The purpose of education does not end with teaching itself. It is only after we have had the patience over a long period of time to watch a child's learning actually develop into ability that we can say real education has happened.
This point tends to be misunderstood. All the time I hear piano teachers say, "I certainly taught the student, but she can't do it yet!" How is it possible to say such a thing? The Chinese character used in the Japanese language tor the word Education is a combination of characters with two meanings: the first means teaching and the second means nurturing. If a teacher only takes care of the first part, teaching, and then labels the student as "not a good student," then something crucial is missing on the part of the teacher.
How, then can we both teach and nurture? The teaching part is not that difficult, because all you have to do is to explain something a couple of times with a kind manner. By contrast, nurturing really takes time. Nurturing is developed as experience in the body. This requires repetitious practice of the same thing over and over every day. You have to show your love as you nurture a student in this way, and you need to keep describing over and over what it is you want the student to develop. In the case of teaching the technique of piano performance, the teacher has to be a good example in her own demonstrations. To keep up with this takes a lifetime of researching performance techniques. The techniques themselves are not complicated, however. They are, in reality, very simple.
The most essential factor is how to use the body: to take away all unnecessary force, to discover where the center of gravity in the body is, and to maintain good body balance Secondly, we must consider carefully how to produce musical sound. This includes training the ear to hear differences among sounds, how to play staccato and legato, to sing a melody, to play an accompaniment. We must also stress the importance of observing the rhythm in every piece and playing the beats of the rhythm correctly, and to listen to recordings of the world's best performers every day. These are all very simple facts.
These same basics have to be taught repetitiously to both beginners and advanced students. It is extremely essential to continue verbalizing the essence of the same basics again and again whenever necessary at every piano lesson. As the lessons continue for a year, two years, five years and then ten years, the basics finally become natural for the students and true ability is developed.
Nurturing truly takes care and patience. Since I am just an average human being, I go through difficult times trying to nurture my students with the required care and patience. I wonder if I am repeating myself too many times, or it a student is not smart enough to get it. But then there are times when students play wonderful performances which restore my confidence in what I am doing.
Last week one of my junior high school students played all three movements of a Mozart Piano Concerto for a graduation recording. When she was younger, this student was quiet and weak, but recently her body has become sturdier and more energetic. She practiced hard, knowing that the piece would be recorded, despite the fact that she was extremely busy with school work in the two weeks leading up to the event.
At the concert, the level of her performance was far better than I had expected Her mother was so impressed that she asked her daughter how she could possibly perform that well. The daughter said that all she did was exactly what she had been taught in lessons: how to produce good legato, to keep good posture and balance, to keep her hands above the keyboard, etc.
That is exactly right! Only when students can keep the basics can they obtain the true freedom to express their individual musicality and natural energy in their performances!
I was extremely happy as I listened to her play. Children always teach me various things. I am so grateful. I told myself that I must have the courage and energy to be repetitious. I have to keep telling them and showing them the same basics over and over again. This experience has given me renewed courage as a piano teacher.
Parents, who are the educators of children at home, find themselves in the same position as I am. They are not only in charge of piano practice, but of everything else as well. When parents say the same things too many times the children hate it But let's be courageous! All your repetitions become your child's lifetime fortune And our job is to be disliked by the children for the time being.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No.13 in A Major, Opus 120
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Andaluza (Playera) from "Danzas españolas," Opus 37
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Rumores da la caleta (Malagueña) from "Reyerdos de viaye," Opus 71
Castilla (Seguidillas) from "Suite española," Opus 47
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Nocturne Number 2 in E-flat minor, Opus 9-2
Scherzo Number 2 in B-flat minor, Opus 31
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Sposalizio from "Années de pèlerinage deuxieme annês: Italie"
La campanella from Études d'exécution transcendante d'aprés Paganini
Throughout my music education before going to Japan1 I do not recall any teacher ever teaching me about what makes a good piano. I remember people saying they really liked certain pianos. Often they would talk about the really rich, deep bass strings on pianos they liked. But I never knew if a piano was really good or not. And the opinions conflicted about any given instrument. It left me feeling that there was no objective measure of a good piano. There were instruments you liked, and instruments you did not like. And any technician can tell you that even the best concert artists differ on what they want in an instrument.
When I got to Japan, I noticed that Dr. Kataoka would always point out a good piano or a bad piano with conviction. It was clear that she felt she really knew the difference and she always tried to teach her trainees and her students to recognize that difference between good pianos and poor ones. There is some sort of absolute standard with which she measures every instrument, and I was very curious to learn about this, since it was a kind of education I had never had. Throughout this article, I am referring to new, grand pianos. What I refer to as a poor piano is not old and beaten-up, but is poor from the beginning.
I listened to many evaluations of pianos while I was in Japan I even had the opportunity to visit the Kawai factory on two separate occasions, the second of which I was fortunate enough to choose two matched seven-loot Kawai's for my studio at home. By the time I chose these pianos, I was happy to discover that I had begun to understand Dr. Kataoka's way of evaluating pianos, because I chose the two that she also chose among the five that were coming oft the line that day.
Upon my return to the United States, I was interested to hear other musicians' opinions of pianos again, now with my new understanding. I discovered that pianos others considered to have a "mellow' or a "warm" sound, I fell had an unclear, muffled sound. I was also interested to notice that pianos I was taught were good, the ones I feel have clear tone, were considered to be too harsh or bright or "cold" by many musicians. I also noticed that pianos which, I thought, have a good action were considered by many to have a "stiff" action, and that the actions that others liked seem weak to me. It was at this point that I began pondering in earnest what makes a good piano.
One thing became instantly clear: I had been taught in Japan to evaluate a piano on the basis of the quality of it's "zone" (see part 1 of this article). I had been learning to play in the zone, and the best pianos allowed me to control my sound in this area of the piano's action. The moveable zone of the piano's action must have a certain depth, and within that depth a certain resistance and responsiveness, so that the performer may manipulate the sound. The piano must be able to sing and sustain tone when the performer stays in its zone. It must have a strong, singing treble range which can sing out over the bass (which is often too strong when compared with the treble range of most pianos, making all of the praise for the bass ranges I had heard people make in the past seem quite meaningless. It's the quality of the treble range, the most troublesome part of any piano and the most difficult to produce in high quality, that makes a good instrument).
Most pianists do not stay in the zone when they play. They frequently, sometimes on every note, go to the very bottom of the keybed and push or lean on it. When playing staccato, they may actually poke or hit it When playing this way on a piano with a strong treble range, an unpleasant, noisy sound is produced. There is a hard edge on the sound, and it is impossible to produce a true legato line with such percussive individual tones.
So it dawned on me that one's opinion of a piano depends entirely on how one plays a piano! This may seem obvious, but it came to me as a big revelation. You need to be playing in the zone to like a good piano, since it is very easy to make harsh, noisy sound on it. It takes a very good pianist to make a good piano sound good. A good piano is so clear and definite and has such big tone and efficient dampers that it is quite unforgiving of any weakness in technique.
A poor piano, on the other hand, is very forgiving of poor technique. The mellow, 'warm" sound (the one I consider to be muffed) has softer edges when the key is struck harshly. The dampers on such pianos are often weak, causing sound to overlap and mellow out even when the pianist cannot execute good legato technique. I have had many conversations with technicians who agree that some of the most highly-regarded piano makers allow sound to linger after the dampers return to the strings on purpose knowing that most people do not want the dampers to stop the sound cleanly and completely. You can hear this for yourself at a piano store by playing a big, loud chord and letting go right away. Some new pianos which are considered top- of-the- line will allow residual sound to remain after the dampers have returned to the strings. If you are training the ears of students this uncontrollable, extraneous sound can totally undermine their training, since the student cannot study what he or she cannot control. A piano with lazy dampers produces weak and sloppy technique because you can lean or push or poke or hit and the sound is not as bad as when you do these things on a piano with more clear, definite tone and efficient dampers.
It is so difficult to talk about musical tone. Words are never quite adequate as a true description of something so elusive and intangible. So I feel I am always at a disadvantage when writing about such things, being unable to demonstrate a sound at the same time I am talking about it. That having been said, I find it meaningful for myself to describe good instruments, even if they are small (under 7 feet), as concert instruments. In other words, they speak with a big clear sound which rings and sustains itself. The sound can fill a big hall. Of course, the person playing the instrument must know how to actually use the instrument so that it will do these things.
The poor piano, on the other hand, could be described more as a parlor instrument, with a soft, fuzzy, admittedly pleasing, sound, but without a big dynamic range, without precise clarity and without the ability to sustain and ring its tone. Performers with weak technique do, in fact, sound the best on such pianos. This is the reason for their popularity and the reason why many piano makers actually strive to produce this type of instrument.
Regarding the piano's action, the resistance required for the zone to be really good is sometimes altogether missing in the poor piano, making it difficult, if not impossible to stay in the zone while performing. The poor piano does not provide a zone which is workable. A pianist who has learned to play in the zone will find no place in the action to play with good technique. The lack of any resistance in the zone will cause even the best pianist to fall onto the keybed time and time again.
Those who do not usually play in the zone will like a lack of resistance in the action, feeling that such a piano is easier to play, and for them it certainly is.
So this is why there is so much disagreement concerning the quality of pianos!
If playing in the zone is the correct way to play the piano however then there is an objective standard by which a new piano may be evaluated. It is so important for teachers to understand this and then to teach students and their parents to understand it as well, since it is impossible to teach good technique (the way of playing that produces the best sound and prevents injury to the player) if a student practices for years on a poor instrument. The piano must have a high-quality zone for the student to learn to play in it, and to manipulate sound in it. It takes years for this good technique to be developed even with a good instrument. It is perhaps our most difficult job as teachers to fully understand what prerequisite equipment is necessary for successful piano study and then to convey this understanding to the students' parents so that their children will have the opportunity to develop in the best way. Parents always want the best for their own children and will provide it if they know why it is necessary. Please do not give up trying to teach this lesson. Everything worthwhile takes a long time to teach.
Bruce Boiney, Director
Phone/Fax: (502) 896-0416
Louisville hosts one of the longest running Institutes in the United States. Bring your students along for this challenging and renewing week of music. Dr. Kataoka wilt teach an SAA approved teacher-training course while our other fine faculty members teach daily student lessons and enrichment classes. This year's piano faculty will be Bruce Anderson (FL), Leah Brammer (GA), Dr. Karen Hagberg (NY), Linda Nakagawa (CA), and Cathy Williams-Hargrave (TX). Students are encouraged to request one of a limited number of master classes with Dr. Kataoka. A new schedule this year will allow teachers more opportunity to observe our other faculty without missing Dr. Kataoka's teaching.
Depending on their level, students will receive four hours of daily classes in theory, jazz or classical improvisation, Kindermusik, creative movement, Orff, handbells, piano duets, and chorus. They will all play on one of two formal evening recitals. From the Welcome Banquet on Sunday to the closing Ensembles Recital on Friday afternoon, plan on a good time for teachers, parents, and students alike.
Special events include an afternoon recital by Dr. David Forbat (TX), who will also be teaching classical improvisation to advanced students throughout the week. Dr. Hagberg and Mr. Anderson will give parent talks and Ms. Hargrave will give a special lecture for teachers on her recently published Music Reading by Ear curriculum.
Please visit our new web site or call for more information. Registration deadline for students has been moved up to April 1st this year and teachers should register by May 1st. Student enrollment fills rapidly, so be advised to submit registrations early.
Leah Brammer, Director
1265 Heards Ferry Road
Atlanta, Georgia 30328
FAX: (770) 541-2973
June12 - 17 Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Dr. Haruko Kataoka, Master Teacher
June 14 - Friendship Concert
June 17 - Pianist Seizo Azuma in Concert
June 15 - Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association Graduation Concerts
June 19 and 20 - Master Classes with Seizo Azuma
The Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association is once again~n planning for an exciting summer workshop! We would like to invite teachers to come and bring students to participate in lessons, observations, and concerts.
The Friendship Concert will feature local students as well as students from around the country. Audition is by video. Deadline for videos is April 15. (Application will be on the upcoming brochure).
Pianist Seizo Azuma will be performing on Saturday June 17 in Spivey Hall. This concert is a unique opportunity to hear a great pianist in one of the world's best venues, Spivey Hall! Seizo Azuma is not only a world renown pianist, but also a former Suzuki student and current director of the Suzuki Piano Talent Education Program in Matsumoto Japan. His most current compact discs can be ordered through Piano Basics. We are very excited that he has agreed not only to perform but also to teach. His master classes will be held on June 19 and 20 for advanced students. Out of town teachers are invited to participate with students in Suzuki Books 6 and up.
The Graduation Concerts on June 18 will feature local students who have completed specific levels of expertise in the Suzuki repertoire. The Atlanta Suzuki Piano Association originated the graduation program over 3 years ago and more than 250 students have graduated and performed in the 6 semi-annual concerts held to date.
Most important we are grateful to have Dr. Kataoka in Atlanta for the sixth time for a Piano Basics Workshop, teaching students and teachers from around the world. The workshop will consist of teacher lessons, lectures, and observation of student lessons.
Dr. Karen Hagberg, Director
67 Shepard Street
Rochester, NY 14620
Rochester is gearing up for another wonderful week of study with Dr. Kataoka. Our interpreter will again be Teri Paradero. As usual we invite teachers to bring students to have lessons during the week and to audition for our Friendship Concert on Friday, August 4, which will feature students from Japan.
Audition videotapes for the concert may be sent to Karen Hagberg, 67 Shepard Street, Rochester NY 14620 (note new address) by June 1. Students will be notified of their inclusion in the concert by June 15.
All visiting students will have a lesson with Dr.Kataoka or another teacher from Japan.
There will be a banquet for teachers on Saturday evening in honor of Dr. Kataoka, and there will be other opportunities during the week for teachers to get together for fun and exchange of ideas.
Homestay will be provided for visiting students and for teachers who request it early. Other teachers will be housed in hotels within walking distance of the workshop.
Linda Nakagawa, Director
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA 95831
Teachers are encouraged to observe rehearsals and preparations November 2-21
Please contact Karen Hagberg for information:
Return to the Suzuki Piano Basics Home Page.
First Online Edition: 12 March 2000
Last Revised: 8 March 2012