Student blooms musically

Student blooms musically

Best compliment I ever received (from a fellow musician) following a student recital:

“Your students made music—they didn’t just play notes, they played musically.”

I tucked it away in my heart, and I pull it out every so often. This is my highest goal for students. I have lots of goals for them, but none compare. I want students of piano to have a fine, rounded hand shape and non-collapsing knuckles—but it would be pointless if the music didn’t come from inside them at some point. I want them to practice till they are note-perfect—but I’d rather hear a few klinkers in a piece played with the whole heart than a flawless robot-like rendition.

But how do we get them from playing or singing halting, stilted notes—or even perfect notes—to making musical magic? Can it be taught, or only caught? Or must it simply grow to maturity?

Guitar PlanterMy present thought is that I can teach all the components that go into a beautifully musical performance, but something has to happen deep inside the student. It’s like a seed. I must amend its soil, cultivate it, fertilize it, remove weeds, water it, warm it, show it the sun… but I cannot force it to grow and bloom. The things I provide all go in, but what comes out is beyond my control.                                                                 

Before music happens, students must hear the real deal. Heart-felt performances by other musicians (try youtube, or better yet, encourage your students to attend concerts—oh, and don’t forget to demonstrate it yourself!). They must hear about the real deal, too. Awareness helps. I tell about and show them the details that go into it. If there are lyrics, we talk about how we’d say or sing them. The high points and low points, any surprises. We talk about how music makes us feel, and why. I tell them they have the capacity to move their audience, to entertain them. Or maybe they are their own audience—can they play so movingly that it affects their own emotions? Do they throw themselves into it?

I love it when the student reaches the point where I can say, “Excellent. You have the notes down perfectly. Now let’s make music!”

What do you think? Can making music be taught, caught, or must it be grown? How do you get your students to blossom–to do more than simply play notes on a page?

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How do you get your student to be self motivated and to enjoy practicing their song? Harder still, how do you encourage them to play their pieces with musical feeling, especially if the student is a young child, a distracted teenager or a busy adult? I have learnt that they need to make an emotional connection with their piece. But how do you make possible the sometimes seemingly impossible? Easy! Let me share some of my tried and tested methods for accessing the ‘Story Behind the Song.’

1 Personal responsibility

Wherever possible, I let the student choose their next piece! Sometimes, if I have a certain technique in mind that needs developing, I will offer them a choice between two or three songs that I know will help them in that endeavour. Importantly, this will also make them feel in charge by choosing the final piece. Because THEY are deciding, they are more likely to succeed because they have taken personal responsibility for some of their learning decisions.

2 Inspiration

I like to give them a personal performance of their chosen piece to show them simply what a great composition they have chosen and how much FUN their piece is for ME. I ask them to sit in my chair where I can maintain good eye contact with  [···]

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