Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Favorite Piano Teaching Tips from Helen Marlais Workshop

I love picking up fresh ideas and important reminders from any piano teaching workshop I have the privilege of attending.  Following are a few ideas from my notes at Dr. Marlais seminar:

Technique
  • Remember to focus on the entire playing mechanism (fingers, wrists, forearm, shoulders).  Just as a runner uses more than just their feet to run, a pianist plays with more than just their fingers. Continually reiterate the importance of arm weight (relaxed shoulders) weight transfer (flexible wrists).
  • Prescription for fixing 'finger dents' - Tap rhythms with a curved hand instead of clapping or do finger pushups against the wall for warmups.
  • For  appropriate balance  in pieces with Left Hand melody stand behind the student and ghost-play on their shoulders with exaggerated arm weight in the left hand so they can FEEL the weight emphasis as they play.
  • To teach 2-note slurs wrist motion analogy- pull a tissue from a tissue box.
  • To help students focus on wrist motion at phrase endings (2 note slurs or "rainbows" across several octaves) add a pony tail holder with a ball on top & have them watch the bunny tail hop up at the end of each phrase.  I thought some of my girl students would like this better than my airplane wings wrist movement tool
  • To focus on arm leading while playing ascending scales imagine a string attached to your right elbow pulling it slightly ahead of your hand.
  • Variations of Staccato - For a crisper sound use  a "kick-off" wrist where arm and wrist stay as one unit.  Rebound staccato is more like a bouncing a basketball with a flexible "push-off" wrist.
Theory
  • Tonic (I) is Home where "I" live, Dominant (V) is a "V" for vacation, Leading Tone (visualize a road) leading back to Home (I)
  • Intervallic Reading + Rhythmic Awareness - Line up interval flashcards and have students name them to the beat of the metromone (Up- 2nd, Down-4th, Down-3rd, Up-5th, etc.)
Rhythm
  • When introducing 6/8 time have student sway on the strong beats while chanting the words to the song (1,2,3,   4,5,6,)
Performance Anxiety
  • To reduce perfectionistic tendencies, don't focus too closely or get anxious over small imperfections.  Even a garden that looks great from afar may have small holes in the leaves from bugs but it still leaves a beautiful impression :)
Dr. Marlais showcased her new method series "Succeeding at the Piano." Following are a few of my favorite aspects of this new series.
  • Emphasis on intervallic reading & guide notes
  • Technique concepts introduced through multiple analogies
  • Books come with accompanying CD's including practice tips, performance speeds and orchestration 
A few of her other publications that I enjoy are:

In Recital with Jazz, Blues & Rags - The pieces in the early level books are so fun for students and make a great introduction to jazz styles.  I also love the accompanying CDs.
Succeeding with the Masters Series  Although I don't have any students ready to try these yet, I find the Practice Strategies & Historical & stylistic information accompanying each piece to be very helpful which sets them apart from some other collections of classical repertoire I was instructed with.  The supporting CD helps to clarify concepts so the student can hear examples of the skills applying to each piece. It's like bringing your piano teacher home with you to demonstrate appropriate practice :)
Currently one of the most viewed post on my blog is the Lab Assignment I created to go with In Recital with Classical Themes Volume 1, so obviously some other teachers are a fan of this series as well.

Good Things:
Adding new teaching tricks to my bag
Browsing through new music
My Amazing Husband who took the day off and took our 6 kids to the zoo I could attend this!
Sunny Summer Days

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