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Piano Lessons During the Summer

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By Mihai Preda, PhD and Leidys Monascal, MS

Creativity now is as important in education as literacy. Sir Ken Robinson

We live in an age of unprecedented technological change. At this rapid and accelerating rate, we can hardly imagine the skills that children who are in school today will need to possess 10 to 15 years from now. In such a world, creativity (“the ability to come up with original ideas of value” Sir Ken Robinson) will be of paramount importance.

The cognitive, emotional, and psychosocial benefits of music education in children are well documented. Music is also an ideal medium in which children can be creative, improvising and composing their own songs. When taught in a cross-disciplinary way, music education also improves quantitative and problem-solving skills. Music gives our brain a complete workout (see Daniel Levitin “This is Your Brain on Music”.)

Yet at a time when the benefits of music education become clearer, budget cuts and the ever-increasing pressure of standardized tests lead our public schools to consider reducing or eliminating music programs from their curricula.

For students and parents considering starting or continuing music classes, the summer offers an extraordinary opportunity. It is a time when rapid, substantial progress is possible. Unlike the rest of the school year, when children’s time and energy is spent almost entirely at school and with homework, the two and a half months of summer are a time children can use to gain proficiency on the piano.

During the summer, children are well rested, and in better shape to learn. Without having to worry about homework, they can fully engage in the learning process. The relaxed summer schedule allows them to practice daily, and with it comes the excitement of witnessing their own progress, thus motivating them to excel.

The Miami Piano Studio continues offering piano lessons during the summer. The abilities and concepts acquired with the Brain-Based Piano Method through fun, creative and engaging activities will serve children well during the summer and in the future.

References:

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. New York: Capstone.

Levitin, D. (2006). This is your Brain on Music: The Science of o Human Obsession. New York: Penguin.

Learn Music and Develop Pattern Recognition

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This article deals with one important aspect of brain-based learning, namely pattern recognition.

To illustrate pattern recognition in action, let’s start from a simple example:

Let’s look at two rows of 6 numbers each.

A: 19, 21, 25, 31, 39, 49

B: 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14

Look at them, analyze them, and try to remember them. Without looking, take a piece of paper and write the numbers down in order. Now compare your numbers with the ones on this page. Which row was easier to remember? How did you do it?

When asked how they remembered the first list, some people will give some complicated rule, others will say that they memorized it outright. As for the second list, they will say something like “I counted backward from 19 to 14”. When asked to recall the two lists at some later point, most people will likely remember B while having forgotten A.

Most people would agree that the list B was far easier to remember. What makes it easy to remember is the recognition that the numbers are not random, but go in a certain order (“count backwards”) In other words, memorizing a small amount of information (in this case, the numbers 19 and 14) and seeing a pattern or a rule (count backwards) is a faster, easier and more effective way of learning than rote memorization.

Here is how this insight applies to learning music and playing the piano. In the Brain-Based piano method, in the “Initiation level”, students learn first by listening and playing how to recognize and apply the “rules of music” (equivalent to “counting backwards” in the example above) by ear before they look at a song on paper. This allows them to concentrate on understanding what they hear, without the distraction of trying to learn to read music notation at the same time.

Once they are introduced to printed music, they are already looking for patterns they know “must be there”.

Here is an example of the children’s song “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. For comparison we have also included the same song, as it would normally appear in a traditional elementary method (A), and as it appears in the Brain-Based Piano method (B).

  1. The children’s song “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as it would appear in a traditional method.Mary-Traditional
  2. Same song as it appears in the Brain-Based Piano Method.Mary-BBPM

Both are written on the standard double staff, with two connected staves, a top staff with the treble clef for the right hand (which plays the melody) and a bottom staff with the bass clef for the left hand (which plays the accompaniment).

Let’s repeat the experiment with the two number rows, this time with the two pieces of music. Look at picture A and see if you can spot some patterns. Then do the same with picture B.

Most beginners fail to see any pattern in A. The beginners we asked to describe what they see in B said something like “two lines of music almost the same”. And they are right. The song is comprised of two phrases that start the same but end differently. The first two measures of the first line are the same as the first two measures of the second line. This situation, called in music theory “antecendent-consequent phrases” is frequently found in children’s songs. In the BBPM, it is called “question and answer”.

The left hand in A hand has little repetition, but a lot of notes without any obvious pattern or connection to the melody or anything else. A student asked to learn it has no choice but to learn by rote. We do not know personally any student who enjoys doing that.

The left hand in B has a pattern that is easy to detect: two times the same sequence of two notes: Do-Do-Sol-Do. These two notes (called the Tonic and the Dominant) are very special for the melody as well as the accompaniment.

Most students learn the left hand intellectually in a matter of seconds. Being able to play it physically takes a little more time and practice. After a while, in which playing the song on this level (and many other songs) has had time to become second nature, it is possible to add the figuration seen in figure A in the left hand (a style of accompaniment known as Alberti Bass). This figuration is based on the same notes Do-Do-Sol-Do.

This is perhaps the most fundamental difference between the traditional method and BBPM. Whereas in the traditional method the student starts by learning by rote relatively complicated pieces, only to learn the organizing principles of music later (perhaps in a theory class), in the BBPM, these principles are front and center, learned along and with the songs and the repertoire.

Music abounds with patterns, proportions, structures inside other structures, etc. The Brain-Based Piano Method-Beginner Level presents the core organizing principles of music using children’s songs as vehicles for learning and experimentation. The curriculum is organized on principles derived from our knowledge about how the brain learns best. Complexity is built gradually on a strong foundation of core elements. Students using this method learn to play while understanding how the music they are learning works and, starting from these principles, how to create their own music.

 

And Another Post

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To Create or Not to Create

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Article by Mihai Preda

Published March 13, 2018

 

Pianist and Professor of Music John Mortensen has one question for his colleagues and students “Why Improvise?”.

He makes an impassioned plea to his colleagues and students to put in the time and effort to give this activity  a try, and lists some of the benefits:

  • to contribute our own original music, not only to recite the music others have created
  • it has profound implications for one’s musical development, somebody who improvises has to understand how music works “on a molecular level”
  • one has to internalize harmonic knowledge
  • start to recognize the decisions that composers have made and “demystifies music”
  • functional MRI scans show the different areas of the brain activated while performing learned pieces from memory versus improvised music: “performing from memory activates the parts of the brain responsible for personal monitoring and criticism, while improvisation activates the parts of the brain responsible for self-expression and freedom.”
  • improvising is a joyful experience
  • the audiences are more engaged in watching improvised performances

Thinking of improvising, and composing in the larger context of creative activities, from our perspective as music educators and piano teachers working outside the academia, we cannot help but notice something very interesting:

In our experience, we do not need to convince any student or any parent that improvising and composing is interesting, enjoyable or a worthwhile activity. They are already sold on this idea before they come to our studio.

All our students are interested in doing it. Yes, they want to learn to play Fur Elise. But they also like to experiment, and to create their own music.

Parents tell us about their children coming from school and running straight to the piano to try out a musical idea.

We as educators can use their excitement to pass on skills that are very difficult to convey without it.

Rather than assigning an exercise (example: play a scale legato in one hand and repeated chords in the other) we say: here is how you play a melody legato in one hand. Here is how you play repeated chords in the other.

Now go home and make up your own “song”. And they do. Here is Leonardo playing “Leonardo’s Song”.

Looking back at my own musical upbringing, I remember as an elementary student taking out a blank sheet of music paper, and writing my own compositions (the word Improvisation was not part of my vocabulary yet) .

This was outside the instructional goals of the music school I was attending (which was focused on teaching students to read notes, so they can go on to learning the classics). Nor did I know anybody who is composing or improvising.

Without any guidance, my interest in composition was eventually replaced by other interests. I discovered improvisation later in the context of jazz, and composition as a piano teacher in need for material that my students would find interesting and educational.

Here is one or our students playing ‘The Haunted House” (from the Brain-Based Piano Method Preparatory Level), a piece that the students are excited to play, while being introduced to bitonality and the Rondo Form, among other things. Nicolas contributes the costume and the theatrical effects.

To sum it up, here we have three accounts of improvisation, composition and creativity in general:

  • a professor making the case for it to his colleagues
  • young students excited about it
  • an adult teacher who recalls being interested in it in his youth and rediscovering it as an adult outside academia

Maybe Sir Robinson is up to something when he asks “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

 

Whether schools have anything to do with it or not, we live in a time where the need for creative people has never been greater.

Author Richard Florida makes a persuasive argument for it in his national best-seller The Rise of the Creative Class.

We also live in a time where the knowledge about how to raise creative students is more available than ever before.

The path to creativity is open to individuals, including students and parents interested in pursuing it.

 

 

Design is Science

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Visual design is often the polar opposite of engineering: trading hard edges for subjective decisions based on gut feelings and personal experiences. It’s messy, unpredictable, and notoriously hard to measure. The apparently erratic behavior of artists drives engineers bananas. Their decisions seem arbitrary and risk everything with no guaranteed benefit.

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Design the Right Way

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