that humans can experience.

In no particular order you just heard …..

1) Birds from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.

2) Fragments for Woodwind Trio by Robert Muczynski.

3) Jupiter from the Planets by Gustav Holst.

4) Cello Sonata in D major (excerpt) by Johannes Brahms.

Thanks for listening to MR SEVERINO PRESENTS —Character in Music   and until next time — KEEP PRACTICING!!

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“Click” on the Piano Lessons PLUS picture to visit Piano Lessons PLUS WebSite.

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EXPANDING SERVICES

AT

Piano Lessons PLUS

In the late 80’s is when I made the jump into the world of computers.  I did a lot of reading and saw the great potential that was developing in using computers in music education.  I’ve been using computers ever since and have never looked back.

Today – a quarter of a century later – I see a new leap forward as the computer industry advances in making technology more immediately useful to educators.  The opportunities are too much to pass up.  What I can now offer students is so much more than I could when I began my professional teaching career in the late 70’s.  I can even offer a great deal more than I could when I began Severino’s Piano Keyboard Lab in 1988.  Let’s begin to explore what I can offer to piano students in this new wave of innovation.

IMPROVING EFFICIENCY AND PROFESSIONALISM IN TRADITIONAL PRIVATE LESSONS

Tablet Computers is going to bring computing to a new level usefulness.  The power that can be packed into a thin computing device the size of a book is revolutionary.  Here is how I plan to take advantage of this technology in my PRIVATE LESSONS at Severino’s Piano Lessons PLUS.  I will continue to use my innovative system of marking my students books by using highlighters to draw the student attention to my instruction.  (See “HIGHLIGHT” Your Teaching).  I will still continue to use the books and methods I’ve published through Piano Teacher Press.  I will still continue to utilize the creative music programs I developed for readying students for music lessons when I was going to schools as Dan Dan the Music Man.  I will still continue using the computer programs I designed that supplements the method books I designed in my Keyboard Kid series of books.  What I will now begin to offer is a new level and a new dimension of instruction using the newest technologies available to give you better and more creative musical instruction.

What I can now do is to made a COMPUTER NOTEBOOK for each student.  This notebook will include, among other things, mp3 files of key explanations given in my lessons.  Let’s say in a lesson there is a need for a thorough explanation of “key signatures“.  I can easily record this part of the lesson and include it in the student’s personal computer notebook.  After the lesson I can now send this is to eMail this recording TO YOU so you can review the lesson again at home.  The instruction can be reviewed for greater, more comprehensive learning.

Let’s say a little later in the lesson I assign a new composition.  Very often I would play the piece for the student.  Now I can make either an mp3 of the piece or even a video of the piece and put this directly into the student’s computer notebook.

I recently had a student learn – O What A Beautiful Morning from the musical Oklahoma.  We listened to this song on YouTube.  Now, I can put the link in the student’s computer notebook where they can listen to the piece again.  They may enjoy the piece so much they may even put it on their personal iPod.

Often at the end of a lesson I don’t always get through all the music the student prepared.  I can put a little note in the student’s notebook what we need to cover first at the next lesson.  I can put a notation into the student’s computer notebook and send it via eMail so it will not get misplaced.  I have a record and the student has the same record so there is less confusion and communication breakdowns.  Progress will gain consistency.

It is the practice of many teachers to play new assignments for their students.  What I can now do is make a video of that performance and again put it into the STUDENT NOTEBOOK.  They can now have the performance as part of their permanent record.  The student will not have to recall what they remember  from the lesson but will have live recordings and performances of the most important parts of their lessons.  This cannot help but make the piano lessons more effective.

I can also bring little inspirational quotes and easily put it in each students notebook to personalize the student’s notebook.  It will be much easier for me to get out universal messages to my students concerning recitals or auditions.  As it is now it’s easy for me to forget a family or two concerning an upcoming event.  Now it will be much easier to get my messages to parents.  This only scratches the surface to what I can do through Tablet Computers in making my studio run more efficiently and more professionally.

EXPANDING CONVENIENCE CAN MEAN LESS TRAVEL FOR YOU!!

Another emerging technology that has emerged in the past few years is that of the teleconference; the connecting of people not only aurally but visually.  Some means of doing this is Google Plus – Adobe Connect – and the popular SKYPE.  SKPYE has become a popular platform for piano teachers to connect with student for a piano lesson.  A WebCam (Web Camera) often included with laptop computers, an internet connection and SKYPE (a free download of SKYPE software HERE ) is all you need.

I know many people, both adults and children, would love to take piano lessons if only it could be made a little bit more convenient.  Severino’s Piano Lessons PLUS is going to now offer a program of study where one can, for example, take only one lesson per month at my studio and the other lessons through SKYPE.  This would be especially helpful for busy professionals wanting a self-study program.  BUT with the advent of “cyber-schools” it is being found that young children can learn just fine through this type of computer technology.  Many people are even getting college degrees learning at home with a minimum of visits to a local university.  Please call my studio at (724) 935-2840 if this program interests you.  On the table below are the basic plans I devised for my expanding service of “CYBER-PIANO LESSONS”

PLAN 1 PLAN 2  PLAN 3 PLAN 4 PLAN 5 PLAN 6
30 minute PRIVATE 30 minute  PRIVATE 45 minute PRIVATE 60 minute PRIVATE 45 minute PRIVATE 60 minute PRIVATE
20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE
20 minute SKYPE 30 minute PRIVATE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 45 minute PRIVATE 60 minute PRIVATE
20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE 20 minute SKYPE
90 minutes  monthly 100 minutes monthly 105 minutes monthly 120 minutes monthly 130 minutes monthly 160 minutes monthly
$75.00 monthly $83.35 monthly $87.50 monthly $100.00 monthly $108.35 monthly $133.35 monthly

Some may have questions concerning the effectiveness of online piano lessons. Here is an encouraging note.  Actually, the nature of the medium gives way to increased focus and concentration.  Thus, one can more done in less time and actually costs can be contained.  This is why I designed my SKYPE lessons to be 2o minutes in length and pass that savings on to you.

American Journal of Distance Education, 24(2), 92-103. Orman, E. K. and Whitaker, J. A. (2010).

Time usage during face-to-face and synchronous distance music lessons.

This experimental study closely compares multiple aspects of applied instrumental music lessons in face-to-face and online lesson settings. Three middle school students (one saxophonist, two tubists) had lessons with a saxophone and tuba instructor respectively. Each student had a mix of face-to-face and online video lessons which were videotaped and coded for a variety of factors. When on-line lessons were compared to face to face lessons, there was a 28% increase in student playing, a 36% decrease in off-task comments by the instructor, a 28% decrease in teacher playing (modeling), and an increase in student eye contact. In the online lessons, less than 3% of the time was spent on technology issues, although audio and video quality concerns were mentioned.

THE EXPANDED SERVICE OF MUSIC LESSONS IN YOUR HOME

I mentioned that I began my teaching career by going to my student’s homes.  When I saw the great things computer technology could add to piano lessons I began to do all my teaching at my studio.  Now with the advent of the new technologies including the tablet computer I can bring a large part of that technology from my studio to YOUR HOME.  With a  piece of equipment the size of a book, and a rather thin book at that, I can again offer piano lessons as part of my expanded services.

Again, if this is the type of convenience you need please don’t hesitate to call my studio at (724) 935-2840.  CALL TODAY!!

These EXPANDED SERVICES actually only scratch the surface of the exciting options I have available to offer my students.  My first studio, Severino’s Piano Keyboard Lab, had the byline – Where Traditional Instruction Meets Modern Technology;  That byline is still true and growing at Severino’s Piano Lessons PLUS.

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When I began studying music it was all a mystery.  All the notes seemed to be fixed and I couldn’t change them.  This was reinforced to my uneducated mind through the mistakes I made.  Whenever I played a note that wasn’t notated on the page it sounded terrible.  I assumed that any note beyond the notation was wrong.

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I thought it was like the story I read of a famous sculptor who was asked how he would sculpt an elephant.  The sculptor said it was easy.  All I do is eliminate everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.  I assumed music worked the same way.  To play Yankee Doodle all I needed to do is eliminate every note that wasn’t Yankee Doodle.

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There is a principle in teaching that instructs the teacher — GO FROM THE KNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN.  It was obvious from my childhood assumptions above that there was a great deal of the UNKNOWN in my musical education.  I remember that experience and assume the same process is going on in my student’s minds as they begin their piano instruction.  My goal was to help my students not fall into the trap and limitations of holding on to the assumptions I had as a young student that were limiting at best and downright wrong at worst.

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There are many ways I do that in my teaching but today I want to focus on only one of them.  I’ve made several anthologies of “classical music” for my students.  In several of the compositions I took some of the major ideas employed by the composer and applied it to a common folk song.  If a composer uses imitation in a composition I take a folk song and arrange it using the same type of imitation.  If a composer uses syncopation I take a folk song and apply syncopation within the arrangement.  When the young music student compares the similarity between the classical composition and the folk song; what is unknown becomes known.

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This method of learning helps the student understand far better than just giving a text book definition of imitation or syncopation.  Let’s take a couple examples to demonstrate using this method in applying the principle of going from the UNKNOWN TO THE KNOWN.

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Here is a popular teaching piece by Kabalevsky – Chit Chat.  The piece is a simple piece of imitation; a measure is first played by the left hand and is directly imitated by the right hand in the following measure.

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I always mention to students that imitation is something they are going to find very common in the music they will study.  It will enter into their compositions in many different and creative ways.  I use this piece as my “entry level” piece to teach the concept of musical imitation.

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This little arrangement of Are You Sleeping?  uses the same imitation technique as Chit Chat by Kabalevsky.  To add a little variety and to give students another example I created a variation on the Are You Sleeping? theme.

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Using this method helps students become aware of how a composer can use an idea like imitation to create a composition.  For teachers who teach composition this is a good simple technique that can be used to guide students to make their compositions more interesting.

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The page on the left is another way to reinforce the concept of imitation.  The student is given the major phrases of the folk song Three Blind Mice.  The student is given two measures to write out the imitation.

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The teacher may certainly aid the student in helping him write out the imitation but most students do rather well in understanding the assignment and knowing what to do to fulfill the requirements.

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A good piece to introduce students to syncopation is Morning Greeting by Gurlitt.

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The same syncopation is repeated throughout the piece.  Also, there is always a chord to play on beat one to help the student feel/create the feel of the syncopation.

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To reinforce the concept of syncopation to the student I created an arrangement of the popular folk song Cockles and Mussels.  I used Cockles and Mussels because it also could be syncopated with the same rhythmic arrangement of notes as Gurlitt’s Morning Greeting.

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The pedagogical use for the Ecossaise in G major by Schubert is that it is one of the few pieces that uses root position dominant 7th chords.  Root position 7th chords makes a perfect springboard for the introduction of teaching 7th chords.

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To compliment the Ecossaise in G I took the old madrigal Now is the Month of Maying by Thomas Morley and arranged it with several root position dominant 7th chords.  Again, when students get an opportunity to see the similarity between the two compositions the student grows in understanding that music follows rules and traditions.  When students are made aware of these rules and traditions their understanding and assimilation of their repertoire will be facilitated.

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Finally, I would like to explain my way of helping students experience the common practice of changing from a major mode to the parallel minor.  Kabalevsky makes use of this technique in a piece he wrote called The Little March.  The first phrase is in C major and the second phrase repeats the same material in C minor.

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To further the students understanding of the changing from major to minor I took the popular folk song Shortnin’ Bread.  Through the little arrangement I alter the mode of the phrases going from major to minor.  Being that most students are familiar with Shortnin’ Bread they can more easily discern the dramatic difference that this change of mode creates.

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Using folk songs in this way has been a great way to teach my students the great musical tradition we follow.  It has been one of the major ways I use to help my students go from the UNKNOWN and make it KNOWN by going from the KNOWN (folk songs) and showing the connection it can have to the UNKNOWN (our musical tradition).

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This handy little chart defines the task of a music teacher quite well.  I would like to comment on the major points.
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MUSIC IS A SCIENCE:  We live in an age that has seen giant strides because of scientific discovery.  That sense of scientific discovery is also a very handy tool in teaching music to students.  For example, the piano is an instrument that takes full advantage of the “overtone series”.  This scientific idea is a part of our natural world.  I demonstrate how a fundamental low bass tone “sensitizes” other notes above that fundamental tone.  These tones are “sensitized”  WITHOUT EVEN PLAYING THOSE TONES.  The notes they sensitize are the notes of the major chord from this fundamental tone.  This little exercise puts the student in direct touch with natural world itself.  Students discover, through this little scientific experiment, that music is part of nature itself.  It opens their world to see what they are doing in their music is touching on the the pulse of nature and in fact, the whole universe.  Music is a cosmic activity!
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MUSIC IS MATHEMATICS:  There are so many ways in which music is mathematical.  The natural pulse in music divides most commonly in twos and threes. It is my starting point for teaching the mathematics of music.  From the very beginning I emphasize the feeling of the strong beat in a musical pulse.  After the strong beat is easily discerned we can move on, in a rather scientific manner, to our discussion of the weak beats that are found in music.  This directly leads to meter in music and duple meter (such as 2/4) and triple meter (such as 3/4).  The nice thing about music being mathematical is that the teacher can present the musical material in a very logical systematic and “scientific” manner, relating back to our first point.  Most students are fascinated by the logical and mathematical ways in which music can be understood.
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MUSIC IS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE:  I personally think that it would be better to say simply that MUSIC IS A LANGUAGE.  I think mathematics can be also said to be a language, too.  It can express things that words cannot.  Music is no different as it expresses things words cannot.  Music can even express things that even math cannot.  Again, MUSIC AS LANGUAGE can be approached from a myriad of different ways.  The language of “major” and “minor” opens up many possibilities.  As the poster alludes, music comes from many cultures. Just as each language has its unique sound, the music from each culture has its unique sound.  An Irish Jig sounds different from an Italian Tarantella, even though they often share the same meter. A Polish Mazurka sounds very different from a Viennese Waltz, even though they share a common triple meter.  Music puts a student on a journey that traverses the world.  Music is a language we can share and learn from others even though we may not understand a word of their native language.
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MUSIC IS PHYSICAL EDUCATION:  Learning a musical instrument takes intense physical training.  I will often draw a student’s attention to new born children.  When we observe them we notice, as they lie on their back, they are full of activity, especially the kicking of their legs.  This constant kicking of their legs strengthens them for the eventual task of learning to crawl.  When they learn to crawl on all fours their arms become stronger.  In time they can use the strength of their arms to become upright; yet their legs are not yet strong enough to walk.  But in time they can make their first step. then two. Then comes the magic day when they can walk.  But they are not done.  Eventually they run, skip and even jump.
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When students show me their first creations at the piano I always give them the praise they deserve.  But when we begin working on proper technique I say their finger movement reminds me of the kicking of that newborn child.  They have to go through many steps of training to eventually get to the place where they can run.  This is a journey that takes time, and just like that newborn they keep on moving forward until they could eventually run, if they go through all the steps of the process, they will eventually run too.
***
 
MOST OF ALL MUSIC IS ART:  Even though music is a very scientific and mathematical venture, even though its a journey that is as exciting as learning how to run; the reason for learning a musical instrument is because of the challenge it brings to the imagination.  The challenge of learning to become artistic.  One of the best ways I found to get across the concept of art, artistry or becoming artistic is through stories and poems.
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I give the student two examples.
 
ONE …
I almost fell asleep one night
While reading some books.
But an old bird woke me up
By pecking on my door.
It was winter.
 
TWO:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door
Only this, and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
*****
*****
 
 
Both examples describe the same incident.  The first is very plain.  You may even think “so what“!  The second example stimulates your imagination and brings you into the story.  You can see it, you can almost hear the tapping of the raven, you begin to imagine the furnishings of the room, you experience your feelings of a dark winter’s night when you’re all alone.   This stimulation of the imagination is what makes this poem — art.  When we play a good piece of music we should be inspired to imbue the notes with meaning and tell the story or express the feelings that the notes bring to your imagination.  Art is the communication of imagination to imagination.
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The most joyful aspect of teaching music is giving students the tools and means to communicate imagination to imagination through the media of music.  This can be said no better than in this poem by Franz von Schober.  It was beautifully set to music as an art song by Franz Schubert.
***
TO MUSIC
by Franz von Schober
*
 
Oh lovely Art, in how many grey hours,
When life’s fierce orbit ensnared me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Carried me away into a better world!
***
How often has a sigh escaping from your harp,
A sweet, sacred chord of yours
Opened up for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you!

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The Practice Puzzle

How do I practice?  How many times should I play through each piece?  Is 3 or 5 times for each piece enough?

I’ve been asked this questions by students since I began teaching.  In this short blog I want to give you a new way of thinking about practicing piano.

I think most beginning students approach practicing piano like they do putting together a puzzle.  They dump all the pieces out of the box and put the pieces face up and begin to try to find matches.  Very often this is done in a hit and miss fashion.  You find a piece that “sort of” seems like it may fit; or “seems to” have the right color and experiment to see if it fits.  With enough testing and experimentation eventually the picture emerges.

Many students practice this way.  They play their piece from the beginning to the end.  They think by doing it with enough repetitions and practice eventually the composition will emerge.

That is the longest and most inefficient method of practice we could devise.  We need A NEW METHOD ….. A BETTER METHOD of practice.

Mr Severino Presents – A BETTER METHOD

Let’s play a NEW GAME.  The example above is a 25 piece puzzle.

Our goal is to put this puzzle together in only 25 MOVES.

That means we must be perfect.  We cannot guess and try to put together pieces that “sort of” look like they “may” fit together.  To put this puzzle together in only 25 MOVES we are going to have to concentrate and think carefully, unlike before where we just guessed our way through to the completion of the puzzle.  We are going to have to closely examine each piece and imagine if the shape of one puzzle piece will fit into the other piece.  We are going to have to examine each piece to see if the colors of each piece and then imagine if they are going to help complete the image of the puzzle.

How does this apply to our piano practice?  We examine each “piece” of our musical composition.

Examine the “time signature”.  If your piece is in 3/4 time, with your music in front of you begin to sense the accent on beat one of each measure.  You may do these exercises with your piano in front of you or you can do them mentally.   You want to train yourself to do as many of these steps as possible away from the piano.  Not all piano practice must be in front of  your piano!

Examine the “rhythm piece” of the composition.  Mentally go through each rhythm and make sure you understand it.  If you do not, isolate that rhythm, play it or clap it until you understand it.

This includes the important point of being able to know how the right hand and left hand work together.  Don’t go on until you understand how this rhythm is going to “feel” under your fingers.

Examine the “harmony”.  Are there any chords that you know?  You want to get to the point where you can easily identify all the chords in your compositions.

Examine the “key signature”  If a composition has no key signature is it in C major or A minor.  Search for the note C or the note A in the composition  Search for C chords or Am chords.

Examine the “accidentals”   Many students are thrown by accidentals when practicing by just slugging away and trying to learn by going through each piece 5 times.  But if you are prepared by mentally going through each accidental you will be much more successful and make far fewer mistakes.

If we use this same approach in our piano practice our learning will be much better.  And if we make this as the main method of learning our assignments we will be able to learn our assigned pieces much more rapidly.  How would you like to learn 5 pieces in the time it now takes you to learn one?  This will be within your capabilities if you learn how to practice with your strongest concentration.

Thanks for participating in Mr. Severino Presents.  ‘TILL NEXT TIMEKEEP PRACTICING!!

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Greetings!!  Welcome to this installment of Mr. Severino Presents.  I think you’ll have fun going through today’s music lesson.

Look at the picture.

What animal do you see?

The lion is known as “the King of Beasts”.  Kings and lions can be described with the word MAJESTIC.  Majestic describes things that are grand and noble or stately and dignified.

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Now what animal do you see?

Of course, we have a picture of a turtle.  Turtles do not move very fast.  In fact, because they are so slow, people may express things as being as slow as a turtle.  If you are on a trip and caught in traffic you may say a turtle is moving faster than this traffic.  We characterize turtles as being slow.  Or, maybe we could say it like this …      S___L___O___W !  !  !

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What is our next animal?

How would you describe a monkey?  Did you ever go to a zoo and observe the monkeys?  If you went to the zoo and saw the monkeys how did you react?  Did you ever see monkeys in cartoons?  Did the monkeys make you happy?  We can describe monkeys very well with the single word PLAYFUL!

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Finally, what is being described in our fourth animal card?  The butterfly!   Butterflies are a favorite part of summer.  Their beautiful colors make them very fun to watch.  A very good word to describe the butterfly is to say they are FLIGHTY.  They fly from place to place, from flower to flower. They move to each destination with grace and motion.

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We described each of our four animal creatures with a characteristic word.

Lions are MAJESTIC.

Turtles are SLOW.

Monkeys are PLAYFUL.

Butterflies are FLIGHTY.

Music also can be described with words because music also has character.

We are now going to listen to 4 examples of music that can also be said to be MAJESTIC, SLOW, PLAYFUL and FLIGHTY.  Your job is to tell me if we are listening to …

LION MUSIC (majestic)

TURTLE MUSIC (slow) 

MONKEY MUSIC (playful) or

BUTTERFLY MUSIC (flighty)

There will be two short quizzes.

QUIZ ONE will have 4 questions.  QUIZ TWO will have 4 questions.

Before beginning, print out the Character in Music QUIZ SHEET  [Click HERE]  Play each musical example.  Decide what animal creature best fits with the musical example.  Put the example number in the upper right hand corner of each creature you decide upon.  If you wish, color each animal creature on the QUIZ SHEET.

To do the second quiz print out a second copy of the Character in Music QUIZ SHEET [Click HERE]

QUIZ ONE

QUIZ ONE – EXAMPLE 1

QUIZ ONE – EXAMPLE 2

QUIZ ONE – EXAMPLE 3

QUIZ ONE – EXAMPLE 4

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QUIZ TWO

QUIZ TWO – EXAMPLE 1

QUIZ TWO – EXAMPLE 2

QUIZ TWO – EXAMPLE 3

QUIZ TWO – EXAMPLE 4

Would you like to know how you did?  Click HERE for the Character in Music ANSWER SHEET.

Listening for character in music asks us to use our imagination in ways that most of our school work does not.  Yet, this is the daily work of composers and musicians.  YOUR JOB, as a music student, is to use your imagination to best express the character that is found in every composition you perform.

Thanks for participating in Mr. Severino Presents.  ‘TILL NEXT TIMEKEEP PRACTICING!!

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