Tag: piano professor

Young Beginners” “Going for a ride” on the Teacher’s Hands

L.I’s lesson on 9/7/19.  She began lessons when she was three and is now nine, going on ten.    Chopin Waltz in C# Minor

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In several ways, at several different places in the opening few measures she couldn’t get the rhythm correctly or the tempo. There were just too many issues, in very close order, to go over them separately and then link them together into one flow.

Joe: “I know that you are nine now, going on ten, but let’s do what we did when you were three: let’s have you ‘go for a ride’ on my hands.”

Phase One.

In this procedure L. would passively rest the palm of her then, very small hands, on top of my hand, as I played. The motions I made in my arms and hands were transmitted directly to her hands, and therefore her muscle memory. If she kept her hands alert and attentive, without any resistance to what I was doing,  even the subtlest motions on my part become conscious kinesthetically to the student. In particular, rhythms and physical coordination between the hands. And it is transmitted as a continuous, and whole experience, rather than in disjointed surges of details. This procedure is useful to the young pianist, who hasn’t had time to develop a critical, analytical style.

Usually I exaggerate certain features of my playing so that they make a clearer kinesthetic impression on the student. For instance, where L. had suddenly doubled the tempo in parts of measures one and two, I made a ritard-like motion in my hand as would a conductor (in leading a large group  of players) so as to ritard simultaneously in synch with the  others. The same for when she had been too slow in measure 3 and 4. I dramatized slowing my motions so the notes began on time.

In general, the steadiness of the tempo soaked into her hand and through her hands into her entire playing mechanism. The same with regard to the specifics of the more complicated rhythms.

Phase Two:

The second phase was like phase one, but she became more of a “teacher” trying to impress upon me, the student, physical dynamics of the  mechanical playing the piece. Her role, on top of my hands, went from   passive to active.   J: “Show me” the rhythm, make it very clear; press down on my hands to make me make the sounds.

Phase Three:

We switched positions. I “played” upon her hand as her hands made the sounds.

As a general habit in my teaching, I take a procedure like this, as well as many teaching procedures, and break them down into different shades, angles, stages, situations and perspectives. It is the attempt to form a gestalt out of a finite set of points of view, but the more points in the set (without overdoing it) the greater the likelihood that a whole is created that is greater than the sum of its parts. This keeps the student’s experience of  the procedure alive for longer. It does not decay in effectiveness or stale through time by overuse of just one approach.

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Wandering Hands in a Performance

Certain pianists are so dependent on their physical sense of where their  hands are on the keyboard, that if they go off track in a piece, by playing a note or notes incorrectly, it is difficult or almost impossible for them to get back on track so that they can continue into the next measure without having to stop and go back.  This was the case with “B.” today.

We analyzed the situation, tried to think of remedies, but found that we had to reject one after another because they were too hard to implement.    We finally distilled down the essence of the problem to a point where a first “exercise” suggested itself to us: a first, simple enough, and thus doable exercise to help with the general problem.

This is the procedure we concocted:

He closed his eyes, and reached out in a random direction with his right arm and played a single note on the keyboard.  Now, often a person will “feel out the immediate neighborhood” of the physical key on which they have put their finger, to confirm its identity by seeing whether its nearest neighbors are black and/or white notes.   But I advised B. to avoid any such almost instinctive exploration.  I wanted the only thing to identify was sound of its pitch.

Next, eyes still closed, he brought his right arm back to his side and then reached out with his left arm to try to play a note that he thought might be in the same general area of the keyboard as the one his right hand played.

He listened to this new sound, and made just one judgment: is this new sound higher in pitch, lower or the same as the first sound.  Repeat this exercise many times.*

When comfortable with this procedure, a next step could be begun: start making a series of corrections to the “second” note until it is identical with the first note.  This is still done with the eyes closed.  If the second note was recognized as being higher in pitch than the first note, then try another note after moving further left on the keyboard.  If that is still higher, try another further to the left.  If it is now lower than the first pitch, then try an adjustment to the right.  Basically we are in what is a sound-driven feedback process of gradually better guesses as to the pitch of the first sound.

There are many more steps and gradations of exercises that we will have to invent over the next few months, but the ultimately the pianist, if they make a mistake in playing the current note or notes of a piece in a performance, will be able to course correct while as soon as they hear the wrong note and almost immediately recalculate how far they have to move on the keyboard to put things back on track by the next note.

What is gradually being developed is a close association of aural cues with a clear mental image of the keyboard. There will be less need of looking down at the hands to figure out what notes are being played instead of others, and then try to make course corrections.

* By the time he had repeated the first exercise about ten times he was able to add information to his feedback … such as: “the second sound is higher than the first but by a single half step”.

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