Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Developing musicality in students who were pushed


techfiddle
 Share

Recommended Posts

I have a question about developing musicality in students who were, IMHO, pushed through the literature too fast. This is OT for some of the string lists since it's about piano, but if you can generalize about string teaching, I'd appreciate your insights.

I give piano scholarships to my college-bound string students, so they can pass their piano proficiency tests, but recently I inherited a couple of piano students who, apparently at their parents' insistence, have been pushed through the early piano literature way too fast. They play the notes but not the substance, and they are never able to play more than a few measures without making a mistake--constant train wrecks and an absolute paucity of dynamic nuance, appropriate articulations or of phrasing (in other words, deadly dull playing with no musicality).

I'm trying to think of ways to improve their abilities without so offending them that they quit. If I bring up earlier studies, they seem a little exasperated with the process, but still, they need some remedial work because they're not playing at the level of the works they want to study (i.e., the Beethoven piano sonatas).

Anybody else have problems like this with their students? I'm singing the phrases, telling them stories about the lives of composers and the history of the era--but they've played like this for so long, it's difficult to get them to WAKE UP, musically speaking...

T.F.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Addendum:

Helen Martin on another list shared the interesting image of having to "insert the missing steel into concrete after it's hardened" when it comes to working with students with this difficulty. Wonderfully descriptive way of putting it I think.

This brings to mind that passage in Mr. Galamian's book warning teachers not to be too impatient with the development of musicality in their students, but at that same time, he says "you can't light a fire where no flammable material exists." That always strikes me as funny (and true).

I wonder why their prior teachers allowed them to go on so long without playing the *music* and just the notes?

T.F.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The answer to your last question is that the teachers were probably fulfilling what they thought was the parents' wixh by giving the illusion of the most progress the most quickly. It is easier to have the illusion of progress with the note-playing than with the musicality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just a crazy idea...

I've always thought that listening to great lieder singers was one of the best ways to "improve" (for lack of a better term) one's musicality. With piano students, it seems you could go one better and have them actually learn and perform some great lieder, especially if you have any decent singer friends! The immediacy of the text vividly illustrates that there is more to the music than the notes - that there is a reason for every chord, dynamic, and articulation, and the reason is hidden in plain sight - in the text.

I also wouldn't be shy about getting on their cases - asking questions about how and why they choose to play the way they do - not in terms of right or wrong, but in terms of intelligent musical decision-making, with decisions supported by evidence in the score.

All you can do is open the door...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A really weird thought. Is it possible that musicality is innate but can be killed through too much overt and technical teaching too early with no room to grow and express? I'm coming from two places. One: I didn't have the opportunity to learn formally in childhood and my playing is expressive (musical with phrasing etc.) but undisciplined and without the fine nuances that come through example and teaching - that's coming now to whatever degree it can come at such a late age. The other is that I occasionally tutor children and find a lot of them have had the curiosity and thinking drummed right out of them. All they want to do is give the "right answers". On the other hand I homeschooled and always made room for the natural quest for more knowledge by "happening" to have the right materials around. My children are now young adults with independent minds, goals and plans, inwardly driven. If these kids have been so driven by the rules and regulations of music, could it be that there may no longer be a fire but an ember somewhere that they don't know they are allowed to let loose? Something besides their parents must have gotten them into music or at least the self-discipline to bring it this far.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe musicality is mostly innate, it can't be passed on. What a good teacher can do is go through a piece note by note measure by measure, and tell a student where to phrase, where to bring out certain tone colors, provide dynamics etc…. If the student is diligent, a facsimile of a musical performance can be achieved. Having once myself a great violin/viola teacher who could teach a leg of a table to play, I know for a fact this is all a trained seal act, if the student doesn’t have the innate musicianship to assimilate this training and apply it to a different piece.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perhaps not innate but certainly deep in the bones.. Because I am really more of a music fan than a performer, I'm always startled to learn from another string parent that they do not actually LIKE music. They don't listen to it at all. They never take their children - who are often interested - to performances. They never buy the kids CDs. Obviously this is not true for many parents but in my neck of the woods it applies to about 50%. Often they have quite talented young children but I wonder if, in the absence of any exposure to professional musicians, the children don't suffer in just the way you have described once they are older.

Not a solution but perhaps a partial diagnosis..

-h

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote:

...I'm always startled to learn from another string parent that they do not actually LIKE music. They don't listen to it at all. They never take their children - who are often interested - to performances. They never buy the kids CDs...


Yes, I've experienced the same thing over many decades of teaching. People pay for lessons, books and instruments, but they don't go to concerts, they don't watch concerts on tv, they don't read books about music, they don't listen to classical music on the radio or buy CD's, they don't know who the current most successful artists are--not to mention ones in the past. Most of my current students don't know who Heifetz, Perlman or Yo-Yo Ma are (or don't when I mention them).

And they don't visit my webpages...you'd think if they were seeing a teacher every week (in some cases, twice a week) and that teacher handed out a business card and Lesson Policy with their URL, they'd check it out, but they don't.

People are ASLEEP. That's the only way I can explain it. Astonishing. What are they paying me for? What do they hope to accomplish? I wonder sometimes.

T.F.

Postscript: Whoa!! I reread the above and I'm really not very happy about it. I have a cold and I'm not feeling well. People are not required to live up to my expectations. My job is to bring music and some discipline into their lives, not criticize. I would never say to a student what I just wrote, above.

For example, I just taught a piano lesson to a little girl who after only two months is playing Twinkle with both hands at the piano. Some adults can't do that. And she is, presumably, "learning disabled." (I don't believe that for a minute.) If I'm sick or away working and she misses a lesson, she is very upset. She WANTS to play the piano; it apparently means a great deal to her. Who am I to criticize if her grandmothers (don't ask) can't provide her with all things I mentioned. I'm ashamed of myself! Mea culpa.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

T.F. -- your initial instinct has some validity. The message the parent sends when s/he has the kid take lessons but does not do any of the reinforcing things, e.g., going to concerts, buying and playing CDs, is that playing the instrument is not important. Unless the kid is self-motivating, his/her attitude may well be "why should I bother to put much effort into this?" This can lead to problems. It is the same kind of issue as when you are teaching a kid to drive a car and admonish him/her not to drink and drive but you drink and drive in front of the kid. The message it sends is that you do not really mean what you say.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had a similar conversation on Friday...

...I don't fully understand why it's so important for kids to take lessons...to learn things...to achieve as much as they can...when often times in adults it's frowned upon...

...many people think I'm silly for taking lessons at my age (returning beginner) and are totally uninterested in my participation with the community orchestra...like 'what's the point?'...

...so why is it generally agreed that children benefit from music lessons if they're then discouraged from participating as an adult (at an amateur level I mean...if they go pro that's to be admired)? Are we just supposed to quit any pleasurable activities the moment we hit age 18 if we can't make a living from it?

I agree that it's important that kids experience a variety of sport and non-sport activies...but I thought the whole point was to enrich their lives as adults (ie. sports as a child = healthy lifestyle, or ability to coach, judge etc. and music lessons as a child = performance, teaching, increased appreciation).

The comments made on Friday strongly suggested that what musical training I had was only to benefit my adult appreciation of music...my listening skills...and that I still wanted to learn and play was pointless since it's unlikely that I'll ever achieve any real heights.

I don't care if I never go 'anywhere' with the music. My goal is to be able to play at the RCM Grade 8 level and to be a valuable contributor to my community orchestra. I don't want to teach nor do I expect to perform as a professional. So why is what I've muscially learned and accomplished to date discredited? Why do we have to be pros at everything we enjoy in order for our activities to have real value?

There seems to be a real dichotomy as to what's of value for children and what's of value for adults.

As far as my own kids go...my hope is that they'll continue to play and express an interest in creating music as adults in some form or other. That's why I'm willing to drive all over and shell out what's amounting to a large amount of money!

And I do take them to concerts...I do buy CDs and I often make them listen to bits I find interesting and we talk about it...I think active participation in the entire process as childre fosters lifelong skills - that hopefully are not underappreciated as they grow up...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I suspect that a lot of kids' lessons is to ease guilt of parents-- children who study are going to develop better, get into better schools, etc. And then the parents are off the hook because they have done the right thing.

That's a pretty goal-oriented approach, however, and one not much connected to music per se.

There's a nice book by an academic literary critic named Wayne Booth called "For the Love of it," which is a sort of journal/meditation on taking up an instrument late in life. Booth began the cello at around 30 (and he was a well-trained enough musician to have been aware of how awful he sounded early on.) Now he is a very competent, if unglamorous, amateur cellist in his late 60s or early 70s. He devotes much of his book to celebrating the civic value implicit in participatory activities, as distinct from spectator sports.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice posting Noxx. In the US you hear this canard about music improving kids' math ability. It is frequently cited by both music educators and the non-music appreciating parents as a rationale for shelling out thousands of dollars for music instruction. Here everything must have a measurable use value. Happiness is generally not measurable.

One the other hand, we feel a bit guilty for raising middle class aesthetes who root for the Boston Red Socks.

-h

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The "goal oriented" idea actually gives some perspective to what happens to adults as per what Noxx wrote. It may be that not only do many see an adult's amateur-status pursuit of music as a waste of time, but that children's pursuit of music is encouraged from a different place than that of pure enjoyment and love of the art and craft - also utilitarian. There is a utilitarian side to a child pursuing music (as such minds would see it), be it in terms of a future career, or "rounding out" the personality for the future adult or maybe even gaining status for the family in the community. But that utilitarian purpose is gone when the musical practicant reaches adult age and the true colour of attitude reveals itself. Would that make sense?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not a teacher, so please excuse my intrusion on this thread:) But going along the lines of what above posters have said, could you maybe have them listen to or watch others perform? I know that, as a violinist, a lot of what helped me "learn" what musicality was the fact that my parents exposed me to a lot of repertoire by our symphony very early.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm going to venture my 2¢ to say that sight reading is also something that can be done curled up in an armchair, where you read, and sing to the count, phrasing and notation. This can be very revealing to the music contained in the written page, even better than a good novel to read sometimes, I think.

: )

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree wholeheartedly that music at any age is enriching to a person's life. I suspect that since the advent of television, we have become a world of spectators. Before my time, amateurs were admired and encouraged in music, sports, drama, dance. People participated in activities, whether a square dance or a fiddling jam, chamber music, sandlot baseball game, playing poker, gin rummy, chess or even hopscotch, marbles and tiddlywinks. Today, people get together to watch someone else do something, spectator sports, a video or DVD, or to sit in the audience of a concert or watch game shows. Thus amateurs are discouraged because after all, who'd want to pay to watch us perform? Rather I think people should enjoy participating and interacting with others through a medium whether music, sports, or games. And getting back to music, developing musicality and expression is the reason you are playing music. But if you're just pushed to perform, then you're just going to get technical to see how many fingerings and bowing difficulties you can achieve. I think this push for professionalism means that kids are pushed to advance level by level, (sort of like belts in karate), whether they are ready or have perfected a piece or not. Musicality is oftentimes left behind. And there is also pressure from parents on "advancing" pieces and levels.

And yes, there are quite a few parents around who think musical training gives better math ability and then dutifully take their children to music lessons without any interest from the parent's part in enhancing their experience. They think it's a formula to guarantee success in science and engineering, as well as add a credential to their children's college applications.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...