composition


Free Exploration

Natural Free Exploration

Children love the potential of the piano. Within minutes of having an empty piano in a space, I see children gravitate to the bench. I see them hit the same key repeatedly, observing that the pitch doesn’t change. In addition, I watch them vary their strength (usually to the upper dynamic level!), to test out the power of the piano. Even further, I observe them go up (right) and down (left) with joy, experiencing the huge range of notes.

The piano is unique, in the fact that it’s easy to make pitches. In fact, you could literally slam your fist down, and create a cluster of pitches. Compare this to using pencil crayons! Pencil crayons are easy to use; press the tip against the paper…and ta da! Colour.

Some instruments are not this easy. Have you ever tried to play the flute or trumpet before? Think back to your first time trying to blow a solid note. How did it go? For me, it was a huge mess! I mostly sputtered all over, with no discernible pitch. Those instruments add tremendous value to how our body relates to the instrument to make music. However, for a beginner, it is much harder to explore before that basic technique is achieved.

EN Music Studio truly believes free exploration is important to the student. Just like when a child learns to draw, we can not force them immediately to draw an apple or tree. They are more likely to scribble! To explore the different effects one can achieve depending on the weight of the pencil, the pencil type, and the different drawing strokes.

Piano is no different. Before we create fine art, the student needs time to explore the canvas of the piano freely. If stifled into a strict exercise only routine, piano students will view piano as an academic subject, and not as an artistic one. There is nothing wrong with the academic side of piano! The question is: what are you intending for the piano lessons to bring to the children?

 

 


Perspective

Piano lessons is generally based on the long term one-on-one connection between a teacher and student. Through time and music, teacher learns about the student’s unique abilities, challenges, and personality.

One of the issues that arise out of this paradigm, is the lack of different perspectives of the child’s learning. Usually, there are three perspectives: one of the teacher, one of the student, and the parents.

So at the minimum, most piano students get 3 perspectives on their musical journey. This is not too shabby! However, in a long term journey in piano, 3 perspectives are not enough to provide guidance for constant growth and change.

Why is Perspective Important?

Perspective is important because it provides context to our journey. Let’s begin discussing by challenges in music. When a student is struggling in a piece, there are several different perspectives a teacher can take in solving the issue. Is it strictly an unfamiliarity problem? Therefore, can it be solved by more practicing? What comes first? Technique or musicality? What should be practiced first? These different routes drastically lead to differences in student’s musical journeys. After all, teacher are mentors and provide their philosophy as a guide.

 

On that note, it is important to identify what the goal of the teacher is. If the teacher is aiming to cultivate composers, the perspective on what steps to take differ widely from cultivating a performer.

Even when considering the above views, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a teacher, I can not guarantee that I have the perfect idea of music. Art is open to the public’s interpretation and criticism. That being said, it is important to have other people’s opinions on their observations.

How Can We Add Perspective?

Switching teachers for student is equally disruptive. When you switch teacher, you once again have to take time to build a relationship. In our next blog, we will discuss how to add the benefit of different perspectives in piano lessons.

 

 


Grind of Classical Music

Last week, I began working on Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat Major. It was a piece I have heard over and over again in my life but never had a chance to learn. A classic! Beautifully written with a soaring melodic line and rich dramatic harmonies.

Also, not the easiest piece. Not for me at least. After all my music education, I often feel that I should be able to sightread every piece of music out there. In fact, I feel a little embarrassed admitting this!

Even after 18 years of experience, my progress in learning new classical music seems familiar. I break down the piece into chew-able sections that I can work on. I don’t get all the notes and rhythms right every time. Sometimes I don’t even get it right by the end of my practice session. After getting to know the notes and rhythm more, I start to think about dynamics, phrasing, expression. I know that all of this will take me more time. Although I want to be able to perfect the piece in one day, I know that this is the grind of classical music. Classical music is full of technical challenges, complex twists and turns, and potential for creative expression

However, despite the familiarity of the grind, I noticed that I’ve learned concepts that help push me along throughout the years

  1. I practice better. No longer do I play something from beginning to end repeatedly. I employ random practicing, instead of block practicing and see my improvement accelerate
  2. I keep it consistent. Even when feeling discouraged, I schedule 30 minutes of my day to practice.
  3. I celebrate the small progresses. Even if I can’t play the whole piece smoothly, I celebrate the sections that I notice has improved.
  4. I improvise. Besides the classical music, I book off time in my schedule to improvise and create other types of music. It makes me feel that there is variety and options in my journey.