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how to teach beginners by haruko kataoka
Original link: http://core.ecu.edu/hist/wilburnk/SuzukiPianoBasics/KataokaSensei/HTB.htm
How to Teach Beginners
by Haruko Kataoka
Translated from the Japanese by Mitsuo FurumachiBook edited by Karen Hagberg
Piano Basics Foundation, 1487 Telegraph Road, Bellingham, Washington, USA 98226
Tel/FAX (360) 7340-9955
Web edited by Kenneth Wilburn
Department of History, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA 27858
FAX (252) 328-6774; email: email@example.com
How to Teach Beginners, Copyright 1996, by Haruko Kataoka
First OnLine Edition: 11 July 1997
Last Revised: 14 February 2001
All rights reserved
This is the online publication of the printed edition of
How to Teach Beginners. Both are newly edited versions
of a series of articles which originally appeared in the
Piano Basics Newsletter from Summer 1991 (Volume 2, #3)
to Winter 1995 (Volume 7, #4) and in the Suzuki Piano
Basics Foundation News, March-April 1996 (Volume 1, #1)
under the title: The Method of Teaching Beginners.
Table of Contents
About Dr. Haruko Kataoka
Part I: Instructions to Parents Before the Initial Lesson
Part II: When the Lessons Begin: The Bow; Proper Seating; Finger Numbers; The Twinkle Variations
Part III: The Suzuki Method is a Method Which Develops Ability: The Twinkle Variations
Part IV: Book 1: General Considerations: The Twinkle Variations; Right Hand Melodies; Left Hand and Hands Together
Part V: Difficult Points in the Book 1 Pieces: The Twinkle Variations; Repeated Note Legato; Independence of Hands; Balance Between Melody & Accompaniment
Part VI: Bringing Book 1 to Performance Level
Part VII: On Listening
Part VIII: How to Teach Book 2
About Dr. Haruko Kataoka
Dr. Haruko Kataoka is the co-founder of the Suzuki Piano Method. Born in Tokyo in 1927, she began the study of piano at the age of six with the late Yoshimune Hirata. Graduating from Sacred Heart Girls’ High School in Tokyo in 1945, she continued piano studies with Haruko Fujita. Dr. Kataoka moved to Matsumoto City in 1955 to serve as accompanist in Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s Talent Education Institute, where she began to research piano pedagogy based upon Dr. Suzuki’s methods of teaching violin. Thereafter, having developed the repertoire for the Suzuki Piano Method, she has served as Director of the Piano Department at the Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, where she continues to teach students and to train teachers from Japan and from around the world. For over a decade, she has directed “Ten Piano Concerts” in Matsumoto every 18 months, which have become international events since 1993, with the inclusion of students from other countries.
Beginning in 1972, when she attended the Suzuki Institute at Stevens Point, Wisconsin as a teacher trainer, Dr. Kataoka has traveled abroad for several weeks each year to conduct international workshops at universities and other centers in North America, Europe and Australia as well as in Japan and other Asian countries.
Dr. Kataoka was awarded the Matsumoto City Arts and Culture Award in 1986 and was granted an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky in 1990.
Dr. Kataoka’s other publications in English include My Thoughts on the Suzuki Piano School (Birch Tree Group, Ltd., 1985), My Thoughts on Piano Technique (Birch Tree Group, Ltd., 1988) and Sensibility and Education (Piano Basics, Inc., 1993).
Part I: Instructions to Parents Before the Initial Lesson
In traditional methods of piano teaching, students will learn to read the music from the very beginning. In this method, students will learn the music by listening to it. This does not mean that reading is completely ignored. After the student can play well enough, reading is introduced.
Memorizing a piece by listening to it is a method very much like the way a child first learns language. A newborn baby is much like a computer with nothing stored in its memory. The child is like a blank slate. The only place to start is at the most fundamental level of learning. At that level, available sensory data is stored until it can be assimilated in a meaningful form. Sight and sound are both very basic, but sight requires prior knowledge and practice in terms of playing music. Sound requires no prior knowledge and practice in terms of playing music. Requiring no prior knowledge or skills, sound therefore qualifies as an easier path on which to begin the process of learning an instrument.
The reason why a child learns a language in a seemingly effortless manner is that she is born in an environment which facilitates this process. A child is not coerced into learning to speak. She learns naturally by listening to the speech of those in the environment and imitating it. Learning to play piano can be much the same. A child’s own curiosity can be the initial spark and the gratification of approval from parents can be the fuel that feeds the fire. For the above reasons, I only teach those students whose parents agree to provide such an environment so that the students may learn in this “natural way.” I do not remember any parent ever having refused this request.
The next step is for the parents to buy textbooks and recordings. You will need Book 1 of the Suzuki Piano Method textbook series along with the accompanying recording. The recording consists of my performances of pieces in Book 1 with five repetitions of each piece.
When you have beginners, it is recommended to schedule lessons together with two to three students to a group. While one student is taking a lesson, the others are required to observe. It is very important to observe lessons of other students as you may find something very important which you are not aware of in your own child’s lesson. This group lesson is not for the purpose of competition but for developing an objective and analytical mind and attitude.
Part II: When the Lessons Begin
The Twinkle Variation:
First of all, you must teach students the ability to concentrate and maintain good balance and posture. All children have the innate potential to concentrate on a given task. This ability should be nurtured carefully by teachers and parents until it becomes more or less second nature. However, please keep in mind that the attention span of a young child is very short. In the beginning, the lesson time should be around three minutes. The teacher should then talk to parents about how to help the student develop his skills. The parents should then observe the lessons of other students so that the total time spent in the studio should be thirty to sixty minutes, including such observation.
At the start, the lesson begins with the student standing and facing the teacher. The teacher will then attempt to instruct the student to maintain good physical balance while in a standing position. If the student is able to achieve a certain level of proficiency, praise her. Even if the student is unable to do what is asked, she should be encouraged. Next, the teacher and student greet each other by bowing. This is not only a Japanese custom, but a way of expressing mutual respect between student and teacher. If the student is successful at the tasks mentioned above, she should be allowed to sit at the piano.
When the student sits down at the piano, please have the parents adjust the height of the chair and footstool. The student should be sitting with a straight back and arms relaxed at the sides. The height of the chair is correct if the height of the elbows is the same as that of the top of the white keys. The height of the footstool is correct if the feet stay flat on the stool while sitting on the chair. The footstool should be wide enough so that the feet may move freely sideways.
The next step is to drill the student on his finger numbers. The student should first be able to say the number of each finger correctly. You should then drill the finger numbers by repeating, along with the student, “1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.” Repeat the numbers at random and have the student figure out which number matches which finger. As he gets better at this, increase the speed. This drill has two purposes: to memorize the number assigned to each finger, and to develop the ability to concentrate. The student should also practice this drill at home.
This natural method of learning is different from traditional methods. The teacher is not only teaching but is also nurturing and developing the abilities of students by repetition. With patience and effort, abilities such as concentration and balance will develop. Teachers should have the student repeat what she can do and have her do it well. This helps her develop confidence and self esteem so that, when confronted with a difficult task in other matters, she will approach it with confidence and persistence.
Each child is different in his style and rate of learning. One student may be able to do the above tasks in one hour, while another may take three months. The difference is inconsequential. However, the drills should be accomplished one by one in order. If the student cannot stand with feet together, you should not go on to the next step, which is bowing nicely. Doing a good job is always related to the power of concentration. If you have students repeat things they cannot do well, they will develop a habit of not doing well.
The Twinkle Variations:
If the student can sit properly in front of the piano, please have her then place her right hand with finger 1 over the first note of Twinkle (C). The student should be ready and waiting for the teacher to say “go.” The hand is not to be touching the key until the teacher says “go.” Please ask the student to sit still and wait. While the student waits, check the posture and the position of the arms, wrists and hands. The shoulders and elbows should be relaxed. The hands should be balanced at the wrist and the body should be balanced at the hip. If the student can get ready like this several times without difficulty, she should then be allowed to play the first pattern of Twinkle. You may hold the student’s hand in this practice and actually play for her with her fingers.
It is very important that the teacher instruct the students to listen very carefully to the tone of the piano at all times as they play. In this way, students will learn to listen to the sound right from the beginning of lessons. Please do not sing along with them.
This method of teaching piano nurtures and develops the playing abilities of all students. The teacher should help nurture such abilities by providing the best possible learning environment. Every child has the potential to be able to do almost anything in a proficient manner. It is the task of teachers and parents to transform that potential into real skills, in other words, into ability.
Part III: The Suzuki Method is a Method Which Develops Ability
In traditional teaching, the teacher gives out information and then the student learns what the teacher has said. This is very one-sided. In the Suzuki Method the teacher not only teaches, but also lets the child carefully repeat what was taught, over and over again, until it is acquired, developed, and can be done with ease. To develop anything well takes a great deal of time for any living thing, for plants as well as for human beings. When something is actually developed, we call that ability.
Patience, effort and love are required on the part of both teachers and parents.
I discussed the first lesson in Part II. The teacher, the student and the parent bow, feeling respect for one another as human beings, at the beginning of the lesson. This must be done faithfully every time.
Next, sitting at the piano, the student learns to get ready with the right hand.
“Getting ready,” is very important, not only for beginners, but for advanced students and professional musicians as well. The moment of getting ready is always a very important thing, full of concentration. From the beginning, the teacher must teach this carefully at each lesson.
Since getting ready does not involve producing sound, both teachers and parents tend to forget to have students practice it. Please carefully develop the ability to get ready.
If the ability to get ready is really developed well, it will be possible to control everything after that.
The Twinkle Variations:
When the teacher says, “Ready,” and “Go,” the student practices playing the rhythm of Twinkle A on the first note (C).
Do not let the student play a hard tone with stiff hands. Regardless of when a student begins, or what discipline a student is studying, the very beginning is most important. The student should play only this single pattern with a natural and good tone. If the student plays a hard tone, the teacher should say that a soft tone is all right, “Let’s play with a soft tone.” The teacher should then demonstrate a good tone, and then the student can correct it.
This rhythm of Twinkle A is first played on C with the thumb. When this improves to a certain extent, the student may then get ready on G with the fourth finger. Then, when the teacher says, “Go,” the student may play the pattern on G.
No matter how quickly a given student can learn, getting to this point will take two or three weeks.
What is important is not to confuse the child. Let the child learn to work methodically.
At each lesson, all the same things are repeated, from the bow onward, and the next things are added one at a time.
We must tell the parent to repeat these same steps in order to accomplish good practice at home every day. Five to ten minutes of daily home practice is enough in the beginning.
Be careful to let the child always do concentrated and good work in an orderly fashion, even if it is only for a short time. When we give unstructured lessons or let the child practice at home slowly and absentmindedly for long periods of time, he or she will gradually come to dislike work.
The fingering for the Twinkle Variations in the right hand is as follows: C(1), G(4), A(5), G(4), F(3), E(2), D(1), and C(1). (Editor’s note: This is different from the fingering printed in the score.)
The above should be repeated in practice, always getting ready and playing when the parent says, “Go,” one note at a time. In the beginning, it is enough to practice only the first phrase. When this is mastered, the rest can be done easily.
What is important is not quantity, but by repetition, to accumulate good quality practice. Another important thing is this: the teacher must remind the parent, at every lesson without fail, to create a good home environment by listening to the recordings. The recording need not be played at a high volume. Children, who have good ears, can hear a very soft tone much better than adults can.
When the student can play the rhythm of Twinkle A, move on to the second variation, and then the third variation. As with the first variation, begin by practicing just the first phrase, saying “Ready,” and “Go,” before each note. Since the beginning student does not have the ability to play yet, it is impossible to let him play the entire piece. Do not forget to say, “Ready,” and “Go,” faithfully at every lesson.
Getting ready is very useful for concentration and for adjusting the balance of the body.
After the student can play the first three variations with ease, the last legato variation may be taught. Since this piece consists of playing legato on repeated notes, it must be taught very carefully.
The beginning is crucial. Legato playing of repeated notes is a very difficult, but a very important, technique in piano playing. If the child learns it correctly at the beginning, he will be able to play repeated-note legato easily for the rest of his life.
After the student plays the first note (C) with the thumb, the teacher should then play it longer, letting the child listen to it carefully. Then add another C. If you do this with care, the legato will be beautiful. If the first note is short and the second one is long, however, this is a mistake. Teachers, please carefully use your ears.
Then teach playing from C to G, from the first finger to the fourth finger, very precisely. This is one full week’s homework: only 1 to 4. Do not ask the child to do too much.
Once the first three notes, C-C-G can be played, the rest can be done easily.
Twinkle is the most difficult piece in Book 1. The reason why the most difficult piece is in the beginning of the book is that we want children to taste the joy of playing effortlessly, so after firmly creating the ability to play a difficult piece and learning to study hard, we give them pieces that are easy to play.
In traditional methods of education, grown-ups think, logically, that pieces should always be arranged in order of difficulty and that each new piece will present a similar new challenge. However, if there is always joy in the work, a person can develop happily.
Part IV: General Considerations
Is everyone daily repeating the steps recommended above? Whenever a teacher teaches a point, the parent should, without fail, have the child practice it many times at home.
First, whenever we begin a lesson, the teacher and the student face each other and bow. By this time, the teacher requires the student to be able to stand squarely and to make a beautiful bow. Through faithful repetition, heart is put into what was only the required form in the beginning, and thus the teacher and the student become able to feel respect for one another. This is an important lesson which teaches the student to listen carefully to what the teacher says.
Second, “Getting ready.” Not only for the Twinkle Variations, but for all the pieces in Book 1 and in Books 2-6 as well, when the student begins to play the piece, the teacher lets her get ready and concentrate on her feelings. Then the teacher says, “Go,” and lets the student play. This should always be done when practicing a part of a piece as well as when playing through an entire composition. Through this practice, the child will develop the ability to do a good job, full of concentration.
Third, the teacher must repeatedly teach, at each lesson from the very beginning, the Twinkle Variations, having the student practice listening carefully to the tone while concentrating on it with the mind. At first, the focus should be on one single tone. Every piano has its own best tone. In order to be able to use this tone, the teacher needs to teach it. The best tone! It is a natural tone. It is tone produced without unnecessary added force. Tones produced by hitting, beating or kicking the piano are not the sounds of music. They are noises.
The Twinkle Variations:
First we discussed how to teach the Twinkle Variations with the right hand and how to play legato.
For six months to a year after the first time, whenever the student comes to the lesson, the teacher should always hear the Twinkle Variations and must check to see if the fingertips are moving (just a little) in order to make a good tone and if the natural movement of the thumbs and little (5th) finger is carefully maintained. Then it is the teacher’s job gradually to improve the level of the technique.
The Twinkle Variations contain the most basic element, which is easy to understand: to make sound on the piano with a human hand. Playing these variations perfectly with a beautiful tone, rhythmically and musically, is what is important as far as technique is concerned.
Right Hand Melodies:
After the student is able to play the Twinkle Variations with the right hand to a certain level, he may begin to play them with the left hand. The steps are the same as before with the right hand. The practice should proceed gradually. If the child is right-handed, the left hand will be physiologically awkward in comparison. Therefore, we must not assume that the left hand will move as easily as the right. Unless the student is left-handed, it will be natural for the left hand to move less easily. No matter how awkward the left hand is at first, however, its ability can be developed gradually by doing many repetitions in short practice periods over time.
Here is the most important point: Do not let the child play the Twinkle Variations hands together in unison! If a teacher makes such an assignment, the child will play this way, even if it takes great effort. But if the teacher does this, a terrible consequence will occur in the child’s body. This is because human beings are given one hand which is more skillful than the other at birth. Also, as we can see if we put our hands face down on a table in front of us, the arrangement of the right and left fingers is reversed. Because of these two factors in our physiology, it is very difficult to play in unison. If the teacher requires the very beginning student to attempt unison playing, a great strain will remain in the child’s body. In the beginning it is most important not to hurt the nature of the body.
Always at each lesson, the student plays with one hand while the teacher plays an accompaniment rhythmically with good tone. This is a very important point. If the teacher’s accompaniment is good, the child knows naturally that there is rhythm in this universe and can enjoy music in that rhythm.
Let the student memorize the pieces in Book 1 , one after another, with the right hand. If the parent repeatedly lets the child listen to the recording of Book 1 every day at home, it is very easy for the student to memorize the melodies of the pieces. Learning is always very, very easy for children (under the age of 20). Adults have a hard time understanding how children can do this, because we no longer can learn in this way. This is the kind of learning that all people in the world use to speak their native language fluently, without study or effort. Even the most lazy people learn their native language. This proves how easy it is to learn. Considering that it is very difficult to acquire a foreign language after age twenty, we know well how important childhood is. To reiterate: learning is easy for children.
If there is a student in your studio who cannot learn well or cannot play easily, there is another reason:
**Poor body balance and control (technique)
**Poorly developed concentration, patience and effort
**Not hearing the pieces enough
The piano is considered an easy instrument on which anyone (even a cat) can produce tone. Anyone can produce noise. But not just anyone can make a natural tone, one which is the best that the piano can produce. I have explained a little about the technique of producing good tone. I recommend, however, that you come to my workshops to research and understand while actually playing the piano.
Learn Cuckoo, Lightly Row, French Children’s Song, London Bridge, etc. while being careful to use the correct fingering. A great deal of attention must be paid to playing each tone legato and beautifully. There are repeated notes (two or three at a time) in all of these pieces. If you allow the student’s fingers to become stiff, there will be separation between these repeated notes. Teach the student to listen carefully and not to play with spaces between the notes. In piano playing, legato is very difficult in scales and intervals, but legato is the most difficult in repeated notes.
Teachers, please question your own legato and check it! Children can receive the order of the pieces and the sense of music from the recordings, but they take technique with their bodies from their teachers, the people from whom they are actually learning. I pray, for the sake of students, that their teachers have good technique.
Left Hand and Hands Together:
When the student has learned the pieces, one after another, with the right hand and can play them easily approaching the end of Book 1 , the study of the left-hand accompaniments begins. What I teach at the very beginning is a chord. I start by having the student practice C-E-G in Mary Had a Little Lamb. It is all right to do this from the very beginning of hands-together practice. Discard any belief you may have that young children cannot play chords.
Sometimes there is a child who can play it instantly, but most of them need practice.
The child whose fingers do not move very well can be taught to practice the two-note intervals, C-E (5-3) and E-G (3-1), until she can play the three-note chord easily. It is all right if this takes several weeks. It is always important to be careful to instruct the student to use the hands gently in the same way as when picking up a soft thing. Never let the student do a sort of hitting on the keyboard after getting ready with three stiff fingers.
At first, the student should practice playing E and G together with fingers 3 and 1. Of course, this is one week’s homework. Then practice playing C and E with fingers 5 and 3. If the student does these two exercises well, it will become easy to play C-E-G with 5-3-1. Next, let the student practice the second chord. If she can play the notes C-E-G simultaneously, she ought to be able to play B-D-G without any problem.
After thoroughly practicing the two chords in the piece, C-E-G and B-D-G, they can be played together with the right-hand melody. When beginning to play hands together, every student turns her attention to the left hand and breaks the right-hand legato at the chord changes. Correct this carefully.
Next, practice the first four measures of the left hand of Cuckoo. (It is best to have previously practiced the two chords from Mary Had a Little Lamb. When the student can play the first four measures, go on to the next four measures, and then practice playing both hands together.
When putting hands together, first tell the student to “Get ready,” by getting ready simultaneously on G with the fifth finger of the right hand and on C with the fifth finger of the left hand. If this can be accomplished, the student can then produce the tones of the first beat when the teacher says, “Go.”
Repeat this patiently until it can be done correctly and securely. Then practice playing this together with the second beat, that is, E with the third finger of he left hand while sustaining G with the fifth finger of the right hand. Next, the student can play the third beat, that is, E with the third finger of the right hand and G with the left-hand thumb. By now the student can play one full measure hands together.
If the teacher demonstrates these steps for the parent who is helping the student, even a parent who does not know anything about music can understand how to play with both hands. I always say, “Now you understand, don’t you? You can practice playing hands together while memorizing the piece at home, can’t you?” This is an easy thing anyone (not just piano teachers) can do. If the teacher has played musically with a good technique at each lesson, the student can easily learn the piece.
If a student can play Cuckoo with both hands, he can play all the pieces hands together.
In Lightly Row, first practice the first broken chord in the left hand (C-G-E-G, 5-1-3-1). After the student can play this well (this could take two or three days), then practice the second broken chord (B-G-D-G, 5-1-3-1). When the student can play these two smoothly and easily, gradually combine the hands. Since the ability to play smoothly should have already been well developed in the right hand, playing hands together will not be that difficult.
Whenever a student cannot play hands together easily, it is always because of the following problems:
**The child has a weak lower back and has difficulty keeping body balance
**The ability to play smoothly has not been well developed in the right hand (lack of right-hand practice), or
**The child is not listening enough to the recordings.
If the student pays attention to these three points, he or she can surely play well. When there is a body problem (lower back), it is all right for the student to go slowly without hurrying, but without resting. There are many students in my studio who have improved greatly despite first having had a weak lower back. Education must never be forced or rushed. Teachers, parents and children all require patience and effort.
Most pieces in Book 1 are in quadruple or duple time. Only four of them are in triple time.
Quadruple time: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Variations, Lightly Row, French Children’s Song, London Bridge, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, Claire de Lune, Long Long Ago, Little Playmates, Allegro
Duple time: Allegretto 2, Christmas Day Secrets, Musette (compound duple time)
Triple time: Cuckoo, Chant Arabe, Allegretto 1, Goodbye to Winter
Consequently, if the student studies Cuckoo (triple time) and Lightly Row (quadruple time) slowly and carefully so that he can play these two pieces well with hands together, he may put in other pieces fairly quickly.
If the student can play Mary Had a Little Lamb hands together, he or she can instantly play Little Playmates with both hands. C-E-G is the same, but B-F-G is a new chord. If the student’s hands are small and cannot reach F and G with the thumb and second finger, it is easy to have him play F and G together with the thumb.
When the student can smoothly play Cuckoo, Lightly Row, Mary Had a Little Lamb and Little Playmates hands together, he can easily study most pieces in Book 1 because the accompaniments are mostly the same.
These are two very important points!
**When children can play a piece hands together, they, their teachers and parents are pleased with it and forget to do hands-alone practice. Teachers, please do not forget to practice playing the right hand alone at lessons. (In Book 1, the melodies are especially important.)
**When the student is just beginning to be able to play hands together, it is important to play the pieces slowly, but after he gradually gets accustomed to the music, teach the student to be able to play up-to-tempo, as the music is played on the recording. According to traditional thinking, we tend to believe that children cannot do this. But children run around all over the place. They are full of vitality and have better balance than adults. It is easy for them to play with spirit in a normal tempo if the teacher’s guidance is good. (It is preferable for the teacher to play with the student at lessons.) If we let the student play in a halting manner in Book 1, like an old person or a sick person, he will learn to play without vitality at the piano all the time. There is no need to practice the Book 1 pieces slowly once the student has learned how to play them.
Part V: Difficult Points in Book 1 Pieces
The Twinkle Variations:The most difficult pieces in Book 1 are the Twinkle Variations. We must teach Twinkle at each lesson, from the very first time the piece is assigned until the student is able to play Musette at the end of Book 1hands together. Both the student and the parent will get bored if the student only plays through the piece. When this is the case, the parent always tells the teacher that the child is tired of the piece, dislikes it, and does not want to practice it. If the teacher hears these words, the teaching is poor and self-examination is required. The teacher in this case has not been listening to the individual tones in Twinkle with concentration.A piano teacher must always remember what she is teaching the student. Since our job is music, we must teach tone, which is intangible. Please listen carefully at each lesson to whether or not the individual tones of the Twinkle Variations have become natural and musical tones and whether or not they are well played to rhythm, and then gently correct the bad points. The student comes to the lesson expecting to be taught concretely what to practice for the next lesson. When the lesson is unspecific, the student generally develops the ability not to listen carefully to what the teacher says. An assignment such as “Please practice playing a little more musically,” although effective for grown-ups who can think logically, is too abstract for beginning children and parents and they will understand nothing!The Twinkle Variations are very, very useful for tone training, and they are good pieces. In them we learn to produce tone on the piano, and we also learn how to play staccato. By the time the student has learned the Book 1 pieces to the end, I want teachers to make the effort to ensure that their performance of Twinkle is the same as the recording or even much better than that!
Repeated Note Legato:In the Book 1 pieces, whenever we find repeated notes, we must teach how to play legato and how to hear legato thoroughly from the very beginning. The first repeated-note legato appears in the melody ofTwinkle D. At first, teach listening to the length of the tone, and then you must patiently teach how to play two notes of the same length.We also find repeated notes in Cuckoo, Lightly Row, French Children’s Song, etc. When we look carefully, we see there are many repeated notes in the Book 1 melodies. In legato pieces it is important that the repeated notes also be played legato. The technique of how to play repeated notes on the piano must be taught at the beginning.The beginning is always the most important for a human being. Every outcome is decided by the first environment. Difficult techniques have traditionally been taught only after students become “advanced.” This is conventional teaching. A basic technique, however, must be carefully taught at the very beginning level. It is the responsibility of the teacher to do this.The important teaching point is that both the teacher and student practice listening to tone carefully with concentration.
Independence of Hands:Allegro is a very important piece in which the student can study various things. Please teach it carefully over a long period of time.First, consider the first four measures. There are staccato quarter notes in the right hand. Please take many lessons to teach how to play staccato with dynamics.Since the piece is in quadruple time, the first four notes (G-G-D-D) should be played down – up – down- up. Please never teach up -up – up- up. Most students and teachers play only “up.” This is a serious mistake.The first four notes in the second measure are eighth notes and should be played with a light staccato, half the volume of the quarter notes. Since the fourth finger plays a black key, students almost always try to play the fifth finger by laying down on it. This develops a very bad habit in that finger, so the teacher must ask the student to practice playing a soft tone on that note while moving the tip of the little finger at the first joint. This is a very important point.Then pay attention to the left hand. The chords in the left hand are not staccato. Never let students play these staccato. Please thoroughly teach children to play carefully and quietly with the left hand alone at each lesson before combining the hands. An accompaniment played quietly is indeed beautiful, and will help the melody get much stronger and will help the student play well.
Combine the hands only after the right and left hand can play well by themselves. When the teacher teaches this point well, the student is studying a very difficult technique found only in piano music: the right hand staccato and, at the same time, the left hand legato. In other words, the student is developing independence in the hands. Since all other instruments play only melody, people who play these instruments do not encounter the problem of doing entirely different things in the two hands as we pianists do.
Balance Between Melody and Accompaniment:We must also teach that accompaniment is always to be played quietly. This was stressed above in the discussion about Allegro. However, if teachers teach this too soon when students have just managed to learn a piece or have just put hands together, the student will not be able to do it. Please teach quiet accompaniment after the student has become fully accustomed to the piece and can play it smoothly and easily.That applies to all the pieces in Book 1. But please teach patiently how to play the left hand alone very quietly in Allegretto 2, Musette, or in any piece. If the teacher simply cries, “Play the left hand more softly, more softly, more softly,” while the student is playing hands together, it will not happen.
Part VI: Bringing Book 1 to Performance Level
Even if we understand something in our heads, it is very difficult to put into practice!
Human beings tend to take it for granted that what we understand in our heads is being done. As a matter of fact, what we understand with our brain is entirely different from being able to do it. We must always recognize this and to pay full attention to it.
A teacher who studies very hard and knows Piano Basics very well recently played Book 1 pieces for me in a faltering manner, like a poorly trained child after just having learned them.
“Why do you play that way?” I asked in surprise.
She answered, “Because I always play with children.”
We adults tend to think that children are immature and cannot do something as well or better than we can. This idea has been put into our mental “floppy disks” for a long time, and the reality has not been sufficiently thought out.
Yes, it is true that because children certainly do not have the wisdom for living, they sometimes do ridiculous things with no attention to adult concerns. Because their bodies are smaller, they are physically weaker than adults. For these reasons, children are misunderstood.
In most respects, because children live on their sensibility alone, they can use this sensibility more wonderfully than we can. Children have no troubles in life, and therefore their heads are flexible and their bodies limber. They have much more freedom than adults. Consequently, if children learn well and get used to playing every piece up-to-tempo from the beginning of Book 1, it is possible for them to play every piece with ease at the tempo I use on the recording. If left on their own, however, children do not progress. When teachers think that it is about the right time to play at a normal tempo, they must guide the children by increasing their tempo. If teachers let children play slowly and faltering forever, merely because they are very young, they will take up the habit of playing hesitantly and poorly.
Never let children play the Book 1 pieces (or the Book 2 pieces) like babies. If the teacher allows this, that child will become a poor pianist.
Let us say it once again: When children learn one piece with one hand at first and then begin to combine the hands, it is natural to play slowly. But it is the responsibility of teachers to teach children to play up-to-tempo after three or four weeks (or longer). Always the rate at which pieces are learned largely depends upon family circumstances and the personality of the child.
It does not matter at all whether a child progresses quickly or slowly. However, when the child performs one piece, the teacher is completely responsible for whether it is played well or poorly.
When the student is beginning Book 2, please teach him gradually to improve a few pieces in Book 1 at every lesson.
Part VII: On Listening
I would like people who educate children to think hard about the importance of listening.
First of all, we cannot conduct good education if we do not closely study the difference between children and adults and understand what childhood is.
The same can be said for recordings of the Suzuki repertoire. Recordings have been unsuccessful both in Japan and America because they are played by people who do not know children. Of course, there would be nothing to say if we had Rubinstein, Horowitz and Gieseking playing the Suzuki repertoire, but this could not be realized because it was a financial impossibility. Therefore, various recordings have been made by people here and there who happen to be available.
Before recording CD’s, I made tapes of Volumes 1-3 in the United States several years ago. The conditions in the recording studio were terrible, and the production of the tapes was poor in quality and therefore unsatisfactory. Interestingly however, when young children listen to my tape and then to someone else’s, I have heard that they invariably prefer mine. Since I am not a performer, I never think of my performance as good. And yet, I tried at least to follow a natural tempo and rhythm. Children feel good when listening to natural tempo and rhythm. Here again, I was taught this by children.
Why do people in the world not think more seriously about the education of children? In the case of music, it is time to reconsider once again how important listening is, because this is the most important point in the Suzuki Method.
Consider one’s own native language. In any country, a human being who has been brought up there from birth always acquires the right language. This is because one’s mother tongue is natural.
If we let a child hear unnatural music, she unconsciously comes to dislike piano music. This is a failure of education. I want the people who read this not to make this mistake.
In order to reconsider once again the importance of letting children hear good music, I am writing this reminder of the importance of listening. If we let a child hear bad music, no matter how skilled the teacher, a good result cannot be achieved.
Part VIII: How to Teach Book 2
Some say that the Suzuki repertoire becomes suddenly difficult when we get into Book 2. Any teacher who thinks like this should please ponder this well by asking questions of yourself. Have we really taught the basics well in Book 1? Can the student play every piece in Book 1 well with musical tone and with natural use of the body? Can the student perform Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with good tone, similar to the tone on the recording he is listening to? Have we allowed the parents to build up the habit of listening to pieces on the recording every day? And so forth. If we can answer yes to these questions, the student will not findBook 2 difficult.
When students move into Book 2, I make sure to explain to parents that they have studied how to learn a new piece in Book 1 by first having the student listen to the recording many times, and then to memorize the right hand melody with the correct fingering. I remind them that a good way to memorize is to repeat individual sections of the piece many times. When the student has memorized the melody of the right hand and is able to play it well, he may learn the left hand. After the student can play each hand well by itself he may practice playing hands together. At the lesson, I explain, we will no longer listen to the piece one hand at a time, as we did in Book 1. From now on at lessons we listen only to pieces played hands together. If the student is always memorizing two or three pieces ahead in the right hand, he can easily progress. The lesson begins when the whole piece has been memorized.
Ecossaise, by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (Austria, 1778-1837)
First, the student must be able to play the right-hand phrase in the first four measures with good tone, one note at a time, without losing balance in the fingers or hand. Teach this patiently at each lesson. What is important is that the individual fingers can move well independently. We should also pay attention to playing legato. I also always ask the students to repeat these four measures slowly and carefully as homework.
Be careful on the fifth finger in the beginning pattern (2-4-2-4-5). At first, a soft sound is all right, but always ask the student to move the tip of the fifth finger at each lesson. Training the fifth finger by playing theTwinkle A rhythm is also a good teaching tool.
Consider the chord (C – E) in the left hand. Teach the student to play the staccato with light and good tone, moving the fingertips of the second and fourth fingers. This is very important. The students must learn to play chords lightly with a natural hand. It takes two or three months for a child who practices very hard every day. If he practices slowly, it is not unusual for this to take six months to a year. It is important to be able to do this correctly.
Then, teach the student to be able to play measures 17 to 24 carefully with good tone, four measures at a time, hands alone. It is all right if he cannot play the half notes and quarter notes in the left hand correctly at this stage.
When the student can play quite well, teach him to play measures 1-8 with normal tone (mf) and 9-16 with very soft tone (pp). It is important for the teacher to demonstrate a very soft tone to the young child. Since memorizing is a different job even when the student is studying Ecossaise, it is all right for him to memorize the next piece. I tell them that they may memorize as many pieces as they wish in advance.
I never neglect to give lessons on previous pieces when the student has begun Ecossaise. As I do not have enough time to listen to all the pieces in Book 1, I always correct bad points in individual pieces from Book 1 such as Allegro (this piece is very good for study), Musette, Allegretto 1, Christmas Day Secrets, etc. Students can improve technique by being given lessons on pieces with which they are completely familiar and which they can play with ease. Students cannot learn anything on a newly memorized piece.
A Short Story, by H. Lichner
How to memorize is the same as in Ecossaise. But this is the longest piece in the repertoire to this point. Therefore before attempting to memorize it, it is good to advise the student to divide the piece into three sections (measures 1-8, 8-16, 16-26) and to study the sections separately. Since this piece is in four beats, the first and third beats must be played carefully, and the pickup notes must be light. The middle section is difficult in this piece. The staccato in the ninth measure in the right hand is a very soft and light tone, with moving fingertips. Measure eleven should be played legato. Left-hand scales appear in measures 9-13. When the student begins to play fingers 5-4-3-2 from G, the tune does not sing out if it is played too softly. If the left hand chords in measures 22-24 are practiced in turn at the signal, “Ready – Go,” they will improve quickly.
The Happy Farmer, by Robert Schumann (Germany, 1810-1856)
For a simple piece, this one is unusual because the melody is in the left hand. This piece helps a student improve the left hand, which is less coordinated than the right unless she is left-handed.
In the beginning, learn the first four measures of the left hand. It is most important for the student to have listened a great deal to the recording before beginning to play. The rate of learning is very different for children who listen diligently and those who do not. If the student has done much listening, she can learn with great ease. It is also important to learn the fingerings correctly.
When the student has memorized the complete left hand melody, begin to teach how to play it.
First, since the first note (C) is the second half of the fourth beat, it is a pickup note. The tip of fifth finger must always be taught to move, but to be played with a very light and soft tone. When the fifth finger plays C, extend the fingers to get ready for the third finger on F. Because F is the important first beat, sing it out with the whole heart carefully, from the top to the bottom, with good tone. Since singing means exhaling, the fingers and the entire hand relax completely as they exhale while we count “1 and 2” on that note. Then follows the next note (A) with the second finger with a very light and soft tone, going to C with the thumb with sufficient singing volume to match the previous F.
How to play these dotted quarter notes is very important. I always divide the first four notes into two two-note sections and have the student practice them this way. This is the most important aspect of the first four measures of this piece.
When the thumb crosses under the second finger in the next phrase (5-3-2-1-2-1), be careful not to change the position of the palm. Do not change the palm position in the next phrase (2-1-2-5-1) either.
When the student then goes from B-flat to A with the thumb, that is to say, from a black key to a white one, carefully teach executing this by moving the thumb. Do not let the student pull and drop from the black key. If she does that, she cannot keep the palm position.
When the student can play the first four measures of the left hand, start practicing the right hand. Practice playing every chord with a very small tone. If the teacher says, “Play softly, softly,” all the children will play well. Since the second and fourth chords in the third measure are quarter notes, make them long.
After being able to practice the right and left hands well, put the hands together. Go ahead only after being able to play the first four measures very well.
The difficult point in the right hand, in the ninth measure, is being able to play the B-flat well with the fifth finger coming from C with the thumb in the previous measure in the right hand. It is not easy to get enough sound on this note. Practice playing Twinkle A on B flat many times every day with the fifth finger. Always insist on a soft, moving fingertip.
If the above points are always practiced carefully over a period of time, the student will play the piece very well.
Minuet 1, by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750)
The student who listens to the recording for a long time every day is always glad to begin studying this piece. I believe that all children can appreciate the genius of Bach, and in this regard am always impressed by how wonderful children are.
Since this piece is a minuet, it is in triple time. Teachers, let us not forget to teach triple time. Of course, the student first learns the right-hand notes. Because this piece is divided into two measures, two measures and four measures, the student can learn them easily in these groupings. After the student has learned these first eight measures, she may go on in the same way with the left hand. Then put hands together. If the student learns calmly, step-by-step, learning is not difficult. When the student does not learn well, it is a case of not listening to the recording enough. When the student can play this much hands together, begin teaching how to play well.
First, play the first three notes in the right hand (D-D-D) in triple time. All three notes are different even though they are on the same pitch. In other words, the first beat is to be played most carefully with a deep tone, tone sung with the whole heart. The second D is right on the beat and has a very little, light tone. The third one goes up, played with light tone with a sense of breathing in slowly and deeply. The basic of how to play triple time is always the same. The student must play like a conductor’s beat looks: Down-Across-Up.
Often teachers complain that certain students cannot keep the tempo, no matter how many times they are told. The music just keeps getting faster and faster. If a student can play triple time correctly, she will never make such a mistake.
Tempo is time, a horizontal movement. A person who plays correctly can keep the tempo on rhythm, that is, she can play in natural rhythm. Rhythm is a vertical movement. In contrast, tempo is horizontal. Melody is something built upon these things. Whenever we teach, let us not forget this basic principle.
These first three notes are followed by B – AB – G on beats 1-2-3. B is the first beat and should be played deeply. AB is light. G is played rather short with a lighter and gentle tone. Without fail, teach the student to play the last note of this phrase (G) beautifully and quietly. In music, the end of a phrase is the most beautiful part, and the teacher must teach the student that she must pay attention to the last note of a phrase from the very beginning. In other words, it means that students always must listen with care.
Minuet No. 2, by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750)
I write essentially the same thing over and over. This is that children must be taught the best and the most advanced things at an early stage in their education. This is true in music and in the technique of playing the piano (the use of the body and hands). Though advanced, it is not a difficult thing at all. It is very simple and most natural. However, Mother Nature is very severe, and rejects anyone who does not follow the rules, and therefore, patience and effort are required. They are not only needed for piano playing. No matter what the job, patience, effort, and concentration are required while learning anything of high quality.
When we teach Minuet No. 2 by Bach, check at each lesson whether or not the student can play the previous pieces (Ecossaise, A Short Story, The Happy Farmer, Minuet 1, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) with a musical tone, in the correct tempo and in correct rhythm.
The child will be able to do only what is taught at the lesson. He can understand it in person, but it may be impossible for him to get it right on his own. There is a lesson every week, however, and the teacher must continue teaching and repeating the same thing every time. It is a serious mistake to think after teaching something once, that you have done your job and it has been taught. The same important basics (e.g. the thumb moves sideways; the first joint of the little finger also must always move; sound crashed against the strings of the piano is not a musical tone; etc.) must be taught with all our heart at each lesson for ten years. Surely the students in my studio who have heard the same thing 4,000 or 5,000 times at lessons for ten years can acquire the basics.
Bach’s Minuet No. 2 is the most difficult piece in Book 2. In other words, it is very important and the best piece for study. When a student can play this piece well in Japan, he can graduate to the next level.
At first the student learns the notes in the right hand. When the right hand is fully memorized, the student carefully memorizes the left hand and moves on to put hands together. When he can play hands together well (this depends on the amount of daily practice, but some children will improve quickly and others will take more than three months), we can begin to study how to play with real skill.
Practice by playing the Twinkle A rhythm on each note of the opening in the right hand, producing good tone on each note of the opening arpeggio (G-B-D-G-A-F#). End with a single note on the high G and make sure the fifth finger moves well. While the student is playing this piece, this practice is very important for three months, six months, and even a year. Do not fail to play with the student at the lesson, and tell her to practice at home too. Next, practice two staccatos on the same notes.
Then play single staccato notes. Next play legato.
Legato is a very important technique for pianists. Teach it well and always pay close attention to it. The fingering of the opening in the right hand is 1-2-3-5-1-4-5, and the palm should be over the keyboard so the student can play every note with the same hand position. If the playing is careless, the second finger will lose balance and drop down. Be especially careful with the second and third fingers. The two G’s an octave lower than the final G must be very light, with a beautiful, small tone. If we move the fingertips in the same manner as we walk on the soles of the feet, beautiful legato will result.
Practice the left hand in measure 2 the same as the right hand practice described above.
Next, in measures 3-4 in the right hand, the repeated notes E-E and D-D fall on the first and second beats of those measures. Because a minuet is in triple time, always play the first beat deeply singing, and second beat very light. It is natural to play the third beat very lightly also. Because this piece is in triple time, the first beat in measures 13-14 must be played with a long, full tone. Because the second and third beats in these measures are eighth notes and because the second and third beats are always light in 3/4 time anyway, we must teach playing these eighth notes as light as possible with good legato at every lesson.
In the following measure, the triplet should be played lightly with good sensitivity, and the D and F# should sound relaxed. Make sure the G in measure 16 has good tone to make the finishing touch, with the hand in the same position on the F# and the G (fingers 2 and 3) without dropping the palm.
Play the left hand in clear, triple time.
When the first half of the piece improves, begin the second half. The second half is almost the same as the first half, but play measures 17-18 with very small tone using concentration. Never forget that a beautiful, small tone is the most difficult to execute. Unless the teacher always teaches small tone, the student will play roughly with no sensitivity. Play measures 19-20 with big tone and with a totally relaxed body.
Students often miss the high G in measure 19 after the last E in measure 18. If they practice from measure 17 right hand alone, stopping to get ready for the G before playing it, they will correct this after three or four days.
Measures 21-24 contain difficult points. At every lesson teach carefully always to practice hands alone.
The rest is the same as in the first half.
In any case, do not forget that a minuet is in triple time!
Minuet No. 3, by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750)
If the teacher has taught Minuets 1 & 2 securely and well, the students will enjoy playing a beautiful and elegant Minuet 3. Learn the piece hands separately, four measures at a time, not forgetting how to combine the hands correctly. The ornament, B, with the 3rd finger in measure 8 falls on the first beat, sounding with the D in the left hand.
We must be very careful with the matter of triple time. It is of primary importance to make a deep sound on the first beats. At every lesson, the teacher should have the student practice playing “down” and “up” in the right hand on D (5th finger) in the first measure. Practice E (3rd finger) in the third measure in the same way.
First practice going down. Bring the hand down from above, “take” the tone with a moving fingertip, and continue down into the lap. Then start at the knees and go up, taking the tone in the same way and bringing the hand again to the “up” position.
Next, when going down practice stopping the hand exactly at the keyboard without following through to the lap. Be very careful that the hand does not spring back upwards even a little bit. Children who have limber bodies can bring the hand to a full stop well.
Then play “up” from the stopping point. If the children do this, their bodies can understand deep tone without explanation. This is a technique which must be always fostered from now on, not only in this piece but in the upper volumes as well.
If the first beat can be executed, play the second and the third beats as lightly as possible, and play the third beat with especially light tone. This is because we must, in essence, inhale on third beats.
Next, pay attention to the matter of legato. Eighth notes must be played with light and quiet tone. Just as we walk while always touching the ground with the sole of the foot (from heel to toe) so we may play beautiful legato if we move the fingertips on the keyboard in a similar way, “taking” with limber and tactile finger pads as we “walk ” on the keys. Legato is a very important and basic technique for pianists.
To reiterate, we always exhale on the first beat and inhale on the third beat (which therefore is played lightly).
Please enjoy playing a beautiful Minuet III!
Minuet in G Minor, by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750)
After the teacher has spent several months thoroughly teaching Bach’s Minuets nos. 1, 2, & 3, and the student has not only learned the notes but can play triple time, that is to say can play an elegant minuet with musical tone in the rhythm of triple time, the student can easily learn and enjoy the Minuet in G Minor.
The only problem to which the teacher must pay special attention is the left hand. To begin with, the first note in the first measure, B-flat, is played with the second finger on the black key. When the next note, A, is played with the thumb, be careful not to let the wrist and the thumb fall down. Because the second finger is on a black key in a high position followed by the short thumb which moves very differently, much attention is required. The thumb is played sideways with a natural shape, and it must stand as a ballerina stands to keep the body balance. If we do this, the first measure can be played beautifully without changing the position of the hand or wrist.
Practice playing the second and third measures in the same position, taking care not to drop the third finger after the F# on the second beat with the second finger in measure 3.
There is the same problem in both hands in measures 7-8. Always be careful here.
Practice hard on the repeated B-flats in measures 9-10 in the right hand so they may be played musically (these make two full cycles of triple time). In the same spot in the left hand, moving from E-flat at the end of measure 10 to the D at the beginning of measure 11, it is important not to drop. The second beats in measures 12 and 15 in the left hand are very easily dropped. Please be careful. Students can acquire very good technique by paying attention to the left hand. Always teach this carefully.
Cradle Song, by Carl Maria von Weber (Germany, 1786-1826)
When the student and the parent are first learning this piece, they learn each hand separately and then combine the hands. After the student can do this, the teacher should teach careful, one-hand practice. It is the same in every piece, but Cradle Song is a piece for which the result of the practice is very obvious.
Always practice hands alone. On the piano, unlike other musical instruments, we play not only a melody but also an accompaniment. Therefore, we must always practice this way.
This is a very beautiful piece in triple time. Do not forget what triple time means. The first beat is a deep tone (an exhaling tone). The second one is a light, little tone. The third is an inhaling tone.
It is important always to play the first beat carefully with a deep and calm tone. Playing with care is to move the fingertips with the finger pads sticking to the keyboard, taking downwards. It must be a deep and good sound. The second and third beats are light tones. However, when a note like the second beat in measure 2 is on a high point in the phrase, sing it out fully. Play the eighth note on B (3rd finger) in measure 3 deeply, and the following 16th notes on C and B (4-3) very lightly and softly.
When this B (3rd finger) in the third measure is played with deep tone followed by very light sixteenth notes, these notes become very beautiful. Teach the right hand alone carefully at each lesson so that measures 1-4 can be played beautifully. When the student can play the first four measures very well, she will play the remaining three four-measure sections well too.
Four measures make one phrase.
Always play the three repeated quarter notes legato in measures 5 and 9. If we play these by caressing the keyboard with soft fingertips, they naturally become legato.
Since this piece is a lullaby, sing beautifully and quietly.
Next, the left hand. The left hand is an accompaniment. People tend to place their attention on the beautiful melody and play the accompaniment absentmindedly. However, an accompaniment has a very important function in composing beautiful music. If a left-hand accompaniment is played well, the melody in the right hand can be played much more beautifully. Therefore, teach the student very carefully and patiently, and ask her to practice.
Each measure (six eighth notes) must be played in triple time and legato. The fingering in measure 1 is 3-1-4-1-5-1. The thumb plays G over and over. If we are not careful, we get stiff and hit with the thumb. This causes the G to become the most prominent note, ruining the accompaniment and taking time away from every beat. Practice in rhythms by playing the first note of each measure long and deep (the equivalent of a dotted quarter note) and the remaining five notes (eighth notes) lightly and quietly, remembering to move the thumb laterally as you “take” each note. Have the student practice this diligently. This is the best way to learn to play in triple time. It will take several weeks before the student can accomplish this.
When the student can play both hands well, put hands together. Always play very quietly, with a small tone in the left hand.
Always teach that the tone of each hand should be heard clearly and be under control. It is too late to teach this after the student becomes advanced. The teacher must teach the student from Book 1 that the melody is sung out and the accompaniment is always quiet and musical.
Minuet, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austria, 1756-1791)
Mozart composed this minuet at the age of six. It is the first or second piece in the Kochel Catalog (his list of works). As I often said when writing about the Bach Minuets, the minuet is in triple time, and so always teach the student to play a single measure in triple time.
The first eighth note, F (3rd finger) in measure 1 in the right hand is sung out fully with a deep and heavy tone. The following A (5th finger) should be played lightly, but clearly. The second and third beats, two C’s, are played with a light tone, the third beat being an especially nice musical beat. Inhaling fully at the end of the phrase on F in measure 4 makes the preparation for the first beat in the next measure. How to play one measure of triple time applies to the entire piece. Pay attention to this in every phrase.
Carefully teach the student to play the right hand in measures 7-8 without changing hand position. The thumb moves laterally. When playing the second finger, do not pull it towards you or drop the thumb down. The same is true for the fifth finger. Keep the hand position when playing the half note (3rd finger) too.
The difficult spots in this piece are from measures 7 to 16. Always practice them hands alone.
When playing the piano, it is important always to pay attention to the body. We tend to put our attention on the music, forgetting the body. The result is playing the piano, yet being unable to express wonderful music. Music, just like people, cannot live without rhythm. Let us always be careful about the posture, because we use the lengthwise spring of the body to find the rhythm of a piece.
Arietta, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austria, 1756-1791)
In Book 2, most of the pieces in triple time are the minuets. This piece and Cradle Song by Weber are in triple time, too, but unlike Cradle Song, it is not a piece with a continuous melody from beginning to end, but a dramatic and happy piece. It is a very good teaching piece with which we can study many things. We should spend several months on it, not just a week or two.
While teaching one piece for many months, it is all right for the student to continue learning new pieces. “Learning” a piece is entirely different from “polishing” a piece. The teacher must always teach the difference between these two things at the lesson in addition to teaching reading.
The first four notes of the right hand constitutes a melody. Play and sing these out fully with a musical and good tone. Because the fourth note is the end of the phrase, play it with a quiet and beautiful tone.
If we first touch the key gently with the sensitive finger pad and then move the fingertip as we take the tone, simultaneously putting our entire concentration there, we can produce a musical tone. It is important to sing out each dotted quarter for its full value while also breathing with the body (the diaphragm).
In the left hand, play the dotted quarter on the first beat deeply, and while sustaining that tone and listening to it, play the second and third beats with the thumb lightly and rhythmically. Whether the right hand melody will be lively or not depends on the quality of the left hand accompaniment.
Next, do not play the three staccatos in the fifth measure carelessly. Teach triple time staccato very carefully. The first beat is down with a heavy tone (an exhaling tone). The second one is played lightly with just a little tone. The third is up with a very light tone (an inhaling tone). This is like a triangle (down-across-up, the way a conductor conducts a three-beat rhythm). It requires practice. Carefully teach the student to play it correctly.
The sixth measure is legato. Do not let the student play this just mindlessly and hard. If we move the fingers after putting them on the keys, the notes will become legato. The first note in that measure, D, must have a deep, singing tone.
Make sure the first note in measure 7 also has a deep, singing tone followed by the dotted rhythms played very lightly.
If we divide the right hand dotted rhythms in measures 15-16 into three sections and practice them separately, they can be played correctly. The first note, G (2nd finger), in measure 15 is the first beat, so it should be played with a deep sound. Then practice is the next six notes in pairs. First play the grace note on A and the dotted note on G (3-2). The grace note (A), is very soft, and the G has normal tone. Practice this alone many times. Next, practice F-G (1-2) and then A-F (3-1) the same way with many repetitions. Then, after the right hand has practiced well, add the left hand one note at a time under each pair of right hand notes. All students can learn to play this lovely dotted-note phrase ending in this way.
It is important to play the left-hand chords lightly in triple time with a quiet staccato in measures 17-24. Please do not forget that an accompaniment is always quiet and should be played well with great attention to detail.
Measure 17 in the right hand is the same practice as measure 5. Measure 18 is the same practice as measure 6. Teach measures 17-20 forte and measures 21-24 piano after the students can play the notes well.
Pay close attention to hand position in measures 25-32. Even when students have been taught carefully since the beginning of Book 1, they tend to drop the hands and change hand position when moving from the black keys to the white keys causing a loss of balance.
Always play G-G (1-5) in measure 27 legato. Even if the hands are small, when G (with the thumb) is played with care, the notes become legato.
Do not forget to play measures 28-30 in the right hand at the back of the keyboard, well up over the black keys.
Play measures 31-32 legato and beautifully. This is exactly the same practice as in measure 6.
If the students can play Arietta well, they have really acquired a number of important techniques. Please teach this piece thoroughly.
Melody, by Robert Schumann (Germany, 1810-1856)
From the beginning of the Book 1, I have reiterated the importance of practicing hands alone. Please, without fail, do hands separate practice in this piece too.
First, have the student listen carefully to the recording . Then learn the notes hands separately. Once the student knows each hand well, they may be carefully combined. Some students can do all of this in a week, and for some his may take one or two months or more.
At this point, the next stage of practice may begin. The student must not only learn the notes of the piece, but must also transform these notes into beautiful music.
The first two measures comprise one phrase. Practice this phrase in the right hand, beginning with a singing tone on the highest note and walking legato from one finger to the next by moving each fingertip in a soft and natural way. The eighth notes in the second measure should be light, and the quarter notes at the end of the phrase should be quiet and singing. This piece is in quadruple time. Do not forget to play it in quadruple time.
The next two measures constitute the next phrase. Again, sing out the highest tone and bring the phrase to an end quietly. These two phrases can be considered one long phrase.
Before playing a singing tone, such as the ones at the beginning of each of these two phrases, we must be sure to “inhale” in our finger and in our body. In this piece, each four measures is one long phrase. Please always remember to inhale before the first tone of each phrase. If this is done, the music becomes very satisfying.
The fifth measure should be played very softly. If we maintain balance in body, hands and elbows and extend our feelings, a soft and beautiful tone can be produced by moving the fingers very little and by using concentration. The sixth measure is a bit louder. The first note of the seventh measure is marked sf. Carefully observe all of the dynamics and accents in this piece.
The left hand, since it is made up of almost nothing but eighth notes, must be played with a different tone color from the right hand. It should be a light, singing tone. Every day, the student should do extensive left-hand practice. After practicing hands alone, beautiful music will result when hands are combined.
This piece is in quadruple time. Always play in the rhythm of quadruple time from beginning to end.
Sonatina in G Major, Moderato, by Ludwig van Beethoven (Germany, 1770-1827)
Begin by learning the piece first in the right hand and then in the left hand, and then put hands together. Advance to the next step only after the piece has been memorized.
Carefully practice the first phrase in the right hand, being very careful not to crash or poke the G with the thumb. Move the thumb sideways to produce a beautiful, musical tone. Next, play the grace note with the third finger with a very tiny sound and connect it quickly to the note following. Sing out the first A (the one that goes with the grace note) with deep tone and then play G-A-B with a light legato. Although the following G is a phrase ending, it is a quarter note and the first beat of the second measure. Please play it carefully. This entire first phrase must be played carefully and accurately with a resolute feeling.
In the next two measures, the two-note phrases G-D, D-B, B-G (5-2, 3-1, 2-1) are arranged in descending steps. The top step has the most volume, the middle step has medium volume and the bottom one has a very small, beautiful and gentle tone.
Whenever two notes are connected by a slur, whether it be descending or ascending, the first note is an exhale and the second an inhale, just like breathing. Therefore, the second note is played as if disappearing (i.e., inhaling). The first and third measures of the beginning part of this piece have the same strong, firm feeling. Measures 2 and 4 are connecting measures with a gentle feeling. In measures 5-8, the two parts come together to sing out joyfully. In measure 8, there are again two sounds connected by a slur. Therefore, as discussed above, the second sound is played quietly to end the phrase beautifully.
There are chords in the left hand in measures 1-2. This is the accompaniment, so please play it quietly. To be able to play this quietly with ease, play the chords up inside the black keys instead of at the edge of the white keys. To be able to produce a beautiful legato sound in these three chords with ease depends upon a student’s ability to keep the hand and wrist steady without changing position. Because the accompaniment in measures 5-6 consists of eighth notes, play them lightly and quietly. The fifth finger must not hit or poke the keys. Move the first joint of the fifth finger to produce a quality, downbeat sound. The right hand in measure 9 is basically the same as measure 1. In measure 10 in the right hand, please practice the first three notes, D-C-A (4-1-5) by themselves. As you play 4 to 1, do not stretch out the hand. After playing the thumb, open the palm of the hand and bring the fifth finger up to play A, taking care not to make it an accent, but singing it out clearly. The same applies to measures 12,13 and 14.
It is important to practice the left hand in measures 9-11. The first and third beats are downbeats and must be played very carefully. The quarter notes in measures 10 and 12 on the first beat should be played carefully. Please play F#-D-F#-D-G-D-G-D-A (3-5-3-5 2-5-2-5-1) in a strict and clear 4/4 time.
In measures 25 to the end, the left hand becomes very important. Play this part exactly like measures 5,6,9 and 11. This is the accompaniment so play lightly and quietly. The fifth finger plays a deep (down) tone and the other three notes in each group are light. Each group of four is thus one unit. Practice this by holding the first note in each four-note grouping longer, followed by three equal eighth notes (practice in rhythms). You will become proficient with this kind of practice.
The right hand repeated notes in measure 25 must be sung out clearly as melody. Please play the third and fourth beats in measures 25 and 27 lightly.
The right hand in measures 32-34 consists of chords. Using the entire relaxed body, “take” with the fifth finger and thumb as if grasping the sound. This will create magnificent musical tone.
When producing a big tone, the use of physical strength (brute force) is not necessary. The weight of the whole body is used, not just arm weight. People mistakenly try to use the weight of the arm, but, if you use arm weight, the fingers will eventually become stiff. This will result in a pianist who is unable to play quick, light passages.
Rather, the best way of producing a big sound is to remove all tension from the hands and body (especially the shoulders) and to support both forearms. And then, the hands and upper body should play “down” (exhale) at the same time. As you do this, it is important to maintain the natural position of your arms and back.
In these last three measures, the right hand plays the melody. Let it sing out beautifully.
This is a very good study piece. Please practice it diligently and play it in a manner worthy of its wonderful art.
Sonatina in G Major, Romance-Allegretto, by Ludwig van Beethoven (Germany, 1770-1827)
This piece in is 6/8 time. Six-eight time is compound duple time, that is to say that it has two beats, each of which is divided into three eighth notes. Pieces in six-eight time always have a light feeling.
The tempo of this piece is Allegretto, which means it should be light, cheerful and quick.
Taken altogether, the tempo indication (allegretto) and the time signature (6/8) tell us what kind of piece this is. Whenever a teacher teaches any new piece, he must understand its character in this way and then teach this to students. The way this is done, in the case of young children, is for the teacher to demonstrate how to play rather than to give verbal explanations, and for the student to listen to the recording over and over.
First, we shall look at the right hand. The first three notes are on the second beat of the measure and therefore are played very lightly. Securely balance the elbow and wrist and play these notes legato and lightly with relaxed fingers, without shaking the palm. The following two notes are on the same pitch (G-G), but are played very differently. The first is a quarter note on the downbeat, so it must be sung out in a heartfelt way and held as the tip of the thumb moves laterally across the key to the right (a “taking” motion). The next G is an eighth note and has a very light tone. If we can make this kind of distinction between these two notes, we can play in the natural rhythm of six-eight time.
Because this pattern found in these first five notes is repeated over and over to the end of the piece, it is important not to make the mistake of playing the very beginning incorrectly. In measures 1-8 there are three phrases which create one larger phrase. Play the crescendo and decrescendo well in the third phrase. When playing forte, physically get 100% relaxed while mentally concentrating hard.
In measures 12-13, pay attention to the pattern D-D-D-B-G. For the repeated notes on D, move the fifth fingertip lightly and make a musical tone. Play each of the repetitions of this pattern forte or piano, according to your taste.
In the two final chords of the piece, play the high one in a bright, clear and light tone because it is on the second beat. The final low chord is on the first beat, so play it calmly and quietly.
This is true for any piece: accumulate a great deal of practice in the right hand alone.
The left hand presents other challenges. Practice the triplets in measures 1-4 lightly and rhythmically. Because each individual triplet is actually in triple time, the first note of each triplet is down, deeply sung out. The second is just touched lightly with the fingertip, and the third goes up, taking a very light and tiny tone to prepare to sing out the next deep downbeat. This third note is a “take up.” Played this way, these three notes create a small triangle in the rhythm of triple time (down-across-up, like a conductor’s beat).
This is the accompaniment, and therefore must have a very small tone. Play it way up over the black keys where it is easy to play quietly. If this accompaniment is well executed, the melody in the right hand can be played rhythmically and musically.
In measures 5-8, continue to make the triple time in each beat carefully, and change the tone color between the first three notes and the next three notes so that the second beat (the second triplet) becomes an “inhale,” with fingers going up to prepare for the downstroke on the quarter-note chords.
The scales in measures 12-14 are played legato and quietly.
Practice the three arpeggios in measures 17-19 slowly, playing D-F#-A with a very tiny tone and the C on top very carefully. Then add the A, C or E in the right hand with the left-hand chords. These right-hand notes are to be played with the C (thumb) in the chord. After slow and careful practice every day for a week, we can play the arpeggio quickly and beautifully. It is important not to play a “crushed” arpeggio with fingers pushing down into the keys.
The points above are the important ones in this piece.
Always do careful practice in stages. First, memorize the piece, hands separately, of course. Someone who puts hands together right away cannot improve.
The second stage is to pay attention to time and rhythm. Be very careful about your own tone quality, and always listen for a musical tone.
The third stage is to pay attention to the balance between the solo and the accompaniment by diligently practicing hands alone, the right hand as solo with big tone and the left hand as accompaniment, very quietly.
Finally, listen carefully to whether or not the whole piece has become music. If we are to make music that is truly heartfelt, it is not enough to play only with the fingers, hands, and head. Without using the entire body we cannot produce heartfelt music.
Musette, by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750)
This piece is in cut time (2/2) in “Tempo di Gavotta.” It is a beautiful piece with a quiet rhythm.
As always, first learn the right hand and then the left hand. Put hands together only after being able to play each hand smoothly. Sometimes students can learn to play pieces easily and they try to play with both hands right away. Teachers often put up with this and do not always remember to teach hands together only after each hand alone is played well.
After learning the notes, the teacher should teach how to play this piece musically.
The first three notes in the right hand (D-EC) are on the second beat. Therefore, they are on the upbeat. The teacher should count the first beat (the downbeat), and then the student can play these notes lightly and beautifully on the second beat.
The following note, the first beat of the first full measure, D (a quarter note), is an important tone. However, it is a low tone in the melody, so it is not loud. That is to say, if we were to sing it, we would use a great deal of breath. The second beat, B (another quarter note), is a light tone, but as a high point in the melody should be sung out with enough volume to produce full sound. The next two eighth notes (A-F#) have quiet and light tones. The G (quarter note) in the following measure at the end of this phrase is sung out deeply from the bottom of your heart. The final note of the phrase (D) should be played very quietly.
The following phrase in measures 2-4 is sung out with a higher tone than the first phrase. Play the ascending scale (G-A-B-C) in the third measure crescendo, and fully sing out the highest tone (D). In this way, the overall larger phrase in measures 1-4 can be played beautifully. Patiently teach how to make a song of the music with the right hand alone at each lesson. How to make music in the subsequent four-measure phrases is exactly the same as in the first four measures.
Never play ritardando until ending the piece at the final repeat (the last three measures). Do not slow down before the repeat.
In measures 8-12 the music is sung out most fully, and the ending is quiet. Produce sound fully with a natural and good tone in the right hand, and sing out from your soul.
Compared with the right hand, always practice playing calmly with a quiet sound in the left hand. We hear the tonic G major note (G) as the lowest note throughout the piece. Sing out the beautiful upper melody of the left hand while sustaining and listening to the G, and always play the first beats quietly and carefully.
If the performer uses different tone colors in each hand, the listener may enjoy both melodies simultaneously. If, on the other hand, the right and left hands are played with the same tone color, the two melodies become indistinct. The music then only becomes noisy.
Minuet, by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750)
This piece is a minuet in g minor. It is beautiful beyond description in our current world, and it is full of sadness.
As I have written about the Musette above, learn each hand and then put hands together. After learning the notes in this way, study of the music may begin.
What is the most difficult in this piece, and the point a teacher must teach without fail, is to produce a musical sound on the first Bb in the right hand and then to move a soft fingertip from above to play the A just beside Bb without losing balance in the body or hand. Because the black key is high, the A will be played by a pulling of the third finger toward the front of the keys if you are not careful. Make sure to play the A just beside the black key without changing the hand position.
In measure 8 in the left hand, the eighth notes (D-C-Bb-A) pose the same problem. It s a question of the thumb, which plays after the Bb, toppling down toward you. Never drop down onto the thumb next to a black key. Practice being able to play always with the hand in the same, unchanging position.
The questions above are the same in the second half of the piece. We must teach the technique of playing an entire phrase with the same hand position. In addition, a very important thing is that this piece is a minuet and is therefore in triple time. Although there are sometimes variations to this principle owing to changes in the melody, the first beat in triple time is usually sung out greatly from the bottom of the heart and must, therefore, be a deep tone. The third beat is a light tone. Inhale fully at each third beat and be able to play each subsequent first beat deeply, with a full exhale.
If we follow the basics and practice diligently, we can have a sense of the music which is given to us by Heaven. Having this, we can certainly produce a fine performance.
However, do not neglect to teach students also to listen to a model recording many times daily. We can understand the importance of this if we think about language. None of us can speak a language we do not hear.