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#1243876 - 08/05/09 10:11 AM How to "force" expression in a student??
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
I have a sixteen year old student who plays very well and comes prepared to each lesson. She wants to go to college for music so I have been preparing her for her piano audition by giving her a couple of pieces to learn and memorize (Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopedies No. 1, and Bach's Two Part Invention No. 8). She is a great sightreader and memorizes quickly, but here is her only problem...

She plays like a robot!

I recently had her learn for a recital a section from the Adagio from Beethoven's Pathetique, and she played every note perfectly, but it could have just as easily been played by a computer. I've been trying to get her to expell some creativity in the way she plays, with dynamics and such, but even then, they sound robotic and forced. She is such a good player, she just has no feeling behind it! How can I get her to break out of that shell?


Edited by Hannah R (08/05/09 10:12 AM)
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1243886 - 08/05/09 10:23 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: toejamfutbol]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I completely disagree with your post.
Your judgement is subjective, based
on your personal biases. Another
person might find her playing perfectly
fine. You've got to hit all the
right notes in an audition. Playing
with what you call "feeling" (which
is your personal judgement) while
hitting numerous wrong notes is going to
get her nowhere in the piano world.

This is her way of playing. Trying
to force some so-called "expressive" way
of playing on her that is unnatural
for her will destroy her as a pianist.

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#1243897 - 08/05/09 10:33 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Gyro]
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
I'm sorry that you misunderstood my post.

I am not trying to "force" anything unnatural, nor am I suggesting that it is better for her to play wrong notes than to play without feeling.

I make it a very big point in my lessons that music is not just about getting all the notes right. I don't think anyone would ever agree with that. As teachers and students and musicians in general, we often get caught up in playing every note perfectly and forget about the purpose of music in the first place: it is an art form. It is an outlet of expression.

I know that my student has the potential to play "beautifully," and not just "correctly." These are two separate things, although easily interchangeable. What I would ideally love to see is her eventually accomplishing both. I can literally see the tension in her demeanor and her playing and I can see that it is unhealthy tension, that she is capable of letting go of all of those inhibitions and allowing the emotion of the song to be evident through her fingers.

Please read my posts more carefully before jumping to such extreme conclusions, I meant nothing of the sort.
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1243914 - 08/05/09 10:49 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: toejamfutbol]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
Take a look at some of the top
concert pianists. Some of them
play "like a robot," and yet get
universal rave reviews. They
apparently cannot play "expressively"
and at the same time hit all the
right notes from memory while playing
lengthy pieces in front of thousands
of people. "Expressiveness" and
"accuracy" are apparently mutally
exclusive and are not so easy
to put together in one player as
you so cavalierly propose. Trying
to force both in one player is going
to destroy the thing that the player does
best, which is accuracy, in this student.

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#1243927 - 08/05/09 11:04 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Gyro]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Hannah (sorry, I like that nick better than the new one),

Welcome, and fret not. When you've been here longer (or if you happened to lurk before you registered), you'll know to recognize (1) contributors who routinely offer "extreme conclusions" and bizarre, off-topic responses to trumpet certain predictable soapbox issues, and (2) contributors in the Teachers Forum who aren't teachers.

The arc of a discussion thread sometimes goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. At other times, unfortunately, it's the other way around. smile But at least that means you can expect some input from those who are best qualified to give it.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1243958 - 08/05/09 11:27 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: sotto voce]
Ebony and Ivory Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/05
Posts: 1179
Loc: Minnesota
Ditto what Steven said smile

I have the same issue with a few students. I have them watch performances by some emotional pianists. I think it is difficult for them to understand what we mean when we say "play with emotion" and if they can see it for themselves, they may understand it better. There are some good examples on youtube if you weed through them smile
_________________________
It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.

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#1243960 - 08/05/09 11:29 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: sotto voce]
Klavierspielen Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/28/09
Posts: 18
On the topic of "correct notes" vs. "with expression" - have her listen to two VERY different artist's recordings of her pieces. Listen to them with her during the lesson, and point out the differences in each artist's style of playing. (Of course it might be harder to distinguish with Bach!)

Or try this: you play it for her in a very robotic "all the notes right" way, and then the "beautiful" way with more expression. Try it with just a few select measures at a time. Have her close her eyes and tell you which way is "just the right notes" and which way has some emotion with it.

Then, take those few measures, and show her some ways she can add "emotion." To ambiguously say, "Play it with more feeling" doesn't necessarily make sense to a kid. Show her how to add rubato if desired, add emphasis on certain notes - whether they are downbeats, syncopation, dissonant harmonies - whatever. Add obvious or exaggerated dynamics (usually, a student's "exaggerated dynamics" are right on!) Have her think of phrasing (lifting at ends of phrases and climbing to the tops of the phrases - for Bach especially). Also, lots and lots of RH melody alone is helpful. Without having to think of hands-together coordination, RH can be more creative and expressive.

Basically, use those concepts as tools to "create" the emotion. She may not know HOW to incorporate it into her piece. Show her spots in the piece where it's very important to have "more feeling."

The purpose of music is to express our feelings. With her at age 16, I'm sure she has much more emotional depth than she did at age 10! Since she already plays well and has the notes under her fingers, she should physically able to add the emotion to it.

Let us know how it goes!

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#1243964 - 08/05/09 11:35 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Klavierspielen]
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
Thank you so much Klavier, those are all very good ideas!

Like I said before, I am not literally trying to FORCE anything upon her, that's why I put "force" in quotations. I am merely trying to make her aware of the difference and the possibilities of what she can do beyond just playing the correct notes.
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1243966 - 08/05/09 11:36 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Klavierspielen]
R0B Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/03/08
Posts: 1437
Loc: Australia
She is sixteen!
Ask her to play, as though she is serenading her boyfriend :-)
_________________________
Rob

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#1243968 - 08/05/09 11:38 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]
NocturneLover Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/09
Posts: 149
Loc: Dantooine
Ok so since I played this song "like a rainbow" in front of a panel of judges (their opinion not mine), I think I can comment although I am not a teacher.

First off, I believe some students play like robots before they learn the piece by heart because they are focused on getting the notes right, and dynamics right first before the feeling. Maybe some time is needed before she plays this with emotion. Does she play all pieces like "a robot"? (very disparaging term IMHO)

Now, with the emotion part from experience before playing this piece I always envisioned a very sad occurrence in my life, but nothing too depressing. And then I start playing slowly, I think a little less than the 60 beats per minute required if I remember correctly. Playing this slowly and soulfully is best because it just evokes the sadness that Beethoven obviously wanted out of this piece. A good example is to have her listen to Freddy Kempf's interpretation on YouTube which is a very good one even though he exaggerates it a lot with his little depressing headshakes, but that should give your student an idea on the feeling that is required behind the playing.
_________________________
"...music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." -Ludwig van Beethoven

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#1243969 - 08/05/09 11:38 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: R0B]
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
Ha!
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1243971 - 08/05/09 11:40 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Klavierspielen]
Klavierspielen Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/28/09
Posts: 18
By the way, beautiful music comes only when the player adds "feeling". If a piece has "just the correct notes" and nothing else, it is not necessarily pleasant to listen to.

If I were evaluating a student in terms of ability, one who can play with emotion and feeling is superior to one who has "just the correct notes." You must have a higher level of control to incorporate emotion into music. I would rather listen to a couple of accidentally chipped notes with expressive and very "musical" playing than 100% accuracy with robotic style.

toejamfutbol, you are on the right track with this girl! Keep it up!

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#1243993 - 08/05/09 12:06 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Klavierspielen]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5414
Loc: Orange County, CA
Well, choose robotic music for robotic students. Not everyone has "musicality" in the sense of expressiveness. I think fast, robotic playing has its place in music, especially if the piece calls for such manner of performance. I don't like it, and don't teach it to my students, but sometimes I wonder if those little robots in my studio need something robotic just to let them be good at something.

Last year I heard a robotic teenager at a recital playing the Prokofiev Toccata. It was note-perfect and very fast. Not one ounce of emotion. His face never changed expression. I'm not even sure he blinked.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#1243997 - 08/05/09 12:10 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: AZNpiano]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5414
Loc: Orange County, CA
BTW, your student might like "Machines on the Loose" by Kevin Olson.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#1244005 - 08/05/09 12:17 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: AZNpiano]
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
I agree, AZN, which is one of the reasons I gave her the Bach Invention, since it is very technical and "mechanical." (Not to say that it doesn't require expression as well)
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1244156 - 08/05/09 04:51 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: toejamfutbol]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7300
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: toejamfutbol
I have a sixteen year old student who plays very well and comes prepared to each lesson. She wants to go to college for music so I have been preparing her for her piano audition by giving her a couple of pieces to learn and memorize (Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopedies No. 1, and Bach's Two Part Invention No. 8). She is a great sightreader and memorizes quickly, but here is her only problem...

She plays like a robot!

I recently had her learn for a recital a section from the Adagio from Beethoven's Pathetique, and she played every note perfectly, but it could have just as easily been played by a computer. I've been trying to get her to expell some creativity in the way she plays, with dynamics and such, but even then, they sound robotic and forced. She is such a good player, she just has no feeling behind it! How can I get her to break out of that shell?


I begin by talking to the student in a robot voice, so they can understand the concept. We talk about oral reading, about students who's reading is pleasant, interesting, or even exciting to listen to, and those which are very correct, but boring and mechanical. After the student begins to grasp the concept, we turn to music.

Even with my elementary students, we begin to dissect each phrase, trying to find that point where the music is flowing to. Then find where each phrase is going, and the main point, if you will, or high point, of each piece or section of a piece.

I use my pencil to draw a line, usually curved, from the starting note of the phrase to the high point (and we discuss multiple possibilities and the student plays each, to see which they like better).

With some students, it's sometimes necessary to mark the entire score, phrase by phrase. Other students get it and we don't have to mark everything.

I hope this helps, and BTW, good to have you join us! Welcome.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1244172 - 08/05/09 05:12 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: John v.d.Brook]
Ebony and Ivory Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/05
Posts: 1179
Loc: Minnesota
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
and BTW, good to have you join us! Welcome.


Oops. Yeah, what he said smile smile
_________________________
It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.

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#1244181 - 08/05/09 05:26 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
What music does she like? Why does she like it? If it's a rock band, then what about their music "speaks" to her?

How would she verbalize what it means to play with expression?

How does she describe what it's like to have to listen to robotic playing for a long time?

Can she play a phrase, or a line, or two from the Op13 2ng mvt. expressively? Is she too worried about the notes, and memory?

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#1244183 - 08/05/09 05:30 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Not all people have enough empathy in them to play well. If listening to the Pathetique(Tchaikovsky's) doesn't press any buttons, she's not really suited to music.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1244196 - 08/05/09 05:45 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: keyboardklutz]
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2368
Loc: Denver, CO
I'm not a teacher, but your problem reminds me of a passage from William Westney's The Perfect Wrong Note. He talks about an un-master class that he taught where the focus on a particular student with this type of a problem was to get the student to role play playing as someone else. The entire class provided suggestions and the student really improved in their performance.

Rich
_________________________

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#1244197 - 08/05/09 05:45 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: keyboardklutz]
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
Hannah, teach her how to improvise! This will quickly get to the root of the problem and open up self-expression.
_________________________
Play New Age Piano
http://www.quiescencemusic.com

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#1244306 - 08/05/09 09:12 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: eweiss]
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
The thing is, she's perfectly aware of the way she plays. She knows she's stiff and robotic, but has a good sense of humor about it. In fact, we both joked that she played the Sonata Pathetique like it was the Sonata Apathetic. wink

She is also aware of the fact that this needs to change, although I'm not sure that she realizes its importance. She is very diligent and seems to be preoccupied with note accuracy and memorization. Not that this is a bad thing.

She has a good, broad taste in music and enjoys both classical and modern styles. She is constantly exposed to great examples of good, expressive playing, so it's not like she doesn't know what it sounds like. In fact, her father is a guitar teacher at the same studio I work at, and he is one of the most emotional, expressive players I know!

I'm starting to think that this is something that will just come to her in time, and all I can do is encourage her and make her aware of the changes she will eventually accomplish.
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1244330 - 08/05/09 09:45 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: toejamfutbol]
bitWrangler Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 1785
Loc: Central TX
Too bad gyro's comments are extreme (or at least expressed that way), there is a modicum of truth, I believe, to the contention that there are those in the piano world that favor technical abilities over musicality (I've observed this first hand). Not everyone obviously, and maybe not even a majority, but they are out there and they do occupy important "seats".

Back on topic, question for the teachers, is anyone of the opinion that there could be changes in technique that can help the student actually express musicality at the keyboard. This is assuming that the student can "sense and feel" the musicality, but just isn't able to then transfer that to the physical realm. Or is this not the case and the issue has nothing to do with technique?

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#1244356 - 08/05/09 10:40 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: bitWrangler]
musicianwannabe Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/13/09
Posts: 10
Hey, your student sounds like me.

I do agree only time can solve her problem, not use of "force."


Edited by musicianwannabe (08/05/09 10:42 PM)

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#1244377 - 08/05/09 11:21 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: musicianwannabe]
BearLake Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/16/08
Posts: 144
Loc: SE Idaho
Isaac Stern tudors a student from China during his early visit featured in his film from the 1970's "From Mao to Mozart." The young girl plays a violin solo which he hears with lack of expression and asks her to sing what she just played, and she sings it with more feeling. Finally he says "play the way you sang it," and she played it with much more feeling and expression.

Josef Hofmann talks about his lessons with Anton Rubinstein. Playing with expression is more innate if the student knows the character of the piece:

"... is it dramatic, tragic, lyric, romantic, humorous, heroic, sublime, mystic--what? (Josef Hofmann, "Piano Playing with Piano Questions answered" p. 61)"

I feel that just being aware of these elements is the first step to expressive playing which will come with time.

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#1244379 - 08/05/09 11:23 PM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: musicianwannabe]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5414
Loc: Orange County, CA
Maybe your student will like Prokofiev. Sarcasms. Visions Fugitives. Or those Shostakovich Preludes. Dry, sarcastic, "dead pan" music.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#1244415 - 08/06/09 01:15 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: AZNpiano]
jotur Online   blank
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5440
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
I don't teach piano, either, but I'll admit to being one of those students who had no idea how to make music when I was a teen taking lessons, but I had pretty good skills otherwise.

I didn't start making music until I started playing dance music, and playing with other musicians on other instruments. To this day, anything classical that I play is pretty dead.

So your student may just not "feel" classical when she plays it, but will find some genre some day that really is hers. I don't have any idea - but that is what happened for me.

I do think that musicality involves technique as well as "sensing and feeling the music." Things like phrasing, accents, fast tempos, etc, all took time for me to learn how to produce, even tho I knew what I wanted it to sound like. And learning to produce what I want it to sound like is a never-ending job, apparently smile

It may be that working specifically on phrasing, or dynamics, or rubato, accents, or whatever, in order to have the tools to make the music happen will wake up the musicality for classical music in her. But it may also be that boogie-woogie, or blues, or contra dance music, or as ed says, improvisation, will really be the key for her. Who knows? Everyone has something that will touch them. I suppose it's possible that eventually she'll take the music background she's gotten from piano and use it to learn another instrument, and *that's* what will wake up the musicality in her.

But at least she's aware of it, and you're doing a good job of helping her to be aware of it without making her feel like she's a total doofus, so she can keep playing/experimenting, and will probably some day find what works for her.

That's my experience, any way.

Cathy
_________________________

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#1244439 - 08/06/09 02:12 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: jotur]
Candywoman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 832
Some people play notes. Some people play music.

I've gone to many concerts that were entirely comprised of technical accuracy, and nobody in the hearty audience of clappers seemed to notice but me.

I've heard two sisters with Doctorates in Music play duets for an evening. One sister never played a "note"; all was music. The other never played music; all was notes.

You might try all the above suggestions--and they were excellent suggestions-- but still she might never become a musician.

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#1244506 - 08/06/09 06:48 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: toejamfutbol]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: toejamfutbol
The thing is, she's perfectly aware of the way she plays. She knows she's stiff and robotic, but has a good sense of humor about it. In fact, we both joked that she played the Sonata Pathetique like it was the Sonata Apathetic. wink
Alright, so give her Mozart to play instead (Jeez, am I ever gonna get it in the neck).
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1244595 - 08/06/09 10:23 AM Re: How to "force" expression in a student?? [Re: keyboardklutz]
Piano*Dad Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10348
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Quote:
Alright, so give her Mozart to play instead (Jeez, am I ever gonna get it in the neck).


grin

.
.
.
.
mad


Well, you said you'd get it in the neck, didn't you.



Quote:
Welcome, and fret not. When you've been here longer (or if you happened to lurk before you registered), you'll know to recognize ... contributors in the Teachers Forum who aren't teachers.


Careful there, Steven. smile
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Grotrian 192 #156455

https://www.youtube.com/user/dhfeld/videos

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Today at 04:23 PM
No music rest for Roland stage pianos?
by Delphian2001
Today at 04:20 PM
Where is the new blood?
by Markarian
Today at 03:53 PM
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