It's the music! - Learning about it

Discuss the piano literature and how to teach and learn it

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue May 13, 2008 7:47 am

Most people don't take piano lessons because they want to spend lonely hours every week practicing or because they're masochists with nothing better to do! :D They want to learn to play the piano because they want to be able to play the music, no matter what genre they might be interested in. The problem is that the piano literature is so vast that most people desperately need some help both experiencing it and understanding it.

Because of this fact, most teachers try to work in some music appreciation, if they can. There are lots of ways to do this (computer lab with appreciation software, teaching a music appreciation course out-of-hours, attending concerts, and more), which we've discussed at various times in others threads, though perhaps not in the detail the topic deserves. However, if you are and your students are unable to spend extra hours doing music appreciation or you don't have a computer lab, how can you work it into lessons without unduly detracting from the teaching? Do you even try to do that?

I can think of a number of ways one might do this. For example, one might discuss briefly the background of the composer of the work a student is starting and listen to it on a CD in the background as the student works during the lesson. How can one best include some music appreciation in lessons on a regular basis?
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Postby Tranquillo » Wed May 14, 2008 3:30 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:I can think of a number of ways one might do this. For example, one might discuss briefly the background of the composer of the work a student is starting and listen to it on a CD in the background as the student works during the lesson. How can one best include some music appreciation in lessons on a regular basis?

In the highschool music course, of Australia, NSW. A certain area is studied and that is listening. This involves listening to an except and commenting on what is happening in the music (how are the dynamics being used? soft? loud? ... How does the composer use pitch? Melodies, high. low? Bass? Treble? ...etc) This is done in an exam aspect. It encourages broader listening and understanding of music.

In the private setting, I know people's teachers and my teacher sometimes setting tasks to listen. When learning to play a certain piece, at times they lend recordings of CD's and encourage not just merely listening to the specific piece that the student is learning but listening to other pieces to understand sylistic aspects, and listening to other people peformances allow for the understanding of interpretation.

Those are just some thoughts
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Wed May 14, 2008 5:48 am

Are teachers aware of how much research kids do when they play these on-line games? I'll get back to that in a minute.

I have posted an idea a couple of times in another forum and each time there has been no interest. Kids love to use computers and they are adept at research. Why not take advantage of that? You can first create your own tentative curriculum outline of what you would like your students end up knowing. You could break it into eras which come together with styles and genres and composers. Meanwhile you know that this particular student will be playing this particular piece by that composer of that era. This would be the perfect thing to study - something you can tick off on your checklist.

So what do you do? Why not give an assignment asking the student to find out as much as he can about the composer or the era. There can be leading questions or it can be open-ended depending on the student.

I did this last year, which is how the thought came up. I had a Gavotte and my teacher said it was a dance. I looked up the compser which led me to the era. I looked up Gavotte and had "video" turned on as option. Suddenly I was watching professional dancers in period costume performing a slow Gavotte. There was such a wealth of information, and it was much more meaningful than a dry lecture or a fact sheet.

When kids play some of the on-line games they are dealing with historical characters. They start doing research on history and come out with an amazing amount of historical knowledge. Sometimes they even end up learning some Latin or Greek. If this tendency already exists, why not tap into it and use it?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed May 14, 2008 7:14 am

pianissimo wrote:Are teachers aware of how much research kids do when they play these on-line games?

So what do you do? Why not give an assignment asking the student to find out as much as he can about the composer or the era. There can be leading questions or it can be open-ended depending on the student.

I did this last year, which is how the thought came up. I had a Gavotte and my teacher said it was a dance. I looked up the compser which led me to the era. I looked up Gavotte and had "video" turned on as option. Suddenly I was watching professional dancers in period costume performing a slow Gavotte. There was such a wealth of information, and it was much more meaningful than a dry lecture or a fact sheet.

I think this is a great idea! I've known teachers who give these sorts of assignments, though not necessarily stressing using online resources, which are considerable. They work, so long as you can get the student to do this kind of "homework". The only problem is that too many public schools give little or no homework these days, even at the high school level, so kids aren't used to doing homework.

Would there be some way to work bits and pieces of this into the daily lesson, so that one wouldn't have to depend on kids doing homework? I'm sure some would do it, while others would simply ignore it. If you can't get them to practice, you might have trouble getting them to do homework, even fun stuff like this.
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Postby Stretto » Mon May 19, 2008 9:58 pm

One way I've worked it in is to add 10 minutes to a 30 min. lesson so lessons are 40 min. rather than 30. The extra time allows me to use for music appreciation, or other music related activities but many times the extra minutes still gets eaten up working on the students pieces.

When I have included it, I've sent cd's home. I wrote some 1 page bibliographies for example, one was on Haydn. I took bits and pieces of interesting facts from several resources and wrote them on a sheet and read the sheet at the lesson. I punch holes in the sheets I give students and they have a 3 ring binder that such sheets can be stored in. I also played part of a Haydn symphony at the beginning of the lesson and pointed out a few main characteristics of his music. I also gave them a take home quiz with about 4 questions about Haydn where they could find the answers on the hand-out I gave. I don't always do this but that was an example of one of my best efforts at this.

I also give cd's out as gifts at Christmas, etc. or when a student completes a level. Some dept. stores have cd's for about $5.99 of various classical music.

Once a student composed a piece that reminded me of minimalism so I talked about it at the next lesson, how this concept was used in some Modern music and I found a picture in an art history book of minimalism used in architecture to show the student at the following lesson.

I don't do it often enough but I think it really neat to take a time period and relate the general history, philosophies, art, music, clothing all together. It wouldn't take too much time to show a student some pictures of paintings in a book of various artists from the Romantic time period, for example, if they were playing a piece composed in that historic period and throwing out a few facts about the philosophies that influenced the art and music.

I knew of a piano teacher that made his students write reports on the composers of pieces they were playing.

- and students here comment on homework from school running out of their ears, parents commenting on more homework than when we were kids, and schoolwork and homework getting harder than when we were kids in the same grade which is always one reason why piano practice doesn't get done.




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Postby Tranquillo » Mon May 19, 2008 11:23 pm

Stretto wrote:I knew of a piano teacher that made his students write reports on the composers of pieces they were playing.

- and students here comment on homework from school running out of their ears, parents commenting on more homework than when we were kids, and schoolwork and homework getting harder than when we were kids in the same grade which is always one reason why piano practice doesn't get done.

Some bright ideas Stretto! A friend of mine sets assignments for the students she has ... she gets them to research a certain piece of composer, include a picture and tell her about it at the lesson. She sometimes doesnt even get them to research piano but other instruments and ensemble groups as well as genrés and musical styles.

I think this is a great idea! I've known teachers who give these sorts of assignments, though not necessarily stressing using online resources, which are considerable. They work, so long as you can get the student to do this kind of "homework". The only problem is that too many public schools give little or no homework these days, even at the high school level, so kids aren't used to doing homework.



At my school, some teacher set homework to look up a certain website and visit it. By having the ability to research and access the music and information th curiousity of a student heightens ...

Just a few thoughts ...
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue May 20, 2008 7:28 am

Stretto wrote:When I have included it, I've sent cd's home. I wrote some 1 page bibliographies for example, one was on Haydn. I took bits and pieces of interesting facts from several resources and wrote them on a sheet and read the sheet at the lesson.

I don't do it often enough but I think it really neat to take a time period and relate the general history, philosophies, art, music, clothing all together. It wouldn't take too much time to show a student some pictures of paintings in a book of various artists from the Romantic time period, for example, if they were playing a piece composed in that historic period and throwing out a few facts about the philosophies that influenced the art and music.

I knew of a piano teacher that made his students write reports on the composers of pieces they were playing.

- and students here comment on homework from school running out of their ears, parents commenting on more homework than when we were kids, and schoolwork and homework getting harder than when we were kids in the same grade which is always one reason why piano practice doesn't get done.

I'm surprised to hear kids say they have too much homework. It's certainly true that the kind of homework we used to have to do is much easier these days with the Internet - the downside is rampant plagiarization by students. :(

Stretto's ideas are all good ones. Along the lines of some of her thoughts, let me propose another: In preparing our Meet the Composer interviews, we've found it both hard and interesting work to try to get into the head of a composer enough to think and talk the way he or she might have. It's basically biographical research with a twist. I wonder if students might benefit from picking one composer and writing such an interview, with questions and answers devised from the composer's biography and history of the time. This gives lots of room for creativity in the content of the interview.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue May 20, 2008 10:02 am

I'm surprised to hear kids say they have too much homework.

OT, but I have read this twice now. Is the U.S. so different from Canada, or is this lack of homework regional?

I'm astonished. My children graduated only a few years ago and they had homework coming out of their ears. The son who was also in the music program had it especially hard, and in the last years I watched him go 48 hours straight without sleep and spend entire week-ends betweeen rehearsals, practicing and homework.

Computers may facilitate research and make it easier to write things out, but the demands for volume and type has also increased. Coordinated teamwork via the Net is sometimes asked for in projects involving two or three students. PowerPoint presentations are asked for. A fair amount of work in the creation of these documents and presentations is represented. The kids are supposed to be able to use these skills later in the work force.

In fact, before the educational reform was implemented in Ontario, a task force went around the country including to businesses, scientific research labs, medical facilities etc. and those hiring were asked what skills were lacking in present graduates and what they would like to see taught. The ability to use modern tools such as PowerPoint, scientific calculators, and to be able to work in teams as is current in businesses today, innovative thinking - were stressed. We are seeing the results of this today.

It is mind boggling that our neighbours to the south would not be giving their youth homework. How can they learn?
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue May 20, 2008 10:08 am

I wonder if students might benefit from picking one composer and writing such an interview, with questions and answers devised from the composer's biography and history of the time.

Such a written assignment might be effective. For those who don't like to write, how about giving the kids free reign and explore the composer, his period, and anything else he can discover and then present it in whatever way he sees fit. Music is a creative activity and this would be an excellent way to give outlet to such creativity. He could act out being the composer and give a little skit while playing the piece. He could give a slide presentation on computer. It's a amazing how adept even the young ones are with the computer. You might want to ask him how he would like to present what he finds, or even what he has always wanted to know about this composer. Open the door to questions. (?)




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Postby Stretto » Tue May 20, 2008 1:11 pm

pianissimo wrote:
I wonder if students might benefit from picking one composer and writing such an interview, with questions and answers devised from the composer's biography and history of the time.

Such a written assignment might be effective. For those who don't like to write, how about giving the kids free reign and explore the composer, his period, and anything else he can discover and then present it in whatever way he sees fit. Music is a creative activity and this would be an excellent way to give outlet to such creativity. He could act out being the composer and give a little skit while playing the piece. He could give a slide presentation on computer. It's a amazing how adept even the young ones are with the computer. You might want to ask him how he would like to present what he finds, or even what he has always wanted to know about this composer. Open the door to questions. (?)

This idea reminds me that a student I knew in 5th grade at his school, they were going to dress in historic characters, and do a speech acting as if they were that character. It was suppose to be a big production with friends and family to attend. This idea Dr. Zeigler mentioned gave me the thought that piano or music students could dress as a composer or at least play the role of a composer, for example, Beethoven at a recital and give a talk and or play a piece acting as if they were that composer.

Another thought, is at the piano lesson, a piano teacher and a student could play the role of interviewer and composer and read an already written dialogue out loud such as those on PEP or one the student or teacher has written. Another thing this made me think of would be a student and teacher or two students at a lesson could read a written dialogue between two composers of a certain historic time period or between a composer and some other historic figure of the same time.

For a teacher who would like a ready-to-use format, "Succeeding With the Masters" by Helen Marlais has a series out I just recently found at the music store of activity books for historic musical eras. The one I picked up is called "Succeeding with the Masters Classical Era - Volume One, Student Activity Book". I haven't gotten too far into trying it but it looks like a lot of fun. It covers Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. There are word searches, crossword puzzles, fill-in-the blank questions and some activities for groups, for example "composer bingo".




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue May 20, 2008 1:53 pm

pianissimo wrote:
I'm surprised to hear kids say they have too much homework.

OT, but I have read this twice now. Is the U.S. so different from Canada, or is this lack of homework regional?

It is mind boggling that our neighbours to the south would not be giving their youth homework. How can they learn?

I don't know if it's regional or not, but it's certainly true that there are many schools where homework is given in significant amounts, and others where there is virtually none. Of course, it depends on the location, district, pathway and other factors. To my mind, if there are any schools where teachers despair of their kids doing homework, it's too many - and there are many!

Of course, my point is that it might be difficult to get piano kids to do homework if they're not used to doing it in school. On the other hand, their parents may care more when they have to pay the cost out of their own pockets.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Thu May 22, 2008 10:28 am

I guess that the central idea that I was trying to bring across was giving the student free rein. Not assigning anything, not deciding as the teacher that this would be role playing - just drop into the bucket the idea that he should research such and such, see what he comes up with, present it in any form that he wishes, and see what happens. I think the results might be surprising and yield much more than any directed assignment. It also opens the road to creativity, which is much needed in an art such as music.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun May 25, 2008 7:59 am

Stretto wrote:Another thought, is at the piano lesson, a piano teacher and a student could play the role of interviewer and composer and read an already written dialogue out loud such as those on PEP or one the student or teacher has written. Another thing this made me think of would be a student and teacher or two students at a lesson could read a written dialogue between two composers of a certain historic time period or between a composer and some other historic figure of the same time.

It's interesting that you mention this. We have had numerous teachers write us over the years, asking for reprint permission, because they were using the "composer interviews" that we have done in just the way you've indicated, having students play all the parts. From what those teachers said, their students loved doing this.
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