Dr. N.A.N.'s Blog

News, views, and how the world skews from San Antonio, Texas

Archive for July, 2008

I’m not napping, I’m listening

The other day while teaching a lesson, I noticed that my responses to the student’s performance seemed instinctive—I wasn’t pondering the situation like I have been known to do on so many other occasions. Now, it is possible that this instinct is actually the product of the thousands of piano lessons I have had and the endless hours of practicing (or banging my head against the wall). Regardless, my most inspired teaching seems immediate and without hesitation. I respond to what I hear and see. Sometimes, I’ll close my eyes to hear better. (On those occasions, I do reassure my student that I’m not napping.) I also find that asking questions of the student gives me insight into his or her way of thinking about the music. Questions I typically ask are: what color do you hear? Do you have a scene or image in mind while you are playing this piece? If not, do you hear dialogue? (I sometimes hear dialogue but not specific words—just inflection, rhythm (anger, sadness, joy, inquiry)) Answers to these questions help me guide the student to play with greater clarity.

Piano technique

I would describe my technical approach to piano playing as a combination of the Dorothy Taubman technique, the John Perry technique and an invention of my own ears.  I think technique should be the servant of the ears. So often, I hear pianists who have chops to burn but no discernible musical ideas. For example, a pianist came to our school and played a recital filled with very technically demanding pieces. As the program wore on (and I mean wore), my ears grew tired and I found myself searching for other things to think about so that I could leave the hall without actually going anywhere. Each successive piece got faster and louder until the piano was literally quaking on its dolly. The piano wasn’t just out-of-breath, it was exhausted. And what did this pianist accomplish? Not much. I want my students to listen and not just hear what they are playing. Often, during a lesson, I will ask, “What do you hear when you listen to this passage? Do you hear dialogue or do you see an image?” By insisting that they actively listen, the music and thus the performance becomes purposeful.