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Cathy Williams Hargrave - Editions
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Linda Nakagawa, Barbara Meixner, and the Sacramento Teachers Research Group
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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
P.O. Box 342, Yachats, OR 97498
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Deadline for Next Issue: June 15
Piano students are expected to practice what their teachers assign every day until they can play their piece really well. Our bodies need repetitive practice day after day to master something, whether it is a sport or a musical instrument. Even the smartest people have to practice for a long time to make their body master something. Our brain, on the other hand, can understand most things after hearing about them just once or twice.
Dr. Suzuki used to tell us that, by repeating something a hundred thousand times, anybody can learn to do anything. I agree. After that much practice we can make anything our own. If we practice well one hundred thousand times, we will become geniuses. If we practice badly that many times, however, we will just get worse. It all depends on how we practice and what we practice.
Dr. Suzuki, when he was really healthy and training many teachers, used to say it was ok if teachers did not practice much. He told them that they would get better that way. Many of us thought, at first, that he was joking. After forty years of teaching students, however, I have come to understand what he meant. Little practice is better than long bad practice.
When I was in my twenties, I simply thought I lacked enough practice when I could not play a difficult piece very well. I took lessons from several different teachers, but none of them taught me in detail how to practice. That was common in the music world. We were supposed to be creative and figure it out on our own. Consequently, as a child I just played the piece from beginning to end over and over again. When I got older, that kind of practice expanded to 8-10 hours a day.
Then I came to Matsumoto. Dr. Suzuki taught his students step- by-step how to practice at home. I found out what was wrong about my practice. He wanted us to have effective practice. Not the kind where you play a piece from beginning to end over and over, but to identify and practice the difficult sections.
Students, please listen carefully to the practice instructions at the lessons and follow them at home. Teachers, please teach your students how to practice in detail at every lesson. You can show them what part of the piece, how (for example, slowly or hands alone), and how many times they should practice.
Students who develop a habit of good, effective practice while they are young will be able to play advanced pieces with minimum effort. And when they grow up they will be able to play any pieces they want because their bodies will know naturally how to do it.
The most important part of this education is to teach students how to practice efficiently. It is hard for children to do spot practice without playing through the piece. It takes great discipline, and this is why they need the help of the teacher and parent. Make it a habit for them so they can apply that good practice a hundred million times.
I have an eight-year-old student whose parents are very busy with their work. She practices mostly by herself so needless to say, she is not quick at mastering the things I teach her. I have to remind her at every lesson to straighten her back, to place her fingers further in to the piano, to keep her hands still and move her fingers. I thought she wasn't listening or she was forgetting them right away. I taught her the same thing over and over patiently as I reminded myself that even if she can't do it now there will come a time she can do it.
One day her little brother was practicing the right hand from a new piece and asked his sister for help. She had played that piece before and remembered the right hand so started teaching. She not only helped him with the notes but also mentioned all the things I had told her many, many times. "Just move your fingers. Keep your wrist still", "look at this carefully, they are all the same notes" and off she went. It even sounded just like me! She was listening.
Children are listening and absorbing what is around them even when they don't look like they are. We should watch what we say and do in front of those little ones.
Because the piano is an instrument that requires each hand to do different things, how you learn a piece strongly affects how well you will be able to play it. Wrong practice is a waste and is good for nothing. It just makes your body stiff and reinforce bad habits.
There are many different parts to any piece of music. Some are easy to play, while others need ten or even a hundred times more practice. It is like mountain climbing. Some trails are fun with flowers along the way, and you walk as you hum a tune, while others require pulling yourself up with ropes using all your concentration. The joy you feel when you reach the top after so much effort is the same too. Experienced teachers have to teach their students, in detail, how to practice the difficult spots.
This is the teacher's job. It is the student's job to practice at home, carefully following the teacher's instructions. Those who have been taught to do that with patience, focus, diligence and love in their youth are capable of doing it all their lives. If they want to play more difficult pieces when they are older, they know how to practice. You cannot play a difficult piece just by picking up the score and playing it over and over. This recent incident proves this:
A former student who studied in Matsumoto from the age of four is now a senior at Tohoku University Medical School. He sent me a videotape of a concert of his music circle at the university. He played Mendelsson's Wedding March arranged by Vladimir Horowitz. Fantastic performance! I was amazed. This piece is a tough one even for professional pianists.Vladimir Horowitz, as you all know, was a world-famous pianist. He had a technique that nobody can copy. He made virtuoso arrangements of many pieces.
This former student is not a concert pianist, but a medical student. He has not had piano lessons since he left Matsumoto to go to medical school. He visits me once a year to show me a new piece he has learned, and I give him advice. How did he master such a difficult piece? It is because he has learned good basic piano technique and knows how to practice a new piece. His mother made him practice what I had shown him at the lesson every day for three or four hours. He claims that sometimes he did even more.
Of course, on top of that, he had a strong enough desire to want to learn this piece to make him practice four to five hours on a rental piano during his final exams.
When there is a hard spot in a piece, we have to find out why it is hard and what creative practice can enable us to play it.
Dr. Suzuki was always thinking about that. We can do that too. Witnessing the results of good practice is just like buying something really good with just a little money. Long hours of bad practice is like wasting a lot of money on something worthless.
When we are born, God gives us each at least one, sometimes more than one, strong point. These are completely different from person to person. One child may be considered bright with a good memory. Another may be very good at concentrating on something he likes. Another may have a personality that allows her to interact well with others. There are many different ones.
Using the body, on the other hand, is a different ability. To acquire something good, that is, to bring it to a higher level, all people, regardless of their various unique personalities, must repeat the same thing until they are sick of it. Without this they cannot acquire a good skill. Think about playing a musical instrument, dancing, sports, etc. You can understand, can you not? We cannot be good at something physical if we do not begin at an early age. This is because our body has to repeat the thing many times in order to get it. It is better for children to start early, when their bodies are flexible and they are not greedy and can bear the repetition.
Repeating the same thing over and over is boring work. It is difficult to maintain the patience to do it. In addition, if we do not understand the importance of repetition, we tend to be interested in the new, more difficult, things. We run the risk of becoming people who have accumulated only knowledge without anything else [ability].
When learning to play the piano, the first and most important thing that we must acquire is correct body posture. The right posture is the most important aspect of doing anything, not only playing the piano. I continue teaching posture at every lesson for all students, beginner to advanced. Natural, beautiful posture is more important than anything else. And I truly understand, after my long experience teaching, how important it is to teach the same thing over and over. Dr. Suzuki often joked about this important issue saying, "Teaching Talent Education is easy, because all the teachers have to do is to say the same thing over and over." People can understand intellectually with the left brain after having been told something just once or twice, but they cannot DO what they understand right away. The body cannot do things before having repeated the same thing over and over. Dr. Suzuki always said, "One hundred thousand times."
The other day a boy in my class told an interesting story. He is a sophomore in high school. He was named director of his class choir for the chorus competition at his school. He imagined that posture was important for the singers, just as he knew it was for piano. He taught good posture to his classmates, and suggested that they always have good posture as they sing. He reported to me, "I was surprised. At first nobody could keep good posture for even 30 seconds. But I kept shouting, 'Posture, Posture!'" The following day his friend who sings in the choir counted how many times he said "Posture" during the two-hour practice. It was 276 times, an average of once every 26.1 seconds.
The boy said that at that moment he totally understood my teaching. I was very happy and could not help but laugh at the same time. I found it funny that a high school student could so easily understand something that adults have such a hard time understanding: the importance of saying the same thing over and over repeatedly. My student realized that to understand something and to be able to do it are totally different, and he had had a good experience which brought home the truth of this simple fact. Of course, his class won first prize in the chorus competition.
When you teach anything to children, please continue to say the same thing over and over repeatedly with passion and conviction. Even though we may annoy the children, even though they may dislike us at the moment, let us always keep their future in mind.
I myself have not been able to memorize easily ever since I was a child. I always felt stupid because of this. Now as I am getting old I can blame senility when I forget something. This is very convenient for me. But the other day I surprised myself with my memory. I wanted to listen to Dinu Lipatti's recording of the Chopin Waltzes. I took out the CD and put it in the machine and was about to turn it on when the first piece began playing in my mind. I wondered what was going on. Instead of turning on the recording, I listened to the piece in my head. Lipatti does not play the waltzes in chronological order, but recorded them in an order he liked. The piece in my mind was the F major Waltz, Op.34, No. 4.
Then I turned on the switch. The waltz coming out of the speaker was Op.34. No.4! I was really surprised. More than 30 years ago, when it was still an LP, I liked this collection and listened to it every day, although I have not heard it much over the past 20 years. Nevertheless, my mind never forgot. We never forget something we have heard repeatedly, over and over. And even if we feel we have grown senile, or if we are forgetful, we never forget something that went not only into our head, but straight to our heart, even though many years have passed. I was again impressed with our wonderful ability to remember.
In order to spend old age pleasantly, we should listen to, and look at, many good quality things repeatedly, over and over, when we are young. Then we will have good memories in our heads and our hearts.
Seven of us piano teachers went to the Soba noodle restaurant, "Furaibo" which is introduced in the restaurant review page this month. The 17-month old son of one of the teachers came too. There were two different kinds of noodles. One was made from white Sarashina flour and the other from Soba flour. While they were both delicious, the white noodles were top quality and had an outstanding taste. The boy liked the white noodles and wouldn't take another bite of the Soba noodles after the first try. He finished the whole dish (rather small) and his mother didn't get to eat it at all.
Children have excellent taste. They don't think about how expensive it is, they just depend on the sense they naturally have had since they were born. They don't make mistakes. Children know everything. They just can't communicate it with others. The adults who assume children don't understand anything or children can't do anything are the ones who should know better.
Bruce Boiney, Director
Malinda Rawls, Assistant Director
173 Sears Ave. Suite 273
Louisville, KY 40207
Phone/Fax: (502) 896-0416
Web Site: www.suzukipiano.org
In addition to welcoming back Dr. Kataoka, we are excited to announce the following piano faculty this year: Bruce Anderson, Lori Armstrong, Leah Brammer, Gloria Elliot, Huub de Leeuw, Karen Hagberg, Cathy Hargrave, and Linda Nakagawa.
In addition to masterclasses, students will also receive several hours of enrichment classes and perform in an evening recital. An exciting aspect of the Louisville Institute is that teachers not only get to attend the full workshop with Dr. Kataoka, but are also able to observe the other piano faculty teach student lessons throughout the week. This year's schedule will make this easier than ever to do.
Please visit our web site for more information and be on the lookout for that brochure. We hope to see you in Louisville!
Dear Teachers, This is the second year that Orange County teachers will host a Piano Basics Teacher's Workshop with Dr. Kataoka. Our first Teacher workshop in 2001 was a very successful one and we are working hard and planning to make the 2002 workshop even better.
Please come and join us for training and studying with our master teacher Dr. Kataoka, the co-founder of the Suzuki Piano School. The workshop will be at Concordia University (Irvine, California), a small and cozy campus with a quiet environment At Concordia, you can remove yourself from a busy schedule, focus your ears and mind on studying and at the same time enjoy the wonderful Southern California weather. The dormitories are reasonably priced and the food is good. Beautiful beaches are conveniently located close to the workshop site. Come early or stay afterwards to take advantage of such incredible vacations sites as Disneyland, Knottsberry Farm, Hollywood and Universal Studios. You will want to schedule extra days in sunny, southern California!
Please come and join us, meet other teachers, share your experiences and friendship. Make your plans now.
Mei Ihara, Director
August 2-7 at Spivey Hall
Please plan to attend this 5-day Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop
with Dr. Haruko Kataoka amidst the beautiful surroundings of
the Clayton State College campus.
The basic daily schedule consists of:
Masterclass lessons for teachers and students
Observation of student lessons
Lectures by Dr. Kataoka
Special activities and events will include:
Friendship Concert and Gala Reception
Teacher Welcome Dinner
Lunch picnic by the lake
Visiting students and teachers from Japan
Special lunch and learn opportunities
Robin Blankenship and Lauretta Russell, Directors
2518 Country Lake Circle
Powder Springs, GA 30127
Phone/Fax: (770) 943-1218
Brochure and applications are online at: http://www.atlantasuzukipiano.org
Registration Deadline: June 15, 2002
Linda Nakagawa, Director
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA 95831
Phone/Fax: (916) 422-2952
After you have attended the other workshops with Dr. Haruko Kataoka make plans to end your summer studies in Sacramento. After one week of participating in a workshop with Dr. Kataoka, many teachers have said: "My teaching really improved after studying with Dr. Kataoka, but I found myself slipping back into old teaching habits." This is the reason we need to observe Dr. Kataoka as much as possible. Our teaching will only get better the more we observe Dr. Kataoka.
Japanese teachers who study directly with Dr. Kataoka in Matsumoto have accompanied her to Sacramento and other places. We sincerely hope they will come again so we all can observe them teach too. In the past, students of these teachers from Matsumoto have come to participate in a Friendship Concert along with our American students. We hope to have a high quality recital for you to enjoy.
I look forward to meeting all of you. Please come! Let's become friends. Let's study and work hard to become better teachers and better human beings. If we want our students to improve, we must become better ourselves!
Thanks and see you soon!
Sixteen-year-old Megumi Sugita arrived in Denver from Japan in early March to wait for a donated heart. The heart transplant was performed on March 20, and Megumi is currently recuperating. She will not return to Japan until late fall, when the danger of rejection has passed.
Megumi is an accomplished piano student who visited the United States in 1997 with a group of students and teachers from Japan before her health began to fail. She has many friends here. Altogether, over $500,000 was raised for her surgery both here and in Japan, $5,600 of which came in as a result of the plea of our recent newsletter. Organ transplants are not yet widely available in Japan, and coming to the United States has been Megumi's only hope for survival.
Several teachers and students have begun sending wishes and presents to Megumi to help keep her spirits up throughout her long recovery here in the States (at least through October). We invite all our members and their students to let Megumi know that we are all thinking of her and wishing for her full recovery.
You may send your greetings to:
1880 Arapahoe Street
Denver, Colorado 80202-2408 USA
Return to the Suzuki Piano Basics Home Page.
First Online Edition: 3 July 2002
Last Revised: 8 March 2012