Teaching Piano

Dynamics & The Beginner Piano Student

Music-forte-pianoWhen I was a 5-year-old beginner piano student, I remember being re-assigned one-/two-line method book pieces when the only thing lacking was dynamic contrast.  And I remember being frustrated with this.  My frustration was partly due to the fact that I was bored with the music I was playing; I wanted to be reading staff notation instead of pre-staff notation, as my mother taught me to do before she found me a piano teacher.  Regardless, having to re-practice pieces that were already mastered, due to forgetting to drop from forte-piano to piano in one place was a hard thing for me to swallow.

Looking back, I do realize the importance of dynamics.  As a teacher, I am a stickler about them even with the most beginner of students.  However, as tempting as it is, I do not generally reassign a beginning-level piece from a method book if the ONLY thing lacking is the dynamics.  I have decided that holding a student back in their progress is not worth it, because learning to observe dynamic markings is something that can be mastered over time through the next few pieces in their method books.   Continue reading “Dynamics & The Beginner Piano Student”


Interpretation & Staying True to the Score

What difference does it make how closely you follow the markings in the score?

Listen to these two recordings and see what you think!

This is a concert etude by Franz Liszt entitled, Waldesrauschen (meaning, Voices in the Woods).



The first version is played by Josef Hofmann and the second is by Claudio Arrau.

While both versions are obviously incredibly virtuosic and impressive performances, I personally prefer the second version over the first.  And not just because it’s a slower speed.  But it strikes me as more expressive.  There’s more rubato and Romanticism.  I think I can actually hear the “voices in the woods.”

I would also like to point out however, how you can truly hear the markings in the score in the second interpretation.  For example, the LH melody in the opening 15 seconds of the piece contains a couple of phrases that each contain a note with a tenuto.  Can you guess which note of each phrase has the tenuto, without consulting the score?

Another example, during one of the tumultuous middle sections, there are two crescendos marked in two consecutive measures (2:35 in the first YouTube video; 2:30 in the second).  Arrau truly takes the time to make these come out.

Occasionally, I will have a student who thinks they are doing the dynamics, but in actuality it all kind of sounds the same.  I mean, you can sort of tell they are doing them, but not really enough to notice.  And so I ask my students: “Do you think an audience member who has never seen the score would be able to tell you what the dynamic markings are, just based on what they are hearing? You have to really exaggerate the differences in order to make them noticeable.”

Anyway, I think it’s really fascinating to listen to various interpretations of the same piece – to get inspired to create my own personal interpretation!

Announcements, Motivation, Resources, Teaching Piano

Using Adjectives to Capture the Imagination

One of the ideas I’ve been exploring extensively throughout the research I’m doing for my paper for college (the one about improvisation) is making music musical.  This seems so obvious, but really, what would music be without musicality?  Check out this video, of a robot playing the violin.

Speaking of which, have you ever had students who played like robots?  ***raises hand timidly***  Yep, I have too.  This is what music would be like without musicality.

What started me thinking of robots, and music, and robotic students, you may ask?  Well, I came across a lovely resource over at The Piano Pedagogy Page — a handy list of adjectives.

It may seem that a list of adjectives may be more fitting for use in an English class.  Maybe.  But it may also be helpful in the piano lesson, in helping those certain robotic-like students get “beyond the notes.”  Shoot, it might even be good reminder for me from time to time!  It’s easy to fall into the trap of being overly concerning with the technique, and fail to think about what I consider to be the ultimate goal of music: to communicate expression.  Music is meant to  reach out and speak to people, at one level or another.

It’s so important to be teaching students musicality at an early age.  It makes lessons so much more exciting, anyway.  We are not trying to create little robots who can push the right buttons (i.e., the keys on the piano) at the right time, but creating little music makers.

Performances, Practicing

Accuracy vs. Musicality

There are many performers who I consider to have amazing accuracy of notes, but minimal musicality….others who hit many wrong notes, but have AMAZING musicality.  The greatest performers, I think, are those who manage to do both successfully.  But if I had to choose between one extreme or another, I would choose the musicality over the note accuracy, hands down.  

I tend to fall in the latter category.  I wish I could play more accurately more consistently…but to tell you the truth, I’m far more concerned with playing musically.   Continue reading “Accuracy vs. Musicality”