"Sensei, why is it that we have to practice piano every day?"
"Why do we have to repeat the same thing over and over every day?"
I have known many students over many years. Always at lessons all my adorable little grade-school children ask these very questions. The parents who accompany these students report that their children hate to practice, and they want to know what to do about this problem. I get asked this question by parents from all over the world. My answer is always the same.
There is not a student anywhere in the world who loves to practice. The importance of practice is not just to play through pieces, but to repeat small parts of pieces. This is especially true of piano music. If there is a child somewhere in the world who loves this practice, perhaps she should have her head examined. Your child who hates to practice is absolutely normal. Children love music but hate practice.
When children ask me why they must practice every day, I explain, "The human body is not like the brain. Each day is one unit. You eat every day and you sleep every day don't you? If you thought that it maybe a bother to eat every day and decided therefore to eat three days' worth of food all at once, you could not do it. Sleep is the same. Would you be able to sleep for a while week all at once and then be up the next seven days? Breathing is the same. God decided that there were some things that our bodies have to do every single day. This is why piano practice has to be done every day. If you do not practice for three whole days, your piano technique suffers quite a bit and will not improve. It is all right if you just practice a little bit, okay?"
Children usually listen to my reply, but their faces seem to say, "I sort of understand, but..."
Our brains immediately take in things we see and hear. Furthermore, we are able to remember our impressions and feelings of things we said and heard many years ago. There is such a radical difference between the brain and the body that most people are confused about this.
Because of the high importance placed on test scores, students nowadays are forced under great pressure to memorize unreasonable amounts of information. They have not had the repetition necessary to develop their intelligence and have not had space in which to grow naturally. This interferes with their proper development. Furthermore, they are not given the opportunity to use their bodies with simple practice. They have not been given the chance to play the piano or to do sports. Being able to use our body well, however, is a prerequisite for life itself. To walk, to run, to eat, to sleep, -TO MOVE- is everything. For example, if you do not use your legs over a long period of time, you will not be able to walk.
For this reason, we must learn every day, little by little, how to play well by practicing. Because children have not yet acquired a great deal of knowledge, they find practice to be tedious and they resist it. On the other hand, unlike adults they are far better at enduring repetition. If you have reared children, you are well aware that very young children are able to repeat something that they like, something that interests them, ceaselessly, to a point we adults find difficult to imagine. Whatever children repeat over and over again, even if they hate doing it, whether it is good or bad, becomes apart of them.
As adults, we are able to acknowledge that practice is necessary and to determine earnestly to do our best. This adult knowledge and desire interfere with our bodies by making them stiff and unable to do the task at hand. It is not absolutely impossible for adults, but.. when it comes to learning a physical task even if we devote the same amount of time with the same patience and effort, children always do better because childhood is a stage when the gains of learning a task are ten, no, maybe one hundred, times greater than for an adult.
When it comes to the body, childhood is the time to learn a physical task well. What children can learn naturally and with freedom is so great that we cannot even compare it to what can be learned in adulthood.
To practice piano properly every day is quite a job for parents. Whether a child starts at three or six years old, if you try as hard as you can for ten years you will be giving that child an invaluable gift: a lifetime of deep appreciation and love for music. This is a gift which cannot be bought anywhere with any amount of money.
Some time ago while out of town, I turned on the television in my hotel room. The actor Richard Gere was on a talk show. He seemed like a very affable and natural sort of person.
He is a follower of Tibetan Buddhism. He explained in a simple, very understandable way that people in this religion are reborn every day. In other words, they believe that one is born each morning and dies every night. If this is so, he explained, then each and every day is very precious. He said that, to a procrastinator like himself, there can be no such thing as thinking, "I will do it tomorrow." Moreover each day being an entire cycle of birth and death, it happens as the blink of an eye or a single breath. Richard Gere is also fond of Zen Buddhism from Japan and meditates faithfully for 30 minutes daily.
While we, in the East, have been sitting idly by, it seems that Westerners from distant lands have been learning about Eastern culture to the point of deep understanding. I was astonished. As I mentioned in the previous article, having taught children how to play piano for many years, I am truly aware that no matter how you look at it, each day is a unit when it comes to the human body. To think that one is born in the morning and dies at night is a wonderful perception. It makes one contemplate seriously how to face each and every day and decide how you will spend the next 24 hours.
When performing a piece on the piano, each and every note is very important. If the performer does not play every single sound in a heartfelt way with his or her soul, it is not possible to create a truly musical tone. Whether we are talking about each and every day or each and every note, the fact that every single unit is precious and important is the same. When you live each day and every day with your heart and soul in the best natural way, there is a continuum which results in a wonderful lifetime.
So therefore, is it not also true that when each and every note is felt from the heart, originates from the soul, and is played with a musical sound, that a continuum is created which results in a wonderful performance?
Reprinted from the Newsletter of the Matsumoto Piano Teachers Association of the Talent Education Research Institute, Vol.3, No.12, May 19, 1994. Illustrations [in the original only] by Julie Kataoka. Translated by Ken Paradero and edited by Karen Hagberg.
GRACE BAUGH BENNETT, DIRECTOR
The University of Louisville Suzuki Piano Institute is honored to have Dr. Haruko Kataoka returning as master teacher for the institute this summer. In addition to teaching the Piano Basics Course (teacher training), Dr. Kataoka will also teach a limited number of children's lessons during the week.
All institute participants will receive five hours of daily classes as part of the institute program. Daily piano lessons for students will be taught by Bruce Anderson, Bruce Boiney, Linda Nakagawa, and Kagari Tanabe. Students will also have opportunities to attend classes in music theory, creative movement, rhythm ensemble, solfege/singing, and piano ensemble. A special course for siblings is being offered for the first time. Juggling classes which improve dexterity and coordination are available for all parents, siblings, teachers and observers for a special fee.
Daily Student Recitals
Duo-Piano Recital featuring Dr. Naomi Oliphant and Dr. Brenda Kee
Question and Answer session after the recital
Banquet honoring Dr. Kataoka
Convenient housing in Louisville Hall
The Louisville Zoo
Kentucky Kingdom (amusement park)
The Belle of Louisville (steamboat on the Ohio River)
Louisville Science Museum
Louisville Slugger Museum for baseball fans
Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs
Bernheim Forest (hiking and nature preserve activities)
"My Old Kentucky Home and the Stephen Foster Story"
BROCHURES WILL BE SENT TO ALL PIANO BASICS FOUNDATION MEMBERS.
BRUCE BOINEY, DIRECTOR
I am excited that Dr. Kataoka has graciously agreed to stay in Louisville for several days after the University of Louisville Institute in June and teach students at my studio. I hope it will be a less formal chance for her to relax a little between two full scale workshops.
Some of the lessons which she will teach will be regular length and will include scales and reading. I expect that students and teachers alike have a lot to learn in these few days! The studio is small, but there is space for a limited number of teachers to observe. Interested teachers should contact me as soon as possible. (Bruce Boiney's article appears later in this issue.)
ELIZABETH ROSE, DIRECTOR
MURIEL HAYES, REGISTRAR
Come for learning and replenishment at the foot of the Wasatch Range in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The Utah Piano Basic Teachers are organizing a week to remember.
The workshop location is at the SouthEast Baptist Church, a beautiful hall, both visually and aurally. Summerhays Music Center and the Kawai Corporation are providing wonderful pianos for our use.
Teachers will be assigned to master classes in the order their registration is received. All teachers registering for the full week will be eligible to have a student receive a lesson. Contact Cleo Ann Brimhall, 3264 Nutmeg St., Salt Lake City, UT 84121, (801) 943-1237 to reserve a space. (Again, in the order reservations are received).
Because it can be difficult for teachers without previous Suzuki experience to fully understand a workshop of this nature - we have arranged to teach a lA Unit from 8:00 to 10:00 each morning. The lectures and master classes with Dr. Kataoka will complete the requirements for the lA class.
If you know of anyone wanting to get started in Suzuki Piano teaching, let them know about this class.
Those participating in the lA class will automatically be included as auditors in Dr. Kataoka's workshop with no additional fee. (Conversely, if anyone in Dr. Kataoka's workshop is interesting in auditing the 1A class they will be welcome.)
Get-acquainted Picnic at a canyon home
Discussions and Forums
Special Student Recital
Post-recital evaluation for the teachers
Teachers Luncheon with prizes and fun
"Brown bag" Matinees with Videos
Official Video Taping
KAREN HAGBERG, DIRECTOR
FAX: (716) 244 3542
The workshop will be held on the campus of Nazareth College, a small liberal-arts school with comfortable facilities. Teachers who attended the last workshop at Nazareth College praised the location for its sense of intimacy and lovely, green surroundings.
Additional two days of observing Dr. Kataoka's teaching in Karen Hagberg's studio, August 10-11
Attendance of four teachers and ten students from Matsumoto, Japan
Gala Friendship Recital
This event will feature students from Japan along
with US. students (by video-taped audition) in a
joint recital at the Eastman School of Music on the
new Hamburg Steinway.
Guest Artist Recital
Our guest artist, the dynamic 22-year old pianist
Terrence Wilson, will perform a concert on Monday evening also at the Eastman School of Music.
Videotapes of Japanese student recitals
Lectures for teachers and parents
Social Events for all our visitors
Homestay opportunities available
International Museum of Photography
Strong Museum (Dolls & American Popular Culture)
An Art Gallery, a Science Museum, and a Planetarium
Niagara Falls, located one hour from Rochester
All members of Piano Basics Foundation will receive a brochure for this workshop. Additional brochures may be ordered by contacting the director. Student application forms are available on request.
LINDA NAKAGAWA, DIRECTOR
(916) 422-2952 (TEL/FAX)
The first time I observed Dr. Kataoka teaching a workshop, I remember thinking, "Oh, so this is the Suzuki Method!" Since that first experience I have been trying to study with her as much as possible to learn about teaching.
The students, families and teachers from the Sacramento area have been very fortunate to have Dr. Kataoka help us for several years. We know how important it is to get out and study with Dr. Kataoka so we teachers want to invite everyone interested, to come to the workshop in Sacramento. We will try to create the best environment conducive to learning. We think that the American workshops are the most valuable way for all teachers and students to study, unless they can actually visit Matsumoto!
We are pleased to announce that the workshop will be held in the elegant Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Sacramento. We are working on attaining special room rates for our participants so that each of you can enjoy all the amenities of this luxurious hotel with your colleagues.
Downtown Sacramento is a mecca of great restaurants and interesting shops, most within easy walking distance of the workshop location. Of special interest to teachers during after-workshop hours is Old Town Sacramento, the California State Fair and mall shopping.
This year we will again welcome teachers and students from Matsumoto, Japan. Approximately ten students will join with American students to present a Friendship Concert.
A special invitation is extended to teachers to bring a student to have a lesson with Dr. Kataoka or another teacher from Matsumoto. This enhances the teacher's own week of study and training. However, space is limited, so call as soon as possible if you want to bring a student. You may submit a video tape if your student wishes to audition for the Friendship Concert.
Numerous homestay opportunities are also available for teachers.
If you want to get a jump on learning, plan to come early. Dr. Kataoka will be teaching in Linda Nakagawa's studio on Thursday and Friday, August 14-15.
Welcome reception at the Hyatt Regency
Observation of visiting teachers from Matsumoto
Friendship Concert with students from Japan
SEE YOU IN SACRAMENTO
WEST COAST SUZUKI INSTITUTE
CHERYL TEIGERT, DIRECTOR
Lori Armstrong, Bruce Boiney, Karen Hagberg,
Cheryl Kraft, Linda Nakagawa, and Cathy Williams-Hargrave
HARMONY HALL, MATSUMOTO, JAPAN
Since our last newsletter, Piano Basics Foundation's attorney has received a communication from the attorney for the International Suzuki Association. The letter states that the ISA confirms that Dr. Kataoka is a teacher trainer approved by the Suzuki Association of the Americas and has no objection to workshops sponsored by the SAA where Dr. Kataoka may appear. They also confirm that Dr. Kataoka has observed Dr. Suzuki's instructions in Matsumoto and later started teaching at the Talent Education Institute." No mention was made of Dr. Kataoka's present or past teacher trainer status under the ISA.
The question, "Why are they so good?" comes to my mind every time I hear the students from Matsumoto play. The last time I heard them was in August at the International Piano Basics Conference in Atlanta. Students from the Eastern, Southern, and Western U.S. played with the children of Matsumoto. The quality of playing was very different. The Matsumoto students' skills were much better. I don't think anyone who was there would argue with me about that fact. The brave teachers (I was not one of the brave ones) from the U.S. whose students played are the best in America in my opinion! They study very hard to both be good players themselves, and also to teach the basics to their students.
I don't want to be a doom and gloom person about our U.S. quality of teaching. I think we are improving. But, I am impatient. And we are not there yet.
How many of you have seen a video of the ten-piano concert held in Matsumoto, Japan last April? If you have not seen it, please try to borrow one (or better, buy one) and show it to your students many times. The playing on this video is my dream for my students, and can become their dream too if they see it.
So, "Why are they so good?" The ideas that have come to my mind in the past have been that Kataoka Sensei was just such a good teacher that no one could duplicate that quality. But her fellow teachers have students who play alongside hers in the April concert, and they are all wonderful! Another idea that has entered my head is that their culture is different. Therefore, the Japanese students work harder and are smarter than our U.S. students. But I have traveled and talked with many people from all over the world, and my experience has been that human beings are more alike than different no matter where they live. So, if all children can truly learn to play beautifully like those in Matsumoto, what is the secret to their success? Just "Why are they so good?" To answer these questions, I think we have to come back to what we are doing in our studios daily.
The article entitled "Recitals" by Keiko Ogiwara on page five of the November/December '96 issue of Piano Basics News was enlightening. She talked about the Japanese teachers' early experience with first five, then ten-piano concerts beginning ten years ago. They were continually trying to "fix" things during rehearsals. Even Kataoka Sensei was ready to give up. The Matsumoto teachers were where we are now in the U.S. Basics skills were not being taught thoroughly enough to their students, and therefore the students' technique was poor. Also, their performances were poor. It really was revealed at the five-piano rehearsals.
The Matsumoto teachers decided to define and focus on the teaching of the basics. They saw themselves as both the problem and the solution in determining how well their students played. They meticulously researched the steps necessary to polish a piece. How this was done I only wish I knew. But just the fact that it was accomplished gives me hope. And I have observed that their research continues. I'm very lucky to see these teachers when they come to Sacramento. While Kataoka Sensei is teaching, they are in the audience observing. This is a lifetime process. Aren't we lucky to be a apart of it!
So, how will we come to the place where all, each and every student from America, will be able to play with good balance over the keys and with beautiful tone? What must we do to apply the basics of playing the piano in our studios daily? How did the teachers of Matsumoto learn to bring their students to such high quality playing?
First, I think that many of Piano Basics teachers know what to do. It is in the application, how to do it that we become unclear. Our old ideas of what a piano teacher is supposed to do complicates our teaching. Our knowledge and old experience gets in our way. How many people do you know who have accumulated an encyclopedic amount of music "stuff", but cannot play the piano very well? Many of us who have attended many workshops and have had many lessons with Kataoka Sensei could recite and describe what the basics are, but when we go to our studios and teach we become too complex. Recently, I have experimented while teaching and pretended to myself that I could not speak aloud. It helped me to become more thorough, and to stay with one demonstration of sound. Even the parents woke up! We all began to hear the differences in many tones. It we are all going to improve our quality of teaching we will have to do it together.
I don't think learning how to teach the basics is something that can be accomplished easily by one person alone and isolated. It can be done. Kataoka Sensei has proven that. But how many teachers like Kataoka Sensei have you met? The rest of us need each other. Many minds and ideas are needed, as well as someone to give you a helpful kick and keep you on course. So, if you are the only Suzuki piano teacher in your area, get a new suitcase, a "miles plus" travel card and attend as many workshops as you can. And by all means, have a lesson! Your students will play as good or bad as you do. You may find another teacher or parent in your area who is ready for something new. It only takes one other person to give you the support you need (plus a traveling partner).
Second, schedule regular (at least once a month) recitals and playing opportunities for your students. You will be so surprised how "on your toes" this will keep both you and your students. There is nothing like a performance opportunity to motivate both the teacher and the student. The more advanced students will become "a dream for the beginners."
Third, teach the basics in your studio every lesson! This probably should be number one, but how will you know what the basics are if you don't regularly attend workshops? Personally, as I mentioned previously, I easily get off course by giving too many ideas and instruction in each lesson. The parents are tired by the time they get to my house in the last half of the day, and they are not paying attention to what I'm doing. Actually, all of those "wonderful" ideas are boring anyway. But, I have experienced that when I continually do the same thing each week, the students' skills begin to improve, and the parents slowly begin to understand how to help their children practice at home. I have attended workshops and watched Kataoka Sensei teach for at least thirteen years, and still have not had enough repetition. My desire to go on to a new idea in the studio is the problem that I have identified for myself that has blocked progress for my students. I have observed the incredible patience of some of my parents with their children in the learning process. I can learn a lot from them.
Fourth, go to concerts, and encourage your students to buy good quality CDs and attend concerts. The more you and your students surround yourself with top quality sound, the sooner you will be able to distinguish between good playing and poor playing. After all, do you want to hear only your own playing and that of your students all of the time? How can you possibly improve?
Right now, these are the ideas and actions that I am focusing on in my studio. I continue to strive to become a better teacher, a teacher of the basics. It is a life-long process. I am grateful to be a part of it, and hope that I can curb that impatient part of me that wants all the answers right now. As I read through this article, I think it's just a bit too complicated, too many ideas, not enough repetition of the same idea made more clear. Old habits die hard!
I'm lucky to live in a community where I am not alone, but am around wonderful, hard-working teachers who share a common goal of becoming a better teacher for the children's sake.
Our office has been barraged with copies of letters from our members sent to Ms. Judi Gowe at Warner Brothers Publications requesting that they distribute the Japanese scores of the Suzuki Piano Method. On behalf of our entire membership, we thank all who took time to write letters. Ms. Gowe wrote us that Warner Brothers cannot import the Japanese scores because selling these would be, in effect, competing with themselves. They are in the process of re-engraving Volumes 5, 6, and 7 with a larger note size and better layout.
We continue, and encourage our members to continue, to make the point that Warner Brothers would profit from both endeavors: the distributing of the Japanese scores and the production and sale of their own scores, and that they cannot profit at all if teachers stop buying their scores altogether and turn to other editions of the pieces they wish to teach. Please direct your opinions to:
As we stated in the previous newsletter, Warner Brothers has a history of paying attention to their customer's needs, and we are optimistic that they will make the Japanese scores available to us if they know how much we want them.
An idea from Alell Tibay: Have your parents also sign the letter which you send to Ms. Gowe, in order to show the high demand for The Japanese editions.
My time in Matsumoto from October 1990 to December 1992 changed my teaching and my life. I was privileged to observe Dr. Kataoka's student lessons and to have weekly teacher trainee lessons on the Twinkle Variations and pieces from Books One and Two. I also had the unforgettable experience of having weekly lessons with the children. For more than a year, I was Dr. Kataoka's first student on Wednesday or Thursday and tried to do right by my scales, reading, and the pieces I was preparing for my graduation recital.
Of course, the Beethoven and Brahms were a valuable study for me, but my conviction is that I benefited more from -- and at some deep level was more satisfied by -- the Czerny and scales. I felt better able to change and achieve a higher level of musical expression through these simpler forms. It also gave me the interesting perspective of lessons from the student's chair -- what it's like, for example to repeat the same four line Czerny piece for four or five weeks. Today, my students gain a certain satisfaction from looking at my books to see which numbers took me longer!
My experience drove home the importance of carefully teaching the basics through scales and reading. We all--teachers and students alike--tend to underestimate their potential. Reading, for example, is not just a matter of the students playing the right keys at the right time nor is it even just following the dynamics and articulations. It is all of this, and also following the time signature, phrasing, tempo markings and all the other clues the composer left us, to recreate the music as he or she intended, or perhaps even a little better.
When my students begin reading, I explain that I expect them to decipher and polish the reading piece at home and perform it for me at the lesson. This study is a microcosm of the longer process of learning a Book piece. What's different is that the music comes from a written source (no recording) and the student has the exciting prospect of trying to do it in one week, without the teacher's help. The goal is musical independence, something everyone concerned wants! If the student comes back the next week and the piece sounds like music (the all inclusive, ultimate measuring stick), the mission is accomplished and it's on to something new.
When I heard how beautifully Dr. Kataoka's students played their reading and scales, I resolved to make them an integral part of my students' musical training. Several years later we are still working on them, but I am more convinced than ever that they are two of the keys to successful study!
Position: Suzuki Piano Teacher wanted to take over existing studio with a thirteen year history of excellence in Atlanta, Georgia. Owner is retiring/relocating. More than a business opportunity, seeking a caring person to serve a core of families, dedicated to the Suzuki Approach.
DESCRIPTION: THE PIANO STUDIO is located in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood, an upscale, professional area, just minutes from Peachtree Street. This unique in town community offers a growth potential for Pre-Twinkle and early childhood groups of all sorts as well as the immediate need for additional teachers. Studio in church educational facility includes well maintained pianos, office space and use of large meeting space and auditorium for groups and recitals. The local Suzuki Piano Association provides much needed support, emphasizing the Piano Basics Approach. Interested persons may contact Don Boyd c/o THE PIANO STUDIO, 752 Elkmont Drive, Atlanta, GA 30306. Phone (404) 873-2061.
Piano Basics teacher must give up 30+ student studio. Looking for someone dedicated to Piano Basics, trained by Dr. Kataoka and/or Piano Basics teacher trainers. Supportive local group sponsoring two Piano Basics workshops a year.
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First Online Edition: 12 February 1999
Last Revised: 21 February 2001