Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Timothy Brown Piano Workshop Notes

I look forward to attending local piano workshops every summer because I always pick up some new ideas and great reminders to help refresh my teaching skills.  Following is a mixture of both the content of Mr. Brown's presentation with a few of my own inspirations added in.
Tips for Teaching Composition
  • Set Parameters. Some examples that came to my mind include 
    • Intro-Melody-Ending (have them tell a story with music)
    • Major or minor
    • Limit to notes from a specific scale
    •  Specify form (ABA or A A1A2 A3,)
    •  Set melody to specific rhythm patterns
    •  Utilize a specific bass pattern (blocked chords, broken chords, open fifths, arpeggios, walking bass continuo)
    • Repeat the melodic theme in at least 3 different octaves on the keys
    • Specify cadences of sections to end on (Which phrase sounds more like an ending to you?)
    • Specify dynamics (Include 3 different dynamic levels or include a decrescendo)
    • Encourage use of different articulations (Can you include 3 accents in your song? What if you created a legato A section with a staccato B section?)
  • Understanding Form and Structure lays the groundwork for composition. ABA great way to start.  Changing the left hand to a contrasting rhythm pattern or texture is effective for the B section.
  • Give students an energetic rhythm pattern (like tango), specify a scale.  Then have them write letter names for the melody they compose.
  • Point out cadences
Montessori Approach Reminders
  • Internalization through games and discovery My goal this year is to incorporate some type of game or off the bench activity in every lesson.
  • "Optimism lies at the bottom of  progress and good teaching." (from Constructive Teaching section of article by Emil Sauer "Progress in Music Study").
  • Be cheerful, the student should leave feeling accomplished.
  • Be observant of the sensitivity of the child and their readiness to learn various concepts.
  • Mr. Brown suggested having combination of Lesson Book Songs, Recital Pieces and Long Term "Enjoyment" Pieces (challenging pieces students really want to play).
  • The gift of imagination is more important than knowledge. Utilize an understanding of style combined with improv.

Technical Ideas

  • I really enjoyed the video clips of Helen Marlais teaching different concepts to students.  A few of my observations were When teaching 2 note slurs she first asked "Which note sounds louder the first note or the second note?" The student is introduced to the concept first by hearing - later by seeing/feeling the motion, last by labeling the term.  I think this is more effective than "See this curved line, its a slur, you play like this..."
  • When teaching arm weight, "drip" the fingers towards the keys, than let them drop heavily downward.
  • Look for the "C" in your hand between the thumb and 2nd finger.
  • When teaching concepts its effective to jump to a contrast to help them remember (f vs. p, staccato vs. legato, ending w/ a stiff hand vs. a float off..."which looks better?"  (In this example I especially liked how rather than directly pointing out the problem, she demonstrated the good and the bad and had them choose.)
  • The technique book "Energize Your Fingers Every Day" which can be effectively used with any method included some great analogies and song titles that really tie into the "gift of imagination" previously mentioned.  A couple that stood out to me were "Trying to Walk with Gum on the Bottom of my Shoe" (for harmonic intervals walking up and down the scale) & "Ballet Class" (to visualize the drop lift motion when playing 2 note slurs)
Free Audio Downloads
Mr. Brown played several of his compositions, many of which were "pattern pieces" w/ fast repetitive lively themes.  Some of my favorites were "The Arkansas Dancer"(energetic ragtime feel), "Scherzino" (intermediate, showy piece), " "A Scary Sound" (great for Halloween), "Mardi Gras" (late intermediate, audio on Nimbit).
 I was excited to discover that many of his compositions are available as free audio downloads on his Nimbit site (with more to come in the future).  What a great resource for teachers and students to preview songs when selecting music!

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