Archive for the ‘Music Education’ Category

evansI listened to a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s 1979 interview of Jazz Great Bill Evans. I am so happy to have found the link to the interview because there are some comments made by Mr. Evans that are absolutely priceless and incredibly insightful. I am listening to it as I type.  My readers who are jazz musicians will appreciate some of the funny comments made in the interview too.

Marian was surprised to learn that Bill played wedding gigs. He said, “Of course!” somewhat surprised that someone would think he was not out there doing the same things the rest of us do. And in all fairness, I think most of us forget that the top jazz stars were at one time the great unknowns. :)

“Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.”

Bill’s comments resonate with me at this time because I am one month into a four month commitment to take jazz lessons from former University of North Texas Professor Dan Hearle. His bio is at the link.  During his career he has taught untold numbers of jazz students. The fact that I am taking lessons from him should in no way elevate my reputation, anyone can take lessons – you just need to pay the tuition. But Bill Evans’ comments about jazz struck a chord with me, (a b9b13 is you must know!) :)

Bill spoke about the importance of knowing the fundamentals of a piece. How often have I jumped right into a piece and started soloing on the changes, never giving the tune a good fundamental examination. Dan Hearle is right in line with Evans’ comment. There is a melody. There is a chord. There is a scale. “Oh, you mean I am supposed to pay attention to that?” I think.  Bill says that after you have those fundamentals down, you can “move around”, and then he plays a few examples – and of course, I have no idea what he is doing, but even I can grasp the notion of being firmly rooted in the fundamentals of a piece. And I am encouraged, because even an intermediate player can – and seemingly must – learn the fundamentals of the piece.

Bill’s comment finds its way home when he adds that “Intuition without knowledge is out there by itself.” I am listening to the program again so I can get the exact quote. (See below). It was priceless. Improvisation, so says Bill, is 90% knowledge and 10% intuition. If you don’t have the knowledge, the intuition isn’t going to be enough. And Bill really got to know a piece. Marian reminded him that he once said, “I would rather play one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in an hour.” Bill laughed in agreement.

“Have a complete picture of the basic structure” before you work from there. Structure is the “abstract, theoretical thing” in a piece. He plays C to its dominant G7, and he is thinking about a pedal point so he can set up the “thing” — and then he plays a bit — “Now again [music plays] now we are going to modulate to E major, now we have to get back to C through its dominant” and so on….

And it is just awesome to sit here listening to Bill explain how he plays. I am LOVING this.

bill-evansI have heard that Bill Evans was  a microscopic player. He knew every nuance of the piece. That is what his music reveals, but it is the PROCESS of moving from the fundamentals to a base of knowledge, then contemplation of the abstractions, and then “moving around”.  The product grows.

Marian said that a lot of musicians really don’t know the pieces they are playing, and Bill agreed and nailed the point with:  “Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.” (That’s the exact quote. I was close!).  “If it’s on its own, you’re going to flounder sooner or later.” Students need to know that, Bill says. “Knowing the problem is 90% of solving it.”

“The problem is to be clear and get down to basic structure.”

Of course, when we listen to one of the jazz greats there isn’t much to prompt us to remember that what we are hearing is based on a strong awareness of the basic structure, the “problem”, and the additive process the artist went through to develop the tune. Sure, I might practice one tune for 24 hours, but Bill Evans – with his level of talent –  is going to get more out of that practice session than I would. But that isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that I will get more out of my music if I follow the same ritual. it might not sound as good as Bill Evans (guaranteed!) but it will sound a whole heck of a lot better than what I doing when I just opened the Real Book and started jamming.

“Get back to the basics.” How many times have we heard that in all types of situations. We get so far down the road – lost, muddled in despair – and someone reminds us, “Get back to the basics. Review the fundamentals.” Sure enough, intuition was out there by itself, and the syncopated rhythms, long miserable lines, the poor voicings are the sounds of floundering, not jazz.

If you’re a jazz pianist, you are already listening to the show. If you’re not, let me tempt you one more time.  It’s a window into the music of Bill Evans – a voice from the past, with good advise for your future. And for a little inspiration from our time, listen to Dan Hearle’s live performance of his new CD, with some insights from other musicians.

Advertisements

Ten Rules for Successful Piano Practice

  1. Concentrate every moment of your practice time.
  2. Always practice systematically.
  3. Always practice slowly at first.
  4. Do not practice too long at one time.
  5. Remember that the mind must govern all muscular motion.
  6. Always listen intently to your own playing.
  7. Always maintain a correct and comfortable position while at the keyboard.
  8. Determine one fingering, and do not permit yourself to employ any other until the piece has been mastered.
  9. Always practice in strict time.
  10. Devote a portion of the practice time each day to memorizing.

Your list of ten rules might differ so let me add the weight of credibility and authority to this one. This list was compiled in 1909 by The Etude, “a monthly journal for the musician, the music student, and all music lovers.”  The list was republished in the August 1919, ten years after it first appeared in an issue in 1909. Ninety-four years hence, it appears in my blog. If you have not read even a single issue of The Etude, you are missing some of the most beautiful prose ever written about music.

August 1919 issue of The Etude.

August 1919 issue of The Etude.

The ten rules were compiled from letters written by Mrs. Bloomfield Zeisler, Miss Amy Fay , Mr. J. J. Hattstaedt, Mr. L. G. Heinze, Mr. Perless V. Jervis, Mr. Alexander Lambert, Mr. B. J. Land, Mr. Emil Liebling, Mr. E. R. Kroeger, Mr. F. H. Sheperd,  Mme. Marie von Unschuld, Mr. Charles E. Watt, Mr. Leopold Winkler, Mr. Francis L. York, and Mr. J. de Zielinski.

The opinions of the members of the following group of “eminent pianists, teachers and conservatory heads” were solicited and published on pages that followed.

Oscar Beringer, Le Roy B. Campbell, J. Lawrence Erb, Percy Grainger, Rudolph Ganz, Edwin Hughes, Helen Hopekirk, Clayton Johns, Alexander Lambert, John Orth, Eugenio di Pirani, Arthur Shattuck, Hans Schneider, Constantin von Sternberg.

[Note: The links above go to videos, books, bios when available.  When read in sum, they provide a glimpse of a very interesting age of piano pedagogy and performance.]

 

From the Etude 1919, the list of contributors to the Ten Rules for Successful Piano Practice

From the Etude 1919, the list of contributors to the Ten Rules for Successful Piano Practice

 

 

I am responding to this blog at Dallas School of Music which asks the question “What is a Music Educator?”

I cannot imagine how many different kinds of music educators are out there working to help people discover music, but I am guessing that most people would not immediately consider a piano tuner as a music educator.

What’s in A Name?

In business, the name we embrace is largely market driven. It is important to communicate to people, and part of that communication depends on their perceptions. I am a family musical education consultant, but that name does not communicate that I am a piano tuner. People are most familiar with the name “piano tuner” so that is what I use most often.  However, even the name “piano tuner” is not always understood to mean that I am also a piano technician, a piano restorer, a woodworker, a synthesizer technician, a bench repairer or a piano appraiser. I provide a lot of services based on my experience. I am also a music educator but most people would not regard me that way.

A Link in the Network

I provide an important link in the network of music educators. I am accessible. I am often asked to recommend a teacher, a piano dealer, a brand of piano, and many other piano related products. Second to a piano teacher, I have more contact with the members of each family – more than manufacturers, retailers and every other teacher who is not teaching students in that particular household.

What is Your Family Music Curriculum?

I field questions from my clients. New piano buyers ask me if they bought a good piano. They want me to validate that they made a good buying decision. They ask me what they should do when their children lose interest in piano lessons. We talk about the difference between a State mandated core curriculum and a family designed core curriculum.  That is, I explain that just because the State does not require piano lessons as part of the required curriculum, there is no reason why a family cannot add lessons to their family core curriculum.

If I add all of these subjects together, I feel pretty certain that I fall into a unique category as a music educator. There are a lot of people who do some of what I do, but no other person in the music educator network does everything that a piano tuner does.

What I Teach

I teach kids about their instrument. I open the magic box and show them how it works. We look at the foot pedals, the piano wires, I encourage them to touch the hammers, to move them and watch how the hammer strikes the piano wire. I teach them about room acoustics and how a tuning fork vibrates on a hard surface (like a wall) and not on a soft surface (like a carpet).  It might surprise you to learn how many piano students have never seen a tuning fork. For older students, I demonstrate what a harmonic sounds like, and show how different harmonics can cause an unstruck wire to vibrate sympathetically.

Yes, There Will be A Pop-Quiz

I ask them to play their song, the one they are working on. Usually, even the shy children will not hesitate when I ask them to play. I am an audience. I ask for pop-quiz recitals. If there is a young child in the family who is not yet taking lessons, I might teach him or her how to play chopsticks, to the wonder and amazement of the parent. In that light, I create new students.

Setting the Example

I try to set a good example. I want my clients and their children to have a positive experience with their piano tuner. The network of music educators depends on everyone in that network being a good role model. I know that music teachers do this. Band directors do it. School teachers do it. I expect it from other parents when they interact with my child, and I embrace the obligation of good parenting each and every time I interact with the children of my clients.

A Proud Member of the Network of Music Educators

I enjoy many teachable moments with children. Although I do not teach them how to play the piano, I still think it would be okay to think of myself as a music educator. I enjoy my job very much. Every visit to a home is very endearing. I know I am an important link in the music education process and that gives me a deep sense of personal satisfaction. I think the name “Family Music Consultant” is a better name for what I do, but few people would understand what that means. Instead, I just stick with the name “piano tuner”, a 300 year old profession that affords me the opportunity to be of service to people who are enjoying the wonderful journey of musical education.