December 28, 2015 Comments Off on Why Learn to Play The Piano?
“What are piano lessons FOR? ” This question from a parent of a talented student once stumped me. It’s in the category of If You Have To Ask You Won’t Understand The Answer. But I’ve been looking for answers to it anyway, ever since.
Here’s an excellent one: If you are in a French train station with time on your hands, you can start improvising on the station piano. Some stranger who also knows something about the piano might show up and play along.
You can make music together. That sentence is loaded with metaphorical meanings old and new. The literal meaning is rich enough, however, to warrant learning to play the piano.
Why learn to play the piano? You can make music with a complete stranger in a French train station.
August 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
I have a number of students who don’t practice. Yet they continue to improve at the piano.
Yeah, right, you say. It’s a semantic problem: no practice must mean putting in several hours a week.
Wrong. Their idea of no practice is NO PRACTICE. I know they are reporting the truth, because they are often out of the country when the no practice occurs. Hard to practice when you are working in a hospital around the clock in Africa.
They come to their lessons religiously and work hard when they are here. And they continue to improve. Some are rank beginners, some are playing the Chopin Ballades.
I’ve never had a rational explanation for this phenomenon, but my teacher shocked me when he told me about it. When I began teaching, he said, “Don’t worry too much about practice. If they come to their lessons every week, they will get better”. I didn’t really believe him until I heard it with my own ears. But it is hard to convince anyone else that this happens. It seems at least self-serving, or maybe delusional.
But science is coming to my rescue. Here is a little article that describes a similar phenomenon in auditory perception.
I think the best summary of the findings was by one of the authors, Beverly Wright: “Our work suggests that you can have the same gain in learning with substantially less pain”. Less pain and more gain is what all musicians are looking for.
Which group do you think did best on the sound discrimination task in the study? You have a choice between 1 group who practiced listening for 20 minutes every day and then spent 20 minutes just passively listening to the sounds while they did something else. The other group spent twice as long but only practiced every day.
After a week, it was test time. The winners were not the heavy practicers but the ones who spent just 20 minutes “working” and another 20 minutes fooling around with puzzles with the relevant sounds piped into their ears.
This is like my students who leave for Africa after their lesson and come back in two weeks playing noticeably improved.
“It’s as though once you get your system revved up by practicing a particular skill, the brain acts as though you are still engaged in the task when you are not, and learning still takes place,” according to Wright.
Now, if you read the research article you will find some ifs, ands and buts, especially if you are trying to extrapolate to Chopin. For example, the researchers found no difference in the heavy practicers and the light ones when they delayed fooling around with puzzles phase more than a few minutes. This doesn’t exactly correlate with the trip to Africa.
Still, science is taking some steps to clarify what exactly improves learning. Does more work always mean more progress? My students’ improvements are not just a fantasy. They really do get better. The lessons keep the connections going, their brains keep learning something about piano playing even away from the piano and my teacher was right: I don’t have to worry too much about students’ practicing.
August 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
Boy, I hope not. I would hate to see music turn into misery. The point of music study is to move beyond all that.
In many families, piano lesson peace is as elusive as peace in the Middle East. Teachers insist on a certain amount of practice and demand well-prepared lessons each week. When there are syllabus exams looming or recitals scheduled, pressure mounts. Student performance is critical to a teacher’s professional standing and self-respect. The only way to get kids to do more work at home is to get parents more involved. Kids get harassed about practicing at home, and again at their lessons. Parents feel caught between the teacher and the kids.
I wasn’t very good at teaching my own kids. They needed to learn this stuff from someone else. And I didn’t want some teacher’s demands adding more conflict to our family. We have had plenty of that, thank you very much. Why pay for it when you can get it for free?
Every family is different. It’s possible for parents to encourage, insist, and help with piano practice. But not all parents want or can do this. Not all children accept parental help gracefully. Parental help is the last thing many children want.
Peace. Music. Learning. Isn’t that enough?