Conferences, Group Classes

OhioMTA Conference (3): Performance Practice Made Easy, by Marvin Blickenstaff

The next session was given by the fabulous Marvin Blickenstaff:

Performance Practice Made Easy: Rules of Thumb for the Piano Student

As teachers, we are always interested in fostering independence in our students — perhaps most importantly in the aspect of interpretation (making music musical and artistic). This is an elusive thing to teach.  It’s about getting beyond the notes.  It’s taking the dots on the page and transforming them into something that can change our lives.

Mr. Blickenstaff then told us about the Repertoire Classes he holds each week with his private students.  Students must announce their piece, the composer, and give some kind of explanation as to why the composer wrote the piece.  The students listening must take notes on what the performing student said, and also write down how the piece made them feel.  

After the performance of the piece, Mr. Blickenstaff gives the performing student feedback on the piece, and teaches some Rules of Thumb regarding interpretation.  All of the students keep notes of these Rules of Thumb that are encountered in the pieces performed.

Rules of Thumb are valuable because it helps bring about the transfer of information from one situation to another.  It helps students become independent in making musical decisions.

Mr. Blickenstaff then went through some pieces with us using an overhead projector, pointing out some Rules of Thumb as we went.

Our notes were titled, “Rules of Thumb for the Pianist,” and there were a number of subtitles in our notes, such as “Curved Lines,” “The Dynamics of a Phrase,”  and “The Dynamics of Rhythm,” for a few examples.  The handout Mr. Blickenstaff gave us provided many, many Rules of Thumb for us to consider.  I will include only a selection of them below, just to give you an idea:

Under the subtitle, “Curved Lines:”

  • Phrases end with a breath.
  • The last note of a phrase is the quietest.
  • The peak is often found on the long note of a phrase.
  • Never play two notes ina row at the same level.
  • Two-note slurs are always louder then softer.
Under the subtitle, “The Dynamics of a Phrase:”
  • In a two-measure phrase, the emphasis is uaually the downbeat of the second measure.
The Dynamics of Rhythm:”
  • Short note values crescendo to long note values.  Short note values are what make the music go!
The Dynamics of Harmony:”
  • The I chord in second inversion is the moment of greatest harmonic tension.
The Rhythm of Form:” (Because the performer is responsible for the listener hearing the form of a piece, after all.)
  • Ritarando at the end of large sections in order to show the form.
The Rhythm of Intervals:”
  • 10ths take longer than 6ths.
I really liked Mr. Blickenstaff’s method for group performance classes!  I especially love the idea of having the students take notes, and making sure than the students learn from each other’s pieces and performances.  It was a great session.

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7 thoughts on “OhioMTA Conference (3): Performance Practice Made Easy, by Marvin Blickenstaff”

  1. These are awesome, Joy. I have classes coming up next week and will try to work this into my advanced classes.
    Can you share more of what he said?

    1. Hi LaDona! If you are interested in more of the Rules of Thumb, I would recommend contacting Mr. Blickenstaff and asking if he would email the handout from his presentation to you. He is so friendly and helpful, I can’t imagine he’d say no! And there’s quite a bit of information on that handout that I think you’d find helpful if you are interested in trying out his method for group classes. Good luck!

  2. This is such an interesting post and I particularly like the section on ‘Curved Lines’. I find many of my students (who are at an early intermediate level) find shaping and phrasing very difficult, despite my help. It does not always come naturally to them, and so to have some clear pointers like this is really useful. I think I may well adapt this to pass on to my students! 🙂

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