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Development of musical abilities

Development of musical abilities, creative thinking of students and cardinal principles of piano/keyboard instrument teaching.

1) Musical preferences and principles of teaching.
2) Piano-playing posture.
3) Rhythm, rhythm practice.
4) Ear training.
    a) Intervals.
    b) Melody.
    c) Key and Harmony.
    d) Dynamics, Timbre, Register.
5) Hand position at the piano.
6) Reading notes, the ABC of music.
7) Development of memory.
8) Pedals.
9) Reaching self-reliance and freedom.
10) Independent work.
11) Picking out by ear.
12) Improvisation and Composition.

Paul Dubrovsky

1) Before starting a work with your student regardless of his/her age, first of all you should inquire what music he/she prefers. It applies to both the musical style (classical music, jazz, pop-music, rock etc.) and the general feeling itself. With such kind of information, you will easily succeed in finding a common language with your student and in teaching process itself, getting the best results in the shortest period. Anyhow, you shouldn’t hurry because each student has his/her own peculiarities. It’s necessary to find out the most convenient working pace for your student and to start something new only after the previous material has really stuck in the student’s mind. Should any questions on the old material arise, you must clear everything up as even the smallest details can become a serious obstacle and as a result cause a loss of work and a student’s disappointment. That’s why you should always remember of individual approach and take into account everything – age, preferences, inclinations and diligence.

2) I must attract you attention to a very important fact: you shouldn’t sit at the piano haphazardly as playing the piano is a work. That’s why it’s necessary to show a correct piano playing posture to a student, taking into account his/her height, of course. We mean the distance from the instrument. Sitting too close may cause a stoop and a further constraint; sitting too far will make the playing in the last registers inconvenient. Even if a beginner plays well in the middle register, you should train him/her for a correct piano playing posture. A piano chair must be hard enough, without a back and armrests.

3) So, we have found out what kind of music a student likes and he/she knows the correct piano playing posture. Before placing the hands on the keyboard it’s necessary to check the sense of rhythm. You may just ask a student to tap or clap his/her favorite melody. On the assumption of that you may understand how to develop a sense of rhythm, what to accent. After gaining the sense of a strong beat and accents your student will have some extra advantages in studying and his/her self-discipline will develop. It’s very nice to use a metronome and a “samogray” (polyphonic synthezator and sequencer). In case you use a “samogray” you should properly choose the style of the piece of music which your student is going to study.

4) Some people say they are tone-deaf. In reality everybody has an ear for music but some have a good one by nature, others need a bit of training. We assure you that a constant and purposeful work will be fruitful indeed. Besides, you should pay special attention to finding out whether your student has an absolute pitch. You may learn that from the very beginning or maybe later; anyhow, if your student has an absolute pitch it will be necessary to be very attentive to it as it’s one of the “trump cards” of a musician and helps him/her to pick out any tune by ear and to improvise.
a) The ear training should be started from developing of the ability to hear intervals (within a frame of an octave). Please don’t hurry.
b) It’s better to begin with simple tunes well-known for the student (again, within the frame of 1 octave).
c) Key and harmony may be considered the serious pieces of theory. Anyway, even the beginners should be familiarized with them. You should start with the simplest things like major/minor key, various kinds of chords sounding etc. Later on it would be reasonable to combine in the ear training exercises the tasks connected with the ability to hear different intervals and chords, using the tunes familiar for your student.
d) The realization of the above-mentioned in various registers with different dynamics and timbre may be called the closing stage. It gives a student the possibility to understand how different the same music can sound only because of different rendering.

5) When doing the simplest exercises in picking out tunes by ear or in playing from music, one must pay a special attention to the hands position. Proper hands position in combination with proper piano playing posture is a guarantee of success in achievement of fluency. The strength of fingers, “lightness” (but not looseness) of the wrist deserves a special attention. Later on, the exercises as well as musical compositions must be chosen, taking into account the fact that a student should be able to easily combine 2 types of play – when his/her hands are close in the middle register and when they diverge.

6) Reading musical notes in treble and bass clef, the fourth-fifth circle, various chords – all these things must be studied together with ear training and fluency exercises. I recommend a textbook by Sposobin “The Elementary Theory of Music”, containing the necessary basic information without which you can’t teach and study. Of course, the theory can’t be without practice. The exercises and compositions chosen for practicing may give a good picture of how it all works. Without practice you will have only an unnecessary swot.

7) There are people playing “by ear” without any notes knowledge. Some think that it’s too late for them to learn notes, others are sure that they can easily do without reading notes. Unfortunately, all of them are wrong. I have no doubts that these people as a rule have a good memory for music which allows them to pick out tunes by ear, having heard a tune even once. Anyhow, it would be much better to know theory and to develop memory. These two things don’t hinder each other at all. I would recommend to start with simple tunes, asking your student to hum as neatly as possible the tune he/she has just heard and only after that to work with the keyboard. Later you can get down to more difficult, unknown music, little by little increasing the length of a piece for learning by heart.

8) The pedals are “a trump” of the piano. Nevertheless, it has both advantages and disadvantages (the last ones only if to use it in a wrong way). Many beginners want to start using it as soon as possible forgetting that sometimes the best is the enemy of good. Taking into account all that, it’s recommended to start working with pedals only when a student can play the composition well enough (better without music). In this case you can concentrate properly on the right foot. Too much of pedals results in some inaccuracy, blurriness of playing. Very often a tune is better without sound prolongation; the fast abating of music is more expressive and full of sense. So, you should use the pedals “in proper dosage”.

9) Scales and arpeggio are 2 basic exercises for fluency, rapidity development. There is a great deal of them. One shouldn’t abuse the usage of fast tempo and pedals. Trying fast tempo (1-2 times) may be used only after learning the composition in a slow one, after playing it without any mistakes. Too much of fast tempo may result in inaccuracy of playing, losing of sharpness. It is rather dangerous. Using pedals, though hiding some defects, isn’t a panacea; it’s better for a student to be honest with him/herself and to practice without pedals first (if he/she is not on a stage). Also, a student may get a so-called “keyboard phobia” as a result of some technical mistakes and failures. It is an anxiety for playing a note in a wrong way. If it happens, you should do your best to get rid of this phobia, because it’s impossible for a student to succeed in anything in such a condition. Only self-discipline, the antipode of a “keyboard phobia” can result in reaching the student’s aims.

10) If your student doesn’t work independently, all your efforts will be fruitless. It is strongly recommended to a student to avoid playing in a bad mood or being tired. Besides, a student must understand the aim of his/her studies, the work content. If a student is short of time and can’t learn something new or work on the old material, it’s necessary at least to find time for “refreshing” of the things already known. For example, one may practice 30 minutes a day every day - it will be more useful than practicing an hour and a half 2 times a week. Stability is a guarantee of a progress in studying. If a student has questions and uncertainty when working independently, it will be wise to suggest a student clearing everything up at the next lesson (if it’s impossible to explain by phone). It is very easy to learn something erroneously and very hard to correct that.

11) When a student is really familiar with a theory of music, with play tricks and has a well-trained ear we may go over to picking out a favorite tune. This process has its own teaching peculiarities, but it is really necessary. A musician shouldn’t be “tied to notes”. There may be cases when it’s necessary to play by ear, right now. Picking tunes out is a kind of creative work and it may really depend on endowments. Sure, a student can be coached for picking out as the structure of many popular songs is the same. The more you pick out, the sooner will understand that.

12) After reaching some success in picking out, in music theory a student may try to improvise – to step a bit aside from the original without losing its integrity. This work is more creative than playing scales and arpeggio; but I think it all the same would be better to give some elementary advices to prevent a student from “re-inventing the wheel”. Besides, we should try to induce the student to create something original - what if we have a future Mozart??? We may, for example, suggest composing a tune using some popular chord sequence. However, it’s very hard to give unequivocal advices on composer’s gift developing.

The above-mentioned information is only a review and contains just basic aspects of teaching.