Once in a while a music book comes my way which quite simply “blows me away”, and such a book is Little Stories, a new collection of 16 late elementary pieces by Polish composer Agnieszka Lasko, published by Euterpe and distributed by Universal Edition.
With it’s truly lush illustrations and presentation of Lasko’s highly original and attractive compositions, the book is a natural winner. The inclusion in several pieces of opportunities for children to improvise and compose takes the book to another level again, making it a truly essential addition to the childrens’ pedagogic literature.
As a teacher and writer, I am not in the habit of making up words. I find using words my students and readers already comprehend far more efficient. So, my research started with a thesaurus. Here is a summary of the synonyms listed for ‘practise’:
Obviously, they won’t do. There were a few others though:
Not bad, but still not the full picture. From this overview a realisation emerged. There isn’t a word already in existence that can update and improve on the word ‘practise’.
If I wanted a new word, I would have to make it myself.
Ask these questions to a hundred pianists, and there’s a good chance you will hear a hundred different answers – but some common themes will most likely emerge.
In this article I am going to consider the many and complex motivations we all experience in life, focussing in on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and how each pertains to our piano playing.
Alison Mathews’ excellent collection Treasure Trove has proved a big hit with my students who have been working through it, and I’m delighted that publishers Editions Musica Ferrum have now brought out another collection composed by her: Doodles.
It is very clear straight away that this publication explores very different terrain to Treasure Trove however.
So what is the concept here, and do I think it works? Let’s find out…
How your creative outlet survives an injury… Guest Post by Simon Reich
Putting a brand new blade in a window scraper demanded concentration, as the surgically sharp implement would slice the end of a finger off in a millisecond. Unfortunately I didn’t give my scraper the respect it demanded…
While trying to multitask, taking a mobile phone call (with it wedged between my chin and shoulder), holding the scraper, and attempting to close the back door of my van, I accidentally sliced so deeply into my left hand, that I could see my bones and severed tendons.
Although not feeling pain straight away, the sight of the inner workings of my hand caused me to collapse onto the footpath, holding my skin together to stem the flow of blood.
As I sat in the back of an ambulance, it suddenly dawned on me I may never play piano again.
The paramedics informed me that because the blade was brand new and incredibly sharp, the cut would have made a surgeon proud. Amazingly I was still not feeling pain in my hand, but the thought of losing my musical outlet was causing me enough ache as it was. I knew this situation only too well, as my brother (while serving a cabinetmaking apprenticeship) lost three fingers to an electric wood buzzer. This severely curtailed his drumming career.
Those of us who grew up hearing stories of the young prodigy Mozart composing his first music aged 5, or Beethoven composing the 9th whilst already deaf, may be forgiven for sometimes assuming that composing is something rarified and mysterious, inaccessible for us ordinary folk.
But if the recent explosion of wonderful original solo piano compositions from the likes of Barbara Arens, June Armstrong, Alison Mathews and Nikolas Sideris and many others that have been featured on Pianodao teaches us nothing else, it is that composition is not reserved just for the transcendent few.
What’s more, there are many resources available that you can use to guide you through introducing composition to students.
These resources, combined with an encouraging attitude and a sense of humour, can make composing a really fun and educational activity that both you and your students will enjoy. Best of all, none of these resources require you the teacher to be a composer. All you need is an encouraging attitude and a willingness to experiment.
Below you will find a list of resources that will help you to introduce yourself and your students to composing, as well as some tips from Barbara, June, Alison and Nikolas.
A good performance depends on the player’s personal interpretation of the music. Enjoyment, for the listener, depends on their personal response to the music. Which in turn is informed by personal musical taste and experience.
And in the same way, learning to play a musical instrument is a highly personalised experience. In this post we’ll consider why that is true, and what it means in practice.
In this post I am going to share a simple trick that will help prompt you to compose and improvise your own music.
This also provides an excellent strategy for helping more advanced students develop their creativity, and move beyond written music.
When making up our own music it’s useful to have a “trigger” that helps get things started – or perhaps a set of “rules” or self-imposed limitations within which we will work. Far from limiting our imagination, this can stimulate our creativity as we explore the boundaries we have set ourselves.
The Eight Chord Trick can be used in exactly this way.
The writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) gave us these much treasured words:
“Come away from the din.
Come away to the quiet fields,
over which the great sky stretches,
and where, between us and the stars,
there lies but silence;
and there, in the stillness
let us listen to the voice
that is speaking within us.”
Whether speaking of the Divine, or perhaps the voice of our own inner creative inspiration, these words represent a powerful call which we should and surely must heed on a regular basis.
For the school child, the busy professional or the highly active senior, the “Quiet Fields” could mean time spent at the piano.
For those of us whose work involves performing on or teaching the piano, the “Quiet Fields” are necessarily elsewhere.
But for all of us the imperative applies: we need time away from the daily grind to listen and to renew.
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