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#27658 - 11/20/02 10:34 AM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
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Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jalapeņo:
Bontempo: \:D How do you know that 60-70% of students are incapable of excelling? Sure, the % of students who easily excel is quite small, but there are plenty of above-average & average students who IMO can excel if they work harder than they're presently working. If you're not in those students' homes week after week to see how much (or how little) they're actually practicing & how much (or how little) effort they're actually making to polish their pieces to perfection, then you can't say for sure how many of them can't excel. Yes, there will always be a certain % of students who are incapable of excelling, but I personally believe the % is a lot smaller than 60-70% God help us if the % is as high as you say it is! I've always firmly believed that for most people, where there's a will there's a way. \:\)

[ 11-18-2002: Message edited by: Jalapeņo ]


Jalapeņo: I guess I was not as clear as I wanted to. I DO believe that everyone can do a decent job with their playing and learning as long as they work hard (once more I agree with you). But if you gave the same music piece to ALL of your students and told them to practice solely on that for 1 month, and (for some reason) KNEW that every student was practicing as much time as possible, do you think that the end result would be the same for all?
I'm not saying that not-excelling is bad, or that not-excelling students are not worthwile to teach. If you name your top students from a 20-student class, you'll reach pretty close to the percentage I mention. Of course, all your students can be very good (in which case the "excelling" or "top" ones are Excellent or Superb), but all of them can be medium (in which case the top will be "good" or "above average"). It's all a relative and somewhat philosophical issue... so I don't see why we should disagree (at least on this one! eheheheh)

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#27659 - 11/20/02 10:40 AM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
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Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
 Quote:
Originally posted by Eric:
1. Fingering
Always demand good fingering from your students, whether it be a fingering written in the book, one that the teacher comes up with, or one that they arrive at themselves. If they come up with an awkward fingering, correct it and make sure they understand the whys and wherefores of making such choices.


Yes, Eric. I think that essentially it's up to the teacher to be VEEEERY alert to the students' fingering choice at all times. Maybe you would agree that, in intermediate-advanced material the teacher should know a good scope of different editions and have some knowledge of the alternatives available for fingerings at some spots.
[B
 Quote:

2. Dynamics
Begin thinking and teaching that dynamic markings are actually only end results of bigger artistic questions. For example, instead of saying, "In measure 5, it says p so you should play softly there," try saying something like "can you make measures 5-8 seem like a distant, faraway echo of measures 1-4?" Much more expressive playing comes about if the character of the music is paramount, rather than just louds and softs.
[/B]


Never thought of it that way at least at an introductory level. Have you tried it with beginner students? I usually go for character after the essential dynamic feature is grasped. Maybe choosing the wrong order of events?

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#27660 - 11/20/02 10:45 AM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
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Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jalapeņo:
Some students don't respond to either verbal explanations or visual demonstrations. Some have to experience the "feel."


It's funny, I always thought of it the other way round... that for most students the "feel" or "listen" approach works perfectly while some demand more theoretical or "school-like" explanations. With my best students (the "excelling-ones" \:D :p ) I always go for sensations first. When they get it (usually instantly) I explain theoretically what they were doing and some say: "I would not be able to do it if you explained it that way". Funny thing...

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#27661 - 11/20/02 10:53 AM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
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Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
 Quote:
Originally posted by Arlene Steffen:
Well, I guess I'll jump in here, fwiw.

I've found that anything I say is ineffective. However, if the student experiences dynamics (balance, technical gesture, etc), and better yet, if the student discovers it seemingly on his own, that's when it starts to stick.

Your job is to ask questions that lead the student to that point or demonstrate the sound in such a convincing way (and have the student imitate) that there can be no other way to do it! The other part of this process is that it has to be done when the piece is introduced, not after a week of working on the notes.

First impressions last.

Re: balance (which, btw, is different from voicing). I disagree that it is a listening thing when we are talking about a child's first experiences with it. A child just learning this skill can hear it if we demonstrate it, but they need to learn the technical motions that produce it. This is one instance where I have found that the ear does not guide the hand instanteously, in most cases.

I have the students play HS to feel the difference in weight and gesture, making sure they exaggerate. We play exercises where they make one hand feel as if it is sinking through the piano keys and the other hand is almost floating. I also think that playing a good legato is part of making the balance convincing. They often neglect tone when they are first attempting this and hearing legato helps.

My 2 cents.


I really love Arlene's posts... can I comment on this one?

The "discovering" approach for learning (not only dynamics but everything) sounds very appealing and I really would like to apply it more often. Can you give me some practical , more concrete examples, Arlene?

My personal experience with hand-balance (as you prefer to call it) is slightly different from yours as to ear-guiding-hand. But I do agree when you emphasize legato playing as a key to this. What I also find interesting in this post is when you mention the importance of starting right away at dynamic work instead of the more traditional, "stepwise" approach. Do you feel there is a risk of confusing the student while s/he is really struggling to learn notes, rythm and fingering?

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#27662 - 11/20/02 11:57 AM Re: Several technique questions
Jalapeņo Offline
Star Member

Registered: 11/04/00
Posts: 5712
 Quote:
Originally posted by Bontempo:
It's funny, I always thought of it the other way round... that for most students the "feel" or "listen" approach works perfectly while some demand more theoretical or "school-like" explanations. With my best students (the "excelling-ones" \:D :p ) I always go for sensations first. When they get it (usually instantly) I explain theoretically what they were doing and some say: "I would not be able to do it if you explained it that way". Funny thing...


It depends on the student's learning style. For example, I'm primarily a visual/aural learner; so for me, this business of teaching a student how something "feels" seems strange. But if it works, I'm all for it! Piano Kid took an online quiz & found out her preferred learning style is evenly split visual/aural/kinesthetic, which might explain why she does so well in school (where her teachers use a variety of teaching methods & materials) & with piano lessons (where eye/ear/touch are all important for successful study). \:\) I have an Asian student who is most definitely a visual learner. He's learning to read notes at a remarkably fast rate, which is fantastic. \:D He's also one of the few students I've taught who could play both f & p correctly the first time he tried it. \:\) However, I have to work with him on ear training because he doesn't do so well in that area; also, lately he's been ignoring the dynamic markings in his assigned pieces. :rolleyes: He's a very bright boy (he's only had 2.5 months of lessons & is at the end of PA primer already) & a piano teacher's dream to work with; & since I know he's perfectly capable of producing these various dynamics, I expect him to do it. He responds well to both explanations & demonstrations. I guess you could call him the "model learner." \:\) However, I think this is the sort of student chopin raindrops was venting about; the student who is perfectly capable but will not pay attention to all the markings on the page unless reminded to do so.

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#27663 - 11/20/02 12:17 PM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
Jala, I remember reading about this Asian student when he started at your studio (if my memory does not betray me, he's 5 y. old, right?), and you said from the first lesson that it looked promising.. I'm very happy that you're lucky and got your hands on some "valuables" (sorry for writing like this, but it felt like! eheheh \:D :D), best of luck with the little boy.

Now back on topic...
I was so impressed by Eric's suggestions that I wonder; are we demanding too much from our younger students when we tell them to perform abstract dynamics? Do you approach dynamics from the pictoric-character point of view? I think this can make the difference between "Oh, bugger, there comes the boring f, p again!" and "Ahh, now I must do some echos and musical-painting, it's the best part!"...
I remember listening to a colleague with the same problem: a student who was perfectly capable of making dynamics, but said it was "too much work at the same time" (not that it was too complicated). Can this feeling that some students have be somehow reversed by our approach to dynamics? I mean, there are some students who ALWAYS do them with no complaints and even like it, but maybe it's a question of abstraction. And abstraction is only available from 8 y.old forward, I guess (not sure). Does this make any sense?

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#27664 - 11/20/02 01:27 PM Re: Several technique questions
Jalapeņo Offline
Star Member

Registered: 11/04/00
Posts: 5712
 Quote:
Originally posted by Bontempo:
Jala, I remember reading about this Asian student when he started at your studio (if my memory does not betray me, he's 5 y. old, right?), and you said from the first lesson that it looked promising.. I'm very happy that you're lucky and got your hands on some "valuables" (sorry for writing like this, but it felt like! eheheh \:D :D), best of luck with the little boy.


Nope. He's 8 going on 12, LOL! \:D

 Quote:
Now back on topic...
I was so impressed by Eric's suggestions that I wonder; are we demanding too much from our younger students when we tell them to perform abstract dynamics? Do you approach dynamics from the pictoric-character point of view? I think this can make the difference between "Oh, bugger, there comes the boring f, p again!" and "Ahh, now I must do some echos and musical-painting, it's the best part!"...
I remember listening to a colleague with the same problem: a student who was perfectly capable of making dynamics, but said it was "too much work at the same time" (not that it was too complicated). Can this feeling that some students have be somehow reversed by our approach to dynamics? I mean, there are some students who ALWAYS do them with no complaints and even like it, but maybe it's a question of abstraction. And abstraction is only available from 8 y.old forward, I guess (not sure). Does this make any sense?


My $10 worth: What, pray tell, is "abstract" about dynamics? We're talking volume here (ranging from softest to loudest), which I believe anyone who has ever operated a TV, radio, CD player or tape deck can readily understand. Geez! :rolleyes: I believe the problem is that today's kids listen to pop/rock music that is mostly played with 1 volume level, fortississimo. I don't think they understand that music is much more expressive when the volume is varied.

FWIW, I always teach students how to produce various dynamic levels on the piano, because this is something they do not instinctly know how to do. I also use the overall "mood" of the piece, as well as lyrics, to help students grasp the reason why the composer has indicated a certain dynamic level. I make sure to emphasize the need for expression so the song doesn't sound monotonous or boring. I also make sure the students can produce these dynamics before leaving the studio to go home & practice. Really, the pieces are practically mastered during lesson time; all the students have to do is put in a reasonable amount of practice time between lessons to polish & perfect the pieces. I'm not sending them home to figure things out on their own. Sometimes I feel like I'm coddling them, & maybe I am; but I don't want anyone complaining that I haven't taught them what they need to know. So, IMO, no excuses for not paying attention to all markings on the music!

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#27665 - 11/21/02 01:48 PM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jalapeņo:
My $10 worth: What, pray tell, is "abstract" about dynamics? We're talking volume here (ranging from softest to loudest), which I believe anyone who has ever operated a TV, radio, CD player or tape deck can readily understand. Geez! :rolleyes: I believe the problem is that today's kids listen to pop/rock music that is mostly played with 1 volume level, fortississimo. I don't think they understand that music is much more expressive when the volume is varied.


When I was talking about abstraction, I was talking exactly about understanding the need for dynamics and not about volume or sound-intensity production! (duh! :p ).
So, anyhoo, if you do it the way you mention there are really no excuses for not paying attention and "wanting" to do dynamics. Is it possible that excessive "coddling" gives the student the impression that it's not necessary to work at home because at the lesson the teacher will explain it all again? (just a thought, don't flame me!) :rolleyes:

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#27666 - 11/21/02 02:08 PM Re: Several technique questions
Jalapeņo Offline
Star Member

Registered: 11/04/00
Posts: 5712
 Quote:
Originally posted by Bontempo:
When I was talking about abstraction, I was talking exactly about understanding the need for dynamics and not about volume or sound-intensity production! (duh! :p ).
So, anyhoo, if you do it the way you mention there are really no excuses for not paying attention and "wanting" to do dynamics.


Precisely! \:D

 Quote:
Is it possible that excessive "coddling" gives the student the impression that it's not necessary to work at home because at the lesson the teacher will explain it all again? (just a thought, don't flame me!) :rolleyes:


Yes, it's possible. I just don't want to be accused of not teaching the material. If a student goes home from each lesson with a thorough understanding of what s/he is supposed to do, then the ball's in his/her court to complete the assignment & come to the next lesson completely prepared & ready for a new assignment. \:\)

My uppity opinion (FWIW): You'd think that parents would be smart enough to figure out that the less a child practices, the more money they end up paying for lessons! :rolleyes:

[ 11-21-2002: Message edited by: Jalapeņo ]

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#27667 - 11/22/02 05:40 PM Re: Several technique questions
Bontempo Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jalapeņo:
Yes, it's possible. I just don't want to be accused of not teaching the material. If a student goes home from each lesson with a thorough understanding of what s/he is supposed to do, then the ball's in his/her court to complete the assignment & come to the next lesson completely prepared & ready for a new assignment. \:\)


I guess there is really a very thin line between learning by discovery (as Arlene mentioned)and excessive coddling... I mean, it is very wise to do as you mention, but is it the best way of learning? Maybe it is and I'm just making nonsense again.

 Quote:

My uppity opinion (FWIW): You'd think that parents would be smart enough to figure out that the less a child practices, the more money they end up paying for lessons! :rolleyes:

[ 11-21-2002: Message edited by: Jalapeņo ]


I'm sorry but I don't quite follow you on this one... the students I give more lessons to (including extra-lessons) are the ones who practice harder and therefore study enough to have 2 productive lessons during the week. The ones who DON'T practice really give me no motivation for extra-lessons or make-ups (unless I am obliged to it). A very good student I had last year had lessons from 6h30 to 7h30 and was the last one of that day. But she was so good and such a pleasure to teach that our lessons often ended well after 8h (I always say that my conscience cannot rest peacefully when I don't have enough time to listen to everything the student worked at home). I did it for the sheer pleasure of teaching, because I'd rather be there teaching this amazing student and watching her progress as a pianist than doing most of the usual chores I had by that time, and she had no time-problems too. And after 3-4 weeks like that, the mother automatically upgraded the tuition to 1 1/2 h per week. You see, this is probably why there has not yet been a need for policies in Portugal - because (most) parents are attentious and polite enough. Although I risk being the first teacher to implement them in a studio, USA-style!

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