Carol Wunderle - Volume 12.4
Kenneth Wilburn, Senior Web Editor
Hard Copy Illustrations
Leah Brammer - Media
Rita Burns - Workshops
Production and Distribution
Linda Nakagawa, Barbara Meixner,
and the Sacramento Teachers Research Group
Send Articles to:
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
67 Shepard St., Rochester NY 14620
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Next Deadline: August 1, 2007
By Haruko Kataoka
From the Matsumoto Suzuki Piano Newsletter
Vol.7 No.12, May 1, 1998
Translated by Chisa Aoki
Edited by Karen Hagberg
Illustrations by Juri Kataoka
We must think about ourselves when we are about to begin a task. This is not only about playing the piano. When human beings get ready to do something, whether we are studying for school or engaging in sports, the harder we work at it, the more tense our body becomes. We end up desperately struggling and getting burned out.
Without realizing the error of this approach, people with assertive personalities are content in knowing they have tried as hard as they can, while those with self doubt blame themselves, concluding that they did not try hard enough and must work even harder next time.Take a step back and contemplate this process. What we should be researching is how to use our body in the most natural and efficient way. We end up focusing on the task at hand and forgetting what is most important, our physical body.
We live on a planet we call Earth which is part of the universe. I don’t know the intricacies of natural science, but I do know that we are governed by the earth’s gravitational forces. Within the confines of the laws of gravity, with our innate, natural condition intact, we can easily achieve balance by using the body’s center of gravity and by relaxing the entire body without using unnecessary, stiffening tension.
Furthermore, it is evident that we are all able to master standing and walking without being stiff (of course, the style of walking is as varied as people are numerous). This is not the result of the sheer will power of mere individuals. We can move about easily when we work in conjunction with the natural laws (of gravity) and not against them.
When we go to do something, physically we must release 100% of tension and mentally we must concentrate 100%. However, the mental gets muddled up with the physical and it is very difficult to separate the two.
Physically release tension 100%? Some think it is not possible to perform tasks without tension. But we can. Tension and stiffness impede our physiological movement by interfering with our life force. When the body achieves its natural state by releasing wasted, unnecessary effort, our life force enables us, with sheer concentration, to become freely mobile.
We should be aware of what we do with our bodies when we read a book for school, or when we write. In the world of sports, the breaking of records is dependent on the best use of the body. Therefore, athletes place top priority on researching how to train the body for ease and efficiency. Here is a wonderful excerpt from an interview with speed skater Hiroyasu Shimizu, a gold medalist during this winter’s Olympics: “During the race, I think only about limbering my muscles. As I run, not even one of my fingertips ever straightens out. This attention on releasing tension in my fingers gives me results over 100% from just 80% effort. Relaxation is crucial.
All of you who play the piano, please observe your own ten fingers while you are playing. For instance, when you are using either fingers 4 or 5, are fingers that are not in use like fingers 2 or 1 sticking out or is your third joint sunken in? That is what is meant by unnecessary tension. This does not apply only to the fingers, it includes the rest of your body: raising your shoulders, sticking out your chin, nodding your head, or stiffening your back. Even skaters are careful with their fingers. We who play the piano must also be careful.
Because the natural state is the absence of wasted movement, what is natural is beautiful to watch. In contrast, something unnatural is truly unsightly. To be able to enjoy making musical sound with ease so that you can play Chopin, Brahms, or Beethoven, keep in mind that you must release any unnecessary tension. Let us all embark on this research to achieve the most successful result.
We have to change our way of thinking. Adults and children live in two different worlds and we certainly learn differently. Adults think, organize, compartmentalize and use the rational side of their brain. Children use their senses, mimic, and use their intuition. I remember Kataoka Sensei always saying, “Don’t teach with your mouth!” I wondered what she meant by that statement. And over the years after hearing her say it hundreds of times it has become very meaningful to me.
We, Suzuki Piano Basics teachers say many of the same things. For example, sit up straight, carry your arms, move your fingers, don’t drop your wrists etc. So why don’t all Suzuki Piano Basics students play naturally? We teachers all understand the reasons for doing certain exercises and repetitions and can explain why it is good for the child to do these everyday at home. So, why don’t all of our students play naturally? The reasons are very simple. Either our own bodies might not be as “natural” as they could be, therefore our demonstrations are notgood yet; or we haven’t done enough repetitions at the lesson for the student to have developed an ability. Teachers new and old to the Suzuki Piano Basics method like to hear reasons for doing things. We like to know the “practice” spots of a piece. We like to know what and how to practice a spot to make it better. A teacher who talks a lot at the lesson and gives lots of verbal instruction may receive generous comments from adults like, “I really enjoyed observing your lessons. You make everything so clear.” As adults we get instant gratification. Quite a different scenario might be a teacher who doesn’t talk as much but is really working with the child on body balance and tone. I remember observing Kataoka Sensei one time, several years ago in her studio. The student was in book one and could play quite a few pieces. The student had a difficult time carrying her arms etc. (To be truthful, I was a little surprised. This student would have fit very well in my studio.) I wondered why Sensei didn’t try to instantly “fix” some of these things. Well, the following year, I heard the same student playing Minuet 2 with great body balance, control and tone. I couldn’t believe it. I learned a lot from that. It takes time to develop an ability, and ability cannot be developed through force. It really takes a lot of perseverance and patience.
We are now rehearsing the local students in the Sacramento area for our 10-Piano Concert on August 18, 2007. During a recent rehearsal students were playing a sonatina. I told them that they must move their fingers to play legato. They all tried, but the sound was still very lumpy. I demonstrated what I heard them playing. Then I tried to demonstrate the sound that I wanted to my best ability. I couldn’t believe how much they changed for the better. I was shocked! Children are really wonderful. Teachers would not have been able to do that! And I am not being disrespectful to the teachers, it’s just the truth. Children and adults exist in two different worlds.
Children understand everything, even though they might not be able to verbalize. One of my students is playing Cuckoo for the 10-Piano Concert and her left hand finger 5 is not as developed as I want it to be. So, we did one hundred Twinkle A repetitions. I was very careful, reminding her to keep a soft hand, gently move her finger etc. When we finished I asked her to do play the left hand to the first part of Cuckoo. After she finished she was so happy (me too!) because it sounded so good and was obviously much easier for her. At her next lesson with a big smile she said, “Ms. Linda, can we do it 100 times again?” Children understand everything important.
We have had three weekend rehearsals to date. Not all of the local students are able to come, but these early rehearsals are so important because we teachers see what our students can and cannot do. We are able to work with them during the week until the next weekend rehearsal. We depend on the local teachers to continue to work on developing the ability of our students. There is still time to improve. Unfortunately, two weeks is not enough time to develop an ability. It’s in these two weeks that we try to make music. The ability to play the piece very well has to already have been developed!
I think one learns the most about how to teach by observing the early rehearsals. It is one thing to observe how poorly the students play together and how much they rush! But it is even more interesting to see how to get them to change. It all depends on the teacher. A good friend and colleague mentioned to Kataoka Sensei that he learned more about how to teach from observing the Sacramento 10-Piano Rehearsals than by observing the Matsumoto rehearsals. When Sensei mentioned this to me, I immediately knew the reason why. The reason is that the students in Matsumoto were already much more developed so the obvious improvements in Sacramento were not so obvious in Matsumoto.
We will try to improve our own abilities so our students can grow more naturally. The teachers and students in Matsumoto are great models for us. Let’s keep trying. Let’s not teach with our mouths!
The main topic of discussion at the Suzuki Piano Basics general membership meeting in Louisville was the video project proposed by our web editor Ken Wilburn, who is able to create a web site through East Carolina University that will be able to store videos of student lessons with Dr. Kataoka. Details of the mechanics of this project are still being worked out. In the meantime, teachers are asked to take an inventory of any videos you have in your possession (or in the possession of your students), identify the videos as to place and date, identify the students, and determine whether or not you are able to contact those students in order to obtain signed permissions for the videos to appear on the internet. All this work can, and should, be done before thinking about contributing your videos to this project, whose quality depends on the work we put into it. Let’s all be responsible to save our own corner of the history of Suzuki Piano Basics and the great teaching of Dr. Kataoka.
In June, teachers Keiko Ogiwara and Keiko Kawamura traveled from Japan to teach for week-long events in Louisville, Kentucky and in Irvine, California.
The Louisville Institute, the longest ongoing Suzuki Piano Basics summer event for students and teachers alike, added the Japanese teachers to its usual list of American faculty. The event was very well attended, with over 30 teachers, many of whom brought students.
The teachers from Japan have obviously been hard at work in recent years, always developing new and creative ways to get students up over the keys, to achieve total relaxation, to get onto and stay on a rhythm, and most important, to produce tone. Everyone who had the good fortune to observe their lessons came away with an understanding of this method that can only be gleaned from extensive observation.
We are deeply grateful that the Japanese teachers continue to dedicate themselves to the task of coming all the way here to help us.
722 South 1430 West
Lehi, UT 84043
Our Piano Basics Workshop was held at Concordia University Irvine, California June 10-14, 2007. Everybody set aside their own busy schedules for five days to come share and learn. Ogiwara Sensei and Kawamura Sensei arrived after a busy institute at the University of Louisville, Kentucky to do masterclasses in Irvine for 40 students and 17 teachers. Ken Matsuda came from Westerville, Ohio to be the workshop translator. A professional violist, Ken’s translations were always musically accurate.
I had written in the welcome letter that the teachers who decided to participate realize just how important it is to keep studying and learning to become better teachers and to nurture children. I feel strongly that our job carries with it a serious responsibility as we are charged not only with our students’ musical destiny, but in a larger context with their futures as human beings, as adults who will be assets to their families, communities, and to the world.
We should take advantage of every opportunity to study. See you all in Sacramento next month.
Kataoka Sensei once described Concordia College in Irvine, CA as “heaven” because of the weather and the natural beauty of the campus. As I sat listening to the piano sounds of Ogiwara Sensei and Kawamura Sensei in the June workshop, I was reminded of Kataoka’s words. The doors were open to let in a nice breeze. There was no need for heat or air conditioning. Outside the agapanthas and various other flowers which grow so well in the southern California climate were in full bloom. Kawamura Sensei was teaching one of my three students who made the seven-hour drive. I was in heaven.
I was only able to attend the last two days of the five day workshop, but, as always, took in the sound and observed the clear attention to detail that both teachers modeled as they taught.
I was grateful to be in a profession that I love, in an environment where I continue to learn, and surrounded by many old acquaintances who share my desire to be better for the children’s sake.
This all sounds a bit ethereal. To bring things down to earth, I also had a lesson. I learned that with my desire to play on the pads of my fingers, I over-prepared each finger on the Twinkles, which is just as bad as not preparing at all. It is so easy to become unnatural at the piano, and I have always had a tendency to overdo, therefore becoming too busy and stiff.
Thank you to the Orange County crew, Aleli Tibay, Mei Ihara, and Rae Kate Shen for working for us all to produce a great workshop. And thank you to Kawamura Sensei and Ogiwara Sensei for the lessons. Thank you Kataoka Sensei for training such wonderful teachers.
I am looking forward to working together with more “old friends” in Sacramento in August in preparation for the Ten Piano Concert.
July 23-26, 2007
Cambridge Suzuki Young Musicians Summer Workshops 2007
Contact Betty & Stephen Power (01223) 264408
July 30-August 3, 2007
Saint Louis, Missouri
Suzuki Piano Basics Institute
with Bruce Boiney and Joan Krzywicki
Contact: Patty Eversole 314-837-1881
Registration information online at
August 18, 2007
Suzuki Piano Basics International 10-Piano Concert
Inquire before December 1 for student participation
Contact: Linda Nakagawa 916-422-2952
August 24, 2007
Deadline for students to apply to perform in 4/2008
10-Piano Concert in Matsumoto
Contact: Karen Hagberg 585-244-0490
October 23-24, 2007
Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact: Ann Taylor 520-881-5573
October 26-27, 2007
Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact: Vicki Seil 480-926-7804
April 27, 2008
Participating Americans will leave the U.S. on
Thursday, April 10 and return on Monday, April 28
Contact: Karen Hagberg 585-244-0490
To add or change items on this list and on the Suzuki Piano Basics website, contact
Karen Hagberg firstname.lastname@example.org, 585-244-0490.
The number of students coming from other countries is limited. Preference will be given to students of active members in Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation, to those whose teachers actively pursue continuing education with Japanese teachers, to those whose teachers have attended the Matsumoto 10-Piano Concert, and to those who have performed in the Sacramento 10-Piano Concert. Students will leave for Japan on Thursday, April 10 and return on Monday, April 28. Teachers are required to accompany them to and from Japan.
Students must be mature enough, generally age 13 and older, to stay on their own with a Japanese family. (Parents wishing to come to Matsumoto to hear the concert may make their own hotel arrangements. Information will be forthcoming.)
If you have a student who wishes to apply, please contact Karen Hagberg email@example.com to receive an application form.
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To the Suzuki Piano Basics Home Page.
First Online Edition: 31 January 2008
Last Revised: 9 March 2012