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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
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I was born in 1927, and suddenly I find that I have reached my 70's. As I ponder my life, I sometimes think I have just been biding time, but no, there have been good things too-they are the students I have helped nurture since the 1960's (two of whom are still presently studying with me). They are about to perform a concert for me.
The performers will be the cute little children who were 3, 4, 5 years old when I met them, and who have now grown up to become musicians. They are six of my students who have loved music and who continued their studies through many struggles and joys. There are others, too, who have continued to make music their career, and I hope to hear them perform at the next opportunity.
The first two students are in high school and are serious piano students. They both love music and are enthusiastic about their studies.
The third student, Yoichiro, started when he was four. He was very lackadaisical, and in the beginning he was very slow and did not progress, causing great hardship for his mother, who was still able to practice with him diligently for 3-4 hours a day. Although he progressed slowly, he was able to build a good foundation. Starting in middle school, his mother was no longer able to make him practice, so his practice time dwindled eventually to nothing when he was in high school, at which time he was just coming to lessons. At that time his mother told him he should quit because he had stopped practicing, but he refused. When he entered medical school, one of his professors who loves piano music was an avid collector of different arrangements of music scores. In addition, one of his colleagues studied seriously as a professional musician.
In this musical environment, suddenly Yoichiro had a tremendous urge to play the piano. When people really want to play, even if they do not have a piano, they will find a way. He helped me realize that you can play with ease if you have a strong technical foundation.
The fourth player, Reina, pursued a masters degree after graduating from the music conservatory. Her mother had worked so hard with her.
The fifth player, Suguru, has a father who loved piano music so much that he decided that his son would study piano even before he was born. His father was the one who brought him to lessons and practiced with him every day. He was a very strict father. After graduating from high school, Suguru went to Europe to study music and met a Polish singer who became his wife (she will also perform with him in this concert). They now reside in Switzerland and are very active performers.
Finally, Seizo started his piano lessons at age 5 when his father was transferred to Matsumoto. Even before he started lessons with me, Seizo was interested in piano music. When he came home from kindergarten, he would listen to the family's recording of Chopin for hours, replaying it over and over all by himself. Because of this affinity for listening, he advanced very quickly. Though he was inclined to listen on his own, I encouraged him to listen even more. He usually practiced 3-4 hours a day and 5 hours on Sundays. Recently I heard from his mother that there wasn't a single day that they didn't practice what they were asked to do. I was so very deeply impressed.
After all these years of watching students progress from age 3 to adulthood, I am so aware of the importance of early basics, so that students may play with ease whenever they finally decide for themselves that they want to study.
It is wonderful to see that these musicians made this decision and they can now do wonderful work on the piano. However, I have recently come to believe that this kind of glorious result comes from the basic foundation built between the ages of 3 to middle school. So who did all this work? Yes, the children themselves did the actual practice, but at age 3 and 4 if a parent is not there to practice with a child, regardless of how brilliant the child is, the child is not able to practice diligently with the necessary kind of good repetition.
The most important aspect of learning something physical is to practice doing it every day, 365 days a year, without skipping a day. Any parent who can accomplish this feat is wonderful.
The actual repetition is not difficult, and all you have to do is do the repetitions that the teacher assigns at lessons, with patience and diligence. It is easy to say this, but very hard to do. I was not able to do this for my own children because of my busy schedule. Recently, I have had the opportunity to practice with my grandchildren. I am made deeply aware of how important and difficult a parent's job is. It is a totally different task than the teacher's. The teacher's job is much easier. With concentration, love and diligence, long hours spent practicing patiently at home is quite a job. Parents can endure such a task for many years only because they love their children and have the desire to bring them up well.
This is a wonderful gift to children. Accumulated practice at home is the gift of the foundation of life that cannot be found anywhere in the world or purchased with any amount of money.
By Cathy Williams Hargrave
Reconciliation of Right Hand
Measure 3, 6th Beat
WB: Finger 3
Zen-On: Finger 1
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 1.
Measure 4, 1st Beat
WB: Finger 4
Zen-On: Finger 2
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 2.*
Measure 12, 3rd Beat
WB: Finger 4
Zen-On: Finger 3
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 3.
Measure 17, 4th Beat
WB: Finger 3
Zen-On: Finger 4
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 4.
Measure 21, 1st, 2nd, 3rd Beat
WB: Finger 1, 2, 3
Zen-On: Finger 4, 1, 2
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 4, 1, 2.
From Measure 22-29
The fingerings are the same as in Measure 1-8.
Reconciliation of Left Hand
Measure 3, entire measure
WB: Finger 5 on Mi and the chords are played with 3 and 1.
Zen-On: Finger 4 on Mi and the chords are played with 2 and 1.
Dr. Kataoka teaches the Zen-On version.
WB: The chord is played with 2 (La) and 1 (Do#).
Zen-On: Nothing indicated.
Dr. Kataoka teaches 3 on La and 2 on Do#. She teaches that the chords from Measure 9-12 are to be played legato. If a child's hand is too small to reach the octave in measure 12, the student only plays the lower note and the top note is dropped completely.
WB: Finger 3 (Re) and 1 (Fa#) and a slur begins on the 2nd chord in Measure 32 through the 1st chord of 33.
Zen-On: No fingering indicated; however, there is a slur from Measure 32-33.
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 3 (Re) and 2 (Fa#) for the chord and the legato begins with the 1st chord in Measure 32 until the 1st chord of Measure 33.
Measure 35, 1st Beat
WB: Finger 5
Zen-On: Finger 4
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 4.
This concludes Part 9.
*(If a student cannot reach the top note of the chords on Beat 2 and 3 without straining, follow the Right Hand of the WB fingering. Split the Left Hand chord by playing the top note (Re) with the Right Hand thumb and the bottom note (Fa#) with the Left Hand Finger).
The Suzuki Association of Ontario awarded me $150.00 this year to encourage my self- development as a pianist and Suzuki Piano Teacher. I learned of the award on the 5th of May, but did not receive it until the end of July. During those three months I was charged with renewed energy to practice and to chart a path for nurturing my own musical growth. Two things came to mind: one, complete my ARCT (Associated Royal Canadian Teachers) Diploma under the tutelage of a Suzuki Piano Teacher, and two, go back to Piano Basics as Dr. Kataoka teaches them.
I cannot say anything yet about my Grade 10 and ARCT preparations, but I can say something full of encouragement from my week of study with Dr. Kataoka and forty of the other teachers at the Sacramento Convention Center during the second week of August.
The first observation is that it takes commendable courage and high esteem for a group of piano teachers to rent such fine facilities as the Sacramento Convention Center for a week of study together! I am so please to have been able to share the experience with one of my own students, Cielo Almendras, 13 and her mother Christia. Cielo played the third movement of the Clementi Sonatina, Op. 36, No. 3 at the Friendship Concert. They posed for a friendly photograph on one of the numerous marble benches lining the 13th Street Boulevard in front of the Center. Each of the benches was inscribed as follows: HEARTHEARTHEARTHEART. How many ways can you make sense of that?
I wondered in my own heart if the Toronto Suzuki Teachers might stir up enough esprit de corps to risk renting a beautiful facility like Roy Thomson Hall, or the Edward Johnson Building, or the Ettore Mazzoleni Concert Hall for a week of study together?
The second reflection I offer concerns the whole matter of encouraging ourselves to form study circles to support each other in our practice and our research of the best, the easiest, the most basic, the most efficient ways to play our instruments. Often I am curious about how other teachers practice. At the Sacramento Piano Basics workshop all forty of us gathered round for two hours every morning for five days with two good TV monitors to help us see well while twenty-four of us took our twenty to thirty minute lesson with Dr. Kataoka. Each one of us began our lesson by playing the Twinkles. The following basics were consistently and repeatedly emphasized with each of us: How do we walk? How do we stand? How do we sit? Where is our center of balance? Are our fingers free to move naturally from the knuckle ridge, solidly supported by the whole body-lower back, tummy, chest, relaxed shoulders, strong upper arm muscles? Can we distinguish a musical tone made by our moving finger tips from a noisy percussive tone made by our stiff fingers? Are we playing rhythmically? Do we know what a breathing legato sounds like? As pianists, are we willing to learn about our breath by singing? Have we made the metronome our friend? Are we willing to practice hands separately?
After our lesson on Twinkles, Dr. Kataoka invited us to play any piece of our own choosing. She gave us a very pointed challenge one day after twenty-nine of the teacher participants had played a recital for each other. If we have been studying with her every summer for ten years and are still choosing to play only Book 1 pieces at these workshops, then we are lazy. We need to be applying these basics to more advanced repertoire, the basics apply all the time whether the piece has a few notes or many notes. And besides, our students need to hear us and see us enjoying our own achievement in mastering pieces from the whole great repertoire of piano music!
Dr. Kataoka did not come alone to this workshop. She brought five colleagues with her from the Matsumoto Piano Teachers Association and two of them assisted in giving afternoon lessons- again in the master class format-to children and their parents. She also brought seven students from different teachers' studios as well as her own. Their repertoire included the Gigue from Bach's B-flat Partita in Book Four, the Paderewski Minuet, the Allegro from the Italian Concerto and the Chopin Waltz in A-flat Major. It was clear that Dr. Kataoka is modeling her own advice of working within a circle of support and shared research.
Dr. Haruko Kataoka at a
10-Piano Concert rehearsal,
Matsumoto, Japan, April, 2002
Photo courtesy of
It is October and I passed out a year's schedule to my students last week. My teaching year starts in September and ends in August. This year I planned 42 lessons per student, which left me 10 weeks of workshops and vacation. The 10 weeks of no lessons included a week at Thanksgiving, 2 weeks at Christmas, a week at Easter, and a week in July. Those are all vacation days. The other 5 weeks are set aside for Suzuki Piano functions; 2 workshops in June and 3 weeks for the 10 Piano Concert in Sacramento in August.
I passed out a year's calendar with the dates in yellow indicating no lessons. I also added a policy statement including suggestions to students and parents about the procedure in my studio, at recitals, and workshops. A list of monthly recitals was attached for this fall, and information about the upcoming 10 Piano Concert was included. I expect all of my students to participate in this concert, so it is only fair that I give them as much planning time as possible for the summer, since rehearsals for the concert are usually at least 2 or 3 weeks when they need to be in town. So I asked them to plan their vacations in June and early July. The cost of participation last year was $150.00 per student, so I tell them now in order that they save money for the concert.
The same information is given to those students who are interested in going with me to Japan in November, 2003. We are saving monthly now for that trip. I tell them to save around $1100.00 to $1500.00.
I have quite a few parents who have hosted out-of-town students for workshops and the 10 Piano Concert. They know what is required from experience, but I always have new parents who are interested in hosting, and I meet with them and the experienced parents ahead of time to let them know their responsibilities.
This month our Sacramento group of teachers will be putting together lists of pieces and students for the 10 Piano. The date is set: August 16, for the concert. Therefore, we can plan to start rehearsing locally in July in groups. If they do not know them already, our students need to start learning their Ten Piano pieces. We can plan for out-of-town participants to arrive starting around the first of August for rehearsals.
So, are you bored hearing all of this? I have to admit that I am a planner at heart, so for those of you who are not, I am merely telling you what I do. You see, I want you to go to a workshop, any workshop.
I tell my students the same thing when they come to a lesson having not practiced because of too much homework, or being out of town, or being sick, or it rained, or an elephant fell on the piano. Piano practice has to be a part of your everyday life, like homework, like taking a shower, like eating, like sleeping.
Workshops are the same. And because they take time and money, you have to plan. It all comes down to priorities with piano practice, right? If you value it, you will find the time. It is the same with attending workshops. And oh, can you make excuses for not going. These excuses usually revolve around time and money. What do you value? Maybe you feel a workshop is not worth your time because you already know everything there is to know, and you don't need it. After all, you went to school when you were younger. That part of your life is over. Maybe you are fooling yourself in thinking you can't afford it. Is that really true? How much are you willing to sacrifice to pay for a workshop? And maybe you would rather spend the time relaxing because you work really hard and have little time for yourself.
I know, I know, I am lecturing. I just want you to think about it. Why don't you go, really? Be honest with yourself. I gave you my schedule to let you know that I get plenty of vacation, (5 weeks), and 5 weeks of workshop time too. My students pay me monthly whether they have 0 lessons or 5. They don't quit, and they don't complain. I am a better teacher because I attend these workshops.
Teachers studying at the 10-Piano Concert in Matsumoto, Japan, April, 2002 Photo courtesy of Malinda Rawls, Louisville, Kentucky
Whatever these pieces are, they are not "fun." More correctly, they could be called lyrical, melancholy, heroic, or even tragic. (We're talking about repertoire such as Saint-SaŽns' The Swan, Faurť's Elegy and the Prayer from "Jewish Life" No.1, by Ernest Bloch.) They are gems of the serious cello/piano repertoire, and the entire recording avoids anything that might remotely be construed as "fun." So beware, the title promises something that it does not deliver.
All that aside, the performances of these twelve little masterpieces have many wonderful moments. The recording fulfills my personal criterion that a really good recording makes you want to hear it again and again. It is particularly good for piano students to listen to the lyricism that a cello is capable of producing, much like hearing a great singer, and these melodies are some of the greatest ever composed. So for a change of pace in routine listening, recommend this recording to your students. It will expand their horizons by branching out to the repertoire of another instrument and give them a fine example of that melodic, legato line we are always trying to teach on the piano.
Fun Classics is available from Piano Basics Foundation for $20, which, for members, includes postage and handling. Send orders to Linda Nakagawa, 242 River Acres Drive, Sacramento, California, 95831.
Contact: Linda Nakagawa
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, Ca 95831
November 15, 2003
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First Online Edition: 18 December 2002
Last Revised: 20 December 2002