Joe's Blog

Beginners. C.C.’s lesson on 12/16/20

January 10, 2021

C.C.’s default is to memorize.  She finds this easiest, and less confusing
then trying to turn on her ability to comprehend what she sees on the printed page and convert it into a series of actions and sounds at the piano keyboard.
For instance, before she plays two first two measures of a particular piece she says to me: “Is this where the notes go C C D C?”  And if I say yes then she plays the notes by recalling from her short term memory the order of what she just said.

She has difficulty multi-processing.  Especially when it involves two

simultaneous procedures that initially seem very distinct and unrelated
one to the other, but which is presented to her in such a way as if as if
they are somehow meant to accompany each other in time, and a confusing promise that eventually she will form a synthesis of the two so that they appear to her as a single activity.   In this case, she was being asked, on the one hand, to process the visual symbols on the page of music (and to do so in the correct temporal order) while, on the other hand, learning the physical coordinations necessary to manipulate the keys of the piano to produce a series of sounds in the same temporal order.

 

Rather than try to force her to try to form this difficult synthesis ex nihilo, I improvised a set of easier tasks involving multiprocessing.*

I asked her to make circles in the same direction with both of her arms at the same time.  This was very easy for her. Then I asked if she could circle the arms both in the opposite direction.  Then in two directions at once (one arm clockwise the other counterclockwise).

Then I asked her to place both her hands at the left end of the
keyboard, and then move both hands until they both reached the right
end of the piano.  Then I added this extra request, let the speed at
which the right arm moves to the right be faster than the speed at
which the other arm moved.  This difference in speed had to be
maintained throughout the course of travelling along the keyboard.
When the arm that was moving faster reached the right side of the
piano it would just remain there quietly until the other arm caught up with it.  It was not OK to let the slower arm drift aimlessly and then catch up to the faster moving arm at the last minute.

I wanted to gradually bring up her confidence that she could do things she hadn’t done before that were all related to the final goal.
After a while we switched to the printed score.  Here it was helpful to unknot a compound ability and reveal the separate components that make it up.
It can be hard for the teacher to conceptually return to a sufficiently earlier point in her life when these two component tasks were just separate things and not yet combined into an automatic unity.  This can be as difficult for the teacher to do as it is for the student, in the ‘opposite’ direction, to try to make the combination happen for the first time.

 

We had her use her dominant pointer finger to move from one note to

the next along the music score.  This took a little guidance from her

mom (remember we are doing this lesson ‘remotely’).
Her mother took hold of her daughter’s pointer finger and helped it move from one note on the score to the ‘next’ note, always giving her daughter a moment or two to visually realize why her finger had been moved
specifically to this particular new location on the page.

Next, we practiced simply moving her eyes and head up and down,

without trying to focus on anything particular.
Then we refined it so as to look specifically in the general direction of
the score, and the general direction of her hands on the keyboard.
But without looking at any place in particular. She didn’t need to focus
her eyes on anything particular, but instead just to get used to changing
back and forth the angle of her gaze.

 

In the next step, her mom pointed to the notes on the page, one by one,

in order.  Her daughter was to play the note to which her mom pointed out
that was when it was being pointed to.  This she was able to do!  For
the first time, too.  Before we inserted the in-between steps, she had not been able to do this.

Although this put her mom in control of her playing, she was OK in ceding

this control, because it meant she could rely on someone else to bring
her eyes back to the page at just the right place on the page without her having to search on the page each time for the place that corresponded to where she

was in making the sounds.

Then, we reversed things.  The daughter was to be in control of her
mother.  It would be the daughter who pointed to the notes in the score, in
temporal order, one at a time, and her mom had to play the notes at the
keyboard in tandem with her daughter’s pointing.

The daughter soon learned that she had the ability to control the
rate at which her mom played, by pointing to the next note when she
felt good and ready to do it.  Sometimes she sped up the tempo of her
pointing and sometimes slowed it down.  The mom dutifully stayed with
the rate of her daughter’s pointing out of the notes.*

Afterthought: The act of creation often requires the preliminary step of
destruction: a taking apart the pieces that went into the construction
rather than assuming that since the parts are together now, they were
always together (see Chapter 9 of my book “The Spectrum of the Arts” a
link to which is on the front page of this site under the heading “Joe’s
Book”), The only way to disassemble a process that was built through
the passage of time is to temporally reverse it and turn it back into
its original state.  This is destruction.  It is the way an artist can
travel backward in time to run things forward again.

* As is my wont, the steps that I followed were not thought about
previously, they just came to me spontaneously by watching intently
what was happening moment to moment at the lesson.

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