Volume 4.6, November/December 1999

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.

Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation

Board Members
Cleo Brimhall, Karen Hagberg, Cheryl Kraft and Linda Nakagawa

Dr. Karen Hagberg, President
Bruce Boiney and Leah Brammer, Vice-Presidents
Cathy Williams Hargrave, Secretary
Linda Nakagawa, Treasurer

Next Newsletter Deadline
January 10, 2000

Send Articles to:
Piano Basics Foundation
P.O. Box 342 Yachats, OR 97498
Phone: 541-547-4821 Fax: 541-547-4829

Genius or Effort

By Dr. Haruko Kataoka

Many Years Ago She Loved English I would like to share a memory of my mother when I was a junior high school student. Back in my mother's young time in Japan, completion of elementary school education was considered sufficient for everyone. In the male centered society, women were of course not encouraged to pursue any higher education. However, my mother went up to women's high school, and advanced to Tsuda Women's English College. She truly loved the English language. She always gave me spontaneous answers whenever I asked her the meanings of new English words that I did not understand in my homework.

I used to wonder why she was so smart and I was not, even though I was her child. No matter how much I tried to remember the meaning of a word I heard from her, I immediately forgot. I used to think God was so unfair to have made only my mother a genius. She was just perfect all the time. She always had the answer for me for any difficult English words. This made me hold a grudge against God for a long time.

One day, I had tough luck. Without knowing that my mother was in a very bad mood, I went to ask her a question. She yelled at me saying,

What a lazy person you are! Look it up in a dictionary? If there is a new English ward you don't understand, don't rely on your memory. Look it up in a dictionary! You have to do it over and over again. By the time you look up the same word 30 to 50 times, the meaning will flash in your mind just by taking the dictionary in your hand.

At that instant, I realized I was wrong to think that my mother was a genius by birth who could remember English words just by looking at them once. She was making a lot of effort! The amount of her effort enabled her to become very knowledgeable. That meant my brain was not as bad as I had thought. In my case, I was simply not making an effort.

Come to think about it, the English dictionary on her desk lost its corners and the cover had become shabby looking because of frequent use. By contrast, my English dictionary was still very clean. This incident made me learn that making an effort is the crucial issue before we discuss who is smart or not.

People who are very successful in given areas are those who happen to possess personalities which are particularly suitable for the job at hand, but also those who have expended tremendous effort. World famous pianists are people like this. Regardless of any wonderful trait one may receive from God at birth, it can not be utilized effectively unless a lot of effort is made to use it well. There is a sense of fairness in this fact. In piano practice, just to be able to play well once or twice is not really meaningful because all of us forget very easily. After repeating the same practice numerous times, our bodies finally grasp what it is through actual experience. That particular type of learning brings the sense of freedom which allows us to enjoy performing music. The practice of making an effort has to be done when we are young.

The word genius tends to give the impression that some people are born with the ability to excel without making any effort, but I think geniuses are the ones who make tremendous effort on top of their given abilities.

Reprinted from the Newsletter at the
Matsumoto Piano Teachers Association
at the Talent Education Research Institute
Vol. 4, No. 6, November 15, 1994
Illustration by Juri Kataoka
Translation by Haruko Sakakibara
Edited by Karen Hagberg

Dr. Haruko Kataoka
U.S. Workshop Schedule 2000

June 5-9, Louisville, KY
Bruce Boiney, Director
173 Sears Ave., Suite 273
Louisville, KY 40207
Phone/Fax: 502-896-0416

June 12-16, Atlanta, GA
Leah Brammer
1265 Heards Ferry Rd. NW
Atlanta, GA 30328-4733
Phone: 770-541-0849
Fax: 770-541-2973

August 2-6, Rochester, NY
Karen Hagberg, Director
8 Prince Street
Rochester, NY 14607
Phone: 716-244-0490
Fax: 716-244-3542

August 11-15, Sacramento, CA
Linda Nakagawa, Director
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA 95831
Phone/Fax: 916-422-2952

Seizo Azuma
U.S. Concert Tour 2000

June 17 - Atlanta, GA
Leah Brammer

June 23 - Rochester, NY
Karen Hagberg

June 27- Orange County, CA
Aleli Tibay

June 29/30 - Sacramento, CA
Linda Nakagawa

Playing In "The Zone" or How To Tell a Good Piano
(Part 1 of 2)

By Dr. Karen Hagberg, Rochester, NY

In my junior year, I began to major in music after being fairly aimless during my first two years of college. It was 1983 at Syracuse University. I was not assigned the principal artist teacher, who was at that time a man named George Pappastavrou. As I recall, his claim to fame was that he was the first to record Ives' Concord Sonata. Since beginning to study with Dr. Kataoka, I am often reminded about what his students said about him.

They were very frustrated, because they had come to college to work on their repertoire, but he would not let them play their difficult pieces at all. He required them to play simple tunes, such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, while moving their fingers along the keys in a "taking" motion and while never getting to the hard part of the action at the bottom where they might hit, push, lean on or poke the key. Pappastavrou was teaching his students to play the piano within the part of the key that is soft, that moves, and that is alive if you will. This should sound very familiar to those of us who study Suzuki Piano Basics!

As I continued my study of music throughout graduate school, I came in contact with other teachers and the students of even more teachers, but George Pappastavrou is the only teacher from my traditional background who taught what I will call playing in "the zone," which is to say playing without exerting force on the bottom of the keys.

...I can see and hear more and more clearly that the very best pianists play in the zone, never getting tangled up or stuck in the hardness of the keybed.

As I continue to research good piano playing by going to as many piano recitals as I can, watching videotapes and listening to recordings, I can see and hear more and more clearly that the very best pianists play in the zone, never getting tangled up or stuck in the hardness of the keybed. They stay in the one area of the instrument that is supple and malleable and responsive: the distance between the key in its "at rest" position and its lowest point just before the very bottom.

When a pianist plays this way, direct force is never used. If direct force is what creates tone, then the strongest people would be able to get the most tone from the instrument. But great pianists are not particularly physically strong people (their physical constitutions are strong in the sense that they must be healthy individuals but their muscles are not necessarily strong). They get their tone by having the control to transfer their body energy to the instrument at just the right point, at just the right moment, much in the way the Karate master can break a board or a block of ice with the side of his or her hand. The Black Belt is not the most physically strong person either. The board and the ice are both harder than the human hand. If direct force is applied by a hand, it is the hand that will break. People trained to transfer their body's energy (philosophically speaking, all people possess the same amount of human energy), can overpower people who are much larger and stronger than themselves.

Playing in the zone keeps pianists from injuring themselves. When direct force is not exerted against a hard object, the fingers and hand are not subject to constant punishment. This is why the really great pianists not only remain free from injury throughout their careers despite practicing many hours a day, but can also play well into their 70s, 80s and even 90s, while less good pianists often become injured and unable to perform early in their lives.

Small children, often having naturally good balance, low center of gravity and relaxed bodies, can find the zone instinctively and produce really good tone. Dr. Kataoka often says that the best tone is made by young children and great pianists. I often notice that my young students produce bigger and better tone than my own, and this is the way it should be.

When we understand that our goal is to be able to play in the zone, the rationale for thorough study of the Twinkle Variations becomes apparent. What better way to find the zone than to play repeated, staccato notes which do not allow the beginning student to linger at the bottom of the key for even a millisecond. How brilliant to begin the study of piano with this exercise! How unfortunate the student whose teacher does not realize the object and the importance of this piece and fails to utilize its full potential in developing natural technique.

The most important aspect of any piano is the quality of this zone in which the best tone is produced.

(The second part of this essay will address the issue of choosing a good piano based on the quality of its zone.)

Reading Music By Ear and Basic Rhythm Studies
by Cathy Williams-Hargrave

A Review
by Pam Werner
Maumelle, AR

After many years of trying to figure out how to successfully teach my students to read music, I was thrilled to discover these wonderful books this past summer while I was in Sacramento. For many years I have dreamed of being able to study in Japan but thus far, my dream has not been realized, so I have had to experiment with different ideas for teaching reading (including how I was taught) but I have not been very satisfied with the results.

In her book, Reading Music By Ear, Cathy Williams-Hargrave helps us easily apply the Suzuki philosophy to a reading method. The book is clearly written and easy to implement. I have observed many student lessons with Kataoka Sensei and other teacher trainers where the Suzuki philosophy was being applied to piano instruction, When I read Reading Music by Ear, I was able to see on the printed page what I have come to understand through observation. In a short time, I have applied the ideas in Cathy's books in teaching my students and have seen great results. My students have more enthusiasm for reading and are more willing to do it. Methode Rose makes more sense to me, and my students are moving through it with much more enthusiasm.

When I read Reading Music by Ear, I was able to see on the printed page what I have come to understand through observation.

We have had a lot of fun using Cathy's Basic Rhythm Studies. The teaching suggestions in the book help make rhythm reading interesting even to young children. Many of my students are, on their own, exploring the pages ahead of where we are and are wanting help to figure out pages with rhythms they have not yet learned, The rhythms correspond to songs in the Suzuki books and the students get excited when they recognize rhythm patterns from songs they have learned to play.

My students have more enthusiasm for reading and are more willing to do it.

In Reading Music by Ear, Cathy teaches the process for learning the reading assignments and explains the rationale for using the fixed "do". She also does a great job of explaining the difference between sight-reading and learning to read music. The chapter on developing aural sensitivity is very clear and covers four major categories: meter (rhythm), phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. I found this chapter especially helpful in clarifying points I have learned through observation.

Basic Rhythm Studies can be used by any method and any instrument instruction, but I recommend that it be in EVERY Suzuki piano studio. If we all apply the points taught in these two books, we will be able to stamp out the myth that Suzuki students in the United States are "poor readers."

Both books are available from
Cathy Williams-Hargrave
777 S. Central Expressway Suite 1P
Richardson, TX 75080
phone: 972-412-4148
FAX: 972-234-5121

Great Pianists of the 20th Century

A Review by Janice Porter, Victoria, B.C., CANADA

I want to share with the members of Piano Basics a wonderful 200-CD series released in 1998-99 entitled Great Pianists of the 20th Century and packaged in boxes of 2 CDs per set. They were produced under the Philips label in partnership with EMI Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classics and many others. They feature 72 great pianists, including Walter Gieseking, Glenn Gould, Clara Haskil, Alicia De Larrocha, Radu Lupu, Artur Rubinstein, and Rosalyn Tureck, to name just a few.

The CDs also contain extensive and interesting biographies of the performers. I encourage you and your students to look into expanding your CD library through this series. If your local stores do not carry them, they are available through the Public Radio Music source; call them at 1-800-75music or visit Philips Classics website for more information.

With such an extensive selection it is difficult to know which CD to buy first. I would recommend:

  1. Alicia De Larrocha (There are 2 sets for a total of 4 CDs.)
    Unit One. Cat. No. 456 883-2 contains works by Albeniz, Granados, Halffter and Soler
    Unit Two: Cat. No. 456 886-2 contains 4 pieces from our Suzuki repertoire:
    Mozart Sonatas, K 330, 331
    Handel Harmonious Blacksmith
    Bach Italian Concerto as well as Scarlatti and Haydn

  2. Dinu Lipatti - Cat. No. 456 892-2
    Includes Brahms Seven Waltzes
    Schumann Concerto in A
    Three Chopin pieces
    Bach Partita in B-flat which is in our Suzuki repertoire

  3. Radu Lupu - Cat. No 456 895-2
    A recording of the most exquisite Beethoven Moonlight I have ever heard, as well as:
    Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 117
    Grieg Concerto in A
    Schumann Kinderszenen

  4. Rubinstein - Three Units for a total of 6 CDs
    Unit One: Cat. No. 456 955-2 contains an extensive selection (He Is my favorite performer of Chopin.)
    Unit Two: Cat. No. 456 958-2 contains all concerto's: Chopin, Grieg, Saint-SaŽns, Schumann, Tchaikovsky
    Unit Three: Cat. No. 456 967-2 contains Beethoven, Brahms, Franck and Schumann FantasiestŁcke

  5. Clara Haskil
    Unit One: Cat No.456 826-1 contains Five Mozart Concertos

To complement this CD edition there is a weekly radio program with the same title, Great Pianists of the 20th Century, with host Eric Friesen and co-host Tom Deacon. This program is devoted to exploring the lives and talents of these pianists, combining anecdotes, insight, facts and interviews with playing the recordings. The series not only looks at the lives and talents of these pianists, but also presents them in their best recorded repertoire mostly taken from the CD series. I enjoy this program on Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. on CBC FM 92.1 and on Friday at 8:00 p.m. on FM 90.7. According to the Internet, the Minnesota Public Radio also carries the program. I hope that you are able to listen to these programs through your own classical music station.

Alicia De Larrocha


By Janice Porter, Victoria, B.C. CANADA

I was recently watching a BMG classics video of Alicia De Larrocha rehearsing and performing the Beethoven Concerto #1 with the London Symphony Orchestra. On this video she was also interviewed by Dudley Moore. She said to him, "I was involved in music before I was born. My mother and aunt were students of Enrique Granados, the Spanish composer. So I heard music all my life." When Dudley Moore asked her how she became interested in the piano she answered, "I started to play with the piano and I was only a real child, a baby, and I started to write on the keys with a pencil until my aunt said 'Stop, that is the end.' Then she locked the piano."

Dudley Moore asked, "So what happened then?"

Alicia De Larrocha replied, "I did a real drama. I was crying and screaming and beating my head on the floor and the blood was dripping. You know a real drama, and my aunt said, OK, if you are a good little girl I will start to teach you."

Alicia De Larrocha began formal piano lessons at age four with Frank Marshall, who was the head of Barcelona's Marshall Academy, which was founded by Enrique Granados. She made her first public appearance at the piano in 1929 when she was six years old and at eleven performed a Mozart Concerto with conductor Fernandez Arbos. Artur Rubinstein, who was a close friend of her teacher, predicted a great career for her and encouraged her to continue her studies with Frank Marshall, who was in fact to be her only teacher.

While I was listening to her performance of the Beethoven Concerto, I noticed what a wonderful example she is for teachers and students of Suzuki Piano Basics. She has a very short body but she sits high enough that her arms and hands are always well-balanced, totally above the keyboard. Her back looks so strong and solid sitting on the bench. There was no extraneous movement. I have capabilities on my VCR to slow down the actions and I could clearly see her using the pads of her fingers and her fingertips were definitely moving. Her tone, even through the television, was beautiful and so clear. I could hear her vibrant rhythm of "downs and ups." I was privileged to hear her play a program of Spanish music in Vancouver, B.C. several years ago. It is true--her sound is beautiful and clear. It is also true that she is very small, standing approximately five feet and has very small hands, yet she has overcome every limitation that may have been posed by this. She excels in music from Bach to Poulenc and is this century's finest interpreter of Spanish music. She says her feelings for this music come from her heritage, but "Spanish music is very, very, very hard.... If you cannot play Bach and Mozart well, you cannot play Spanish music well." In the book, The Art of the Piano, David Dubal describes her approach to Spanish music like this: "One always hears her guitar, the castanets, the click of heels and love sacred and profane. Through her art she traces a history of the Spanish heart and landscape."

If you do not already own CDs of Alicia De Larrocha, then I urge you to acquire some. She is my favorite performer of Mozart. I insist all my students buy her recordings of the Mozart Sonatas: K545, K330 and K331 as they are learning them. The Great Pianists Series is a good investment.

Alicia De Larrocha said in an interview, "I wanted music to be as much a part of my physiology as the heart, lungs, and other vital organs were."

We are very fortunate to have such a great pianist living in our century.

Piano Basics Foundation welcomes your reviews of recordings, CDs and books.

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First Online Edition: 30 January 2000
Last Revised: 4 March 2012