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#2241323 - 03/04/14 02:43 PM My weaknesses become their strengths
Brinestone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 350
I've noticed a trend in my studio, and I was wondering if anyone else experiences this.

Basically, when I was young, the things I heard over and over from my teachers were a) fingering! and b) keep a steady rhythm!

I tended to play a bit more freestyle than I should have, and that internal metronome thing did not arrive for me until I was 20 or so.

What bewilders me is that somehow, my students are usually pretty strong at fingering things correctly, to the point that I rarely have to correct fingering at all, let alone more than once. I have had many students with a poor sense of rhythm over the years too, but I've "cured" all but one.

You know what my students tend to struggle with? Dynamics! Which bewilders me too because that was my greatest strength as a kid. That's what makes music fun for me.

It makes me wonder if I'm subconsciously spending more time and/or emphasis on the things I struggled with as a child and less time on the things I naturally was good at. I don't feel like I am, but I have to wonder. Or maybe it's just perception bias: I was especially bad at keeping a steady beat and using correct fingering, so my students all look good by comparison; I was especially good at dynamics, so my students look worse by comparison.


Edited by Brinestone (03/04/14 02:44 PM)
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#2241553 - 03/04/14 10:37 PM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Brinestone]
hreichgott Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/13
Posts: 898
Loc: western MA, USA
I think it's definitely much easier to teach the things that were hard for us to learn, because we had to think carefully about how to approach each step of the problem. The things that came easily, we just took at a run, and then with students we have to think for the first time about how to take each step.
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Sounding the depths of small pieces: Beethoven Op. 33
Daily attempts at 16th notes: Chopin Op. 10 no. 4, Pischna
Totally loving Fauré/Barcarolles and Ravel/Tombeau de Couperin
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#2241726 - 03/05/14 02:59 PM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Brinestone]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5423
Loc: Orange County, CA
I don't see any parallels between my strengths/weaknesses and my students' strengths/weaknesses. Every student is unique, and some will always be weak in a certain area, while excelling in other areas.

However, since my earliest piano teachers did not insist on my using good, logical, and correct fingering, I am now super strict about enforcing good, logical, and correct fingering upon my students.

And one of my piano teachers had no clue how to use a metronome (she must be mathematically challenged somehow), so now I am super strict about enforcing the use of a metronome during practice.

Maybe, for me at least, I try to rise above the mediocre teaching that I have received. I was one of those kids who learned piano in spite of poor teaching.
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#2241773 - 03/05/14 04:19 PM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
I don't see any parallels between my strengths/weaknesses and my students' strengths/weaknesses. Every student is unique, and some will always be weak in a certain area, while excelling in other areas.

But don't you think we pay more attention to areas that were badly taught to us? I have talked about two areas in which my high school teacher was horrendously weak. She never corrected my fingering. She never made fingering recommendations.

And memorization? She just told me to memorize, with NO ideas about HOW to memorize.

I had to solve fingering problems and memory problems mostly on my own. So I am very careful not to scar my students this way.

But it is much harder to teach the things that were automatic for me. My biggest weakness as a teacher is teaching my students how to hear - if that can even be done - because that was a gift for me. I was able to look at score and hear it in my head from a young age. I didn't even know there was a word for what I could do. I thought everyone could do it.
Quote:

However, since my earliest piano teachers did not insist on my using good, logical, and correct fingering, I am now super strict about enforcing good, logical, and correct fingering upon my students.

Same for me..
Quote:

Maybe, for me at least, I try to rise above the mediocre teaching that I have received. I was one of those kids who learned piano in spite of poor teaching.

Me too!
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#2242031 - 03/06/14 03:53 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Gary D.]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5423
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
And memorization? She just told me to memorize, with NO ideas about HOW to memorize.

I had no problem memorizing anything when I was younger; in fact, I tended to memorize things before they were properly learned, and then I can't go back to fix anything.

But I have a few students who just can't memorize ANYTHING. I've tried all sorts of tactics:

1) memorize one section/phrase at a time,
2) repeat two measures over and over and over again until muscle memory kicked in,
3) analyze chords, phrases, and composition structure (for the older kids),
4) look for obvious patterns like repetitions and sequences and imitations,
5) look for how one hand position relates to another,
6) listen to a recording over and over again for aural memory,
7) practice piano with an iPad video recording for visual memory,
8) write lyrics to the melody

etc. etc. etc.

At some point, I must realize I'm working way too hard. The student probably hates piano, anyway. Or hates that one piece. Or just isn't very bright to begin with. It's hard to imagine a 9-year-old kid with childhood onset dotage.
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#2242053 - 03/06/14 06:05 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano

I had no problem memorizing anything when I was younger; in fact, I tended to memorize things before they were properly learned, and then I can't go back to fix anything.

Could that possibly be related to not being a super fast sightreader when you were young?

I could nail things the second or third time. I can't remember how many people told me that they had never seen anyone sightread as fast as I did.

I don't practice any more. I am tired and frankly rather depressed about how slowly my students learn now, the ones I have this year. But I still read things I have never seen or heard and nail them. I did it today.

It seems to me that the ability to remember accurately may be inversely proportional to how many times we have to read it to get it.

If I have to woodshed something to nail it, I start to memorize it. But if I can just look at the music and nail it, I have to make myself work to memorize it.

More important: if someone plays something as well with music as without it, why does playing from memory matter?

I always wonder why student A, playing from memory, gets a higher mark than student B, playing with music, if student B clearly plays better.
Quote:

But I have a few students who just can't memorize ANYTHING.

I realized today that if I had to "audition" for a job, based on playing from memory, there is very little I can play. But I can still memorize just about anything, if I set my mind to it. I could not do that at age 21.
Quote:

I've tried all sorts of tactics:

1) memorize one section/phrase at a time,

I teach the same thing. I say that this is like a modern waterbed. If you punch a hole in the bed, there is only a bit of water. The damage is contained. But in the old waterbeds, a leak meant a flood. For us a "flood" means a disaster, on stage.
Quote:

2) repeat two measures over and over and over again until muscle memory kicked in,

No good, because this is "go magic fingers". "Go magic fingers" means don't think about what is really going on. That's how I tried to pass juries, and what I based public performances on. It's the worst feeling in the world. It nearly stopped me from playing.
Quote:

3) analyze chords, phrases, and composition structure (for the older kids),

This works for me and my students.
Quote:

4) look for obvious patterns like repetitions and sequences and imitations,

This works really well...
Quote:

5) look for how one hand position relates to another,

Not bad...
Quote:

6) listen to a recording over and over again for aural memory,

No good for memory, good for getting a feel for style and touch and other things.
Quote:

7) practice piano with an iPad video recording for visual memory,

Useless, a misstep.
Quote:

8) write lyrics to the melody

Useless, because the ability to remember language and the ability to remember sound/music/notes are not necessarily related at all.
Quote:

At some point, I must realize I'm working way too hard. The student probably hates piano, anyway. Or hates that one piece. Or just isn't very bright to begin with. It's hard to imagine a 9-year-old kid with childhood onset dotage.

Working "way too hard"?

Only another piano teacher is going to get that. smile

There is nothing more tiring than realizing that we, the teachers, are doing everything we can to move things along, and our students (for an infinity of reasons) are doing almost nothing. frown
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#2242068 - 03/06/14 07:32 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Brinestone]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11586
Loc: Canada
In regards to strengths and weaknesses:

When I taught theory rudiments, I was surprised at how well my student did with things involving chords, since I had had to work with these myself. The same with other things I'd had to work on to understand. Then I was even more surprised when she couldn't do "simple" exercises involving melody, because for me melodies were like breathing air. I think I was inventing melodies when I was a toddler. The conclusion was that I taught those things best that I had had to think through myself. For something that came natural, I had to reverse-engineer to figure out what I was using in order to do what I do.

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#2242071 - 03/06/14 07:37 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Brinestone]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11586
Loc: Canada
Memorization - throwing out ideas:
- for kids with difficulty, what about isolating their particular strengths and ways of doing, and building from there along new angles?
- inversely, if they are relying on their strengths and it's preventing them from getting at their weaknesses, address that. (In the same way, if you can memorize the music easily, you're less likely to develop strong reading skills).
- working with the various strategies I've seen in AZNpiano's list, and combining them. I think some of them relate to each other anyway.

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#2242091 - 03/06/14 08:16 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: keystring]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3169
Loc: Virginia, USA
Quote:
6) listen to a recording over and over again for aural memory,


This works very well if you have at least some skill at playing by ear, and (for me) not at all if you can't.

On trombone this is the most solid method I've found yet. On piano, not so much.
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#2242163 - 03/06/14 11:21 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: TimR]
Brinestone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 350
Originally Posted By: TimR
Quote:
6) listen to a recording over and over again for aural memory,


This works very well if you have at least some skill at playing by ear, and (for me) not at all if you can't.

On trombone this is the most solid method I've found yet. On piano, not so much.


Huh. I think having a "map" of the song in my head, how it sounds, what comes first, second, last, whatever, helps me to remember which notes go where and memorize the piece. I haven't ever had my students do this, but I haven't yet had one who couldn't memorize. I don't see it as a useless idea, though.
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#2242356 - 03/06/14 07:31 PM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Gary D.]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5903
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
If I have to woodshed something to nail it, I start to memorize it. But if I can just look at the music and nail it, I have to make myself work to memorize it.
Yes, that's my experience too. And I don't memorise it unless there's a jolly good reason to.
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
More important: if someone plays something as well with music as without it, why does playing from memory matter?
It doesn't (IMO). Unless it's required for an exam or competition. Or to satisfy audience expectations.
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I always wonder why student A, playing from memory, gets a higher mark than student B, playing with music, if student B clearly plays better.
I wonder if the judges are assuming that memorisation is an extra super-duper skill added on top of the skill of playing, and therefore worthy of extra marks, when often a young performer has memorised effortlessly and mindlessly through repetition and lack of reading skills. I've lost track of the number of posts I've read here at PW where people describe how they slowly decode the notation and learn the piece by repetition without ever looking at the score again, because they actually can't read it.
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I realized today that if I had to "audition" for a job, based on playing from memory, there is very little I can play. But I can still memorize just about anything, if I set my mind to it. I could not do that at age 21.
Interesting. I could memorise almost anything at 21, pretty quickly. Then I spent decades performing ensemble repertoire where I never needed to memorise, and the "what if I forget what's next" fear crept in. I still can memorise if I have to. But I don't have to, so I don't. There's just so much music left that I haven't played yet! smile
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
6) listen to a recording over and over again for aural memory
No good for memory, good for getting a feel for style and touch and other things.
I actually do find this helpful for memory - as in, if I know "what's next" I can play it by ear to get over any blocks.
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
7) practice piano with an iPad video recording for visual memory
Useless, a misstep.
I don't know about this. I'm not sure what you mean - are you looking at a video of the hands on the keyboard?
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
At some point, I must realize I'm working way too hard. The student probably hates piano, anyway. Or hates that one piece. Or just isn't very bright to begin with. It's hard to imagine a 9-year-old kid with childhood onset dotage.
I've found that sometimes when I think a child is, as you put it, not very bright, it's actually disengagement. They may think it's going to be too hard so they don't try, rather than try and fail. It may present as being not bright, or laziness, but sometimes at least it's this "I can't fail if I don't try" thing. And they don't always know they're doing it.
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#2242814 - 03/07/14 06:27 PM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: currawong]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: currawong
I wonder if the judges are assuming that memorisation is an extra super-duper skill added on top of the skill of playing, and therefore worthy of extra marks, when often a young performer has memorised effortlessly and mindlessly through repetition and lack of reading skills.

That's a great point.

There is something else, which I have been saying for decades: people "hear with their eyes". By this I mean that they THINK that something sounds different, better or worse, because of what they see. This causes the average person to be absolutely thrilled with the visual antics of a Lang Lang, or a Liberace, if we go way back in time. And I'm not slamming either of them. I'm just saying that all the had waving and showmanship impresses the people who know very little.

I believe Chopin said much of the same thing to Liszt.

In a sane world people would be listening with their ears and would ignore what they see, because music should be about the sound, not the look. If that were true, no one would care if a player used music or did not, because only the result would matter.

You can even see this with conductors. There are those who make a great show of conducting at all times without a score, as if somehow this proves that they conduct better. But Stokowski always used a score in rehearsals, and not too long ago I saw him conducting with a score in a concert. I don't think that was unusual for him.
Quote:

I've lost track of the number of posts I've read here at PW where people describe how they slowly decode the notation and learn the piece by repetition without ever looking at the score again, because they actually can't read it.

So true. It's one thing to pick something up with no music, just playing it "by ear". That's an awesome skill to have, and I think that is the "other side" of being a fine musician.

I would not want to be limited to what I can read. There is a whole other world out there.

But to learn a sonata or concerto that way just seems like pure agony. Needless drudge work.
Quote:

I could memorise almost anything at 21, pretty quickly.

At 21 I could learn almost anything very quickly, but I would only memorize the parts that I could not play and look at. I don't think most people would want to try to play the Mephisto Waltz with music, not the virtuoso sections where both hands are doing nasty jumps at the same time. I have a particular passage in mind as I write this. But the lyrical parts can mostly be played quite comfortably while looking at the score. So I would nail the parts I simply could not play at tempo, while looking, but the parts I could read took longer, even when I was young.
Quote:

Then I spent decades performing ensemble repertoire where I never needed to memorise, and the "what if I forget what's next" fear crept in.

By age 15 I was making money accompanying. By age 19 I was seriously supplementing my income accompanying. Obviously I never go paid for my juries, or for recitals. But in my first year I was making money playing for OTHER students' juries.

I was also a very serious brass player. Brass players are never required to play without music. Why? I don't know.

I was in ensembles of all sorts. Then I got a scholarship accompanying for the chorus.

I'd love to say that I got paid X amount of dollars for playing a program of Y as a soloist, but it just never happened.

So I do wonder about the focus. Most of us who make money playing will not do it playing solo recitals, from memory. smile

I still can memorise if I have to. But I don't have to, so I don't. There's just so much music left that I haven't played yet! smile
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
6) listen to a recording over and over again for aural memory
No good for memory, good for getting a feel for style and touch and other things.

Originally Posted By: Currawong
I actually do find this helpful for memory - as in, if I know "what's next" I can play it by ear to get over any blocks.

I agree. I think I had a different kind of "memory" in mind. But my visual memory is extraordinarily weak, and always has been. I can "hear" something with absolute clarity, but trying to pick away at it by ear slows me down to a crawl. Hard to explain.
Quote:

I've found that sometimes when I think a child is, as you put it, not very bright, it's actually disengagement. They may think it's going to be too hard so they don't try, rather than try and fail. It may present as being not bright, or laziness, but sometimes at least it's this "I can't fail if I don't try" thing. And they don't always know they're doing it.

This gets into another huge area - why is the student tuning out?

I can think of several times when teachers assumed I was untalented or even "stupid", though not in music. I know for a fact neither of things was true, so what went wrong?

Just what causes people to tune out and give up, or "disengage", is very VERY complicated.
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#2242877 - 03/07/14 09:04 PM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: Gary D.]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5903
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I was also a very serious brass player. Brass players are never required to play without music. Why? I don't know.
Same with woodwind, and to a lesser extent, strings. I accompany zillions of wind and string players for competitions, exams, auditions etc and very few of them play without the score.
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
So I do wonder about the focus. Most of us who make money playing will not do it playing solo recitals, from memory. smile
When I make money from solo playing it's usually a little solo spot in an ensemble concert. And I generally use the score. They still pay me. smile
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Du holde Kunst...

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#2243450 - 03/09/14 04:23 AM Re: My weaknesses become their strengths [Re: currawong]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: currawong
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I was also a very serious brass player. Brass players are never required to play without music. Why? I don't know.
Same with woodwind, and to a lesser extent, strings. I accompany zillions of wind and string players for competitions, exams, auditions etc and very few of them play without the score.
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
So I do wonder about the focus. Most of us who make money playing will not do it playing solo recitals, from memory. smile
When I make money from solo playing it's usually a little solo spot in an ensemble concert. And I generally use the score. They still pay me. smile

That fact is that MOST of the work pianists do is with scores, since most of us are not playing solo concerts and then supporting ourselves with what we make from that. smile
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