Piano pedagogy

Where to start..?!  What to include in the first lesson..?  I am posed with such questions sufficiently as to push me  into expressing my thoughts on the matter.

Too numerous to note are the key factors in teaching the piano from scratch.  Which of them deserve comment in so short a precis?  I liken the world of instrumental learning to be built from the three-legged tripod, namely theory, technique and playing.  Let us unravel each a little further.

Theory of music in its most basic terms rests upon note names and values.  A starting point for learning notes: sets of black notes on the piano are in threes and twos, the white notes in between the two is ‘D’; I ask my pupil to find all the ‘D’s on the keyboard, upwards and downwards.  Fairly soon is able to build the knowledge of remaining notes, (one above is ‘E’ and one beneath is ‘C’, etc, then counting all note /letter names up and down respectively until they can be recognised on appearance).  For younger ages a lot of value is found in all manner of guessing games including closing eyes, turning round, finger on a note then name the note.. increasing in speed, and numerous variations of this.

Relating the position of notes on paper to those on the keyboard must soon follow.  Using acronyms as a guide for treble clef spaces and lines gives us a point of reference when reading music.  (The left-handed amongst us may waive tradition by starting with bass clef.)  I make a game of covering up letter names underneath the written notes before revealing to check; varying rates of progress aside pupils are generally encouraged by their increasing success with this, straightforward, fail safe guide.

When tackling note values and lengths of notes, clapping games are many and varied to incorporate one, two, three and four beat notes in alternation, saying and counting.  These are good for developing co-ordination and separating beat from rhythm.  Beginning from this germ knowledge of music theory grows and grows.

Technique is consistently challenging to master and never more so than in the beginning stages: basic piano hand shape is somewhat alien and unnatural to how we generally use our hands.  Principles to remember are relaxation in the arms and shoulders whilst maintaining level wrists, poised knuckles and nice, curved fingers!  I liken it to replicating holding a golf ball within the hand and checking it periodically since it is prone to collapse.. Always to be borne in mind is the importance of movement from big to small muscles not vice versa.  The pupil is now encountering much to remember, including note names and lengths.  But it doesn’t stop there…

The importance of playing some actual music early on out not to ever be overlooked: it contributes to the beginner’s sense of achievement and links all complex processes thus far discussed to MUSIC.. after all the main point?  Playing a piece need not wait until aforementioned features are perfect or even near.  Today I used a simple piece made up of one and two beat notes, on middle C, involving both clefs and hands, with sufficient accompaniment underneath, (appealing to the teacher’s creativity), to fulfil this requirement of playing music.  It involved everything: note and rhythm recognising and reading and adopting and maintaining good hand shape, all encapsulated neatly in playing a piece of music.  Indeed some most appealing duets are created from incredibly simple top parts (two or three notes at most) and embellishment in underneath part, whilst not detracting from the accomplishment of reading and playing music, very necessary to the beginner pianist.

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Add a comment December 2, 2010

Sight-reading on stage

The occasion was a gathering of individuals from different walks of life but all with one thing in common: the ability to play music.  We joined together on 8th October 2010 at a ‘Soiree’ in Norwich for renditions of some items of  classical music across the eras, solo and ensemble.  As I noted with interest, the variety in standard of performance was as varied as the individuals themselves, though unanimous they were in spirit and willingness to get up and share their accomplishments. A few I was considerably impressed with.

It had not been planned that I would perform at this event; I had simply gone along to support my dear friend (who was bearing all of the self-effacing modesty that does not rightly belong to such an accomplished and talented musician but which was apparent in her pre-performance nerves nonetheless).

Present at the occasion was one of our University lecturers from many years ago.  Seeing him instantly brought back a surge of the some of the exploits of keyboard Harmony, some welcome, some…….. well, let’s face it, I never liked grappling with the possibilities of V9d or the Augmented 6th, (bearing mathmatical implications at the least!)

Whilst listening with interest to the passing items on the programme, it was announced that this lecturer would replace someone who had to leave early in performing one part of the two-pianoed ‘Variations on a Theme by Haydn’ (Brahms).  My friend and I obviously had the same thought at the same time as she nudged and whispered to me, ‘you could play that’.  A quick glance at the score made it clear to me that I not only probably could but was going to play this piece in this concert, this evening.  Unplanned.

Something like nervous anticipation grew at my chosen challenge, but nothing to the extent of deterring the decision that I was going to play something I didn’t know in front of an audience of musicians.  It could equally have gone badly as it went well, I realised.  At the same time I had certainty that when crafting a piece of music one is imbued with personal power and substance.  This is why we do it.  A need to share and express and a need to perform, (although it is traditional to practice before a concert)!  Satisfyingly, it didn’t go at all badly.  Bearing this in mind I had to ask myself: does anything beat the buzz of this potentially hazardous venture?  I would say not.

We shall not forget some of the memorable characters we came across at this special evening.  Next Soiree: 6th February.

3 comments October 13, 2010

Suffolk Band

On first hearing a snippet of the ‘Break on the Border’ live gig at The Anchor in Stratford St. Mary a couple of weeks ago my initial impression was that there would be space for some lyrical Cello lines within the ballad-type structure.  Little did I know then of the variey of style and repertoire visited by the band; ‘stripped down Country Blues’ doesn’t totally cover it although this is how they choose to describe themselves.  ‘Stripped down’, because of the minimal make up of instruments, allowing each a generous amount of exposure within the ensemble.  Consisting essentially of vocals, accoustic guitars, percussion and bassline, each player is afforded the freedom to individual interpretation of the songs, deciding what and how we can contribute to the set chord structure.  This band have certainly taken songs and made them their own.

Rehearsing with them for the first time this evening marked the start of something good and promises some excellent live gigs in the coming months, (usually held on the third Thursday of every month at local venues).

Add a comment September 28, 2010

First blog

Doing a gig on 29th September for Stowmarket Choral Society.

Add a comment September 24, 2010

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

3 comments September 24, 2010

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