Learning musicality - Icing on the cake?

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Postby Glissando88keys » Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:04 pm

Stretto wrote:I am always questioning, "is there a better way of doing things?" as opposed to sticking with the same way continually... It never gets boring! I probably drive my student's crazy trying all these angles!


Perhaps that would be a more balanced approach to learning, to at least look at some of the 'musical' elements in the score when starting a piece to get an idea of what's all in the music rather than totally ignoring some elements until later. (Hey, another idea! I'll have to try it to see if it works!)

Keep questioning! When we get stuck in the same rut we cease to grow, creatively speaking. I probably drove my own teacher crazy with all my questions. (She didn't seem to mind, though)

Creative people, as I see them, are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of the "divine madness", to borrow the term used by the clasical greeks. They do not run away from non-being. But by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being. They knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaningless until they can force it to mean. ~Rollo May




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Jul 10, 2006 10:23 am

Glissando, I never heard of Rollo May, but I'd bet the farm he's an Existentialist.

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Postby Glissando88keys » Mon Jul 10, 2006 4:05 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Glissando, I never heard of Rollo May, but I'd bet the farm he's an Existentialist.

B.L.

You've hit the jackpot, Bill! May is called, by some, the "Father of American Existentialism."

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Postby Glissando88keys » Mon Jul 10, 2006 4:09 pm

Creativity is the encounter of the intensely conscious human being with his or her world...

Imagination is the outreaching of mind. It is the capacity to "Dream dreams and see visions," to consider diverse possibilities, to endure the tension involved in holding these possibilities before one's attention...

Every authentic artist is engaged in this creating the conscience of the race, even though he or she may be unaware of the fact. The artist is concerned only with hearing and expressing the vision within his or her own being. ~Rollo May
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Postby Stretto » Tue Jul 11, 2006 3:52 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Some time ago, in an article on practicing I wrote for PEP (still there), I suggested practicing scales and other exercise materials with varieties of dynamics, tempos, voicings, rhythms, etc. Why? Because these things are technique! Anything we do to manipulate the sound has to be done with a practiced technical skill--most people start out thinking technique is just pushing the right keys down at the right time, and all the other things will 'happen' later, but control over the other elements is really the hard part.

If this kind of varied practicing is done over a period of time, you will find that your students will begin almost unconsciously to add color from the beginning of learning a new piece--the false barrier between learning 'mechanically' and learning with variety of sound will fade, because variety has been built into his hands and his ears.

B. L.

Well, it's funny how one's thinking on such subjects as musicality change over time. I have to agree with what Dr. Leland wrote here above. As one learns, you come to new conclusions. I looked back through the thread to see if anyone had mentioned this and here I found Dr. Leland's post! Right now I am concentrating on improving my technique so in the process, I was trying to put 'musicality' on the back burner. I thought, "well this is probably going to take the 'fun' out of playing because I will have to lay aside expressiveness in order to work on technique". But I can't "ignore" the musicality while I concentrate on technique because as I learn to improve my technique, I am naturally sounding more musical, more so than ever before. Musicality and technique go hand in hand (no pun intended). I've only been concentrating on technique for about 2-3 months and already can play lighter on the keys, play with greater speed than ever before, bring out better sound in phrasing, and get more subtle nuances.

I remember a time in my late teens when I was really frustrated with how the music sounded. For the life of me, no matter how much I worked at it, I thought my playing sounded horrible and thought I'd be stuck at that skill level for the rest of my life. This is because I knew what sound I was looking for but couldn't bring it out in the music. I don't think it's enough to know in your head the sound you want to bring out. You have to know what technique is necessary to create that sound. I think too for my students, they get frustrated in their playing because it doesn't "sound" like they want it to. It's because they've not yet fine tuned the technical skill to bring out the sound they're looking for.

As I'm working on technical skills, a lot of things seem vaguely familiar that I must have just forgotten especially after going a few years here and there not playing at all. So all the things past teachers showed me as far as how to execute certain passages, etc. just by way of "copying" what they were showing was actually technical skill designed to bring out better sound. So being able to produce certain sounds as Dr. Leland suggested was in fact "built in" or "engrained" by being taught how to strike the keys in various ways depending. A lot is coming back to me, again that I must have just forgotten. No teacher ever came out and specifically said, "ok, I'm going to show you this technique to produce this sound" but they taught it by saying, "play it this way instead."

I'm rambling, but my point is whether we realize or not, we are taught from the beginning how to produce certain sounds (musicality) by playing certain ways. So musicality is not something we are taught separately from playing notes. Even some method books are written to emphasize phrasing and such things from the start and to an extent lend to more natural musical playing just by the way the pieces are written. (Of course this can work the other way as well, pieces that lend to no musicality whatsoever).

Perhaps mechanical playing arises when we choose to IGNORE what we were taught in how to execute a passage technically. In other words, we might say to ourselves, "I'll just get all the notes down first and get them memorized, then I'll worry about incorporating a better execution of the notes." I know I've done that a lot of times. Isn't that shooting oneself in the foot?

To try to separate technical skill from 'musicality', isn't that an irony? It's impossible. Doesn't musicality come hand in hand with technical skill as Dr. Leland proposed? If technique of execution is learned from the beginning, musicality should naturally coincide. I think if one tries to make 'musicality' the icing on the cake, one would be playing mechanically to get the notes learned and memorized. Then when adding musicality as the icing, one would have to re-do the entire piece using entirely different technical execution. Could this be why students sound mechanical? They've already engrained mechanical playing by ignoring technique in practicing.

I am suprised actually to hear that so many students would sound mechanical at competitions and such.




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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Jul 12, 2006 9:13 pm

Stretto wrote: I don't think it's enough to know in your head the sound you want to bring out. You have to know what technique is necessary to create that sound. I think too for my students, they get frustrated in their playing because it doesn't "sound" like they want it to. It's because they've not yet fine tuned the technical skill to bring out the sound they're looking for.


Before you hit the first note, you must think about how you are going to hit that note. If you dont know the technique used to hit the note, you need to learn the technique that accomplishes the sound you are trying to create.
Of course, you would have to know what the first note is before you can hit it, so reading the note name, as well as the composer's directions on how to hit the note is essential. And the best part is that it is usually right there, in black and white, on the page! In addition, it helps to have your teacher explain the way to hit that note to get the desired effect.

For example, the symbol for stacatto would mean nothing to a student who has never encountered that symbol before. As a teacher, you would need to explain the meaning of the stacatto mark, demonstrate the technique, allow the student to negotiate and rehearse it physically for him/herself so that the body movements involved and the feel of that action becomes more fluid, more effective, more automatic and yet feel "natural."
Who has heard the phrase "economy of movement?"
That term very much applies in regard to technique. ???

So, rather than having a child learn the notes first and then teaching how to apply the technique, you would first teach the correct way to hit that note right from the getgo.

This is my idea of effective teaching, and how I learned. Otherwise the note is played incorrectly, even if the student plays the correct note.

In fact, my teacher didn't mind when I hit the wrong note in the learning stages of a piece, as long as I hit "a" note with the correct technique. She would, of course correct my mistake, but perfection was the icing on the cake, and technique the ingredients, not the other way around.

I think it would be easier to correct a typo, than to correct poor grammar and sentence structure. You need to have the basics first. Technique is basic!




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Postby Glissando88keys » Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:26 am

Stretto wrote:I've only been concentrating on technique for about 2-3 months and already can play lighter on the keys, play with greater speed than ever before, bring out better sound in phrasing, and get more subtle nuances.

No teacher ever came out and specifically said, "ok, I'm going to show you this technique to produce this sound" but they taught it by saying, "play it this way instead."


What they showed you was technique. You've discovered the amazing effects firsthand.

A Mini Lesson on Technique

First, teacher discusses the musical term and its definition.

I am captivated! I love the sound of those foreign words! I try to repeat what she just said. I see the question mark on her face. She repeats the term and explains its definition again.
Very good, now stand up as I show you.....

Next, teacher demonstrates the technique, looks up at my face, sees my blank stare. "Now, watch again, closely this time," and repeats the correct posture and body movements to accomplish that technique, while she/he patiently demonstrates it a second time. Okay? Would you like to try it?

Well.....?

Then, the most difficult challenge a teacher faces, as she observes my attempts at making a fool of myself with my awkward, stiff, sometimes comical movements and tries not to laugh or cry aloud.

Next, Teacher calms herself and gently provides "hands-on" guidance - he/she physically guides my torso, arms, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers to execute the movements for the technique. (The most dangerous part for the teacher if I'm ticklish or I prefer not to be touched) "See? Try it again, like that...

Teacher again observes, while questioning her desire to teach piano in the first place, and without rolling her eyes.

I falter, practice, falter, practice, falter and ta-da!! I fine tune the technique to attain the desired effect, while striving for fluidity of motion, desired sound and eliminatination of all unnecessary movement, moving only as much as necessary to accomplish the technique. "Hear the difference?"

Hmmm...

Aha! I think you've got it!

I did? Whew! I did! I wipe my brow with my shirtsleeves and wipe sweaty palms onto my lap.

Okay, next......

:cool:




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Postby Stretto » Sat Jul 15, 2006 7:29 am

Glissando88keys,

LOL! :laugh:

As a teacher I'm never thinking those things like "trying not to laugh or cry out loud", "question my desire to teach piano in the first place", or "roll my eyes", but as a student I am always thinking that that's what the teacher is thinking!


If the student is not sounding "musical", as a teacher I sometimes get frustrated with myself thinking I must not be explaining it clearly and find myself on the spot having to do a lot of fast thinking and re-thinking how to explain things in a different way. That's when I leave the lesson with my mind feeling like this :O from all that fast thinking on the spot! But I always think in terms of it being my fault for not explaining it clearly rather than the students fault for not understanding, unless of course the student is not paying attention, or listening, or trying - that can be another cause for not improving musicality :) .
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat Jul 15, 2006 9:09 am

Unfortunately most teachers don't really know how to teach technique. You've got to know some rudimentary anatomy, for one thing, such as the fact that different sets of muscles control the different finger joints, and where to look for proper movements and unwanted tension. 'Relaxation' is a much misunderstood concept--how can you relax and do something at the same time? You have to understand that it is intermittent and partial, and that this is how we get muscle tone and elasticity at the same time.

I can here everybody saying, "Yes, but that's advanced technique--we're teaching little kids!" But that's precisely where it has to start--before the wrong habits get ingrained!

Bill L.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Jul 15, 2006 2:23 pm

OK. Next will you tell us how to teach technique to young children?

I have trouble telling them a certain hand position or making their fingers bend or move by my touching them especially at 5. I am concerned they will get too busy concentrating on the fingers and not the sound they are making and the joy they are having.

Do you teach anatomy?

You knew I would respond to this post!



:p

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Jul 15, 2006 2:25 pm

OK. Next will you tell us how to teach technique to young children?

I have trouble telling them a certain hand position or making their fingers bend or move by my touching them especially at 5. I am concerned they will get too busy concentrating on the fingers and not the sound they are making and the joy they are having.

Do you teach anatomy?

You knew I would respond to this post!



:p

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Postby Stretto » Sat Jul 15, 2006 9:41 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Unfortunately most teachers don't really know how to teach technique. You've got to know some rudimentary anatomy, for one thing, such as the fact that different sets of muscles control the different finger joints, and where to look for proper movements and unwanted tension. 'Relaxation' is a much misunderstood concept--how can you relax and do something at the same time? You have to understand that it is intermittent and partial, and that this is how we get muscle tone and elasticity at the same time.

I can here everybody saying, "Yes, but that's advanced technique--we're teaching little kids!" But that's precisely where it has to start--before the wrong habits get ingrained!

Bill L.

Yes, SOMETHING will get engrained in regards to technique either positively or negatively.

One thing I think that happens really easily in teaching piano is wanting to get a student to the point of playing an actual song right away or even as they go along just get the song taught quickly so the student has the satisfaction of being able to play an entire song. Or learn the songs quickly so they can have more pieces learned that thay can play. Or get a piece learned quickly before the student gets tired of working on it. Or get as much of the song taught as quickly as possible so they have something more to play at home during the week. Also, I don't know if this is what parents are thinking but as a teacher I think to myself the parents probably are eager to hear their child playing nice songs at home. All this makes it tempting to just teach the notes and ignore teaching how to play the note letting the student play the note any way they happen to all for the sake of getting the notes and song learned quickly. It can become a habit: open the book to the next song and just start out getting the notes, like "what note is it and where is it on the keys, and what finger do you use?" and then move onto the next set of notes. All the while the teacher telling themselves, they can always go back and fix the technique after the notes are learned or sometime down the road on another song another time. It's easy to do this in practice too, just get the notes, worry about the technique later.

Also as a teacher insisting on striving for good technique and correcting things takes time and it's easy not to want to take the time at lessons.

When it comes to the importance of learning good technique from the beginning, I'm discovering this first hand as I'm re-learning some better technique myself. I've found myself going back to square one - (literally the beginning) with 5-finger patterns. I've never given it a whole lot of thought before but I've realized now how much piano literature is nothing more than some resemblence of 5-finger patterns. So if one can execute a 5-finger pattern with good technique and musical sound, it can be carried over to a ton of repertoire. That's why I'd have to agree how important technique is to learn from the beginning.




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sun Jul 16, 2006 8:00 am

I agree, Stretto, but there are many ways (misconceptions) of the way to teach technique.

I do 5 finger exercises - with dynamics, and legato/staccato, and varied thythms, and even my 5 year olds listen and differentiate the sounds. I show them the best way to sit and put their hands on the keyboard, but especially with the young children (even some of my 8 and 9 year olds,) it is difficult, if not impossible, stay on the chair and the chair stays in the same place!!

When I think of technique, I think of older students, perfecting their music. Perhaps it is the definition I need to clarify.

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Postby Stretto » Sun Jul 16, 2006 8:28 am

OK, maybe we need a separate thread on the subject of technique. We concluded that technique is what makes a pianist sound musical so it does relate to the thread. Maybe we need a thread "Musicality, Part II: On Technique" or something like that.

Wouldn't you agree certain "techniques" in playing the keys are something to aim for and practice rather then perfecting right on the spot in the lesson?




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Postby Glissando88keys » Sun Jul 16, 2006 12:04 pm

Stretto wrote:
Dr. Bill Leland wrote: Also, I don't know if this is what parents are thinking but as a teacher I think to myself the parents probably are eager to hear their child playing nice songs at home. All this makes it tempting to just teach the notes and ignore teaching how to play the note letting the student play the note any way they happen to all for the sake of getting the notes and song learned quickly.

Also as a teacher insisting on striving for good technique and correcting things takes time and it's easy not to want to take the time at lessons.

Stretto, I think that would depend on whether the parents want to showcase their child's ability to sit down at the piano and impress family, friends and the neighbohood with the quantity of songs they can crank out.

Or do the parents want to take pride in knowing that their child is learning how to play piano in a way that will allow him/her to make quality progress, musically?

Depending on the ability of the child, the latter may get better results in the long run. Eventually a child who learns this way will increase in quality and quantity, leaving the other child behind in the dust.

I, personally, feel it is worth the extra time, effort and patience to develop skills that will last a lifetime.

( My opinion :;): )

I also feel this an important topic to discuss with the parents.




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