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Two Metronome Method differences

27 Oct

There are a few approaches when it comes to the perpetual ticking, tocking, beeping, and flashing that aggravates any piano cat to the point of metronomic annihilation.

The two approaches are:

1. Develop strong rhythm first and then later develop artistic technique.

The first way, is usually used with developing a good sight-reader and accompanist who won’t falter the tempo. These learners can become powerful sight-readers, and we see and hear them at auditions. However, many of them lack artistic sensitivity because they are literally just pounding out the notes without a significantly more skilled control of their voicing, crescendos, and rubato. They can make decent group players rather quickly, in band and other endeavors, however for some more picky ears;- they may not be a desired accompanist to perform with another inclined artist at a different instrument.

2. Develop a personal rhythm and artistic approach to the piano and then impose the metronome.

The second way is the reason why some students attend auditions and are given comments that say they have a nice musicality about them, but have a weak rhythm that needs work. However, the artistic process is long and to develop students to masterful maturity can sometimes take years. This type of playing is where they have developed their own sense of rhythm and musicality and phrasing that is pleasing to a well-trained artistic teacher’s ears, and then that tone and touch is put into the metronome beats. Even today, online, there are pianists who display their videos and have still not reached maturity with this process. That is to have a desire to play like a master with the Composers intended tempo, and not at a tempo that is convenient for themselves. It’s important for parents to understand and support this process at the Piano.

The difficulties and the “lost” art of musical artistry

Unfortunately, there is much teasing and ridicule that befalls students of both categories of metronome and rhythm learning. The students who are avid sight-reader early on make fun of the artists who are concerned about the shading of each note and “lack rhythm”. And the artists, who have musical control, usually remain silent for a long time, detest the hoards of sight-readers who lack a decent sense of rubato and musical phrasing to make sense of a contemporary period modern piece. The battle goes on until the second category artist catches up in sight-reading ability (that many mistakenly neglect for their lesson assignments).  The first category is full of learners who usually have a more solid attitude to secure work with the public and impress people with the quantity of music that they can make. This is because masses of people  in the USA can be easily impressed with a large quantity of piano music rather than the quality. However, many of these players are not going to be winning prizes for interpretation. But, as the piano industry changes and the art of creating musical control and tone becomes “lost”, due to a high number of electric keyboard players, more of the sight-reader (I expect) will win because they have more money to spend in their industry. Maybe in time, that will make them better artists. It’s difficult to say. I can only hope, as an instructor who was held to a high artistic standard, that the art isn’t completely lost among the American masses that are so abrasive and not understanding when it comes to these things. Yes, developing your own sense of rhythm, touch, and control at the piano way of learning is an art and tradition that is ultimately expensive in numerous ways. You must afford the time, humility in practice, and such until one day you emerge like a hard-pressed diamond who doesn’t expect any reward.

Differences of Adult piano/music lessons

27 Oct

Live without piano lesson regrets.

Piano teachers everywhere have heard parents talk about their own experiences with piano, and with some hint of regret that they didn’t stay with the piano. Adulthood is a wonderful time to learn the piano as a safe and enriching hobby that can be done easily in one’s home or office.

Why piano?

There is something, as an instructor, that makes me giggle when I hear colleagues who made the life commitment to teach stringed instruments. It usually occurs sometime when I’m walking down the hallway and I can’t help contain my laughter. I’m happy as a piano instructor that I don’t have to focus on getting a student to improve the sound quality of a squeaky tune. However, that’s probably the only laughter I get to have as a piano instructor. The things that I focus on improving as an instructor with pedagogical technique/method are far more serious in producing quality and quantity of piano music.

The Focus and differences of Adult piano/ music lessons

1. Training hands that are accustomed to other movements & using fine motor skills that are previously untapped.

2. Ear training in tonalities;-  the Adult ear has a musical awareness the new child learner is only forming.

3. Memory work that can, for some time at the beginning, be inconsistent from week to week. One week it’s easy for an adult to remember something and the next week the focus isn’t there. We adults simply have more pressing matters on our mind than most children. And, we have to mentally prepare ourselves to block out those thoughts and keep the cel phone turned off for the time that we are practicing, if possible.

Memory and focus for adults is one of the biggest trials for me as a piano instructor. And, I can also relate in adulthood. Adults simply have more things going on in life. And, unlike a life threatening rock climb, piano doesn’t require complete focus to stay alive, as an enriching hobby. For this reason, it’s important for adult learners of all ages to treat their time at the piano as a musical meditation time. When one begins to equate learning slow finger movements to a slow walking meditation, we have begun to enter a more focused mindframe. This level of awareness is needed in the first months of adult lessons so that performance frustrations don’t overwhelm the chance of success at the piano.

4. Performance self-conciousness for adult piano learners is usually higher than for children (who accept that performing is another kid thing they’re supposed to do, and all kids understand this). It’s important for beginning adults to perform in a peer friendly environment. Everyone has different amounts of time to give to their piano study in adulthood in order to maintain their adult responsibilities. And, this time is everchanging in our adult lives. We must be patient with ourselves and our life circumstance, breathe, and accept where we are at the instrument. It’s more important to embrace our piano study as a gift to ourselves, and accept any performance opportunity as a step in our progression at piano learning.

5. Musical awareness is a bigger difference with adults taking piano/music lessons. Adults simply have heard more, seen more, and experienced more in life than a child. Because of these factors and the life long experiential depth that has developed a full range of emotion;- adult learners who take their time at developing tonal/muscular control of sound will have more to express than many adept child performers. In part, as performers, we call this practicing the aura or emotional maturity of a piece rather than just practicing getting the keys and basic rhythm.

I hope that this helps adults who are looking into taking piano lessons. The most important thing though is to have fun with playing the piano and performing. For adults who want to begin on their own, I suggest checking out Alfred’s Adult Piano Course level one with CD. The CD is a bit “fast”, but work through the book at your own pace. Find a teacher to correct your written work in the book (which may be a good review if you’ve had prior lessons), and maybe if you feel ready;- assign some pieces.

I have my own 2-3 year syllabus that has 14 pieces selected from the Classical Repertoire for children or adults to learn from, and to expand their understanding of the Classical piano performance and dialogue. The pieces range from simple Bartok to Mozart and Bach, and then Mostly the Great Romantics – Beethoven & Chopin followed with Debussy and Shostakovich.

Aside from the above mentioned syllabus, I primarily teach adults how to work on anything that they want to play.

When I started my Studio

26 Oct

by Angela M. Kneale

I had been competing at the then named
MTNA Baldwin piano competition 1986 and MTNA Yamaha Piano Competitions 1989, 1990 etc. at
the Pennsylvania state level for 3 years (when making state level
just 1 year was unusual). I also had at least 2 years of choral
accompanying under my belt in High School for an approx. 80 voice
choir, and other special choirs. Though mostly I focused on my solo
work, outside of the occasional concerto competitions (reserved wins
for a particular other teacher’s daughter in the area, known fact
going into the competition) And, since I was a child, I alongside my
brother had some publicity playing at various local & Lehigh
Valley events and college repertoire classes for the better part of a
decade. This first 8 years of experience was the precursor to my
first advertised piano teaching in my 9th year at the
instrument prior to starting my undergraduate degree at age 17. I
can’t say there would be that many teachers/piano instructors like
myself who had success at competitions prior to commencing teaching.
I was never encouraged to obtain even an MTNA certification in
discussion of my “teaching career” for which I prepared for from
age 12.

 

The first method books that I used at
that time for beginners were Alfred d’Auberge, and the John
Thompson’s Scale Speller and Chord Speller for music theory. And, I
used Chopin Preludes and other Technique books with some older
students. My starting lesson rate at that time in the early 90’s was
a meager $14/ hr. And, my parents controlled how much time I was
allowed to teach on my piano, enough to pay for my own lesson for the
week with additional class and maybe part of my brother’s lesson. The
money I made teaching as a known child pianist went right back into
piano.

 

The good part of having such a low rate
was that I quickly secured a waiting list. I advertised in a local
area Penny Power for a reasonable/affordable rate with my lunch
money. Having the waiting list allowed me to be more selective about
choosing who stayed in my studio. And, I even had a small number of
intermediate students who were close to being my peers. I was able to
pick and choose who I liked to teach because some personalities were
not compatible with my own. This way I began to develop my
instruction style, and learned to have parent – teacher meetings.

 

My pedagogical study preparation was to
read two books about teaching piano under tutelage of my teacher at
the time. I knew from the Sokoloff influenced lessons I had, what
scale requirements were for Curtis Institute at the time (no internet
then). And, later heard that everyone thought I’d be wasting my time
to audition at Curtis due to my mixed-race and my family’s lack of
money in the US (the Curtis Institute supposedly seeking large
donations from any place). However, I barely touched on scales with
my first group of students and I had a more interesting time to teach
a student who had permanent dyslexia.

 

That was the start of my studio, I had
not many more than 10 hours of teaching at any time. It was my last
year of Senior High School that I began advertising my teaching. I
had other audition requirements, accompanying commitments,
performances, and schoolwork that last year. However, I completed
High School performing at my Baccalaureate service. I had scholarship
offers from every school to which I applied including;- University of
the Arts, Temple University’s Esther Boyer School of Music,
Westminster Choir College, Ithaca College to name a few. And, after I
left Pennsylvania;- decidedly for my safety (though proving untrue
later on), I managed to secure a handful of students while at
College.

 

My sophomore year of my undergraduate
degree was the beginning of my second decade at the Piano, and my
third year as a piano instructor.

 

Big Studio, Small Studio- Recital Differences

25 Oct

30+ students in recitals or >10 students in a recital what’s the difference?

When parents are selecting a piano instructor, the recital size can make a difference.

On the positive side of the bigger studio recitals:

  1. Students & parents will hear the same repertoire performed and can begin to assess performance differences. The bigger recitals will generate a new dialogue for the entire studio to talk about piano performances. This dialogue will mature as more outside piano concerts and recitals are attended.
  2. Beginning student performers have safety and comfort of only being on stage for a piece or two (1 min – 3 min avg. ) in case of a memory slip or anxiety. It’s quickly over with.
  3.  30-45+ min recitals to listen to. Some of the larger recitals are at the local conservatory or music school and are combined with other studios and students can perform representing their instructor’s studio.
  4. Instructors can disperse a “smaller recital fee” among more students for the piano, tuning, etc.

On the positive side of small studio recitals:

  1. Students & parents will hear different repertoire performed. Usually, smaller piano studios have parents who are more frequent concert goers or had a pianist in the family and are already more educated about Classical piano performances. The conversation about the performances will have a more mature depth to them.
  2. Beginning student performers have safety and comfort of being with people who they are more familiar with and will perform longer with 3-4+ pieces (1.5 min – 10+ min on average). If there is a memory slip or anxiety, the audience will usually be more understanding and supportive. *this is typical to do with students preparing for auditions in any studio size.
  3. 20 – 30 min recital to listen to with the possibility of hearing the instructor perform on the same day/ recital.
  4. Instructors can arrange these recitals more frequently, as students are ready, giving students more performance opportunities.
  5. The audience can be more critical and smaller, more like an audition.
  6. There is extra time for students to “re-record” a performance on video/audio if they are unhappy with the initial performance.

On the flip side of big studio recitals

  1. Parents often complain about the same repertoire being performed each year by numerous beginners.
  2. Children can make blatantly cruel comments about their peers rather than being supportive, before leaving the recital hall.
  3. Adult beginners are usually outnumbered by children 99,5% & are  extremely self-conscious about performing with 7 year olds or 12 year olds and try to make light of it when they reach the stage with a talk, rather than performing as a student should.
  4. Some recitals scheduled run over 45 minutes. Younger children start crying and become irritated easily.
  5. Students don’t hear the instructor/faculty perform that day due to a number of Student recitals. A separate time/day is arranged for a faculty performance that students may not be able to attend.
  6. More difficult to “re-record” a performance because of the volume of people present and moving after the recital.

On the flip side of small studio recitals

  1. These are more difficult for the instructor to publicize in the community since fewer community members are involved in the performance.
  2. The audience is smaller by about 50% or more.
  3. If recital costs are assigned, they are higher for each student performer
  4. The student becomes too comfortable in the performing hall
  5. The student has more anxiety because the audience is more educated, or there is no way out until the last piece has been played.
  6. An unusual rotation of the performers after each piece, rather than sitting through and playing all pieces.

Though this is just a short list of important things off the top of my head, it is something a parent/student should ask the instructor about when interviewing for lessons. It’s important to define the type of piano experience you are seeking for your young pianist. I have simultaneously taught in both of these situations and am happy to answer questions that you leave in the comments section.

Student Fundraiser Recitals

25 Oct

It’s a joy when a piano instructor has students who love to perform. Now, let’s add to the skill set of the compassionate intellectual artists and make the recital a fundraiser. I like choosing a good US-based International Organization so that the children especially can also learn about the world outside of the USA. One that I chose for my students at the time the Thailand Tsunami happened was WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals). One of the first things I did was contact WSPA and they kindly sent materials (age appropriate) for my students to read and watch. This opened their world to the interrelationship of sick and multiplying animal populations abroad, and how it affects human populations. Maybe a bit heavy, but a good topic in my mind.

I created some  fundraiser drive sheets for the students. They had two options and could either collect donations in practice hours or as a flat donation. The next thing, was of course practicing. Meanwhile I went to some local businesses & product sales reps to seek out prize donations and contributions for the students efforts. When it was time for the recital, and I had secured all the basic recital necessities, I had the students vote democratically on making the event public or private. I felt this was important so that if they wanted to have their efforts noticed locally, they had the control.

The fundraiser recital was a bit more humble & fun than a more dressy event. I baked a super healthy vegan apple cake with fresh berries that vanished quickly. All of the students played well and seemed to have a great time. I handed out the prize awards for their efforts at different donation levels, and the donations were totalled in front of the group. The check was sent to WSPA who later sent a nice letter of thanks to all of my students, which I distributed amongst them.

Many of the children in this area where I have taught since I was a teenager are very proactive about putting on their own events. So, my hope is that some of these students will venture out as musicians later in their lives with a mission to help others.   Within 2 months of this recital fundraiser, I was busy on my own independent project affording, organizing, & coordinating teaching 20+ Chinese exchange students as through PeopleLink for August in the Doylestown Area.  more later…

Plan a Beginner Recital

16 Oct

During my time, especially at a Community Conservatory, I had to plan programs for student recitals every 9 weeks, to 18 weeks.

Obviously most parents expected a half hour round of Twinkle twinkle little star. However, many of them thanked me for my programming. That, wasn’t easy but made the 4 Saturday beginning recitals more enjoyable.

When it comes to recital time, we refer to the classical music that our children and students perform for solo piano as:

  1. Repertoire
  2. Literature
  3. Pieces

Repertoire or pieces for beginners no matter what “acclaimed method” you are using should stem from the Classical Piano tradition.  There are many method books that present very nice collections of piano repertoire. So, sometimes one would see my students performing repertoire from multiple method books;- levels 1-3.

These piano method books are: the

  1. RCM Celebrate Piano series
  2. Summy Birchard’s Contemporary Piano Literature
  3. Suzuki Method
  4. Summy Birchard’s Piano Literature of the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries

This keeps the private library cost low in the beginning. There are 3 lines of books that are my favorites and publish nice collections of piano and other Repertoire for students who do not have a music library.  My own teaching style contributes greatly to their success at the instrument. I refer to these books as repertoire books. And, for Jazz;- I add a little in when it is requested. Though, usually we are working on improvisation at the lesson before “formally” getting into some Jazz method book and repertoire.

When I have a large number of beginning students;- I divide the repertoire/pieces/ so that there are few, if any repetitions of the same piece during a recital. And, it keeps sibling rivalry lower and the home music varied for families who have more than one child enrolled in piano study. And, for the very interested student, it gives them more to delve into and read (rather than less).

How to sit at the piano

13 Oct

New parents who are serious about helping their child learn the piano, and adult learners should find a way to sit at the piano that is comfortable. There are many techniques that stem from first seating oneself on the piano bench. Any excellent teacher will be able to correct how a specific student sits at the piano to achieve a different performance effect, technique, sound, etc. To sit at the piano is studied and reworked when an advanced student is exploring sound production and reworking inferior techniques.

Annually, many inexperienced students who audition run up to pianos, bow, and plop themselves down on the bench and begin playing. They should demonstrate careful consideration of how they sit, individually, to the judges. There is no “universal” playing position simply (on the bench) that is where the bench was placed at the beginning of the auditions for ALL of the performers. This shows a seriousness about classical sound production and artistry, and that their instructor has taught this very basic and important component of good or excellent piano technique. Many students today, from Pennsylvania, NewYork to Hawaii neglect this most important part of their artistry when going before judges. And, some students then wonder why, the judges didn’t hear them play at all, or only heard a measure or so of one piece before hearing “Thankyou, that will be all” from the back of the audition room.

COMMON TIPS FOR BASIC SITTING POSITION

Distance from keys:  Sit on the bench an arm’s length from the fallboard (where the brand name of the piano is displayed above middle c). Then, sit on the bench so that your navel is at the center of the keys and extend your arms as far as possible (the entire distance of the keyboard) Small children will need to learn to balance or move themselves to reach the highest and lowest pitches.

Height for the bench:  Let arms hang naturally and rest hands on the piano with bent elbows. This is a good bench height for smaller adults as well. Taller adults and children can sit this way or lower their elbows to being almost parallel to the keytops.

*Support the back by keeping footstools nearby for small children. Adults should place feet on the floor near the pedals.

IMPROVED BASIC SITTING POSITION – variation 1

Distance from keys:  Small children to adults can sit closer than arms length (up to half the distance) to the piano. This is sometimes difficult to do at an upright since there is no space around the pedals, so it is more ideal for children at an upright rather than adults at an upright. This works best when seated at a grand piano.

Height for the bench:   The relaxed shoulder and arm should hang loosely and let the hands rest on the piano with bent elbows. The elbows should be at a 40 to 45 degree angle above the keytops.

 

Other method ails and wails pt. 1

13 Oct

More of my “Other method ails and wails” – started on www.angelakneale.com

Though some methods prescribe sitting still for the young child to play, I have interviewed and attempted to instruct still beginners in their 3rd or 4th year at the instrument. Some have come from the “acclaimed” Bastien method books. And, for them to make the change to being a classical pianist who plays the full distance of the keyboard (as in RCM methods) it is mentally “scary” for them to move outside their 3 octave safety zone. Because I have had such experiences teaching children even as old as 10 or 11 who have learned from the sets of Bastien method books that meet the MTNA testing requirements, the children are mentally boxed in the building blocks pictured on the front cover. Though this set of method books is a “fun” presentation of the testing materials;- some piano teachers do not add any other classical repertoire to their students’ knowledge base. I know for a fact that this is true after listening to a very long (over 1 hr.) phone conversation with a prior President of the PMTA who had spent her valuable sanity and volunteer time, not to mention that of her exceptional collegues, listening to Bastien Primer & Level 1 performances for nearly 6 hrs. Performance of three notes up and three notes down does not make judges happy. Piano studios who use such method books, such as Bastien or Alfred should instead hold their own or joint reperatory classes for these performances. This way even an outside teacher can visit and comment on the students performances and some “quality” check can happen. Taking those pieces to a state Audition is not appropriate. Though, it does happen and in force.  In my opinion, it is an embarassment to America.

 

 

 

 

 

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