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#935647 - 12/10/03 04:36 AM Strategy for everyday practise
Sing Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 19
Loc: London
My son who will be nine years old the end this month has been learning piano for almost three years. I must say that he is not doing so badly. He is learning grade 5(8 grades for basic learners if I am not wrong) at the moment. But after I trolled along the Piano Forum, I feel that he may not have a strong foundation.

Over the last three years, he just practises the pieces he learnt everyday and only goes through scales and sight reading a month before the exams. I do think that he has problem with his fingers. I talked to his teacher but he told me that I should not be too fussy with a young child.

Another thing I am aware is that my son plays piano with no understanding. His plays piano like operating a computer keyboards although he did get merit for all his exam results. But my feeling is that he will never get better marks because he learns his piano so drastically.

I really wish piano teachers in this forum can give me some advises on how he should practise piano everyday and how to improve his feelings and understandings towards music. Thank you very much in advance. I am looking forward to your suggestions.

Sing
_________________________
Sing

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#935648 - 12/10/03 12:52 PM Re: Strategy for everyday practise
Archer1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/10/03
Posts: 41
Loc: texas
Hi Sing,

First of all, let me say that I am impressed that your nine year old is working on a grade 5 level. Here in the states - we don't have a grading system and students are not required to take examinations. From what I've read, about the grading system in Europe - a grade 5 would be at an intermediate level. I have several 9 year olds who are not even out of the elementary level.

I wouldn't be too concerned about your son having an understanding and feeling of music yet. He is just to young for this type of analysis. Understanding and interpretation will come later as he matures.

As for a foundatin in music, is your childs teacher teaching any type of theory? Theory is the foundation behind all music. I think that all students from the very beginning in lessons should be taught theory. A young student may not understand everything that is being taught in the beginning, but it will eventually click with them.

When it comes to practicing, practice habits must be taught on day one of lessons. Visit with your sons teacher to see if he has any specific ways that he would like his students to practice. All teachers will have different expectations when it comes to practicing.

The following are just a few of the practice suggestions that I give to my students.

1. Always start with a warm-up with some type of finger exercises. Whatever key their repetoir is in that they are working on - I have them transpose their finger exercises to that key.
2. Scales for two to three octaves depending on age of child. Also I have them work on whatever key we are working on in their repetoire.
3. Arpeggioes two to three octaves. Same as above concerning the key.
4. Before they work on a new piece. I have them color code the piece "neatly" with markers. Example: Circle the time signature in blue, outline all dynamics in red, circle all accidentals in green, put an orange checkmark above all measures containing scale passages, put small purple stars above measures that have arpegio passages in them, outline phrases in yellow, ect. This way the child is more visually aware of what is going on in their pieces.
5. Play right hand alone slowly.
6. Play left hand alone slowly.
7. Play both hands together slowly.
8. If their are any spots that gives the child trouble durring the playing of both hands, than the child is to put a bracket around those spots to be practiced on later.
9. Work on the different phrases alone from the rest of the music.
10. Work on dynamics.
11. After they have done this with their new piece, I emphasize the importance of going back and working on the trouble spots. I usually suggest a student to use a timer with troublespots. I usually suggest setting the timer for 10 minutes and have them focus completely on that trouble spot -playing the right hand over and over, than the left hand, than adding the two hands together. If they can play the troublespot successfully, than they can move on to the next trouble spot.
12. Sightread daily. This is a must for my students. I tell them if they know that they are not going to have any time to practice on a particular day, I still wanted them to sightread something even if it is only for five minutes. I have a lending library where the students can choose graded anthologies to sightread from. I think sightreading is an important skill that can not be ignored. This is why I require it daily even if the student does not have time for regular practice.

You mentioned that your sons playing seems to be mechanical. Is this because, he is having to play pieces that his teacher wants him to play. Or is he playing things for his own enjoyment. I always tell my students that after a successful, concetrated practice period to relax and spend 10 minutes playing what they really want to play such as pop, country, broadway, or a Beatles anthology, or just trying to do some improvisation for fun. This should hopefully get your son out of the mechanical mode.

I know other teachers will probably pop in with more advice. But what you really need to do, is to set up an appointment with your sons teacher and voice your concerns.
Blessings

Ruth

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#935649 - 12/10/03 01:24 PM Re: Strategy for everyday practise
Laura Too Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/03
Posts: 45
I disagree that he is too young to play with feeling. I teach my students from the very beginning to get a sense of the piece first by considering the title, the dynamics, the tempo marking "play mysteriously", "play joyfully", etc., from the words. I also teach them to practice phrase by phrase in some instances, using artistic technique - lifting gently, good articulation, etc. It's a lot in the beginning, but we talk about, try it, and then focus on what most needs attention. In time, all aspects will be correct and meaningful - that is, the student will play artistically and expressively.

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#935650 - 12/10/03 02:06 PM Re: Strategy for everyday practise
Archer1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/10/03
Posts: 41
Loc: texas
Laura Too,
Yes I agree with you. I interpreted Sings coments about understanding and feeling to come from an analytical standpoint. It can take a person months to years analysing a piece of music before they can fully understand the piece. In one of my graduate courses I'm taking this semester, were required to read and outline doctorate students dissertations in music. I've been spending this semester outlining a 1023 page dissertation on Mily Balakirv's monumental work "Ishmael". If I could come close to learning to analyze a piece of music with the depth of the author of this dissertation, I would considered myself a well educated person. But unfortunately I lack this skill and can only admire people who can find so much to talk about and analyze in a single piece of work. Currently, I am working on another outline for my master thesis in music theory which is due in March. I'm hoping that may paper will sound as scholary as the above mentioned paper. Thank goodness though, our papers requirement is only 50 to 75 pages.
But yes, I do agree with your comments and probably misinterpreted Sings coments.
Blessings

Ruth

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#935651 - 12/10/03 11:11 PM Re: Strategy for everyday practise
Candywoman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 857
I agree with Laura Too. My feeling is your son is doing too many exams. To do your teacher credit, I can imagine she is prioritizing the pieces over the technique for strategic reasons, to ensure that she will cover everything reasonably by exam time. My feeling is that if your son is not getting over 80% on the exam, not enough time was spent preparing for it. So I suggest longer lessons, or more frequent lessons. Ideally, I wouldn't bother with exams for another three years in your son's particular case. He needs to sing and play a wide variety of pieces.

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#935652 - 12/30/03 04:04 AM Re: Strategy for everyday practise
SPC001 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/02
Posts: 63
Loc: Singapore
I have seen many high grade players playing piano without emotions. Just plain mechanical playing. The above postings are for improving finger techniques and preparation. What I am posting here is more of suggestions to enhance a person's "feel" for music. Too often when we practise a music instrument, we can get into the technicality of it. Eg. paying lots of attention to playing correctly and flawlessly. We usually can forget feeling for the music. The whole idea about playing is to product music. Music should have emotions to be nice. Below are few tips to enhance the ability to create music with emotions:

1) listen to classical music, not just piano
2) when playing take note of expression signs in the pieces
3) read about the composer, the work and under what circumstance the work is composed
4) find out what the composer wants the work to be played, can get this through good recordings from great masters/pianists.
5) record the playing and play back. Only then you can spot areas for improvements.
6) see how others perform the piece you practise. Note the difference.

I listen to lots of classical music to realise this after many years of mechnical playing.
;\)

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#935653 - 01/22/04 11:51 PM Re: Strategy for everyday practise
iteachlifeskills Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 23
Loc: Toronto, ON Canada
Too many people, at least here in the Toronto area, put far too much emphasis on the almighty examination. So much so, they seem to equate passing a particular level with achievement. Here is "A True Tale of Two Students". Most experienced teachers will know this to be all too true!
====================================
Johnny has been playing piano for five years. And just recently he passed his grade eight exam... barely.

You see, in his hurry - (or more correctly, in his parentís hurry) - to achieve his certificate, he skipped a grade or two and learned only the five exam pieces (the minimum requirements) for each grade. He never really liked any of the songs he had to play.

He learned his pieces mostly by rote and quickly memorized them, mistakes and all. He never developed any reading skills, let alone the patience to master and perfect his performance.

After five years of study he can only play his few exam pieces. Two weeks from now he wonít even remember those pieces.

Today is the day Johnny has been looking forward to for a long time because finally his parents are allowing him to QUIT. From this day forward, he has vowed to never touch the piano again! You can be sure he wonít!

But hey, he passed his grade eight exam! Congratulations are in order, right?
***************
Suzy has also been playing for five years and she is now in grade five. Her parents want her to enjoy music for life. For them, exam certificates are meaningless without the love or ability to play music.

They found a teacher who gives Suzy a system to help develop some basic reading and listening skills. With supreme patience, the teacher shows Suzy how to apply that system to explore the types of songs she will enjoy playing the most.

With her teacher and parentís encouragement, Suzy slowly, steadily, and surely gains confidence and pride in her ability to build and maintain an extensive and varied repertoire of songs that she loves to play.

Today Suzy performs for just about anyone, anywhere. She is the first to volunteer to play at school and at church. When guests visit her home, she can entertain them literally for hours.

Suzy will share this gift for the rest of her life!
==========================

The question remains: Would you rather be a 'Johnny' or a 'Suzy'?

I make it quite clear to my students and their parents, "I don't want no Johnnys!"

Instilling the love of music and learning in Toronto,
Russ

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