Piano PerformanceFor most of my students, the basic repertoire is the Suzuki repertoire. (Transfer and adult students may learn different repertoire, depending upon the student’s background and interest.). We supplement the Suzuki literature with other repertoire, depending upon the level of the student, the interest of the student, and even seasonal considerations (holiday songs, etc.). I also encourage students to learn and perform any of their own compositions.
We talk a lot about how to practice consciously and how to tackle problems the student may run across. I hope to help the student identify how she best learns (visually, kinesthetically, and aurally) and enable the student to take advantage of her particular strengths and build new strengths. I hope to help train the student's aural, visual, and kinesthetic abilities when applied to music.
I encourage conscious music interpretation by the student by teaching the fundamentals of music's melodic, harmonic, and pitch structure and how they apply to performance.
I encourage conscious awareness of technique and body-feedback. A student should find the facility needed to create the desired performance and avoid habits that can damage their bodies.
Reading and WritingJust as students learn to read and write a language, students will learn to read and write music. Over time, they will learn to sight read effectively, read any clef, transpose music on sight, and silently hear what they read on the page. They will also be able to notate what they hear, memorize, or compose. I encourage students to use reading and writing music as an aid to memorization complementary to using the aural and kinesthetic memory skills we already have.
Because learning to read music can hamper a child's early abilities to learn the techniques of an instrument, Suzuki music instructors typically delay reading until the early repertoire and technique has been mastered. I do not delay the teaching of reading, but I do delay teaching to read at the piano. I start teaching reading as soon as the child is ready, but we start reading with clapping and singing. The child will naturally bring the reading to the piano when she is ready.
SingingSinging is an important part of my lessons. A child who can sing a piece can imagine it and hear it inside their head. We will use singing in learning how to read music and in how to recognize music. If a child has difficulty singing and matching pitch, we will teach the child how to sing.
Hearing and UnderstandingMust Suzuki students already have developed a good ear for music. We also will explore the fundamentals of intervals (melodic and harmonic), harmonies, modes, tonality shifts, and rhythms. We will explore how listeners perceive these fundamental elements and how they affect the music that uses them.
Rhythm and MeterStudents will develop a strong sense of rhythm and meter, so that they can recognize what they hear and understand how it affects the interpretation and perception of music. We will also explore the kinesthetic approach to rhythm by doing Dalcroze-like exercises. This includes tapping, clapping, walking, running, swinging, swaying, singing, humming, and playing with they eyes closed.
Theory and AnalysisMuch of what I discuss above already falls within the subject of Theory and Analysis. Understanding the theories about how music is perceived and constructed will help the student hear better, memorize more easily, and perform more musically.
Improvisation and CompositionIf, as Suzuki says, music is like a child's Mother Tongue, then we should encourage all of our students to be creative within this second language. I believe that all of us can (and should!) improvise and compose music, if only to grasp better why a composer has written a particular piece of music in a particular way.
We spend time improvising together and individually. Source materials for improvisation may be original or come from the student's repertoire. The younger students start improvising with question and answer clapping and singing. As the student advances, we discuss techniques and tricks that can be used for more sophisticated improvisation.
All of my students, from beginners to advanced, are asked to create their own compositions. Students learn about the composition process very early on and are challenged to write age-appropriate compositions every year. Wherever possible, we use the student's repertoire as models for the discussion of form, development, and other elements of composition. Students will have the opportunity to play their own compositions on recitals.
Music HistoryMusic history is an important part of music training. It provides context and insight to the music of the past. The younger students are exposed to the composers and their lives, while the older students have the opportunity to do research papers, plays, or other creative projects about composers or musical eras.
RecitalsThe student will have multiple opportunities during the year to participate in recitals, playing pieces that have recently been prepared and polished. Attendees of the recitals will hear students at different levels playing different works. I strongly believe that recitals should be kept to under 1 hour long.
Suzuki students will also have the opportunity to perform what are called "Book Recitals." These solo recitals typically are held in the student's home when the student has completed a volume of the Suzuki repertoire. At the recital, the student will play all of the pieces in the book just completed plus any other pieces the student may wish to play, including original compositions.
Love of MusicAbove all, I hope to teach to my students a profound love of music — something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives, regardless of whether or not they become professional musicians.
Correlation of All SubjectsIt may look like I am endeavoring to cover many different subjects with the student. However, the material of each subject discussed above has a large overlap with the other subjects. In addition, I will be presenting the material over many years of study. Discussing something from one subject area easily covers much of what I would want to discuss in another subject.
I see the study of music easily broken down into a few areas:
• How we perceive music
• How music is constructed
• How we interpret music
• How we physically play music
I try to help the student approach music from both ends of my list. On one end, I show the young student the physical basics of playing the piano, with an emphasis on proper form and good tone. On the other end, I ask the student to use her ear right from the very first lesson. We quickly dive into hearing and singing intervals, melodies, and rhythms. Over the years, we will continue to add layers of information on all of the components of music. We will be refining the details of physically playing the piano and be building skills and understandings of how music is perceived and constructed. We will apply each new layer of understanding towards musical interpretation.