Posts Tagged ‘MTNA’

Why I Chose a Windows 7 Based Tablet

A couple months ago I finally made the plunge into the world of tablet computers.  It was a long journey as I bounced from iPads to Android based  machines and finally to Windows based machines.  Throughout my journey I wavered between these three basic choices several times.  Many, in fact most, of my piano teacher friends were choosing the iPad.  There seemed to be an almost limitless number of useful apps written for the iPad.  I was strongly considering the iPad and researching all the ways I could utilize the iPad at my studio.

My son in law is a computer professional and I sought his advise.  His advise was to wait.  This type of computer device wasn’t really ready for prime time.  He said to wait for a couple generations until this device was sufficiently designed for end users.  My research led me find that Bill Gates had come to the same conclusion.  Bill Gates main complaint was that, even with the iPad, this device needed better input capabilities.  He mentioned that in the research labs there were some fine advances in the making but they were not quite ready.  Another legitimate complaint with both iPads and Android devices was the limited amount of expansion capabilities.  With this rather disheartening information I dropped the whole idea for several months.

After the iPad 3 came on the market my interest was again kindled but the main complaints of my son in law was not addressed with with the iPad 3.  The iPad 3 didn’t address the limitations of expansion and limited input devices.

Then I noticed that Windows was coming out with Windows 8. Windows 8 was to be designed with the touch capabilities on par with the iPad and other Android devices.  Touch is a big selling feature of the iPad and Android based devices.  Before this time I didn’t do any research into anything Windows based.  This information caused me to research out this avenue.  Having a tablet computer that would run programs as Microsoft Office seemed to be a necessity for business and educational applications.

YouTube was a great source for research.  Many people devote themselves to reviewing high tech equipment.  I found there were several Windows based tablet PC’s that were on the market.  Some were rather expensive but others were very comparable in price to the iPad and Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy.  Many of the reviews addressed the same limitations of the iPad that I was already familiar.

Basically, analysts divided the tablet market into two major groups; the business community and the non-business community.  Both markets have different customers they are trying to satisfy.  Of course, this helped me see why Bill Gates/Microsoft and Steve Jobs/Apple would have different perspectives.  The different visions of each man led them to create very different products.

The HP Slate 500

Eventually I came across a Windows 7 based device manufactured by HP (Hewlett Packard) called the Slate 500.  This device made very clear the difference between the visions of the creators of the Apple and Microsoft.   The creators of the Slate 500 designed this machine not only for business professionals BUT FOR PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS.  This really captured my attention.

The limitations of input devices was eliminated because the Slate 500 has included a digitizer pen that has an excellent program that can read ones handwriting with remarkable accuracy.  And not only that, commercial ARTISTS were pleased with using the Slate 500 for doing preliminary sketching.   So, the problem of input into the Slate 500 was addressed successfully.

Second the problem of expansion was almost completely solved.  The iPad’s memory capabilities are fixed.  The Slate 500 comes with 64 GB storage AND with the SD card slot one can purchase all the extra storage one may need.  I bought an extra 32 GB of extra storage for well under $20.

The rear view of the HP Slate 500 docking station

Another great feature of the Slate 500 is that it comes equipped with a docking station to charge the internal batteries or to use the machine when using an outside power source.  But this docking station is so much more.  The docking station also contains connections for HDMI.  It also contains 2 USB ports and that’s in addition to the one on the tablet itself.  There is also an audio port for connecting to external audio speakers.  One isn’t limited at all in any desire for expanding the Slate 500.

The HDMI is very useful because I can connect the Slate 500 to a 24 inch HDMI monitor.  This is a very useful feature for my studio work.  I can use the HDMI monitor as a projector in conjunction with Windows Paint for little presentations I can make for my students.

The USB ports were very useful because I purchased a bluetooth keyboard and mouse from Logitech for under $30.  When I need to use the Slate for more comprehensive work that requires more intense input I’m ready to work.  In fact, because my PC wasn’t available to be used this afternoon I used my Slate to write this blog.  Though for most work I do on the Slate the digitizer pen is completely sufficient.

Finally, the audio port included on the dock was easily connected to two Bose Speakers ($99) that gives my Slate exceptional sound quality when I want to play musical videos for my students.

To conclude, the reasons for my buying the Windows based Slate 500 are …..

1) It’s Windows based and runs Microsoft Office.

2) Its memory storage capabilities are not limited.

3)  Using it with additional input devices (keyboards – mice – digitizer pens) is no problem

4) It capacity for expansion; including 3 USB ports, SD cards, and HDMI

5) It is capable to the touch features expected of other tablet devices and smartphones.

6) It was designed with educators in mind.

7) DIDN’T MENTION IT but this can run Kindle as a portable eReader, too.

8) It’s fully capable of browsing the web

9) Microsoft has always caught up to Apple in the past and the nifty apps now available with the iPad will shortly find application with Windows devices as they gain in popularity.

My next blog will be on how I use the Slate 500 in my Music Studio.  Stay tuned.

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The SILENT Piano Lesson

All teachers teach their piano students HOW TO PRACTICE.  We often will take a couple minutes during a lesson and give the students pointers on how to effectively use their time.  These pointers usually include things like — play hands separately — isolate difficult spots — practice away from the piano — play at a constant tempo, even if slower than the final tempo, that you can keep from the beginning to the end.  I thought that after I went over this ritual, even at periodic intervals, I was effectively doing my job.

One day I found out how INEFFECTIVE this method was in teaching students how to practice.  One day I said to several of my students — Today we’re going to have a SILENT PIANO LESSON.  I’m not going to say a word.  I’m just going to observe you practice.  I may sketch down a few notes but for all practical purposes I want you to forget I’m here.  I want you to practice just like you do at home.

This gave me a chance to see how effectively my little “how to practice” lectures took root in my student’s practice routine.  I thought my little lectures were clear.  I always thought my explanations were colorful and full of analogies they could grasp.  I got feedback from the student that they understood my point(s).  And to complete the lesson I would ask them “How are you going to practice differently this week?”  They would answer with the affirmation that they would follow my instructions.

To my surprise most students practiced the same way.  They would play one piece and then go on to the next piece until they played all their pieces.  A couple of the students would play through the piece a couple times; but always the same way — from beginning to end.

It became obvious, regardless of what I thought was effective teaching, what I was doing was very lacking.  Like most piano teachers we generally teach students that are above average academically. I can’t really blame the students.  I also couldn’t blame myself.  I was doing good work.

So the question is, what is different between the lessons time and their practice time?  The answer —- ME.  When I’m guiding the student I am providing the questions that need answered.  I’m providing the direction.  I’m evaluating the performance for them with the necessary commentary as to how the student should think about what they just did.  This is actually very sophisticated work and students are not yet creative enough or critical enough in their thinking to solve the problems necessary to improve their repertoire efficiently and effectively.  Students can improve and do improve week by week; but they do so with very inefficient and ineffective practicing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that students must be taught THROUGH CONSTANT MONITORING how to practice.  And this can most effectively be accomplished through The SILENT Piano Lesson.  Until the students learns the critical thinking skills necessary that’s part of practicing through the active participation of the teacher the student will only learn most slowly and most painfully.

We all want better for our students.

Students must learn learn the difference between playing the piano and practicing the piano.  Most students don’t know the difference without the vigilant effort of a good teacher.  To most students, even those that have played piano for several years, the difference between practice and performance is a very fuzzy and hazy concept.  Most students think music lessons is a process of making music.  Practice is what happens at the beginning and performance is what happens at the end.  It’s like making ice cream.  You start cranking and after you are done cranking you have ice cream.

But each (practicing and performing) is really an entirely different disposition.  Practicing uses an entirely different set of mental abilities than does performing.  Practicing is the creating of a reality from the notes on the printed page.  Performance is the projection of those notes, of that reality, to an audience; even if that audience is only the performer.

When teachers are preparing students for performances it’s very easy to seamlessly move from performance suggestions to practicing suggestions.  This is why I recommend that with some regularity we focus on The SILENT Piano Lesson.  On The SILENT Piano Lessons we teach student HOW TO PRACTICE first by observation ALONE. BE TOTALLY SILENT. Be totally silent and observe how much of their personal critical thinking skills is taking place.  In the last 5 – 10 minutes of the lesson  TEACH the student to think critically through your observations.  Do this repeatedly UNTIL critical thinking becomes second nature to the student.  If a student needs a SILENT Piano Lesson monthly for several years it will be worth it.

Then by teaching the student the critical thinking skills necessary the student will eventually learn INDEPENDENTLY the creation of the musical reality found in each composition they study.  I know teachers do this as part of each lesson, just as I described at the beginning of this blog; but, if we do it in ISOLATION as its own skill in developing critical thinking and being creative, I think, in time, students will learn HOW TO PRACTICE and not just do well in playing their repertoire.
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One of the curses of the competition mentality is that it forces talented young players to present fully groomed interpretations early on. There is no time for experimentation, for exploring dead-ends, for making mistakes, for trying daring or outrageous options. In short, the student has to sound like a (usually boring) CD as soon as possible. My teacher, Gordon Green, used to say to me: “My dear boy, forget about competitions. I don’t care how you sound now, it’s how you will sound in ten years time that interests me”.

from Stephen Hough’s – What Makes A Good Piano Teacher

Apollo and the Muses Atop Mount Parnassus

This quote gives the Independent Piano Teacher some very good advice.  Perfectionist personalities, which certainly are not unknown in our profession, need to take note of the path we map out for our students as they begin to scale  Parnassus, that lofty mountain range in central Greece that was, according to mythology, sacred to Apollo and the Muses; and today is symbolic of the journey to artistic excellence.

One day an elderly woman knocked at my studio door and gave me some old worn copies of the music of her youth.  Glancing through her collection I sensed going back to a different age and time. My eye spotted a yellowed and wrinkled copy of a tome I’ve, up to that time, only read about – the famous Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus) by Muzio Clementi.   As I carefully paged through the aged book I was not only transported back in time by each of the torn corners; but also by the musty smell that rose to my nostrils.  This volume was probably not opened for decades.  Gradus ad Parnassum taught pianists of the late 18th and earth 19 centuries how to reach the summit of piano performance, Parnassus.  If you remember, even the great Mozart was deemed technically inferior to Clementi when these two went head to head in a pianistic duel.  On this count we must give Clementi his due.  And we must also take note to his path to the summit of technical mastery given in hisGradus ad Parnassum.

Today’s scaling of Parnassus is centuries removed from Clementi yet we have a lingering nostalgia of that historic time.  Even though piano technique has vastly changed since Mozart and Clementi’s time this book of exercises still has a great historical interest.  Clementi’s image of scaling Parnassus is a very useful metaphor for all those who embark of a journey of musical and technical excellence.  This metaphor brings with it a broad panoramic and sweeping image of a long and arduous journey.  The trap for the piano teacher today is to take that lingering nostalgia and its broad panoramic view and to apply it myopically to our teaching tasks.

Essentially, what we do is to take a binocular view of our Gradus an Parnassum only we look through our binoculars backwards.  The broad panoramic view is perfectly discernible but totally miniaturized.  We see perfection in miniature.  We teach in a manner that applies perfection not to reaching Parnassus but to view every step, every pebble, every blade of grass, every weed as needing perfection because we become so accustomed to looking through our binoculars backwards.  This is why the opening quote is so meaningful.  Stephen Hough’s teacher had the broad vision of Parnassus still in view in his comment …

My dear boy, forget about competitions. I don’t care how you sound now, it’s how you will sound in ten years time that interests me”.

I think if we give due weight to this panoramic view we can make some significant changes in our teaching that will actually shorten the scaling of Parnassus.  Yet, as the quote suggests, so much can be learned when we don’t demand perfection at every point.  Much can be learned by experimenting with interpretive ideas that eventually do NOT work.  Have a student work on a tempo that’s too fast.  Have the student discover for himself what this tempo will require by giving him.  Allow the student a few weeks of trying to discover what this quicker tempo will do to the interpretation.  These “dead ends” will be very instructive when future interpretive decisions need to be thought through.

Here are some thoughts in keeping the broad panoramic view in scaling pianistic Parnassus …

Choose pieces with the goal of building skills instead of performance perfection.

There is so much material available that one shouldn’t waste time on any composition that a student is not enthusiastic about.  A piece may be an excellent piece to teach staccato, but if a student isn’t enthusiastic about the composition you are going to find several staccato pieces in the near future that the student will enjoy where you can give the student good instruction to execute staccato correctly.  The awareness of the task and some basic instruction is sufficient.

If a student has never worked on a composition that requires different touches from each hand it’s very important to find one or more pieces that require this technical task.  So much “educational” material is written with performance in mind that pieces designed for building skills takes a back seat.  Teachers that have Parnassus in the forefront of their thoughts will not look at new compositions simply for their “performance” value but will also be giving great attention to a pieces value at building pianistic and musical skills.

Both Rome and scaling Parnassus isn’t done in a day so perfection can wait.   Begin to look out of those binoculars from the correct side.

Take time.  Subtlty is learned panoramically.

I think method books throw some concepts at students far too quickly.  One such concept is that of dynamic gradations.  Don’t move students into mezzo piano or mezzo forte until they can produce a solid forte and a controlled piano AT WILL.  It’s wasted time to teach subtle gradations when basics are not thoroughly mastered.

Analyze the notes used when first introducing a new musical concept.

Again, method books, in their rush to get all the bases covered often give too many editorial markings to make it musically more interesting TO THE TEACHER’S TRAINED EAR.  There will often be many crescendos or diminuendos in a score.  FIRST choose crescendos that are most easily executed.  I find that  five finger scale passages are the easiest and most logically ordered for a successful first exposure for the beginning student.

Repeated sequence passages are also among easier to execute successfully.  Ostinato passages are also rather easy to give interest and dynamic shape.

After a student has mastered these more basic executions; THEN something more difficult may be explored.  Don’t be dictated by editors or composers by throwing too much sophistication at a student not yet prepared.

Of course, sometimes these easier type passages can be found in compositions and may be totally without any editorial directions.  Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these passages to add interest easily and successfully.

In the composition ENIGMA, to your left (click on hypertext to see in Adobe Reader); to students that are rhythmically able I will add accents on the final beat of measures 1, 3 and 5.  This accent gives a new character to the composition and makes the piece more interesting.  I don’t hesitate to do this to any piece (except for master composers) if the student is ready for the added sophistication.

Choose recital and audition songs wisely.

The main thing we look for in choosing a recital or audition piece is it’s attractiveness.  Certainly this is of prime importance but it’s not of SOLE IMPORTANCE.  Take into account other issues.

  • How much lesson time is this going to take?  I personally do not like choosing selections that max out the student.  I often find that if a student learns a piece that is too difficult that they want their next piece to even be MORE difficult.  This is a very very bad precedent to begin.  There’s plenty of time to scale Parnassus.  TAKE IT!!  Keep the journey fascinating and keep the ascent gradual and the goals attainable.  Make EVERY PIECE intriguing and keep their mind totally stimulated as to what each piece represents musically, historically, theoretically and technically.
  • Does this piece in some way help us scale Parnassus?  I’ve so often been to workshops and with great pride have often heard the clinician comment – This piece makes the student sound better than what he/she is!  Again, don’t make this the only criteria for choosing a recital or audition selection.  If you’re going to spent extra time in learning a composition it MUST have purposes grander than the student will look better than their true attainment.  Keep Parnassus in view.  Make sure the extra time will be spent attaining goals that move your student forward to greater accomplishment.  Don’t be taken by superficiality.  Remember clinicians are there to sell you music which is fine, but keep your teacher hat fully attached too.  You are at the clinic to help your students reach their Parnassus.

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