Conferences

NCKP 2013 (2) – The Beauty And The Beast In The Piano Studio, by Marvin Blickenstaff

W July 24 @ 3pm – The Beauty And The Beast In The Piano Studio, by Marvin Blickenstaff

Mr. Blickenstaff began by playing the beautiful Schumann Romance. Then he stated that beautiful music has the power to change human beings.

Marvin was almost a piano dropout in the 7th grade. He was bored and his mother decided to have him take from Fern Davidson – great teacher in Idaho. At her 100th birthday, over 900 people showed up at her birthday concert! Fern gave all of them the gift of beautiful music. Notice the phrase is not fast fingers, theoretical analysis, etc.. Beautiful music makes beautiful souls. Piano study is about increasing a sensitivity to the beautiful. Our lives are momentarily changed by beautiful sounds. The human being needs beauty.

We are here in the name of teaching beauty. It is the longest lasting gift we can give our students. It should be our focus.

Beauty does not have to wait until the 4th or 5th year. It can start at the beginning.

Marvin then told the story of watching a student-teacher giving a lesson to a beginner. The student-teacher had the student put beautiful nuance into the simple black key piece. They played the duet together beautifully. There was silence after the performance. The student-teacher exhaled and said, “That was so beautiful! I hope I never forget the beautiful sound we made today. “. They made that piece one they played every lesson and soon added more to that list.

Assignment #1:
Monitor your use of the word “beautiful.” Some of us way use it too much, and some may use it too infrequently. Marvin suggested using it only meaningfully, limited to 3 times a lesson at most. Students need to hear the word beautiful and begin to understand what it is that we call beautiful. We establish that criteria and the level one must play to earn the term beautiful.
We should also as teachers increase our vocabulary for words that mean beautiful.

Vocabulary Blacklist:

• “okay.” Okay means nothing. We need to be more specific.
• “Little bit.” Instead it is usually “a lot more.” You will get a better response from students that way if you ask for more. And sort of and kind of.
• “But.” Say “and” instead so that you do not negate the
• “Good.” It just doesn’t mean much. We need to articulate specifics.

Can you teach beauty? You betcha!

Beauty of sound comes from shape of sound. Inflected sounds. No wonder great teachers of the past ask students to listen to good singers. There is something natural and beautiful about breath and dynamic inflection. And yes, those things can be taught!

For example, give the student one thing to listen for. Such as a rule that the last note of the phrase must be the quietest.

Another little rule: Between phrases you always take a breath. Draw a string from one hand in an arc, then take a breath to get your hand back to draw a new phrase.

99.5% of the time, 2-measure phrases always go to the downbeat of the second measure. A four measure phrase goes to the third measure.

Another Assignment #2:
Start a list of alternatives to the word “beautiful.” Increase your teaching vocabulary.

Assignment #3:
Start a list or file of breathtakingly beautiful pieces. Look for pieces that nurture beautiful playing.

Marvin then shared a few pieces from his “beautiful file:”
• Echos of November, by Steven Chapman
• The Lake, by Alec Rowley

Assignment #4:
Believe in modeling. Play for your students.

Assignment #5:
Play duets with your students. They support rhythm, teaching shaping and rhythm alterations. It allows guiding of the nuance.

Now lets talk about the beast – not student problems, but the negative side of the teaching scenario.

First problem: The whole year is centered around a few pieces, probably for a competition.

Repertoire is limited and reading skills do not develop. It can become stagnant for students. Variety of repertoire is students lose a sense of accomplishment when they are always moving steeply uphill. Short study pieces are valuable as are on-your-own study pieces.

The flip side of this problem is moving through pieces so much that we do not build repertoire. Students need a repertoire list so they can play pieces. New pieces all the time does not accomplish all we want.

Beast #2: Studio Atmosphere: Harsh teacher and fearful students. A better atmosphere is “we are in this together.”

The flip side is being all fun and games, with little practice requirements, etc. little is accomplished.

Beast #3: Typecasting. For example, boys only like fast and loud; Johnny only likes pop music; Bach is for the birds.

But what is piano teaching? Music is expression if the entire human condition through organized sound. So, type setting is not teaching the whole aspect of music.

Beast #4: Being too loose or too particular. We must keep the magic alive.

Beast #5: Practice. We complain about our student’s lack of practice. But we must practice with them, and ask students to show you their practice during the lesson. Teaching effective practice must occur every lesson.

Beast #6: Celebrating success. Our students are desperate for affirmation. They need to know when they have done their job well. We ought not over praise, or neglect to praise.

I hope all of our students will say about us, he or she gave me the gift of beautiful music.

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