Vol. 13.4 July/August 2008

To facilitate, promote, and educate the public
on the way of teaching and playing the piano taught at the
Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, Japan by Dr. Haruko Kataoka.

Piano Basics Foundation News

Editors and Layout
Dr. Karen Hagberg and Teri Paradero
Mayumi Yunus - Translations
Phyllis Newman - Proofreading

Web Editors
Carol Wunderle - Volume 13.4
Kenneth Wilburn, Senior Web Editor

Hard Copy Illustrations
Juri Kataoka

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
Fax: 585-244-3542

Linda Nakagawa
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Phone: 916-422-2952

Next Deadline: August 14, 2008

Slouched Back!

By Haruko Kataoka

From the Matsumoto Suzuki Piano Newsletter
Vol.13 No.4, September 1, 2003
Translated by Chisa Aoki
Teri Paradero
Edited by Karen Hagberg
Illustrations by Juri Kataoka

The human spine is the most essential part of the body. There is nothing you can do well if your back is weak and slouched.

If we observe people in their daily activities here in Japan, at home, school, etc, we can easily see that proper strengthening of the back is not usually taught. However, in the world of sports it is taught to high-level athletes because their performance can be measured, and results are immediately apparent. Athletes understand the importance of a strong back.

In the world of piano, the tendency of the teacher is to focus more on music theory. The matter of the heart and dynamics of music is important, but we are forgetting that in order to perform on the piano we must use the human body physically to play the piano as an instrument.

This July, at the Summer Institute in Matsumoto, I taught children from various parts of Japan. They were all wonderful, exceptionally good children. Even though they were quite young, they were already quite advanced. The parents were nice people and obviously very enthusiastic and devoted, having taken the time and having made the commitment to bring their children to the Summer Institute.

It was apparent to me that these children must surely love music, and that they have the skill to exert effort and concentrate well. The only bad thing was that every single child?s back was weak and slumped over.

They were playing very difficult repertoire with all their might with slouched posture. In this condition, it is necessary for them to put forth 10 times the effort of those who have strong, supportive backs. While they are exerting 10 times the effort, their bodies are developing an extremely bad physical habit. Although, the body requires a lot of time to learn any task, a unique feature of the body is that when you do something repeatedly over time the body never forgets.

It is bad for your health to do anything physical when your back is in a weakened state. It would be so convenient if the deleterious effect were immediate, and if you could see the bad result, but it is not apparent. On the contrary, we start seeing evidence of damage only after 5-10 years. When your back is weak, your shoulders and your toes immediately become tense. Your back becomes rounded and stiff.

It is common for music teachers to rationalize the weak bodies of various players by concluding, amongst themselves, that there are many various piano techniques in the world. But I can make an assertion. The method of obtaining balance on this earth depends on a strong, supportive back and maintaining a natural physical condition of the body. There is only one balance point. Because there is only one, if you earnestly research this issue balance should be easy to achieve.

Nowadays, the Japanese have lost the opportunity to develop their back properly in the context of their daily lives. Until 1955, life was spent predominantly sitting on the tatami (a traditional Japanese floor covering made of a rush-covered straw mat). The kimono was worn which warranted a proper traditional way of sitting. When writing on paper, a brush was used as the writing implement. Because the brush was soft, the body utilized the back as support to achieve balance, otherwise it was impossible to write. Now, the writing instruments are pencils, ballpoint pens, etc. Perhaps, with such stiff, hard writing instruments, it is easier to slouch and let the back get weak.

Furthermore, for convenience sake, we started using tables and chairs in our day-to-day life. There existed customary proper manners and behavior associated with life on tatami, but because there is no equivalent custom associated for sitting on a chair at a table in Japan, most people have begun slouching on chairs. The problem is the same in schools.

During this year?s summer break, the 3rd International 10-Piano Concert was held in Sacramento. Four teachers, including myself, went there to teach. In contrast to Matsumoto where the students all study within the Matsumoto area, the students of American teachers who have studied with me came from all over the United States. There were great differences in the performance levels amongst these students. Even though they had memorized their pieces, the students who could not perform well were those whose backs are weak and who slouched. Of course, the teachers of these students are well aware that posture is very important. The case may be that they either have not taught this thoroughly enough so the students can have good posture with strong, supportive backs, or possibly that the teachers themselves have bad posture with slouched backs while they are teaching.

Forty years ago, thanks to Dr. Suzuki, I became aware of the importance of the posture of the back. Posture is the foundation. To this day, I believe that posture must be taught thoroughly and completely.

This applies not only when playing the piano. If we all develop a strong, supportive back in our daily activities without forgetting even for a single second to lengthen/stretch the spine and to release tension in the shoulders, the world would be a more pleasant and enjoyable place. Please piano teachers and parents try to research this together.

Where to Study? How to Study?

By Karen Hagberg.

In Matsumoto for this recent 10-Piano Concert, I was reminded of an incident from the past: About 15 years ago, an American Suzuki teacher approached me to ask why I no longer attended workshops by teachers other than Kataoka Sensei. She cited my extensive traditional music education to say? How can someone with your education limit yourself like this? Have you been brainwashed? Do you think that nobody else has anything valuable to teach you? Are you now in a cult?!??

Since first exposed to Kataoka Sensei?s teaching and to the performances of her students 25 years ago, I have been of the opinion that no other teacher on earth has been able to produce the numbers of students who have a genuine ability to play the piano. No other teacher on earth can have so many advanced students, literally none of whom are injured. (Exactly because of my extensive music education, I know all about the prevalence of injury at music conservatories, despite the attempt, among professional pedagogues, to make this problem a well-kept secret.)

Most teachers I know, even those who teach at conservatories and those who have multiple competition winners, would be happy to have just one or two advanced students at any given time who play with the natural ability of Kataoka Sensei?s students, let alone a group of ten of them who can perform together in perfect ensemble, let alone multiple groups of ten. How many teachers of advanced students can say that their students play without stiff bodies? How many can say that their students, all of them, produce musical tone? How many can say that none of their students are injured? How many have not left the majority of their students behind, labeled as untalented, as failures? Throughout all my music education, Kataoka Sensei was the only teacher I ever met who accomplished these things. Consequently, she is the only teacher I wanted to follow. I am still in pursuit of everything she knew.

Often, during 10-Piano rehearsals, I hear teachers grumbling to the effect that, ?If I hear one more Twinkle or Down/Up I think I?ll go crazy,? or ?The practice is so predictable that Piano Basics has become a mindless formula.? It is difficult, however, to argue with results, isn?t it? Of course, there are those who will say they think the interpretations of pieces lack freedom, or that some ornaments are not stylistically correct, but these criticisms are overlooking the overall miracle of the teaching in Matsumoto, resulting in success of all the students, no injuries, good tone, facile technique. Students who can play like this are able to play any way they wish. Nobody else can produce students with this freedom across the board. The teachers who complain are unable to accomplish what they are witnessing in Matsumoto. They are bored by the repetition that comprises what Suzuki and Kataoka discovered to be the essence of sound pedagogy.

Intelligent people often want to live in a world of ideas. We listen to ideas from various sources and call this education. True, deep, basic education that comes from repetition baffles us. The problem with most of us teachers who would like to get the kind of results we see in Matsumoto is that that we lack the patience and understanding of the principle of repetition. We try to teach Piano Basics, but we do not teach it enough. We constantly fall back into the world of ideas before our students are able to develop basic skills. Let?s all take a good, hard look at our students and admit this. And then, let?s see if we can change in the right direction. I am certain that listening to ideas from people with inferior students is not the way to change; learning how to get interested in repetition is.

Although the seven teachers comprising the core group of Dr. Kataoka?s successors continues to achieve the awesome results of true Piano Basics teaching, most other teachers in Japan are caught up in the world of ideas just like we teachers in other countries. Just now there is a stark example of this right in the heart of Suzuki Method in Matsumoto, where new trainees at the Suzuki institute are barely exposed to Suzuki Piano Basics at all. Of course, they (and their teachers) are bored with repetition and, wanting to be worldly and ?informed? pursue many different ideas. These trainees are not being taught to be good examples of technique for their students, nor are they being taught the essence of Suzuki Method, which has always been that musical talent is the result of environment. We all hear these words, but as long as they too are just another idea, there is nothing we can actually use to improve our teaching.

Kataoka Sensei?s successors in Japan continue to teach with results that I want for my own students. The teaching is still there for any teacher who wants students who play with natural bodies, relaxed (uninjured) fingers, good posture, and musical tone. How can we not pursue it?

Change of Addresses:

Jo Anne Westerheide
1010 Commodore Dr.
Saint Louis, MO 63117

Cynthia Rawlings
6250 W. Clearwater Ave.
Kennewick, WA 99336

Piano Basics Foundation
Upcoming Workshops/Events

July 28 - August 1, 2008
Saint Louis, Missouri

Suzuki Piano Basics Institute with Bruce Boiney
and Joan Krzywicki
Contact: Patty Eversole 314-837-1881
Registration information online at

August 3 - 7, 2008, Sunday Thursday
Rochester, NY

Suzuki Piano Basics teacher training workshop with
Japanese teachers & students
International Friendship Concert, Monday, August 4
(audition videos due June 1)
Contact: Karen Hagberg 585-244-0490

August 10-14, 2008
Sacramento, California

Suzuki Piano Basics teacher training workshop with
Japanese teachers & students
International Friendship Concert, Tuesday, August 12
(audition videos due June 1)
Contact: Linda Nakagawa 916-422-2952,

October 3-4, 2008
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact Carole Mayers 610-354-0637

Oct. 3-7, 2008
Redlands, California

Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Bruce Boiney
Contact: Rae Kate Shen 909-794-9461

October 21-23, 2008
Tucson, Arizona

Suzuki Piano Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact: Ann Taylor 520-881-0452

October 24-25, 2008
Salem, Oregon

Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Linda Nakagawa
Contact: Connie Snyder 503-585-0929

October 24-25, 2008
Phoenix, Arizona

Suzuki Piano Workshop with Karen Hagberg
Contact: Vicki Seil 480-234-9003

Oct. 24-27, 2008
Atlanta, Georgia

Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Bruce Boiney
Contact: Jocelyn McQuire 404-524-5800

October 26, 2008
Hillsboro, Oregon<
BR> Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop with Linda Nakagawa
Contact: Jill Austin 503-640-5795

November 7-9, 2008
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Conservatory of Music

20th Annual Conference of the Suzuki Association of Ontario,
in conjunction with "The Art of Teaching" Celebration at the
newly renovated Royal Conservatory of Music.
"The Legacy of Haruko Kataoka," talk by Karen Hagberg;
"Piano teachers" retreat facilitated by Karen Hagberg
Contact: Elizabeth Sherk 416-431-7264

The events listed above are for the information of Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation members and others.
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation does not endorse, sanction, or sponsor events.

To add or change items on this list and on the Suzuki Piano Basics website, contact
Karen Hagberg, 585-244-0490

Please send corrections to Kenneth Wilburn, Senior Web Editor

To the Kataoka Sensei Memorial.
To the Suzuki Piano Basics Home Page.

First Online Edition: 4 October 2008
Last Revised: 9 March 2012