Announcements, Performances, Practicing

Reflections upon Interpretation

Yesterday at a piano lesson, my student kept saying how she wasn’t sure “what to do in this section.” Although I wasn’t completely sure what she was feeling, I think she was saying that she sometimes wonders how she can make decisions about how to play a particular piece / passage musically. We were working on a Chopin Nocturne, and the main concept I was trying to communicate to her was to allow the RH melody to dictate some push and pull of the tempo, rather than allowing the LH accompaniment to metronomically determine the tempo.



We’ve probably all have experienced a student wondering WHY a piece should be played a particular way. Teachers should have a reason ready. Of course, if the student doesn’t find your reason I think it’s important to make your decisions regarding musicality based on what time period the piece came out of, and what the music is doing (theory-wise) at that particular time. For example, a student might wonder, “why do I have to descrescendo in this measure? This is hard!” It may be worthwhile to explain that there is a dissonant, non-chord tone stepping down to its resolution. It may be a perfect opportunity to apply their knowledge of theory to their pieces. Even a young student will be likely to hear the dissonance resolving, once you point it out to them, and they are much more likely to play the descrescendo if they feel they have a reason why. Besides, it is a good thing when a student directs his/her attention to listening to the music, rather than abstractly following written directions on the page.

In my student’s case, it wasn’t so much that she doubted my reasons for wanting more rubato, (we have discussed the Romantic style of playing extensively before), but that she was feeling like she should have already made that decision on her own. She felt that she should have known to play a Chopin Nocturne with plenty of rubato. I told her that, with time, she will begin to apply the stylistic characteristics she has learned about to other pieces, and will be able to make these musical decisions on her own. I also told her that I don’t expect her to play this piece according to my interpretation. That’s not why I coach or “correct” her in certain sections. Rather, we are putting our brains together to make her interpretation into the best that it can be. I encouraged her to be confident in her perception of the piece, so that the listener is convinced by her performance — no matter what the interpretation.

When it comes to interpretation, is it “your way or the highway”? I don’t pretend to know everything about interpretation, but I do find myself having strong convictions regarding the way a particular passage should be played. With younger students, I am somewhat more closed to the student’s opinion, because they often still have a lot to learn. But with older students, I will often ask them to repeat the same passage a number of times, each time playing it slightly differently (e.g., where is the direction of this line?). I will then ask them which way they liked best, and why. Then I tell them which version I liked best, and why. I try to respect and stay open to the student’s suggestions, because ultimately, it is their decision since they are the one doing the performing, and, it is always possible that they could pull off that passage in a manner that I might never have considered, or might not be able to play as convincingly.

How do you help your students’ individuality shine through their pieces?

Photo credit: sara.musico

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