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#1973642 - 10/15/12 03:16 PM Learning Rubato
Bluoh Offline
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Registered: 12/20/11
Posts: 421
Loc: Canada
How do you teach rubato?

I was over at the beginners' forum just now, and someone had been wondering how you can learn to play stylistically Romantic without ruining his own interpretation of the piece by watching other performers.

I thought it would be an interesting discussion for teachers:

(a) How do you teach rubato?

(b) Is it possible for a beginner to interpret a piece of music entirely on his or her own? (I.e. No demonstrations of the piece, no videos, etc.?) Why or why not?

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#1973654 - 10/15/12 03:38 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
Chris H. Offline
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Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
That's interesting.

I have found that some students will use rubato quite naturally without me having to say anything at all. Its a musically expressive thing to do with the right kind of piece and I love it when it happens spontaneously in an appropriate place!

Must admit it is rare though.

Teaching rubato is about awareness of style and also about balance. Rubato literally means 'robbed' time. And what is taken must be paid back. A lot of phrasing will have a gentle push towards the climax and then relax towards the end. Balance.

What I do insist on is that students can play exactly in time first. They need to fully understand the rhythm. Then a useful technique is to play a phrase with a metronome, get a little ahead but then end up back in time again.

I start with pieces where the effects of rubato are quite subtle. If its understood then the same thing can be applied with other works as and when required.
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#1973832 - 10/15/12 10:29 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Bluoh
(b) Is it possible for a beginner to interpret a piece of music entirely on his or her own? (I.e. No demonstrations of the piece, no videos, etc.?) Why or why not?

There are many of us who grew up learning pieces by playing them. The written music "told" us how the piece sounded. The only time music was "demonstrated" was if we repeatedly got it wrong, and were completely unable to decode the written page.

Typically, we did not preview any piece by listening to it, and we certainly did not see anyone performing it. Unless we were learning a piece by ear, the "sound" was on the paper.
Ed
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In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#1973965 - 10/16/12 07:43 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Chris H.]
Monaco Offline
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Registered: 07/28/11
Posts: 387
Loc: GA
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
That's interesting.

Rubato literally means 'robbed' time. And what is taken must be paid back.


I asked my professor about this and he said "No."
Not to say you're wrong, but there are different opinions about this.

I have found that in most cases it is necessary to demonstrate rubato at first. After a while they can do it without demonstration.
I also find that showing them something one time will not produce an exact copy of your performance anyway.
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#1973969 - 10/16/12 07:55 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: LoPresti]
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Originally Posted By: LoPresti
Originally Posted By: Bluoh
(b) Is it possible for a beginner to interpret a piece of music entirely on his or her own? (I.e. No demonstrations of the piece, no videos, etc.?) Why or why not?

There are many of us who grew up learning pieces by playing them. The written music "told" us how the piece sounded. The only time music was "demonstrated" was if we repeatedly got it wrong, and were completely unable to decode the written page.

Typically, we did not preview any piece by listening to it, and we certainly did not see anyone performing it. Unless we were learning a piece by ear, the "sound" was on the paper.
Ed

I have had several teachers for two instruments. I agree that the gist of the music is on paper. You get melody, tempo, dynamics, and if you understand the nature of the genre, this will guide you as well. I was able to, and expected to play the basic music from notation. Nonetheless there are finer points of musicianship which a trained musician will know of, and the student won't. Rubato, fine points of phrasing, special nuances brought out by the nature of the instrument - these did get demonstrated. This was not for imitation but for hearing what was possible, and refining the ear. Recordings can be used the same way. You have studied the music and seen possibilities, now you hear various interpretations. You are not just hearing what was done, but asking, why did this performer make those choices? Does this give additional insight into the music?

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#1973981 - 10/16/12 08:45 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Monaco]
Chris H. Offline
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Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
Originally Posted By: Monaco
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
That's interesting.

Rubato literally means 'robbed' time. And what is taken must be paid back.


I asked my professor about this and he said "No."
Not to say you're wrong, but there are different opinions about this.


Of course there are different opinions!
There are also different definitions and interpretations of rubato.

It's not an exact science and probably something that you can't really teach. You can give advice and guidance but no two pianists will use rubato in exactly the same way so it's very much an individual response to the music.

I try my best to keep things simple.
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#1974011 - 10/16/12 10:49 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Chris H.]
landorrano Offline
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Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
Rubato literally means 'robbed' time. And what is taken must be paid back.


I am doubtful of this translation of the word rubato

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#1974017 - 10/16/12 11:00 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
LadyChen Offline
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Registered: 01/25/12
Posts: 521
Loc: Canada
Actually, the translation is correct. The word literally means "robbed". But as a musical term, it means much more than that.

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#1974019 - 10/16/12 11:04 AM Learning Rubato [Re: keystring]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: keystring
Originally Posted By: LoPresti
Originally Posted By: Bluoh
(b) Is it possible for a beginner to interpret a piece of music entirely on his or her own? (I.e. No demonstrations of the piece, no videos, etc.?) Why or why not?

There are many of us who grew up learning pieces by playing them. The written music "told" us how the piece sounded. . . . . Typically, we did not preview any piece by listening to it, and we certainly did not see anyone performing it. Unless we were learning a piece by ear, the "sound" was on the paper.

. . . I agree that the gist of the music is on paper. You get melody, tempo, dynamics, and if you understand the nature of the genre, this will guide you as well. I was able to, and expected to play the basic music from notation. Nonetheless there are finer points of musicianship which a trained musician will know of, and the student won't.

Absolutely! That is what makes the trained musician a musician, and the student, well . . .

Originally Posted By: keystring
Rubato, fine points of phrasing, special nuances brought out by the nature of the instrument - these did get demonstrated. This was not for imitation but for hearing what was possible, and refining the ear. Recordings can be used the same way. You have studied the music and seen possibilities, now you hear various interpretations. You are not just hearing what was done, but asking, why did this performer make those choices? Does this give additional insight into the music?

Encore -- assolutamente! I should have completed my thoughts with:
Learning the music of the piece first, by working on it from written notation, is a wonderful learning experience, although we never thought of it as that. And then, whenever one had the opportunity to hear that same MUSIC come to life in the hands of a professional, it magnified and solidified and enhanced that original learning all the more! It infused one’s original learning experience with all the possibilities that the student had left out. And in so doing, the better student became a trained musician. Then, when faced with new music on a page, the individual knows how it sounds without pressing a key, or drawing a bow, or placing mouthpiece to embouchure.

In my opinion, going through the steps in a different order, ie. hear the professional rendition, then see the written music for the first time, then hear the professional play again, then fit the notation on the page to what one hears, then play it on the instrument, then hear the professional play again, then put the finishing touches on the student’s playing -- this loses much of the development of the musician. While it might help the ear, it weakens the independence of reading and interpretation.
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#1974082 - 10/16/12 01:16 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: LadyChen]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: LadyChen
Actually, the translation is correct. The word literally means "robbed".


Look in an italian dictionary and see whether it says anything about stealing time ... or about giving it back.

part. pass. di rubare ¨ agg. [f. -a; pl.m. -i, f. -e] nei sign. del verbo ||| agg. e n.m. [f. -a; pl.m. -i, f. -e] ( mus.) indicazione sul testo musicale con la quale si prescrive un’esecuzione svincolata dalla rigidità del tempo: eseguire un rubato; una battuta in tempo rubato.

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#1974102 - 10/16/12 02:15 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: landorrano]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: LadyChen
Actually, the translation is correct. The word literally means "robbed".


Look in an italian dictionary and see whether it says anything about stealing time ... or about giving it back.

part. pass. di rubare ¨ agg. [f. -a; pl.m. -i, f. -e] nei sign. del verbo ||| agg. e n.m. [f. -a; pl.m. -i, f. -e] ( mus.) indicazione sul testo musicale con la quale si prescrive un’esecuzione svincolata dalla rigidità del tempo: eseguire un rubato; una battuta in tempo rubato.


Knock yourself out reading your dictionary.

I'll be playing my piano.
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Pianist and piano teacher.

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#1974106 - 10/16/12 02:23 PM Learning Rubato [Re: landorrano]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
All'ora - Questa problema consistera dei significa della parola ||svincola||. Si noi crediamo che 'svincola' indicata "completely clearing the rigidity of the previous meter", poi il tempo nuovo Ă© libero. Ma, in contrasto, si noi crediamo che 'svincola' indicata "suspending the rigor of the previous meter", poi quella comporta una torna al tempo primo.

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#1974109 - 10/16/12 02:26 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Chris H.]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
Knock yourself out reading your dictionary. . . . I'll be playing my piano.

But Chris, will you be playing in Italian? Playing Rubato??
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In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#1974115 - 10/16/12 02:42 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
Haha I doubt it since it seems I don't understand a word of it!

I'll stick to the speedy up, slowy down thingy.
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#1974127 - 10/16/12 03:14 PM Learning Rubato [Re: Chris H.]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Chris,

Definitions aside, I believe I have always thought of rubato, at least subconsciously, as a give-and-take proposition, where I would play slightly faster here, only to exagerate slowness there. In that sense, if we are not writing about precise durations of time, I tend to agree that the ebb and flow of rob-and-pay-back, rob-and-pay-back does fit my conception of rubato.

Ed
_________________________
In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#1974136 - 10/16/12 03:28 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
I have found it to be a good starting point and something that can be introduced quite early on. Being expressive is complex but you have to start somewhere.

I have tried explaining that you need to be 'flexible' or 'take liberties' with timing but inexperienced students don't really get that. They need something more to go on. The rob and pay back method works for me when applied to the right piece. I often write in push and pull on the score where appropriate for those who don't feel it naturally.

One important point I haven't seen mentioned is that the use of rubato should never be allowed to distort the rhythm. Some students use it so much you can't tell what the rhythm should be!
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Pianist and piano teacher.

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#1974137 - 10/16/12 03:28 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: LoPresti]
Bluoh Offline
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Registered: 12/20/11
Posts: 421
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: LoPresti
Chris,

Definitions aside, I believe I have always thought of rubato, at least subconsciously, as a give-and-take proposition, where I would play slightly faster here, only to exagerate slowness there. In that sense, if we are not writing about precise durations of time, I tend to agree that the ebb and flow of rob-and-pay-back, rob-and-pay-back does fit my conception of rubato.

Ed

That's how most of us are taught, but I never thought of it that way. I think it's more of a "being in the moment" and stretching the music to its limits. If that means moving quicker in some places than others, and slowing when you feel it, then so be it.

Definitions aside (haha) how do you guys teach rubato?

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#1974142 - 10/16/12 03:46 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
Originally Posted By: Bluoh


Definitions aside (haha) how do you guys teach rubato?


I suppose by first teaching them to understand rhythm and to play in time. Also by teaching control of tempo, making sure changes are gradual when they encounter accelerando and rallentando etc. They are more likely to find tempo changes marked in the score before experimenting with rubato. Good use of rubato will draw on this experience. It all takes time.
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#1974144 - 10/16/12 03:46 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
LadyChen Offline
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Registered: 01/25/12
Posts: 521
Loc: Canada
Some students will be able to play rubato very naturally with no direction. Others .. not so much. For these students, I find that conducting them as they play can help, or singing, or counting.

I only have beginner students right now, so I'm not teaching a lot of rubato, but I do have one student who has trouble with even a ritardando at the end of her piece. To illustrate the slowing down, I just counted out loud using 1 + 2 +... so she can hear the subdivision of the beat and how notes still need to have their full values as the tempo is slowing down.

Speaking of note values -- sometimes when a student first starts to play around with rubato, they play with 'bad time' instead of 'robbed time' smile. I feel like the counting helps with this.

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#1974161 - 10/16/12 04:41 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5510
Loc: Orange County, CA
I once attended a presentation given by composer Dennis Alexander. He draws forward arrows in the score where the music should move forward, and backward arrows where the music should slow down.
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#1974193 - 10/16/12 05:48 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
landorrano Offline
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Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: Bluoh
how you can learn to play stylistically Romantic


Romantic music is very much charged with central and eastern sensibility, so many composers coming from the Austro-Hungarian empire, from Poland. When you hear music coming from these countries you can have a hard time getting a handle on the rhythmic sense. Even a waltz seems kind of crazy, if you're accustomed to conceiving it in a smooth ONE-two-three meter, Laurence Welk style.

Music in these regions can also seem out of tune to a foreigner.

Rubato is fundamentally, in my view, an application of a rhythmic sensibility that isn't written in the score and cannot be written in the score. The way to begin to be able to use rubato is to gain a familiarity with the music and the culture of a country in this region of Europe, to get to know something of the language and the way of singing.

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#1974196 - 10/16/12 05:51 PM Learning Rubato [Re: LadyChen]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
LadyChen, you are in very good company here with the counting!

We have been discussing the difficulties and complexities of imparting the idea of rubato to a single student, and having her/him "get it". Immagine, if you will, getting the full orchestra to feel a "common rubato", as a single person might. There is not a conductor in the world who does not COUNT THROUGH these things at rehearsal, at least until the interpretation of the work is familiar to most of the players.

Ed
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#1974201 - 10/16/12 05:56 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Chris H.]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
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Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
Originally Posted By: Bluoh


Definitions aside (haha) how do you guys teach rubato?


I suppose by first teaching them to understand rhythm and to play in time.

Chris,
You have brought this up twice now, and I could not agree more. Whether it is building chords, playing rubato, or most anything else, I have always believed that one must know how to do it "right" first, so that one can then "do it wrong" correctly.

Ed


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#1974298 - 10/16/12 10:08 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
keystring Online   content
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Would anyone say that the challenge in rubato is to use time expressively in a free manner while not losing underlying pulse, and in a way that fits rather than ending up clownish? With the idea of underlying pulse there is probably the idea of knowing how to play in strict time, and knowing how to count.

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#1974437 - 10/17/12 08:15 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: keystring]
TimR Online   content
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Registered: 08/17/04
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Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: keystring
Would anyone say that the challenge in rubato is to use time expressively in a free manner while not losing underlying pulse, and in a way that fits rather than ending up clownish? With the idea of underlying pulse there is probably the idea of knowing how to play in strict time, and knowing how to count.


I agree, and would rather see/hear someone fail to use ANY rubato rather than lose the pulse. Losing the pulse seems to be a common problem.

There is another category that I call microtime. It is not rubato per se, as the pulse is relatively constant, but it requires the player to either advance or lag behind every beat by a specific amount unique to the genre. Thank of a jazz bass playing slightly behind in some styles, or being required to lead in others.
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#1974474 - 10/17/12 09:54 AM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
IPlayPiano Offline
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Registered: 08/08/11
Posts: 101
What is taken must be given back...

Keystring nailed it. There is a difference between "rubato" and "playing out of time" and they should not be confused. A fine musician MUST have a good sense of time while playing rubato in order to be able to give back what has taken. In other words the musician should be able to play rubato to a metronome and still end up on the right beat by the end of the piece. "Playing out of time" does not require this skill.

As far as the interpreting of pieces, I always say that music is a language. Wanna learn french? Go to France! I find it unfair that a child should be expected to interpret a piece using only the markings on the page, without that foundational language experience in a native-tongue fashion. Go to concerts, get recordings, youtube! And of course, demonstration. Put on the metronome and demonstrate a rubato version of Happy Birthday.

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#1974625 - 10/17/12 03:23 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: TimR]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5510
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: TimR
I agree, and would rather see/hear someone fail to use ANY rubato rather than lose the pulse. Losing the pulse seems to be a common problem.

Same here. I'd be glad to have students who can count accurately. Rubato is not to disguise weakness in counting.
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#1974655 - 10/17/12 03:50 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
LoPresti Offline
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Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Except for KeyString, you folks are steering clear of the second, potentially more interesting part, of Bluoh's oroginal question:
Originally Posted By: Bluoh
(b) Is it possible for a beginner to interpret a piece of music entirely on his or her own? (I.e. No demonstrations of the piece, no videos, etc.?) Why or why not?

Any particular reason?
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#1974675 - 10/17/12 04:06 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: Bluoh]
BeccaBb Offline
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Registered: 12/09/11
Posts: 905
Loc: Thunder Bay, On Canada
I'm a beginner and this is how I learn to make music (unless it's beyond me in level): I read over the score and circle all the dynamics. I look at the time signature. I begin to learn the notes (two hands for easy, hs for hard.) Once I get the notes down, I begin to play them with counting. Once I get the rhythm down, I begin to add in dynamics. Once I have that all in place I add it all together. Once it sounds like actual music I MIGHT listen to the song elsewhere, but usually do not.

I honestly can't imagine learning pieces by listening or watching them first. I was really surprised to read a question implying that others do not do this!
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#1974681 - 10/17/12 04:09 PM Re: Learning Rubato [Re: LoPresti]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
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Originally Posted By: LoPresti
Except for KeyString, you folks are steering clear of the second, potentially more interesting part, of Bluoh's oroginal question:
Originally Posted By: Bluoh
(b) Is it possible for a beginner to interpret a piece of music entirely on his or her own? (I.e. No demonstrations of the piece, no videos, etc.?) Why or why not?

Any particular reason?


There is a problem with that question, Ed, and also the answer you've give so far, if it is to be seen as "the" answer. The problem is that teaching is a process where something is developed over a long period of several years, and teachers may come from opposite sides to meet at the same destination. Any individual teacher may also make different choices for different students. We'll leave out poor teachers, in this.

Take these two opposites: the ability to play timing and note values and meter with relative accuracy - the freedom of feeling the music, being creative with time for expressive purposes. You must be able to maintain the pulse even with rubato, and you have both elements occurring in music. Some teachers may start with freedom, and bring in the accuracy later. Some may start with accuracy, and bring in the freedom later. Many may toggle both ends of it. Any attempt to say that one particular approach is the right one is misguided.

The same goes for anything else. I am a creative, self-directed person, and have been so from earliest childhood. But there are times when imitation has served me well. Sometimes imitation can be a step in getting something into your body which then goes toward your senses, and ultimately understanding. Sometimes the understanding will lead musical choices, which then translate directly into playing. Either angle may be appropriate in various circumstances.

I think that what you are objecting to, Ed, is this idea of listening to a CD in order to find out "how it goes", and then copying that CD. In general I don't feel comfortable with that idea either.

Other elements include gaining an understanding of music. What is the general mindset of the Baroque period or the Romantic period? If a piece is based on "dance music" and they actually danced to it during that period, what type of rhythm do the dancers need, and how did they move at that time? Will the student learn this theoretically, maybe watch such dancers (easy with the Internet), and then try to bring that pulse into his playing? Or does his teacher first model the rhythm, to be copied by rote, and bring in the understanding afterward after a few pieces have been played?

One elephant in the room involves competitions or exams, and "what judges like to see". This may restrict the creativity and imagination of both the teacher and the student. Here you may get into imitation, looking at performances, not for ideas, but as models of "what is acceptable".

I don't think that this is a simple thing, with simple answers.

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