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Posts Tagged ‘piano theory’

Freebie Friday LOGOAbout six months ago I began FREEBIE FRIDAY over at PianoTeacherPress.com  Every Friday I offer a free excerpt from one of my Piano Teacher Press products.  I was recently looking over the wide variety of products that I’ve given away and I thought it should be something more widely known to my loyal readers and your piano teaching friends.

Not only do I give away a FREE excerpt each week but I provide a short commentary on the selection explaining how it can benefit a student in your studio.  To find out what we’re offering this week please click [here] on our FREEBIE FRIDAY LINK.

Here’s a smattering of what you have been missing by not being part of our FREEBIE FRIDAY GIVEAWAY!!

BK1A_00A OUTCOVER (COLOR)If you have difficulty getting the very young preschool student to read music KEYBOARD KIDS reading method may be your answer.  Our reading method introduces one music symbol at a time in a leisurely paced manner where young students are never overwhelmed.  Suzuki teachers have found KEYBOARD KIDS as a great supplement to introduce their young students into reading music notation.  I have used it for a over quarter century and it has been a great success.  One week I offered The Cool Ghoul as a FREEBIE FRIDAY GIVEAWAY.

SAMPLE - The Cool GhoulEach symbol on this page was introduced individually before The Cool Ghoul appears in their book.  … the quarter note (walk note), the rest, the bar line, the staff line, the treble and bass clef, the time signature (only the top number is given at this stage of learning), the double bar; even the fingering and the stem direction of the notes were introduced as in individual concept.

Reading is introduced to students as STEPS and SKIPS and students are given assignment pages to cement this critical reading concept into the students thinking.  This is introduced from the very beginning.  Students are taught to underC000-COLORIZED My Very First Theory Book (Cover)stand notation where reading becomes a natural process.

To help students understand STEPS and SKIPS we have My Very First Theory Book.  This book gives students exercises to help students think in steps and skips.  One FREEBIE FRIDAY I offered a page that helps student think in steps; not through notation, but through the alphabet.FF - SAMPLE The Next Letter

NOTICE:  This page gives the student the musical alphabet where “A” follows “G”.  After students gain mental facility in learning to think ahead one (musical) alphabet letter; students are given pages to help them think one step backwards.  The same exercises are repeated for skips.

These little exercise is a very good one to help students in doing simple thought exercises in basic reasoning and is one of the ways where understanding music is very beneficial for mental development.

This book provides a very good supplemental book to the KEYBOARD KIDS series of reading books.

Another week I also used The Cool Ghoul as my Freebie Friday Giveaway but this time as part of an exercise designed to build a students rhythmic skills.  This exercise is found in our Discovery Piano System – THEORY Book 1.00-FC THEORY_Middle C - COLOR Book 1  I will speak in more detail about The Discovery Piano System in a subsequent blog about our Freebie Friday program.  In THEORY Book 1 there is a section of nearly a dozen pieces that have student and teacher play in ensemble.  One player is the pianist and the other provides a rhythmic background played on a common rhythm instrument.FF - SAMPLE The COOL Ghoul

In this example the rhythm player must play on those beats where the piano player rests, almost always on beat 2.  On the first exercises of this rhythm section of THEORY Book 1 the rhythm part emphasizes the easier skill of playing on the downbeat (beat 1).  This exercises begins to develop the skill of having the student learn to feel an offbeat.  Even though the exercises are designed around simple concepts they are designed in a progressive manner where success is most easily achieved.  Students discover musical concepts in an almost seamless stream of little steps.

As I hope you can see our FREEBIE FRIDAY Giveaways not only give you free music but they give you pedagogical information where you can use the free excerpts and maybe even give you some ideas you can use in your own studio teaching.  To join our growing list of FREEBIE FRIDAY teachers go [HERE]– find the RED BUTTON that looks like the link below (which will be red and not purple) and in your correspondence write – SUBSCRIBE FREEBIE FRIDAY. FREEBIE FRIDAY BUTTONBe on the lookout for future blogs that go over all that we’ve been giving away each FREEBIE FRIDAY!!

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Piano Teacher Press is adding an exciting new line of teaching products called IMITATION SOLOS.  IMITATION SOLOS are FOLIOS of musical selections, theory briefs, written work, performance exercises and certificates of achievement.

The basic concept of IMITATION SOLOS is to take a selection from the Classical student repertoire and arrange a well known Folk Song in the manner of the Classical selection.  If the Classical piece contains alberti bass patterns the Folk Song is arranged with alberti bass patterns.  If the Classical piece contains a particular syncopated motif the Folk Song is arranged with the same syncopated motif.

The reason I originally did this was to take the “mystique” out of Classical music.  I remember as a grade school student in the 1960’s my friends talking about the Beatles.  They were in awe of them because they did some of the same thing in their songs as Beethoven.  WOW!!  My friends thought if the Beatles did the same things as Beethoven they must be on a higher plane of musical composition than even Elvis.

As young music students discover the musical world they are mentally trying to figure it out.  In the process they can come to some opinions that are formed without quite enough information.  IMITATION SOLOS were written to help students on that journey of mental discovery.  If the unknown “mystical” world of Classical music can be demystified by comparing it to something in the more familiar world of folk music then we will have facilitated that mental journey of discovery.

AN EXAMPLE

Most IMITATION SOLOS are going to begin with a page called Technically SpeakingTechnically Speaking lays out the technically common feature(s) between the Classical Composition and the Folk Song.

Let’s take the idea of Melodic Imitation.  In my private studio I’ve always used Kabalevsky’s elementary composition Chit Chat but since Kabalevsky’s compositions are still under copyright protection I composed an equivalent in a piece called HelloHello.

Hello – Hello is another piece of direct melodic imitation.  Each measure is directly imitated in the next.

Hello Hello Sample

Hello – Hello is followed by treating the Folk Song – Are You Sleeping? in the same exact manner of direct melodic imitation.

Are You Sleeping SAMPLE

But IMITATION SOLOS do not stop here.  There are two more important sections designed to help the student assimilate the concept of Melodic Imitation; WRITE ON! and PLAY ON!

In WRITE ON!  the student is given a little composing/copying assignment that reinforces the idea of melodic imitation through writing.  The student is given another popular folk song, Three Blind Mice, and asked to complete each of the short phrases in direct imitation; just like the Classical Composition and the Folk Song.

Three Blind Mice SAMPLE

After students do their written work they must play that work, their own creative effort, to see the result and to solidify the concept of Melodic Imitation.

When students experience Melodic Imitation in Hello – Hello and then see the same concept expressed in an arrangement of Are You Sleeping?; the “mystique” of Classical music becomes part of the common language of all music. Students begin to feel like they are an intellectual part of the long tradition of Classical music expressed through its actual creation.  This is a very different feel and experience than just learning to physically “play pieces”.

After the completion of understanding the concept of Melodic Imitation through Technically Speaking, learning the Classical Composition, learning the Folk Song arrangement (with the option to memorize these pieces), doing the WRITE ON! assignment to understand the concept through the act of writing, and finally playing the PLAY ON! assignment to gain fluency in the concept the student can feel a degree of ownership in understand an important aspect of musical understanding.  They can and should be justly awarded a certificate for his efforts.  There are two certificates that is included in your FOLIO; one for black and white printers and one for color printers.  Each certificate has “boxes” to check off the individual assignments to earn the certificate in Melodic Imitation”.

B&W Cert SAMPLE

COLOR Cert SAMPLE

I have about 20 IMITATION SOLO FOLIOS in various stages of development.  They fall in the mid elementary to the mid intermediate level of advancement.  Stay tuned for future installments of IMITATION SOLOS.

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Watch a YouTube Video narrated by Professor I.M. Pedantic.  Click HERE or on the graphic below.  (The video includes a performance of the Classical Composition and the Folk Song arrangement).PTP VIDEO LOGO -Professor Pedantic Speaks

To purchase IMITATION SOLO – Melodic Imitation go to Piano Teacher Press and click HERE or on the graphic below.  (The Web Site also includes a performance of the Classical Composition and the Folk Song arrangement).

PTP - Piano LOGO

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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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Piano Lessons Are FUN?  THINK AGAIN!!

I say this without apology or equivocation.  I’ve been teaching piano since my teen years and have never considered what I do as “fun”; yet, I absolutely love what I do.  What I want to propose is that making piano lessons “fun” is a recipe for superficial music education.

I also notice that many teachers feel pressured into making piano lessons “fun”.  After all, we must compete with glitzy video games to get a student’s attention.  How can a teacher compete for a student’s attention unless they make lessons “fun”.  I know many good teachers and they all approach their teaching with a great deal of individuality, yet they all have one thing in common.  They to not fall for the superficial solution of making their lessons “fun”.  Rather, they make sure their lessons are INTERESTING.  They capture the imagination of their students.  As teachers dedicated to the educating of their students, their interest is in opening the mind of their students to the vast world of music that they have studied diligently, most often, since their childhood.

I have never heard ANYONE who makes their living in music say the thing they remember most about their teacher is that they made lessons “fun”.  Challenging – yes. Interesting – yes. Demanding – yes.  “Fun” –  NEVER!

For the first teacher it’s very important to make each step of learning move freely to the next step BUT the reason is to facilitate learning NOT make lessons “easy”.  “Easy” is the death of keeping the child’s imagination captured and quickly becomes boring.   The teacher with less aptitude will think –  “My student is bored. I need to make this more fun.”  The teacher with greater aptitude will think – My student is bored.  How can recapture the student’s imagination.

“Easy” and “Fun” are related to each other and both are terrible goals for an educator.  I’m not saying here that education should not be enjoyable.  I have heard multiple dozens of times from parents – My child loves coming to piano lessons but doesn’t like to practice.   This tells me that I have passed the all important “nice test”.  Mr. Severino is nice.

After I pass that threshold point of being “nice” I feel “I’m in” and trying to be more nice, or more fun is superfluous.  Trying to be more nice is about as necessary as trying to become more clean after taking a bath.  In fact, after passing the “nice test” one has built some teacher capital to become strict when necessary.

Yet, if a teacher is overly concerned with making lessons “easy” or “fun” discipline and hard work becomes a fear.  With “fun” as the goal, lessons become a burden to the student and parent. The parent will finally approach the teacher with the problem of lessons not being “fun” anymore.  The teacher then realizes that discipline wasn’t established because so much “fun” was put into the lessons. Discipline, at this point, would drive the student farther away because the false values of “fun” will no longer sustain the student.  This is why “fun” as a goal is so misguided.

Ron Clark, author of “The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck — 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers,   “The truth is, a lot of times it’s the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone.”

Giving good grades is very related to instructors that emphasize “fun” in their teaching.  A real pet peeve of mine is when I enter my students into various student evaluations or music festivals and 100% of them get superior ratings.  I’ve been a judge in these events and we are told before hand that we will be called out if we give low scores.  This really hinders the teacher that would like a little support to push their students to their highest potential.  Why should I work harder, the student reasons; I always get a superior rating.

I remember when I was in grade school in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  Music class was a class that no one took seriously.  If one got a poor grade in music class it was overlooked because it wasn’t really that important of a class.  I think that attitude is still held by many today.  Piano lessons are not really that important.  If my child doesn’t do that well it’s no big deal.

Parents, remembering their musical memories of piano lessons, ask me, almost beg me — I just don’t want my child to hate it.  My solution to this desire is to take a bold and courageous stand — PLEASE!!  Give your child a chance to hate music; because if you do not they almost certainly will.

COMPARISONS BETWEEN FUN AND ENJOYMENT

Having said all this I do not want to give the impression that piano lessons are a dreary and joyless undertaking.   I DO want to make, as forcefully as I can,  the point that making lessons “fun” will diminish optimum learning and produce superficial results as compared to piano lessons in the hands of a gifted teacher that strives to capture the imagination of the student.

One time I went to a pre-school and observed a music class.  The teacher was having the students march to some music.  The students were going around in circles while the music was playing.  The teacher would even say — I don’t see marching.  Let’s lift those legs high.  Then the students lift their legs high.  The class laughs as some of the boys exaggerate the lifting of their legs.  But I noticed there was absolutely no connection  between the students and the music.  It was pure fun but really lacking in any educational value.  A parent may observe this activity and think the children are being educated about music.  Students will tell their parents that they had fun in music class and maybe even tell their parents they learned how to march.  Everyone is happy.  Everyone had fun.  I’m looking at this and thinking what a useless activity.

This activity is based upon “fun” but is terribly anemic on educating the student.  What can be done to bring this activity from one of shallow fun and questionable value to true enjoyment and true educational value?  First, a groundwork of rhythm must be laid.  Students must be able to respond in sync with a rhythmic beat.  My definition of a March for pre-school students is a March is music in 2’s.

So our first activity, therefore, is to count together as a class in 2’s.  We count together ONE-TWO ONE-TWO ONE-TWO.

After we do that we add great rhythmic clarity by counting ONE slight louder than TWO like this —  ONE-TWO ONE-TWO ONE-TWO.

After a rhythmic pulse is established students find a partner and and we play pat-a-cake counting ONE-TWO ONE-TWO ONE-TWO.  The next step is to repeat the activity while singing Pat-a-Cake.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and roll it and mark it with a ‘B’
And put it in the oven for baby and me
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The next step is to listen to a March.  I choose a March with a very regular rhythm in duple meter.  The next step is to play Pat-a-Cake to the March.  Then we count in 2’s to the March.  At this point I simply instruct the students that marching is counting with their feet – ONE-TWO_ONE-TWO.  Then we listen to the March and march in place.  Through all these exercises I’m watching the students to see if the students are responding to the music with rhythmic accuracy.  Once that connection is made with a good number of the students THEN we march in a circle and we practice until we get the greatest number of students to respond accurately to the March rhythm.  This is an educational exercise that is enjoyable in every step. It’s not dreary and joyless; yet, it’s very strong in educational content.  Students enjoy the many activities.  The point is that each activity is directed to the goal of getting students to accurately and rhythmically respond to a March.

STRIVE FOR AUTHENTICITY

Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist, once commented about the blockbuster movie Titanic.  The producers of the movie strove to make the movie authentic in every detail.  Upon watching the movie our famed astrophysicist was quite satisfied with the whole experience except for one seeming insignificant detail.   The night sky of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, the night the Titanic sunk,  was not the sky that was filmed for the movie. The wrong stars and constellations were pictured.  This point took away from the authenticity of the film.   The sharp eye of Dr. Tyson caught this immediately.  As an interesting aside; word got to the producers of Titanic of deGrasse Tyson’s observation and they are going to reedit the night sky to made the movie accurate on this point.

Applying this point to piano teaching is that we need to educate our students with an eye to musical authenticity.  I do not think a teacher can teach authenticity without incorporating a great deal of musical vocabulary into their teaching.

I think we can draw a cosmological analogy that Neil deGrasse Tyson, himself would be proud. Cosmologists tells us before the creation of the universe there was no space and no time.  Or, to put this in contemporary parlance there was no “there” there.  But upon the creation of the universe there was a great expansion of space and the primordial particles began filling that space and time began.  Stars and galaxies weren’t yet formed nor would be brought to existence for ages to come.  What existed were four fundamental forces or attractions that exerted their influence to the eventual creation of stars and galaxies.

The piano teacher does no less than create a musical universe within the students mind.  Within this space we have the four fundamental interactions of music; melody, rhythm, harmony and timbre.  Just as man’s understanding of the universe became more clarified through centuries of study; the universe of music, through skilled instruction and the diligent study of the student, will begin to take shape.

The beginning is the most important part of the work. Plato

Using the analogy of the teacher creating the student’s musical universe gives Plato’s quote an accurate insight to the importance of the first teacher.   From the very beginning by the way we present each idea we realize we are fashioning the students mind to understand greater and greater ideas.  It took aeons of time before the first stars were formed from the initial matter created at the beginning; and even more aeons for the formation of galaxies.  In like manner it’s going to take a considerable amount of time before notes, rests and dynamics develop into expressive phrases that develop into a simple AB form and yet more time still before they can understand a more complex Rondo form, and yet more for a multi-movement symphony or concerto.  Yet, in the teacher’s creation of the musical universe being created in their student’s mind, since we have an understanding of the musical universe, it’s only proper that we plan our materials to set up layer after layer to lead to an accurate picture of what the musical universe will look like.   This is why the first teacher and the beginning is the most important part of the work.

Because of this, it is very important to teach accurate musical vocabulary from the very beginning.  It is also important to expand the student’s vocabulary from the very beginning.  After a student understands triple meter we can begin to expand on that with different compositions – the waltz, the landler, the scherzo, the mazurka, the minuet.  Each of these ideas express triple meter differently.  If we form students in this degree of authenticity and accuracy then we are filling in our student’s musical universe. Given enough time a big picture begins to develop and a connection of facts begin to gel and a panorama of musical culture emerges.

Studies have shown that good vocabularies can be directly related to subtlety in musical interpretation.  The word “happy” is certainly a fine word to use as an interpretive clue for a piece of music they’re learning.  But, we could also use words as “mellow” or “elated” or “joyful” or “content” maybe “festive” or “buoyant” or “tickled”.  If we go through each word with our student and discuss the different shades of meaning we can find the exact shade of “happy” we want to express.

Approaching piano lessons in this manner goes far beyond “fun”; it goes into comprehensive learning and understanding.  The whole process goes far beyond “fun” and becomes very very interesting.

Many have learned of the “Mozart Effect”; that music lessons can be a great boom for intellectual development.   But, the desired “Mozart Effect” will not have a chance to take root in the shallow waters of “fun”. True satisfaction comes from the enjoyment in learning something well.  Your child may not know the difference in a piano lessons that is based on the shallow “fun” level or on the level of comprehensive “enjoyment” but after several years of lessons it makes a world … let’s make that a universe of difference.

Look for Part 2 of Piano Lessons Are FUN? THINK AGAIN!! for the benefits your child will experience by having a teacher that values your child’s education over simple amusement and “fun”.

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Greetings!!  Today Mr. Severino Presents is going to explore the musical ideas of Melody and Accompaniment.  Let’s imagine you lived 1000 years ago!!  You get the urge to download some new music for your iPod.  The example below is very typical of the music of 1000 years ago.

Listen!  ……….  What do your think?

1000 years ago music was very different.  This music was all melody.  All the singers sang the melody together at the same time.

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Look at the picture below.

What is the first thing you see in the picture?

What else do you see in this picture?

What we see first makes up the FOREGROUND.

What we see next makes up the BACKGROUND.

Unlike the music of 1000 years ago, the music of our day also has a FOREGROUND and a BACKGROUND.

The FOREGROUND is what our ears hear most easily.

But, if we listen closely we will notice other musical sounds.  These other sounds make up the BACKGROUND.

Listen to this song by Franz Schubert.  The song is called Hedge RosesSchubert was a master at composing beautiful melodies.

What do you hear in the FOREGROUND?

What do you hear in the BACKGROUND?

What instrument is in the FOREGROUND?

What instrument in is the BACKGROUND?

If you would like, you can download and print out a picture of  The Old Man In Front of A Window by clicking on the green hypertext.  Color the picture and while you color the picture think about the foreground and background of the picture.  Also, while coloring the picture listen again by clicking on the link below to SCHUBERT’S  Heidensoslein (Hedge Roses) and see if you can spot the foreground and background in the music.

Now let’s listen to the same song in a video where we can both see and hear these differences.

When you now listen to music try to see if you can spot melodies and accompaniments.  The more you practice the easier it will become.

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

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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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