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#27957 - 08/22/03 04:50 PM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
I didn't realize I had struck a noive until I spoke with Lisa on the phone this AM. Sorry, Lisa. Hope you accept both my personal & my online apologies. \:\) (I'm adding a smiley for good will. Peace, sister.)

I agree with Jason that improvisation can't be fully taught. I also agree with Arlene & Lisa that students who are notation dependent & aurally challenged (I hope I'm using politically correct terms here; don't want to get myself in deep doo-doo) need to start with printed materials--either books or sheets created by their teacher.

I think teachers should teach scales, cadences, chords, runs & fills, & bass lines so that students have a solid theory foundation to draw on & build from. Having said that, however, both students & teachers must realize that for many individuals (including me), learning to improvise takes a lot of time & effort. It involves listening to a lot of music, sitting down at the piano & experimenting with different harmonies, learning to transpose, learning how to notate correctly, etc. I say this because many times students say they want to learn to improvise & play by ear, but they're not willing to work. Learning to improvise & play by ear can take just as much time & practice as learning to sightread & perform classical pieces.

Teaching it takes time, too, & just thinking about it overwhelms me. Heck, I spend so much time just trying to get my students to play with a steady beat & sightread fluently at an elementary level, & certain pedagogues try to lay a guilt trip on me because I'm not teaching improvisation to fill in the so-called "black hole." :rolleyes: Gimme a break! If students want me to teach them how to improvise, then their parents are gonna have to pay for 60-minute weekly lessons so I can fit all this extra stuff into my curricula. The only other solution is to forget about teaching sightreading & technique & just focus on improvisation. Something has to give, ya know? When I was learning to improvise & play by ear, I was still working on the classical pieces my piano teacher expected me to master, so I was taking two 30-minute lessons per week. On top of that, I was performing regularly & listening to what seemed like a ton of LPs. It was time consuming. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed every minute of it. It's just that I doubt that most students today are willing to do what I did. Most will drop classical repertoire & just piddle around with improvisation; their technical (& possibly their sightreading skills as well) will suffer as a result.

As a teacher, I feel qualified to teach basic skills that students need to learn to improvise, but they need to experiment around & discover things for themselves. They need to dive in & just do it; not expect me to teach them everything. I can teach them up to a certain point, but the rest is up to them.

I hope I didn't step on anyone's toes. I'm just kinda sick & tired of students expecting teachers to teach them everything. My teacher didn't teach me everything. I figured out a lot of things on my own.

[ 08-22-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]

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#27958 - 08/22/03 05:54 PM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Lisa Kalmar Offline
Star Member

Registered: 04/10/00
Posts: 4277
Loc: KC
Nyah, no noives struck here on this old rhino hide and no apologies necessary at all. Remember, I worked in The Curch for 20+ years! ;\) Susan, I thinks, post is what got me to thinking about how everyone's definitions are different. I can do the stuff she described, but I don't consider it, meaning the quality of the work that I alone (& not anyone else do/es so I;m not being judgemental :rolleyes: ), to be at an acceptable level.

Along the lines of what you just posted: My original degree was in organ performance. I was totally struck this week at the workshop when Dominic described the steps to improv and stressed the necessity of doing the boring gruntwork in a sequential way. It was excruciatiingly similiar to the discipline one goes through to become a (pipe) organ improvisationalist or whatever the word is supposed to be. Yet many folks walking around the US with organ degrees have never been introduced to that discipline and many go to Europe to study improv. Keyboard study in America of any kind lacks a lot of the disciplined theoretical background you get over there. Not surprisingly, most of the really advanced liturgical improvisors I know are also excellent jazz players!

Sorry to get off your original topic, but thanks for the thread. It's been very interesting!

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#27959 - 08/22/03 07:06 PM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
NancyK Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 03/27/03
Posts: 644
Loc: North Dakota
Jala...back to a little bit earelier post of yours.....I know when I am doing improv on keys I RARELY have any written music. I am listening to the others in the band and the music and going from there, not just with chords but with which inversions and passing notes,which register and what rhythm and accents. Same as when I am on bass guitar. I sometimes follow chord charts but I am never playing from music. The way I learned bass and the way I learned piano is TOTALLY different. Although I had to improvise on keys before I ever learned bass guitar.

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#27960 - 08/22/03 07:26 PM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
I make a distinction between improvising & playing by ear. By my definition, improvising simply involves adding to what's already on a page of music; intros, runs, fills, modulations. You're working from printed music, adding embellishments to make it sound better. Playing by ear, on the other hand, does not involve using printed music, except perhaps a lead sheet for chords.

Having said that, I consider my improvisational skills to be very good, but not in jazz style. I do quite well improvising in Southern Gospel, Country, Folk, Pop & Blues styles because most Protestant hymns & praise/worship choruses are written in those styles & that's what I'm familiar with. I'm not a jazz pianist, & I can't improvise in jazz style. I can, however, play any notated jazz-style piano arrangement. If I were interested, I could take the time to learn to improvise in jazz style. However, I'm not interested. I was only interested in improvising & playing by ear when I was a teen. Once I matured, I returned to my senses & decided to focus once again on classical music. I realized that learning to sightread fluently & perform classical repertoire was the lifelong skill I most cherished; not improvisation. It irks me when certain pedagogues say we IMTs should be teaching improvisation because it's a lifelong skill. Sure it is, but so is fluent sightreading & solid technique. Rather than forcing all piano students to learn all skills so they'll become functional musicians, maybe we IMTs ought to ask students which skills they want to learn, & just teach them those skills. Sounds radical, I know, but I get so tired of trying to convince students of the need to learn to sightread & develop good technique. Seems like most students just want to goof around & learn to improvise. It's not that I don't like to improvise. It's just that there's so much more to music than that. When I perform classical music, I feel like I'm really doing something special. When I improvise, I don't feel like I'm really doing anything special. I don't know if anyone can relate or not, but I just don't think improvisation is something that must be taught. It's a nice skill to have, but to me it's not that important. I wouldn't trade my ability to sightread & play expressively for the ability to improvise or play by ear. I enjoy being able to buy piano music & learn it on my own, without a teacher. This skill is what, IMO, made my 11 years of piano study worthwhile. I can teach myself!

Enough blabbing already. I just think that some people make too big a deal out of improvising & playing by ear.

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#27961 - 08/23/03 08:55 AM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Susan Offline
Star Member

Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 2168
Loc: Texas
I'm confused. I thought we were all talking about Praise and Worship music which is usually done with lead sheets. You have to be able to improvise patterns and fills and read from a lead sheet. The question was how to teach that. What else were we talking about?

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#27962 - 08/23/03 09:17 AM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
 Quote:
Originally posted by Susan:
I'm confused. I thought we were all talking about Praise and Worship music which is usually done with lead sheets. You have to be able to improvise patterns and fills and read from a lead sheet. The question was how to teach that. What else were we talking about?


I'm probably the one who has made everything as clear as mud. \:o Sorry.

It's just that in the church I attended, where I was church pianist for over 15 years, most of the praise & worship choruses were played by ear. No lead sheets. I don't know how to teach someone how to do that, other than to teach them scales, chords, runs, fills, etc. & tell them to just do it.

Most of the church musicians I knew who played by ear didn't even know theory. They didn't know the names of certain chords. They just picked up their instruments & played. They experimented around & played whatever they thought sounded good. Honestly! We had one guitarist who was phenominally talented (wrote a lot of choruses for the church, etc.) but couldn't tell me the names of the chords he was playing (not even the major I chords)! To create lead sheets for the music he composed, I had to sit down with him & listen to every single chord he played, then write it down for him. He couldn't do it himself because he never took music lessons. He learned to play the guitar by watching people perform on television. Can you imagine that? Anyhoo, it goes to show that you don't have to know anything about music theory to be able to play an instrument well. Some people really do have "the gift."

Several years after I became church pianist, our church grew & we had a couple of musicians who couldn't play completely by ear but could play from lead sheets. I was the one who made the lead sheets & provided copies to them so they could play along with the rest of us (me & members of the orchestra who could play completely by ear).

I assume that when you say that playing praise & worship choruses usually involves playing from lead sheets, it's because you attend a church where lead sheets are provided to the church musicians. Lucky you! But let's not assume that every church musician plays praise & worship choruses from lead sheets, because that certainly wasn't the case when I became church pianist. I had to play completely by ear.

Now, if someone wants me to teach them how to play from lead sheets, I can make my own materials, or use books to teach them how to play from lead sheets. I don't think you can really classify this as playing by ear, though, since you are provided with a chord progression to follow. You're not completely relying on your ear to guide you.

But never mind me. I'm just splitting hairs & confusing people! \:D

What worked for me was a solid background of technique, theory & ear training (through listening)--all the musicianship skills you find in the PA theory & T&A books. It's all there. Teach it to your students. Why do you think these things are included in the PA curricula? Because students need to learn them in order to become functional musicians. If you skip the theory, &/or you skip the ear training exercises, you're cheating your students. They really do need to know all this stuff. Trust me. Without a solid background in the basics, students will have a tough time learning to improvise.

While Jason is right that certain aspects of improvisation can't be taught, there are a lot of basic concepts & skills that can be taught. The question is whether or not students will be willing to work on such "unimportant" things such as scales, chords, cadences, etc. If students are not willing to work to learn these things, then the teacher's hands are tied.

[ 08-23-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]

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#27963 - 08/23/03 05:40 PM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Susan Offline
Star Member

Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 2168
Loc: Texas
Jalapeņa, thanks that did clear it up for me.
Off topic, kind of:
I have also known people who played by ear and did not know a note of music, but I don't have the gift. I have a semi-gift. \:D
When I wanted to take piano as a little girl the local teacher said my hands were too little and I cried and cried. (I was in 2nd grade). Dad told me to just try to play songs on my own, and I did that for 2 years, mostly melodies. I got a lot better once I learned about chords.
Paul McCartney said he would love to be able to read music, but he has never been able to learn. He just plays and memorizes what he makes up.
I bet I could teach him!!! \:D

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#27964 - 09/13/03 08:00 AM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
dlinder Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 03/11/01
Posts: 689
Loc: Ohio
I don't think there's a question about teaching someone to play from a lead sheet or a chord chart. If you can play chords and the inversions and keep a steady rhythm (LH plays beats 1 and 3, RH plays all beats), you can play in a band using chord charts.
I believe the real question is can you teach someone to play by ear?
Get some recordings of simple I, IV, V songs. Country music and Southern gospel are great for this as well as many of the children's recordings.
Teach the student to hear the difference between these chords. Play the recording of a I, IV, V song and have them write a chord chart--away from the piano. Do this with many different songs.
When they can easily hear the chord changes, find some songs that use the ii or II chord before the V. You can add difficulty from there.
If you can't find recordings, have them turn around from the piano and you play the songs on the piano while they write. You will also need to teach them the I6/4 chords (a I chord played in the RH over a V octave in the LH) and other inversions. Teach them to always listen for the bass line first, then figure out the chord changes over the bass line.
This CAN be taught. However, some will only catch a little of it and maybe have basic functioning skills; others will really run with it.
Remember, the more you do it, the better you get. And if the person learning it can get involved in a situation where they have to sink or swim,they will learn it much faster. If there is not a band they can join right away, you play with them on another keyboard using an organ setting, or drums and singing--whatever, just something to make them keep going.
Now, improvisation----to me, this is taking the basic chord structure and adding nice things in between. How to learn this? Listen to recordings of the style you want to play and try to duplicate that nice little "trick" you hear. Keep doing this until you have your own little "bag of tricks."
If anyone has more questions on this, I'll be happy to answer.
And for the record:
I agree with everyone on this issue (except those that say it can't be taught). Books are a great help, because you can memorize and analyze so that you can add what you learn to other songs. But figuring things out on your own is also a very necessary component. The more time the student takes on his own, the faster and more thoroughly he will learn it. Sink or swim??? I give my 5 year old water wings to help her be successful at swimming!
\:D

[ 09-13-2003: Message edited by: dlinder ]

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#27965 - 09/13/03 10:44 AM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
NancyK Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 03/27/03
Posts: 644
Loc: North Dakota
You can teach it to the extent that you can show examples of what can be done. After that the possibilities are many. How I improvise off a lead sheet or how I might play by ear can be very different from what another may do, playing the very same song. Using a lead sheet, all have the same chord structure and progression going but HOW you play out a particular chord is up to the player and there can be many ideas. As far as by ear..not all would choose the exact some chords or progressions even playing the same piece. Arrangements would vary. You can only teach it so far.
As far as what Arlene wrote way earlier, about seeing it first then playing it by ear. That is the opposite of what Sizuki teachers do, correct? I am not a Sizuki teacher but I know they have students hearing everything before they see it written. Same as in learning to speak. We learn and copy our parents and speak our language before we ever read the written word or write it ourselves. I am amazed at the vocabulary my little 2 year old granddaughter has, yet, she is much too young to read the written word or write it. I was often taught in my own music study that hearing first is best. ??????????

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#27966 - 09/13/03 02:23 PM Re: Teaching Praise & Worship
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
Some people have better musical ears than others, so the extent to which people can learn to play by ear varies. If someone has no ear for music, then s/he may never learn how to play by ear even if a teacher works with him/her, while someone with a great ear for music will learn without being "taught." In this sense, Jason is correct. Playing by ear is "caught," not "taught."

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