Dr. Karen Hagberg, President
Bruce Boiney and Leah Brammer, Vice-Presidents
Cathy Williams Hargrave, Secretary
Linda Nakagawa, Treasurer
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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
P.O. Box 342 Yachats, OR 97498
Phone: 541-547-4829 Fax: 541-547-4829
These seem to be common daily feelings among all the parents who are coaching elementary and junior high school piano students at home.
I was exactly that kind of child myself. I never went to the piano unless my mother, who was the most scary person for me (because my father died when I was two years old) told me to. She reminded me, saying, "Haruko, the piano!" every day. I remember her occasional complaint, "I really wish that you would, just once, voluntarily practice. You have to be told to practice 365 days a year!"
The average person, on hearing this, may think that this is a child who has no future in music because she dislikes it so much. However, this is not the case. All over the world children love music but hate to practice, because most practice time is spent doing repetitions hands alone and requires large amounts of patience and effort to accomplish it.
Nevertheless, parents who are fully aware of the importance and the necessity of education for emotional development, do not let children quit piano. After ten years, what they find is that the same child, who once did not like practicing, has now become good friends with the works of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Chopin, all of which he once resisted practicing. This is an indication that the love of music itself was always there, regardless of the reluctance to practice it. At that point, a person will always receive emotional support and comfort from the art of music throughout the difficult times in life.
In Japan we exchange greeting cards at the New Year. I have received many cards again this year. As I read them, something caught my attention. There were some cards from my former students who now live on their own in big cities as college students or as company employees after college. They all began lessons at my studio when they were very young. They did not necessarily show up for lessons having had good preparation at home. In other words, they were the ones who hated to practice. Although they must be truly happy now that they do not have to practice piano on a daily basis anymore, they all wrote in their cards things like, "I ended up buying an electric piano for myself, because I just wanted to play the piano!" or "I don't know why, but I want to play the piano so badly that I frequently visit the nearby piano store to practice there." How happy I felt reading their cards! (Translator's note: In big cities in Japan, apartments are very small, and there is not enough space to put a regular piano.)
When I shared this at our teachers' meeting, another teacher told us that she heard from a mother of her former student that he also bought an electric piano after he went to Tokyo to go to college, and he played various pieces he used to play for his mother when she visited him. It made her so happy that her eyes were almost filled with tears.
There are also other former students of mine who wrote similar stories in their cards. One person, presently in medical school, found a good friend who has studied music professionally. Another wrote that he and his college professor, who is fond of classical music, formed a music club together and that he now practices diligently at home because he is often asked to perform. He never used to practice when he was my student! That student makes sure to visit me whenever he is in town for holidays and asks me to listen to him. This year, when he came to play for me, I said, "How on earth could you practice such a difficult piece on an electric piano?" Then he said, "I can't really I've already broken three keys!"
All such New Year's cards just happened to have come from boys this year. In this new millennium, heading into the twenty- first century, I think that Japan's future is still bright!
I would like to address parents who are coaching the piano practice of young children: Anything children do from the time they are babies until they are about seventeen or eighteen years old is what becomes their basic life skills. To see the fruit coming out of good basics takes patience. It takes time. However, we have the joy of looking forward to the beautiful fruit we will enjoy seeing ten years from now.
Mozart 12 Variations on a theme of French song "Ah vous dirai-je Maman" in C major K. 265 (The "Twinkle Variations") Schubert Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major, Opus 120 Granados Andaluza (Playera) from "Danzas españolas", Opus 37 Albéniz Rumores da la caleta (Malagueña) from "Reyerdos de viaje", Opus 71 Albéniz Castilla (Seguidillas) from "Suite española", Opus 47 Chopin Nocturne No.2 in F-flat major, Opus 9-2 Chopin Scherzo No.2 in B-flat minor, Opus 31 Liszt Sposalizio from "Années de pèlerinage deuxieme annês: Italie" Liszt La companella from Études d'exécution transcendante d'aprés Paganini
(For those who may not have read the first part of this article, I have defined the "zone" on a piano as that part of the piano key which moves, before getting to the bottom, to the hard keybed.)
Throughout my music education before going to Japan, 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-toot 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 off 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 '1warm" sound, I felt 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.
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 will 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 tor 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.
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation has recently been organized to support the method of teaching and playing the piano taught at the Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, Japan by Dr. Haruko Kataoka. Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation will provide its members with recordings, books and videotapes with free postage and handling.
An order form for books, videotapes and recordings (instructional materials) fromThe Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation Catalog of Educational Materials follows. If you are looking for a particular recording, enclose a note with the composers name, instrument, name of the piece and the name of the artist. We will let you know if it is available or not.
May 2, 1999
Harmony Hall, Matsumoto
The Suzuki Method 10-Piano Concert has grown to Include 250 students
ORDER NOW! PBF 5009
Member Price $100.00
La Campanella - F. Liszt "Favorites"
Consolation No.3, Hungarian Rhapsodie No.2, Liebestraume No.3 and others
ORDER NOW! ESP OO6
Member Price $17.00
August 6 1999
Sacramento Community Center Theater
ORDER NOW! PBF 5010
Member Price $40.00
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First Online Edition: 4 September 2000
Last Revised: 8 March 2012