Play Piano Today With Dr. J

Posts Tagged ‘music

Whether you are a teacher, student, church musician, concert artist, or preparing for a competition, following the Plan, Prepare, Present process will lead to success in your musical endeavors.

Planning your performance

1. Determine the purpose of the performance.
Instruct and inform
Convince, persuade, influence or motivate,
amuse and entertain

2. Determine who the audience will be

3. Determine the venue and instrument you will be playing

4. Choose repertoire appropriate to purpose, audience, and venue

 

Preparing your performance

1.  Create a realistic practice plan to learn the chosen
repertoire based on:
Performance date
Practice time available
Maximizing your strengths
Allotting time to overcome your weaknesses

2.  Follow the plan in a careful, consistent manner

3.  Know how to regain enthusiasm during those inevitable moments of self-doubt

4.    Practice, practice and practice
To gain familiarity and ease with your
repertoire
To hear yourself by using a tape recorder
To gain feedback by practicing in front of family
or colleagues
To reduce nerves
To make sure your performance is within the
allocated time period

5.      As the performance date approaches visit the venue
Discover how your instrument will sound in the
room
Determine the lighting
If you will be speaking, test the sound
equipment
Learn where the audience will be seated
Discover if there will be any distractions
Determine the temperature of the room

 

Presenting your performance

  1.   Make a positive first impression
    Confident body language
    A relaxed demeanor
    Appropriate dress for the
    performance
  2.   Build rapport with your audience
    Involve your audience
  3.   Hold the attention of the audience
    “Own” your music
    Exude enthusiasm about your performance
    Play in a convincing manner
    Share your joy
  4. Close your performance to make a favorable and lasting impression

    (Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist and with David Jordan, creator and performer of the organ and media event, Bach and Sons.)

It is my privilege to share Jess Smith’s continued exploration of a “compelling rhythm” or a “sound substance”.

“When we drive a car, the point of action is where the tires meet the road, yet we know that the source and control of that dynamism is somewhere else, just as in playing the piano, the fingers “finding the appropriate keys” are an effect of a greater and more powerful surging force we call a “compelling rhythm”.  This was most effectively stated by Abby Whiteside in her book INDISPENSABLES OF PIANO PLAYING[1].  Sophia Rosoff, in her Dedication in the front of that book, says “Robert Frost said in an interview, ‘A sentence has a sound on which you hang the words.’  Through outlining with an emotional rhythm one can hear the sound of a phrase into which the notes of the music fall.”

Such statements suggest to me that the very substance of this “rhythm”, or this “sound substance” is something larger than Music itself, and instead is a more universal “essence” which manifests itself in music as only one avenue of outlet.

Bruce Chatwin, a British writer who spent many years in Patagonia and then in Australia became interested in primitive man’s beliefs about music and its place in the primitive view of life.  In his book    SONGLINES[2], he discusses the Australian aborigines, still living in Australia in a still primitive culture.  They believe that “to wound the earth is to wound yourself, and if others wound the earth, they are wounding you. The land should be left untouched, as it was in the Dreamtime when the Ancestors sang the world into existence.”…..”

To get to grips with the concept of the Dreamtime, you have to understand it as an Aboriginal equivalent of the first two chapters of Genesis—with one significant difference. Here in Australia, the Ancestors created themselves from clay, hundreds and thousands of them, one for each totemic species.  Each totemic ancestor was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints.  These Dreaming tracks lay over the land as ways of communication between the most far-flung tribes, and a song is a kind of passport.  The distance between two such sites can be measured as a stretch of song.  A featureless stretch of gravel might be the equivalent of Beethoven’s Opus 111.  By singing the world into existence, the Ancestors were poets in the original sense of “poesis”, meaning “creation”.

If these ancestors “sang the world into existence”, then in their view of life, the world itself is a song, a musical experience, and it must be experienced as such in order to confront it in daily life.

Chatwin, in conversation with a member of an Australian Aborigine tribe, once asked “So the land must first exist as a concept in the mind?  Then it must be sung?  Only then can it be said to exist?”  “True”, was the answer.

The Native American Indians who occupied this country before it was settled by European Culture in the early 17th Century, had many ceremonies and dances which sought to make contact with a higher Spirit, a controlling and nourishing Power.   Putting on their warrior costumes, they danced a furious and all-consuming dance not to develop a power within themselves, but to become a channel for the higher power of “The Great Spirit” in order to defeat their enemies.”

Jess Smith, former teacher and Executive Director of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, resides in Seal Rock, Oregon where he teaches piano and writes.

So, what do I learn every week from my piano students?

Perseverance – steady and continued action or belief, usually over a long period and especially despite difficulties or setbacks.  Learning to play the piano as an adult can be a daunting task, yet week after week, I have students who continue to diligently practice to attain technical proficiency in their piano studies.

Patience – the ability to endure waiting or delay without becoming annoyed or upset.  Learning to play the piano as an adult is a slow process and often the technical ability to reproduce the sounds heard in recordings or in the student’s mind is slow in coming.  The patience required to achieve a modicum of success in playing the piano is immense.

Fortitude – strength and endurance in a difficult situation.  Learning to play the piano as an adult is not accomplished by playing at the piano for a few minutes a week.  It requires mastering difficult eye-hand coordination skills which takes an inordinate amount of time at the piano.

Determination – firmness of purpose, will, or intention.  My adult piano students set goals for each series of lessons.  To fulfill those goals and dreams requires a firm resolve to continue practicing and studying even when the desired results are slow to attain.

Are you a successful pianist? Do you have a toolkit of skills, traits, and habits to aid your journey of studying the piano?  Start today to create your personal toolkit filled with self-discipline, technical skills, and reading skills.

A successful pianist has achieved success because of self-discipline.  The successful pianist has learned the importance of regular practice and has learned exactly how to use their practice time efficiently and prudently to achieve a goal.  The self-discipline may come in the form of a practice schedule closely followed day after day or not allowing oneself to attempt pieces beyond their current abilities knowing that with continued self-discipline and goal setting the more difficult piece will be learned at the right time.

The successful pianist has achieved success because of diligently practicing technical exercises.  They know the importance of technical warm-ups and finger dexterity and strengthening exercises and regularly make those part of each practice session.  A successful pianist knows how to work out difficult passages by trying various fingering combinations.  They look for creative ways to move the arms, hands, and fingers to create the desired musical effects.

The successful pianist has achieved success because they have developed music reading skills.  They carefully peruse a piano piece before playing it to make mental notations of key, rhythmic relationships, harmonies, dynamics, and tempo markings.  They develop the trait of looking ahead and of anticipating the flow of the music to and through the cadential points to the conclusion of the music.

The successful pianist has achieved success because they have honed the power of musical analysis.  A piano piece is more than a group of black dots, lines and instructive words on a page.  The successful pianist can hear in their mind the move and flow of the music through harmonic analysis, key and rhythmic relationships, dynamics and tempo.  Before the successful pianist plays an audible note on the piano, they know what sounds they want to create on the piano.

Every productive piano practice session is composed of several things.  First, each practice session should have a specific goal in mind.  Is that goal to be able to play a specific cadence of a repertoire piece successfully or to work out an intricate rhythm, or to practice technique only with exercises and scales or to work on memory?  The possibilities are endless, but every piano practice session should have a goal.

Once the goal is set, make sure you know how the finished passage or exercise, or cadence will sound.

Second devise a piano practice plan.  Determine how much time you will spend on specific activities or when you will let yourself move to the next challenge.

What methods will you use?  How will you get to your goal – by using a metronome, by practicing rhythms away from the keyboard, by playing short sections, or by working on fingering?

Determine how you will know when you are finished for the piano practice session.  Has the timer run out or are you finished when you are tired or when you have accomplished your goal.

Answer those questions and your piano practice sessions will be a sucess and it will be a joy to make music on the piano.

I have the privilege of teaching a wonderful group of adult piano and organ students on a weekly basis.  Some of my students are beginners, some are intermediate and some are advanced.  The reasons they are taking piano lessons vary.  Some of the adult piano students are taking lessons to enhance and broaden their skills, some are learning pedagogical techniques, some are studying theory and others are learning to play the piano simply for pure pleasure and enjoyment.

Each of these students brings to their piano lessons a variety of joys, challenges, needs and desires.  I have to but listen to them and to their playing to gain a wealth of information.  So, what do I learn every week from my piano students?  Patience, perseverance, fortitude, determination, discovery, happiness, pride, knowledge and wisdom.  How wonderful it is to be a teacher of piano.

From time to time, I use a recording device in my piano teaching.  It has been met with mixed results for my students.  Some students enjoy hearing themselves play and are amazed at their progress.  Other piano students are appalled at their lack of progress and their shoddy playing.

The students who find the recorded piano lessons helpful are usually those who follow good practice routines and who diligently and carefully prepare repertoire within their abilities.  These students accept the level of their playing prior to hearing their recordings.  They have a soundscape in their mind that is close to their actual abilities and skills.

These students are usually pleasantly surprised by the quality of their piano playing and are eager to accept feedback.  They more quickly make changes and want to record themselves again and again to hear the improvements they have made.  These students mirror their teacher’s experience with a recorder as a device to learn from and design ways to improve their piano playing.

The students who find the recording of their piano lessons stupefying at best and simply awful at most are those who have attempted to learn pieces beyond their current abilities.  These students “hear” themselves playing on a much higher level than in reality they are.  The recording points out flaws on the most basic level – note inaccuracies, incorrect rhythms, and great flexibility in tempo to compensate for lack of the technical skills needed to play the repertoire they have chosen.

These students sadly realize they have not been applying good piano practice techniques to repertoire more suited to their abilities.  Hence, their goals and their ways of achieving those goals have to be redesigned.  This is difficult for many beginning adult pianists. However, once the student has overcome the shock of actually hearing the sounds they are creating in real time, they are usually eager more open to pursuing their goals in a more appropriate manner.

To record or not record a beginning pianist’s lesson?  It is exaltation for some and peril turning to discovery and skill building for others.  Recording is a wonderful tool for a beginning student of the piano.



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    • bhundley1: I'm interested in your elaborating on the "fingering" aspect of practice. Are you a fan of Czerny, for instance, in terms of building up dexterity wi
    • promotionmusic: Thanks for your response. Congratulations to you on the work you are doing in the piano world.

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