"revolutionary" piano - Anything new under the sun?

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Apr 26, 2006 9:26 am

RAC, thanks for bringing up an important point.

I mentioned a long time ago (in my initial interview) that piano teachers have to work with the fact that kids in band, chorus, orchestra, dance or gymnastics, or on a sports team, have a strong group dynamic going for them that piano students do not have, and which automatically supplies the major ingredient of their motivation.

Duets, recitals, extra group lessons or masterclasses, picnics, or what-have-you, can help, but they call for a lot of extra time and effort on the teacher's part--usually for free--that just isn't always very feasible, especially if the parents are too busy to be of much help. The students' main motivation has got to come from the teaching/practicing/playing experience itself, and this is hard to generate among young people with so many other distractions and priorities and with perhaps only a marginal interest in music.

As I read the various topics and threads on the Message Board, it seems that this problem underlies many of the ongoing discussions. If I read RAC's comments correctly, I sense a strong conviction that the answer is not to be found in gimmickry, electronic or otherwise, and I agree. (It's the same sense as watching grandchildren get bored with their robots and remote controlled cars--they push a button and then the toy does all the playing.)

This is not at all meant to be a slam at software, much of which is ingeniously designed to involve the user thoroughly in stimulating interactive effort. It's meant to point out the futility of trying to turn learning into entertainment, in the hope of arousing more interest. Big mistake! By far the strongest motivation comes from inner accomplishment.

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Postby RAC » Wed Apr 26, 2006 4:29 pm

Dr. Leland,

Your post brings up something else people don't think of--with all of those other activities, for the most part, unless someone is a genius or training for the Olympics, the main *learning* actually takes place in a group situation (not just the aspect of needing to be in a group in order to participate as a group). Piano is just the opposite.

When I was in high school, for example, no one took private lessons for band unless they were attending schools in some of the wealthier areas, where it was required (more for uppity-snooty reasons than anything else). As I remember, our junior high (grades 7th-9th) band instructor would go to each elementary school and work with each different instrument in a small group situation (pull-out from regular classes) once a week. No *band* classes as such until 7th grade. Even with sports, most did not take outside private tennis or pitching lessons. When school and before and/or afterschool practice were over, you were done!

Now, I know people who "invest" in private softball pitching lessons on the side in the hopes of securing a college scholarship for their children--go figure. I think band has started earlier as well, but if your children need to take the bus to school, they're Sadly Out of Luck, because the schools don't do "pull-outs", they have it before school starts. Personally, I think the ability to be pulled out of class was a great motivator to keep one's grades up.

I think it would be great to have piano classes in school, or as others have mentioned, as part of the afterschool daycare programs, but even if you're using the short electric pianos you have to limit the class sizes because you run into space considerations that you don't have with an orchestra. And, because of the nature of the instrument, you aren't going to have 50 piano players playing all at once in a concert :D

But, back to the software vs. DVD issue, one of the biggest problems with software is that as the computer operating systems change, or some company stops providing technical support (for whatever reason), you can't use the software anymore.

With DVDs, this is not yet an issue--and at least you have something recorded for future generations, whether it is a lecture or an actual class, or what-have-you. I don't need interactive and entertaining, I need clear explanations and examples. A properly thought-out and professionally produced DVD series can provide that, without any gimmicks whatsoever.
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Postby Stretto » Sun Apr 30, 2006 1:03 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:As I read the various topics and threads on the Message Board, it seems that this problem underlies many of the ongoing discussions. If I read RAC's comments correctly, I sense a strong conviction that the answer is not to be found in gimmickry, electronic or otherwise, and I agree. (It's the same sense as watching grandchildren get bored with their robots and remote controlled cars--they push a button and then the toy does all the playing.)

This is not at all meant to be a slam at software, much of which is ingeniously designed to involve the user thoroughly in stimulating interactive effort. It's meant to point out the futility of trying to turn learning into entertainment, in the hope of arousing more interest. Big mistake! By far the strongest motivation comes from inner accomplishment.

Dr. Bill L.

I agree with these statements. I'm reluctant for example to have students sit in front of a computer letting them give answers to letter names of notes or fill out a chord or inversion on a staff by the click of a mouse or a computer keyboard. This is because as many would agree, there is something to be said for learning by writing things out. I'm concerned such software programs steer students away from ever having to do much writing out of notes, key signatures, scales, chords, etc., etc. by hand. This seems to me especially from personal experience even in other types of learning that writing things out by hand really helps me remember information and I'm sure others would agree that writing things out helps one to remember. I wonder if computer software progams would create less need to write things out and question if students remember the information as well if identifying letters of notes on the computer or clicking notes on computer screen.

Also, I really get a kick in general when things that are considered "old-fashioned" become new and popular. Then
The "old' becomes the "revolutionary." There's old-fashioned ice-cream, toys and toy stores, home decor, etc. Even in school some of the way they do things as far as teaching, learning, and behavior are nothing more than a new twist on old ideas. I also mentioned in another thread that I started using these little "old-fashioned" foil stars with students in setting goals in their music. When they reach a goal, a colored star like red gets covered up with a gold star. These stars have been around for years. I'm not sure when they came out but before I was born and before the day of all kinds of "fancy" stickers. We used to get them on attendance charts in Sun. school for example. Students really like the stars. I remembered how much I like getting the stars in school on papers for A's and trying so hard to get my gold star! Students ask about their star if I forget. Believe me, I have tried A LOT of motivational ideas. One of my students brought some tattered music of her grandmother's to learn. Her grandmother learned it as a child, her mother learned it, and now she is excited about learning her grandmother's music. Some of the older pieces like that seem to me at times to be more musical sounding, and better for technical things, etc. than the "latest" method's music.

In general as I mentioned, I love it when the "old" becomes the "new" and "revolutionary". The "old" sometimes seems "revolutionary" to kids because it's new to them. I think it's a mistake to think kids have to have the "latest" and think they probably won't like anything that appears old-fashioned. By always trying to attract and interest kids with catchy, gimmicky, "stuff", aren't we training them toward wanting and needing more and more of it and training them that when the next "new" catchy approach or whatever comes out, one needs to drop the last thing even if only using it for 6 months and move on to the "newest". This is training them to want more, spend more, and never be happy or not be interested in learning unless it includes the "latest". I realize this has already been happening probably since the beginning of time but the market is becoming more and more saturated that the it's getting worse in the regard of kids and adults alike being uncontent and bored with current or "old" ideas or things.

I mentioned only a few examples, but "new" doesn't always mean better.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Apr 30, 2006 3:46 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:This is not at all meant to be a slam at software, much of which is ingeniously designed to involve the user thoroughly in stimulating interactive effort. It's meant to point out the futility of trying to turn learning into entertainment, in the hope of arousing more interest. Big mistake! By far the strongest motivation comes from inner accomplishment.

I couldn't agree more, but -- I know any number of adults (let alone children) who haven't learned that lesson and probably never will. Rather than get an inner sense of accomplishment, they would rather go to a movie, watch TV or just sleep.

By definition, you have to have already accomplished something in order to feel that sense of accomplishment. I think anybody who wants to teach any subject and feels that they should be able to simply ignore making the subject interesting and understandable, in favor of telling the student to wait for the inner sense of accomplishment, is destined to failure with many students. Technology isn't a panacea to remedy poor teaching or a complete lack of motivation on the part of the student, but it (and lots of other approaches, as well) can help the student arrive at that "inner sense of accomplishment".
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Emily Wyatt » Thu May 25, 2006 4:46 pm

--What I would like to see is a balanced method for young (non-reading) beginners with an emphasis on:
Developing a 'formed hand' (a careful technical progression)
Recognizable or 'catchy' tunes
Rhythmic experience
Easy duets parents can play

--I have young students who are making very little progress toward reading music (they need a few months for maturity level) and would appreciate interesting activities that require few materials but would reinforce learning.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat May 27, 2006 5:28 pm

Emily, Great ideas - you may have to make your own. There are some good rote teaching methods and many of the tunes are fun and catchy for the young child. Duets are super, but like everythnig, you have to hunt for them. There is not one book that has all I would like. If the Diller Quaile first duet book is still in print, I have quite a few I have played in that book - from easy to medium. You can make up duet parts for some folk tunes and play some rounds.

Teaching rote to the young child has been especiailly rewarding for me. My young ones compose and find songs by ear and play with chords.

I am working on an article for PEP - I think it may have to wait until after my Musicales to finalize it.

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Postby Emily Wyatt » Fri Jun 02, 2006 1:49 pm

Joan--I'm looking forward to your article on the subject!

How do you have your young ones chord and still keep a correct hand position? I've found it hard when the little fingers are spread out and 'squished' down to play only the triad. Or do you use other forms of chords than the simple triad?
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Tue Jun 06, 2006 7:18 pm

I do not fuss too much with hand position (that will bring some comments) for the young ones. I do have them play open chords, broken chords, and intervals for harmony as well as single notes and octaves with the melody.

If they enjoy playing at a young age, they are likely to continue and technique can be taught later. A five year old, I taught many years ago, sometimes sat on her knees or with her legs crossed and to get near the piano she would sometimes lean the arm not playing, on the piano. Her Mother was appalled, but being a good friend, let it be. Katie won many awards for her playing from 12yo on. I have two just 6 year olds who do similar positions plus sliding and tipping the chair. When we start the next piece, we reposition the chair...every time! I have 6 boys ages 6 to 9 and I think they are all hyper-active. They love music and are learning in spite of perpetual motion and or talking, and playing while I am talking. It drives some parents crazy, but as long as they are learning and having fun.....well, that's all I need from them right now!

When I was 5 and taking lessons, yes I had to sit a certain way and hold my hands a certain way. It is not natural for a 5 year old! After a day in school, or half day, they need to move.

Just my opinion!



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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Jun 07, 2006 9:24 am

I agree you can't be too fussy about perfect hand position from beginners--it can lead to a lot of unwanted tension. Casual correcting of really important things like collapsing joints and arm punching as substitute for finger movements can take place gradually over time, and it helps to keep them in music that has small hand positions. We have to keep imagining what it feels like to have hands that are very small and weak--it's natural at this stage to try and compensate with larger muscle groups.

As always, I think the most important thing at this point is to teach them to listen, conceive a sound and try to imitate it.

Bill L.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Thu Jun 08, 2006 7:42 pm

Thanks, Dr. Bill, I was expecting a roar of disapproval. I do not let the students do anything unusual with hand and finger positions. I suggest 'curving the fingers', have them shake out their hands occassionally. When I notice something awkward, I correct it.

As I watched my students play at the Musicales, I was pleased with the way they sat and used their hands. At the lesson it is quite different, especially for my restless ones! I did notice one studnet who had his wrist down too much and made a note to work on that .
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