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PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 6:35 pm
by Mins Music
What I've observed in my studio is that it's definitately the adults with the relaxation issues that are bad enough to hinder their playing.

Kids between 5 - 10 (roughly, not going through every student I've ever had) don't/didn't seem to have a problem.

Teenagers develop some tension when tackling very fast, loud passages. I have one teenage student (15) who thinks LIFE is a complete drama and so too is learning the piano, and she MENTALLY tenses first. What I've been doing with her is giving her contemporary pieces with expression marks such as 'relaxed, in an easy fashion', or even 'lazily' - she especially likes this one: being the drama queen she is, I believe she actually ACTS 'lazy' and suddenly the 'drama' and the tension is gone. All I have to do is point out the words, act it out a little, and away she goes. (I'm not saying giving pieces like this to study is the solution, just an interesting observation of one of my students at the moment.)

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?

I do a rating system with my students: all ages. I narrow it down from 1-5, then explain what 1 means, 5 etc, point out 2.5 either take it or leave it. But it's not about how tense they are. It's more simple: either how much they enjoy listening to a piece OR how much they enjoy playing a piece OR how difficult they think a piece is going to be to learn (before they begin to learn it - perhaps just by looking at it, or after I've played it) then score again after we've worked on it a little in lessons - and yep the score changes.

This sounds as though everyone can do this and it would be easy - but it's not. It too is a skill that needs to be taught and practised.

A student's perception is based on previous knowledge and experience, which when it comes to playing the piano is of course limited (talking about beginners 'intermediate -not undergrads) Working out what you think/feel about something (which are two very different things) and then using the correct language to convey this information is actually very tricky (just see how many people responded to Dr Johns top most valuable piano literature - analysis is HARD).

Self analysis is usually quite inaccuarte (another reason why teaching yourself something doesn't always work with some people). There's a fascinating study called Unskilled and Unaware by Justin Kruger and David Dunning (from Cornell University) that's worth reading - something we've all observed and recognise, but the study talks about WHY (eg, a really bad singer thinks they're actually really good - check out the audition process of any "Idol" show.)

I suspect asking my students to analyse their tension and then rate it from 1-10 would freak them out and then they'd say 10!

When you think about it, trying to 'teach' a person something once a week in half hour increments is quite ludicrous - add in that EVERY person has different communication and learning styles AND carry around a heap of emotional and psychologicial baggage and I think it's a small miracle piano teachers who are NOT psychiatrists, NOt physical trainers and in many cases are NOT even trained in education manage to teach their students anything!

I TRY and be balanced about relaxation - I know that adult students are going to be tense, I adress the issue full on, but in a light hearted manner, let them know what they need to work on in way of relaxing and then just accept that getting rid of tension for some people is an impossible task - at least for a piano teacher who's not prepared to give them a forty five minute full body deep tissue massage! :p

How far a piano teacher goes in adressing this problem depends I think, on what the student (adult) is wanting from their half hour once a week lesson. If it's REALLY getting in the way of their progress, perhaps it's as easy as saying: "What are some things we can do to help your body and mind be at ease?" Share the problem, let them know they are responsible for working something out themselves too - it can't ALL be up to the piano teacher.

one would automatically feel where they were holding tension in the body,

Perhaps, if they were already well in tune with a body that IS relaxed, so they had something to compare it with, but many people develop habits of holding themselves that result in horrendous headaches and muscular spasms - and they say they have no idea WHY they always get neck pain etc.
One method I learned in drama classes that I still use in piano teaching is to first tense the particular muscle as much as you can. eg, if students hands become claws, I ask them to make a tight fist and clench until their knucles go white, then do the exact opposite, have a very limp hand. They can feel the difference, when they become aware of the tightness again -especially across the palm) they know what to do. I don't think the everyday person can automatically feel where their tension is. I just don't think it's at 'automatic' for some people who haven't previously benefited from some kind of physical or bodily training.

Anyway, now I'm rambling, so ... keep up the interesting discussion - it's been thought provoking. :)

PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 8:03 pm
by Dr. Bill Leland
Well said, Mins, as always. When I started the Relaxation topic I knew that there would be different opinions about how to handle it, and many thought-provoking comments and ideas. Tension in playing is, after all, one of the things which can be addressed in as many different ways as there are students.

Just to make my own view clear: when I mentioned that I had researched the physiology of muscle movement from medical sources, and the mechanisms involved in our physical playing apparatus, I didn't mean at all to imply that we should confront tense students with a lot of technical jargon, and I think we all seem to agree that some kind of more subtle approach is called for in teaching. But tension, both physical and psychological, can often put up major barriers to the students' development--especially older, more mature ones, as Mins mentions.

My general view is this: first, the teacher should, as part of his or her fundamental knowledge, become as conversant as possible with the way the physical mechanism operates, or should operate, in the act of playing the piano, just as a basketball coach or gym instructor, or anyone else training students in a physical skill, need to know physiology and muscle movement as well.

Second, if tension problems seem to be present, the teacher should observe the student over a period of time, both as a player and as a person, and try only gradually to arrive at a reasonable idea of where the root cause lies.

If we take these first steps, it seems to me we will have gone well over halfway towards addressing the problem, regardless of what direct or indirect solution we eventually arrive at.

Bill L.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 10:27 am
by 108-1121887355
Try this for relaxation - a week at Disney - a 75th birthday gift from my son and family - grandchildren 6 and 8. I will let you know! I am hoping it will be relaxing! :D

PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 12:34 pm
by Dr. Bill Leland
My daughter, a violist, played in the Disneyland Orchestra (California) a couple of summers--she said it was VERY relaxing!

Dr. B.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 2:21 pm
by Stretto
Hope you have a nice time, sounds great!

For those of us not going to Disney World in the near future, how about taking a walk as a form of relaxation. (Of course, you'll probably be doing a lot of walking at Disney World too!) I have been taking some fall walks at the local nature center and discovered taking a walk is a good opportunity to practice relaxed shoulders, arms, even wrists and hands. While walking, I took notice of how my shoulders hung loosely and freely and my arms, wrists, and hands hung loosely and freely at my side. As my arms swung naturally and relaxed while walking, I took note of how the weight of my arms, wrists, and hands felt. Then I tried to memorize how that felt and tried to carry that same feeling in my shoulders arms, etc. over to the piano.

A scenic, quiet walk is relaxing in and of itself and you get your exercise at the same time! :;):

I've discovered practicing relaxation in everyday activities is one of the best ways to practice piano when your not even at a piano. For example, while driving a car, I find myself putting a lot more effort and tension into holding a steering wheel than necessary. Just to hold onto a steering wheel doesn't take as much intensity and effort as I find myself putting into it, especially when sitting at a stop light! Of course, one wouldn't want to get so relaxed while driving as to loose control! But I have practiced letting my shoulders and arms hang more loosely while holding the steering wheel. The same can be done while doing dishes or other daily tasks. Practice thinking about as loose of shoulders, arms, and wrists, as possible while still having control of what your doing. I've found thinking about this more consciously through the day has helped me a great deal in piano playing. I can go straight into piano playing feeling relaxed because I've been practicing it throughout the day!

I'm starting to learn that playing the piano seems to be a matter of controlled relaxation. Before I was controlling my playing with my fingers but at the same time was unaware of tension from my fingers up. Then when I realized how much tension I had while playing, on my own in an effort to figure out how to relax while playing, I ignored fingers almost altogether relying on arm weight to do almost all the work. I've even read about the two schools of thought on technique, one more of the finger school, one more of the arm weight school. Now with the help and advice of my teacher, I'm learning it's more about controlled fingers and movements but yet at the same time keeping shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, relaxed. It seems very simple so I don't know what I was so blind as not to realize it before. What do you think? Is this a correct assessment? Agree or Disagree?

Has anyone tried anything similar as far as taking note of or practicing relaxed shoulders, arms, etc. while walking or other activities outside of piano?

Edited By Stretto on 1162536807

PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 6:05 pm
by Mins Music
loveapiano wrote:Try this for relaxation - a week at Disney - a 75th birthday gift from my son and family - grandchildren 6 and 8. I will let you know! I am hoping it will be relaxing! :D

Haha! I strongly suspect you'll need a week of Stretto's quiet scenic walks when you get back! Let us know how it went.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 6:44 pm
by Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed
loveapiano wrote:Try this for relaxation - a week at Disney - a 75th birthday gift from my son and family - grandchildren 6 and 8. I will let you know! I am hoping it will be relaxing! :D

I don't know about relaxing, but you'll learn all the words and music to "It's a Small World"! :D

PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2006 4:10 pm
by 108-1121887355
Thanks for the morning smile. I have been singing that song all day as I shop and clean and pack for Disney! I will think of you when I hear it. I will try it as a duet on piano with my students when I get back.

And, I WILL relax. There are a lot of swimming pools I have to try!

PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 4:45 pm
by Glissando88keys
loveapiano wrote:Thanks for the morning smile. I have been singing that song all day as I shop and clean and pack for Disney! I will think of you when I hear it. I will try it as a duet on piano with my students when I get back.

And, I WILL relax. There are a lot of swimming pools I have to try!

Joan, you may be thinking of Dr. Z more than you imagine, because Its a Small World is one of those songs that will stick in your mind forever! You will find yourself thinking of it, inadvertantly, and singing it repetitively, all day long, and sometimes even hearing it in your dreams, eternally! :laugh:

My suggestion: Learn all the language variations while you're at Disneyland, because when repeating the song, ad infinitim, at least you'll be able to vary the words! :p

Yes, we have lots of pools here in CA, so have fun doing what is my next most favorite activity besides playing piano, swimming! I hope you enjoy all those new rides, too. :D

Edited By Glissando88keys on 1162923814

PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 9:34 pm
by hermit980
I read most of the posts in this forum, and just want to add an insight from my teacher, who has three returning adults and one new adult under her wing. She thinks, and I think we all agree, that we get so nervous because we are all incredibly competent in our 'real' lives, that to be so utterly incompetent in front of someone we like and rely upon is terrifying. And this, from all of us, in front of the nicest (albeit, subtlely push-you-forward) teacher in the world.

I also believe that there is a terrible disconnect between our intellectual understanding of the music and our recalcitrant fingers. And, to be blunt, I think this pisses us all off. In our normal life, intellectual understanding does equate to some command of the material. Not here.

So, our inability to relax is a combination of embarassment at clumsiness (in my case, often, after 12 years of flute, 'staff dyslexia'), irritability at 'yeah, I GET it, but that doesn't mean I can play it. So, it's just an inversion. So what!)

And finally, I think we are all less inclined to 'spin'. That is, I remember my daughter just stopping mid-street to spin around because it was fun. When's the last time any of us did that? A litte emotional, social constipation about being foolish.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 10:08 pm
by Mins Music
hermit I think you said it beautifully!! It IS a vulnerable position to be as an adult. I had an adult student ask me just the other day, "why can I play it at home, but not here?" I said, "you don't have to worry about what I think of you at home." She said that was it exactly. We talked about how that was completely natural and understandable, but how it also has to be addressed to a degree. I told her that 'internal' focus was also a skill, and like any skill, had to be practised too.

What a wonderful illustration of your little girl 'spinning'. I'm going to use it next time an adult student asks me that question. (I know I would be a nightmare to teach because I'm such a perfectionist ... but I do like the occassional 'spin'.... :p )

PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:45 pm
by LK123
Hermit, you hit the nail on the head!

PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 5:29 pm
by 108-1121887355
Okay, Dr. Z - I did not relax very much. But getting away was priceless!
I am now going through all my Disney songs for my grandchildren and other students. "Winnie the Pooh" was the first one today and "Small World" is for tomorrow. I have to get more familiar with the newer movies as some of the middle schoolers are playing some pieces in the band. And I am still singing "Small World".


PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 3:40 pm
by 108-1121887355
As for 'relaxing' in Disney - no, not much. A couple of swims in the "quiet pool". But is was fun and really magical to get away!

PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 8:00 pm
by Stretto
I brought this topic back up because I was reminded way back when in college when the subject came up in a master class with a student of how much tension one can without thinking have in their face and mouth while playing the piano. It was probably pointed out from the aspect of not wanting to appear "weird" while playing the piano but it should be another area to ask oneself while playing, "Are the muscles in my face relaxed?" Tension in muscles of the face and jaw (some people even habitually clench their teeth during the day as well), can cause problems so again just brought it up as another thing to watch for while playing. I think it's easy for a person to do all kinds of things with one's face related to tension while playing the piano or performing. I probably used to do so until it was pointed out in that master class, I started making a more conscious effort to keep my face relaxed while playing. It was mostly because I didn't want to appear "strange" but it's especially important from a health standpoint.

Edited By Stretto on 1182996507