Relaxation - Teaching freedom of movement

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby Glissando88keys » Sat Sep 23, 2006 11:59 pm

Stretto wrote:While I'm posting, here's a novel idea on teaching relaxation: How about at least just telling a student to be sure to stay relaxed whatever you are asking them to do, for example, telling them to be sure and keep their shoulders and wrists relaxed.

My current teacher writes and says almost every week since day one, "loose wrists", "loose wrists", "loose wrists". It's written on every assigment every week - I guess that's some kind of hint :D !

Stretto, all kidding aside, how do you feel when you see those words, "loose wrists" on your assignments week after week?

I honestly think that I would feel frustrated and begin to question my own capabilities if my teacher were to constantly remind me to do something over and over and over again.

She obviously feels a need to write that repetitive comment over and over, perhaps because this instruction is not succeeding in helping you to relax. In other words, her written commands don't work very well.

Some students may not respond well to repetitive written or verbal commands, or may forget to translate the command into a physical action. A student's learning style may be more effectively facilitated with awareness - type questions than with written or verbal commands.

Telling a student to be sure and "do this" may work eventually, but the disadvantages of this method outweigh the advantages.

Anytime a teacher says, "do this" many students feel overwhelmed and pressured to perform yet another action besides what they are already struggling to do. A student can become discouraged because this kind of instruction implies blame or criticism. ("You are not doing it right, you are doing it wrong.")

The ways teachers can unintentionally send a "right or wrong" message is with the terms,
"Play it this way",
"Make it better",
"Please try harder",
"Lets get it right this time,"
"Now relax"

So, instead of helping the student to make progress towards a goal, the student actually experiences a setback. Instead of self-awareness, the student becomes self-conscious.

Instead of a teacher telling a student to "do this", a teacher can ask questions that focus the student's attention on the problem areas. This allows the student to make the necessary corrections without being told exactly what to do.

An awareness approach to instruction can be more relaxed and can lead to increased relaxation in students as well.

Examples of phrases you could use are,
"Be aware of...",
"Listen for...",
"How does it feel when you...",
"Tell me the difference you notice between...",
"Pay attention to the...",
"Lets see if...,"
"Notice the feeling you get when...", etc.

Suggestions like these put you and the student in the here and now, and the focus of attention is on the student's experience.

I learn more from awareness instruction than a "do this" type of instruction. I also learn by watching my teacher's body positions, listening to her phrasing, feeling the effects, and sensing her emotions as she plays a piece of music. You, too, may be more inclined to a more awareness-centered approach, preferring to learn by auditory or verbal prompts, visual, physical and emotional cues and questions.

It may be quicker and more effective to simply tell someone to do something instead of asking them whether they can tell the difference when something feels better or sounds better. But the request to notice things does not cause as much of a mental obstacle as a "do this" command. In the long run, the instruction will be more effective if the student is in charge of their own discovery process. :)




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Postby Glissando88keys » Sun Sep 24, 2006 12:06 am

Stretto wrote:As long as students appear to be playing in a relaxed way, I'm reluctant to say anything in the way of general, "do's and don'ts". I've always thought, "if it isn't broken, don't fix it". I'm afraid if I start chiming in with too many general do's and don'ts, a student who was doing fine on their own will start getting all "worried and tense" in an effort to "do as I say".

I read back to an earlier post of yours and I noticed that what you said, previously, appears to agree. :)
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sun Sep 24, 2006 10:39 am

Great thoughts and ideas, Gliss.

For my adults and older students, plus a few younger ones, I have them make note in their music and lesson book of things to remember, in their own words. I still write in the lesson, but they add comments, as needed.

I have little, sticky, colored arrows that they place in their music if a rough spot or fingering problem or other needs attention. They can easily remove, when the problem is worked out. Some use the arrows (green and red) for where to start and stop practicing a new piece.

Again, each person is different and what works for one may not work for another. Sometimes it is just a change in words or way of doing things that works.

I often say. "Try it this way" "Does that work for you?" "Do you think it needs to be softer there?" and on. "Listen" is an important word as sometimes they are so busy trying to play the correct notes and fingering, etc. that they are not really listening to the music.

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Postby Stretto » Sun Sep 24, 2006 3:29 pm

Well, Glissando, some of what I have been getting at also is exactly what you were saying about too many verbal do's and don'ts so I think we both agree on that. In beginning lessons from ages 12 - 17, I received a lot of "do this, this, this, and this." One direction in particular I mentioned previously given to me was to "play with nice curved fingers".

You mentioned, Glissando, being careful not to make a student self-conscious by too many "do's and don'ts". Being the overly self-conscious person I was especially in the teen years and being a person to try to follow directions to the letter did in fact cause me to add a whole bunch of tension into my playing - tension that over time turned into habit. I'm sure that when I started being very conscienscious of keeping "nice curved fingers", I also probably started unknowingly at the same time locking up my wrists as I was trying so hard to follow the instructions. Of course, my teachers did demonstrate points they were trying to make. I feel now their information on technique was not "wrong" but rather good, sound information. The danger, however, I feel was that it was INCOMPLETE information in that being sure to be relaxed was not ever mentioned.

Of course, I do feel it's not enough just to verbally say "relax" and everything will automatically fall into place for a student. In fact if I tell someone I have had this problem with too much tension in my playing, there's always someone saying, "just relax" and that is very annoying. It's probably one of the hardest things to teach in some ways because it involves a feeling and how do you explain a feeling? One may say, "relaxed shoulders" but how do you explain what relaxed shoulders means? I do think if my teachers were to IN THE VERY LEAST add the word "relaxed" into the equation, if they would have in the very least said, "play with nice curved fingers BUT keep your fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders . . . relaxed while doing so" and that's all they ever said, I think I would have not locked up my wrists, arms, and shoulders in a concentrated effort to have curved fingers. Although verbal direction only on relaxation isn't the ideal way to teach, I think it's a lot better than saying nothing about it at all. I suppose the argument can be made that the more a person is told to relax the more tense they will become trying to relax! :D

I did say in an earlier post that I was reluctant sometimes to give too many verbal "do's and dont's" because they might cause a student to add undue tension but what I meant in the way of "do's and dont's" were things like, "keep your fingers curved", "hold your wrists straight", "sit up straight", "prepare for the next note", etc., etc. These things might cause a student to become so conscienscious to to all these things that they might add undue tension into playing when in fact prior to all the "commands", they were playing very relaxed on their own. I wasn't referring to talking to a student about staying relaxed in playing.

I would conclude from these most recent exchanges that it is dangerous to leave out any direction all together on relaxation in playing the piano for fear of making a student too "self-conscious" but a mere verbal direction to "relax" is not enough either.

And I do agree, loveapiano that everyone is different. I do a ton in teaching of "well this didn't work, how else can we approach it" and keep trying until we hit on some way of explanation that clicks with the student. It's part of the fun in teaching - the challenge of getting the point across.

p.s. - I might also add that I don't feel I can blame my past piano teachers for all the unnecessary habits of tension I've put into my playing over the years. I think also it has a lot to do also with habits of tension a person carries around from day to day regardless of the task that is just carried over into playing the piano. Some tension, I think, can be so subtle that it is not even visable from the outside. While a teacher can help a student correct obvious things that come out in the sound of a student's playing or visable signs of tension, what about undue tension in a student that a teacher can't see or hear in their playing?

So how do others of you think we as teachers are to get a student to feel what relaxation in their piano playing should feel like? For example, my teacher says things like "loose wrists", "use arm weight", "drop-roll". She also demonstrates these things and I can see what she is doing and watch the motion and see that it looks very relaxed. But how do I go from verbally hearing what to do and seeing what to do to FEELING what to do? How does a teacher explain things like what "loose wrists", "arm weight", "relaxed shoulders", etc. should FEEL like?

I finally think I am starting to "feel" what some of these things should feel like, but it wasn't without having to ask and question myself if what I was doing felt relaxed and ask and question my teacher to clarify what she meant when I didn't understand.




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Postby Stretto » Sun Sep 24, 2006 6:29 pm

:D



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Postby Stretto » Sun Sep 24, 2006 6:31 pm

:D



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Postby Stretto » Sun Sep 24, 2006 8:13 pm

- Don't ask! - (computer problems!) :O



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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Sep 27, 2006 3:18 am

loveapiano wrote:"Listen" is an important word as sometimes they are so busy trying to play the correct notes and fingering, etc. that they are not really listening to the music.

Joan

Bingo, Joan!

Listening is key to the process of learning a piece of music, and the correct notes and fingering will follow, for how can they continue to play something that doesn't sound right? (Only if they are not listening)

:laugh:

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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Sep 27, 2006 4:28 am

Stretto wrote: Stretto, I wonder if I fully understand what you are saying.

being a person to try to follow directions to the letter did in fact cause me to add a whole bunch of tension into my playing - tension that over time turned into habit.


Stretto, it appears that the problem was that you were trying so hard, and that the more you tried, the worse it got, until, finally it became habit.

I'm sure that when I started being very conscientious of keeping "nice curved fingers", I also probably started unknowingly at the same time locking up my wrists as I was trying so hard to follow instructions.


So, the problem was never your wrists, and to focus on loose wrists would probably not help much because the problem actually derives from your efforts of trying so hard to follow instructions. Is that it?

The danger, however, I feel was that it was INCOMPLETE informationin that being sure to be relaxed was not ever mentioned.


You mention the fact that your teachers made an error of omission rather than an error of commission because they neglected to mention, "Be sure to be relaxed!" and ommitted this valuable information. You do say that that you don't blame them for actually doing something wrong on purpose, however you feel that their omission of important information is dangerous.

If they would have mentioned relaxation, you probably would have tried valiantly to be relaxed! Please excuse my skepticisim, how would this have improved your relaxation?

In fact if I tell someone I have had this problem with too much tension in my playing, there's always someone saying, "just relax" and that is very annoying.


On the other hand, you say that if someone tells you to "just relax" you find that annoying. I would too.

(Just as annoying as "loose wrists" over and over again?)

It's probably one of the hardest things to teach in some ways because it involves a feeling and how do you explain a feeling?


Even if you could explain the feeling of relaxation, and Stretto, I'm sure that you can, although it is hard to explain, the explanation would not help you to actually feel relaxed.

One can say relaxed shoulders, but how do you explain what relaxed shoulders means?


You could expalin that relaxed shoulders means that your shoulders are not tighly hunched up, but feel loose and free, and weightless, without tension or stiffness.

I do think if my teachers were to IN THE VERY LEAST
add the word "relaxed" into the equation, if they would have in the very least said, "play with nice curved fingers BUT keep your fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders... relaxed while doing so" and that's all they ever said, I think I would have not locked up my wrists, arms, and shoulders in a concentrated effort to have curved fingers.


So let me get this right. Your teachers never said the word "relaxed" in connection to playing with curved fingers. For example, "Stay relaxed while playing with nice curved fingers." You feel if they would have said that you think you would have definitely had less tension and would have definitely been more relaxed?

Although verbal direction only on relaxation isn't the ideal way to teach


You realize that telling someone to relax isn't very effective.

I think its a lot better than saying nothing about it at all.


So you feel that saying nothing is neglectful, and to say something about it is necessary?




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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Sep 27, 2006 4:38 am

Stretto, I agree with what you said, that tension comes from trying too hard. :) You have noticed that, now.

I had another thought. If something is difficult, and you notice yourself trying too hard, can you break up the task up into smaller pieces?

I honestly feel that the topic of relaxation can best be approached by experimentation and self-discovery. It would help to find out what works for you and what doesn't.

Do you ever take notice of what you are feeling, and make a change when you first notice it? Have you looked for ways to correct the problem right on the spot? Or did you go on trying to play the proper notes, etc. and ignore what you were feeling?

Sometimes tension can come about from an improper seat height and/or how comfortable your seating position is. Even sitting too close or too far from the piano can cause discomfort, and tension. Do you notice any differences in tension/relaxation when you adjust these?




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Postby LK123 » Wed Sep 27, 2006 10:07 am

After finally reading the posts of the last week (kids at school or napping, aahhhhhh), I really have to agree with Joan about the listening bit. My teacher often asks me to LISTEN to my playing and then to think about what the music is trying to say (or do). Once I have a better idea of where the music is headed I find I can relax and work on getting it there. My phrasing has improved, and as a result the whole piece improves and is much more musical. Not that she doesn't still tell me to physically relax sometimes - especially if a piece has difficult or intense passages I do need reminders to stay loose. I do find as an adult student that I do have more tension than as a younger student, but I do attribute that to the stresses of everyday life (oh to be carefree again!) .

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:31 pm

As for getting relaxation in playing without making the student selfconscious and perhaps musclebound as a result, I think my teacher Hans Barth really knew how to handle it. He never said "relax" or "don't be tense" or anything of that sort. But he would often say things like "Everything is easy", "everything feels easy"; "you're in command"; "you're the general up on the hill, and your fingers are the armies down in the valley". It sure did help me, anyway.

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Postby Glissando88keys » Mon Oct 02, 2006 10:26 pm

Mins Music wrote:
we have to sneak up on the subject and solve the problem obliquely somehow.


I agree Dr Bill. We do have to address the issue and I think it's HOW we address the issue that will make the student 'self conscious' or 'conscious of self', thus resulting in either MORE tension which is unproductive, or more malleable, which can lead to progress.

I like the way you articulated the difference between "self consciousness", and "consciousness of self."

I have come across a subtle and powerful way to address the issue of relaxation.

What if you were to ask a student to be aware of their playing and to rate the tension on a one-to-ten scale? (A one would represent complete lack of tension and a ten represents maximum tension.)

Each time the student would play the particular piece they would rate the tension felt, and would take several readings.

This automatically relaxes the student, whose attention is focused, now, on relaxation without any conscious effort on their part to relax.

At the same time, one would automatically feel where they were holding tension in the body, and this would give a more conscious connection with the muscles in the body.

This method of relaxation would lead to a free and fluid sound to the music, instead of a reflection of stiffness and tenseness. The teacher and the student would hear the difference in the sound, and note the more relaxed technique as a benchmark, or guideline for the future.

I feel that this method could be learned and applied to other circumstances as well.
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Postby Glissando88keys » Mon Oct 02, 2006 10:47 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:For those interested enough to get deeper into it, there is a wonderful book called "Famous Pianists and Their Technique", by Reginald Gerig, which lays out in detail the various methods of teaching technique from Bach to Horowitz (Amazon has it). Writings, quotes and letters from Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Leschetitsky, and many otherrs, all the centuries-old controversy about weight vs. finger action, many of the off-beat methods and mythology, the screwball mechanical inventions designed to strengthen the hands or force them into proper positions, etc., etc.--it's a fascinating history. A truly scientific study of exactly what goes on in both the physical apparatus of the player and the mechanics of the piano was done in the 1930s by Otto Ortmann, but few teachers have studied it; it really takes a lot of time and effort. But the information is there, and has been available for a long time.

Dr. Bill.

Dr. Bill, thank you for suggesting the Gerig book. It is not only a wonderful and complete history of the various techniques but a fascinating compilation of little known facts. It takes alot of patience to read because it is technical and detailed, however at the same time it is also a fascinating read!

Ortmann's studies have been condensed and are available on various websites. One merely has to enter the author's name on any search engine. They may not be as detailed as the originals, but they convey an abstract of his studies in condensed form, and relay valuable and pertinent information on the subject.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Oct 03, 2006 6:09 pm

Gliss, I think I have to take issue with you on your 1-to-10 rating scale idea, at least for kids. I just don't see how this qualifies as an oblique or subtle approach that can work without undo self-consciousness (if that's the correct term!) about one's tension problems, at least for some students.

I should have added earlier that when I went to Hans Barth I was 25, had had more than a year of hatha yoga classes, and had a professional physical therapist in the family. So it was not a problem for me at that time to analyze the whole thing, but for young students who are uptight about playing, and perhaps even about taking lessons at all, I tend to visualize them by seeing myself as a teenager, trying to build a technique by struggling harder and getting tighter and tighter. It got so bad that I gave the whole thing up at one point--Dr. Barth turned me around.

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