teaching phrasing

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i have a student that just doesn't know how to phrase music, he just plunks through what could be a gorgeous piece without any emotion or phrasing whatsoever. he enjoys learning new pieces of music, but he doesn't enjoy perfecting a piece of music. right now we are working on phrasing mainly. i've given example after example, anology after anology. this past week, i even had him sing some of it, thinking maybe he would phrase if he thought of the melody as a song, still didn't work. does anyone have any ideas or thoughts on what to do? he's quite talented and he does work hard, he just doesn't enjoy perfecting his pieces which i think is part of the problem as well. thanks for any advice!

-- jen carley (jen_carley@yahoo.com), September 13, 2003


What method series are you using? The Faber Piano Adventures series includes Technique and Artistry books that might help. Then again, it might be his age. I was the same way for years when I was a kid and then one day it just clicked. This is debatable but maybe you could try getting him to include the dynamics/phrasing/emtion from the start of studying a piece. I don't usually teach this way because I don't want to overwhelm my students but it's a thought. Maybe at least looking at the title and discussing what it means in terms of mood, etc. Especially in a theme piece, like a halloween piece, that might be effective. You could get him to think of a story that he is telling with the music. Certain motives could represent certain characters, settings etc. I guess I'm thinking more of dynamics than of phrasing but maybe helping him to look at him songs in a different way could help him see a bigger picture.

Just some thoughts. Good luck.

-- anon (noname_poster@yahoo.com), September 17, 2003.

Continuation of last answer...

I had another idea. You could guide him in writing his own composition(s) that he would approach from the story angle first and then create the music. What I mean is that he would come up with a story, scenario, mood, scene or whatever and then figure out how to portray that musically. Another way at getting him to look at the bigger musical picture.

-- anon (noname_poster@yahoo.com), September 17, 2003.

Hmmm, I wonder what he thinks about piano-playing? Maybe he thinks "emoting" is too superficial, showoffy, acting. When I was a kid I was too shy to emote much at the piano. To this day I couldn't possibly be an actor for a hobby or a living, and I don't wear flashy clothes. But at least I've opened up somewhat at the piano and can emote for the sake of the music. That has come from taking risks and building my self-confidence. I had a girl piano student once who was like your student. Everything plunked noisily, at top speed, little rhythm, downright unpleasant to listen to. One day I told her how impressed I was that she worked so hard to get all the right notes. But, I said, that is simply just not the way this piece is supposed to sound. This section should sound like this...and I played it for her. I said that is so different from the way it sounds when you play it--I wonder if you are able to play it the way I did? And she would try, back and forth we would go over the phrase as she tried to imitate the way I played. It was a long haul, and I demonstrated everything for her. She seemed to improve, but they moved away so I don't know what happened after that. I guess it's either a personality thing, like it was with me, or a listening issue--the student needs to listen to a good performance, then listen carefully to himself.

-- another anon (noname_poster@yahoo.com), October 18, 2003.

I reread my above post and realize that I sounded tactless, but I had been tactful with the girl for a year or two. You know, "this is a lullaby, sing me to sleep," and "this is a gentle breeze swishing through leaves," etc., and still plunk, plunk, oh, my ears! So I decided it was time to be blunt. The way you play the notes is as important as the notes themselves in performing the piece RIGHT, otherwise it is WRONG. That idea will work for a kid who has a bit of a competitive streak, or a right/wrong, or type-A kind of person. If the person is overly sensitive it might be too harsh, but maybe a sensitive-type wouldn't be playing like that in the first place. I don't know. Anyway, you have to know the child and tread carefully.

-- another anon (noname_poster@yahoo.com), October 22, 2003.

In addition to the postings above, help your student to appreciate the harmonic progression that makes up phrases: that there is a beginning, a swelling or development and a settling at the end of the phrase. These are things that a student need to know so he/she could listen out for in recreating phrases.

-- June Ryan (jrsm@ipasifika.net), December 29, 2003.

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