Saturday, March 3, 2012

Planting the Seeds of Sound

   Listening to classical music is such an important part of being able to express emotion in a piece. I can't count the number of students I've heard play a classical piece that do no more than "type" their way through the song. The whole thing is just flat-lined from beginning to end.
   Yes, typing skills can get a student through learning the notes, but that's where the piece begins, not where it ends. Just because they can hit the right notes doesn't mean we slap a sticker on it and call it done. Only after a student has hit all the right notes, can I then guide them through the piece to polish, work out performance practices, and finally perfect the piece. Some schools of thought say performance practices should be learned at the same time as the notes. Agreed, if at all possible, but I can't always know when they decide to play Fur Elise at home on their own.  All I can do is fix all the banging out of equally balanced RH/LH sounds, poor rhythm, and avoidance of the "hard parts" when they arrive at their lessons proudly announcing that they learned Fur Elise........(great.)
   Spoon-feeding dynamics, body positioning, wrist or arm lifting, and all the fine points (like rubato or many other particulars) can be done easily enough by me because I've heard a million performances of the piece and can discern what makes a good performance and what doesn't. But what about the students? What can they tell me about it?

Me: What kind of music do you listen to at home?
Student: I don't know. Nothing, really.
Student: Hip Hop, or rap sometimes.
Me: What do your parents listen to?
Student: Nothing.
Me: NOTHING? Ever?
Student: No.
Me: Does anyone ever listen to classical music?
Student: No.
Me: Do YOU ever listen to classical music?
Student: No. Do the songs I play on piano count?

   Ok, first, is it possible that some people don't listen to ANY music at all? Ever??...Oh, how much they miss! Second, isn't it more likely that everyone in the house has ear buds in and no one knows IF anyone is listening to music at all, let alone WHAT KIND of music they are listening to?
   No one listens to music out loud anymore. (Back in the Middle Ages, people read out loud....reading silently was considered weird....) Now, everything we do is silent in a way. But where is the one place I can guarantee a "captive audience" and music that IS played out loud?


   My answer to getting my students to listen to classical music is to tell the parents to play it in the car. The music they listen to are CD's that I burn myself of various genres and styles. The student borrows a CD for a week, kind of like borrowing  a book from the library. The student comes to their next lesson and tells me what their favorite track was. Then they draw me a picture of what that music made them think about. I don't really care what they come up with, and no one needs to write a dissertation on the subject. All I want to do is PLANT THE SEED.

   They earn one point for this. Twenty-five points (CD's) earns them a trophy. Yes, my students are award-driven and thats just fine with me. They get 2 points for attending a live concert, but they have to bring me the program and draw me a picture. Truly, a little bribery never hurts- and the trophy is earned.

   How will they EVER know what they like or how a classical piece makes them feel if they've never heard one? How can they play Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1 if they've never heard the beautiful and serene sounds of the piece? Why play Chopin's Waltz in A-flat if they can't feel the loneliness of the melody?
   By listening to CD's, they can begin to get used to the sounds of classical music and connect with what they are playing on the piano. The parents hear the music, and then hear the student practice it and are more inclined to say, "Isn't that part supposed to be louder?". Hey, at least its a start.
They don't have to be music critics, they just have to be students who can say this:

Random person: Do you ever listen to classical music?
Student: Yes, my piano teacher lets me borrow lots of classical music CD's. We listen to them in the car all the time! I really like Beethoven Best!

The seed was planted, the flowers have bloomed!

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