#AskVidasAndAusra 113: When I listened to him this week, there were practically no difference in eighth notes and quarter notes
Yesterday while I waited for the students of Unda Maris organ studio to gather, I had some time in the church and decided to record 4 of my improvisations. I hope you'll enjoy them:
4. Lizard Basilisk
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And now let's go on the podcast for today.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 113 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. You can listen to the audio version here.
Today’s question was sent by Martin. He writes:
I really enjoy your podcasts and postings. I have a question for you. Presently I have a new student (8th grade) who indicated an interest in playing the organ. He has a piano background, and when I asked him to show me some of the materials he is currently studying with another teacher on the piano, it appeared to be significantly less advanced than some of the pieces he played for me by memory. I gave him one selection to prepare for me with minimal pedal and asked him to prepare only the parts he would play on the manual.
When I listened to it this week, there were practically no difference in eighth notes and quarter notes. He told me that he that he felt he was a very poor sight-reader and learned by ear and by writing in the note names.
I'm wondering if he has actually learned to make a connection between what is written on the page and what he plays. I feel badly because he actually plays quite musically from memory, but it has to take him an inordinate amount of time. I asked his parents, and they feel his reading level in other material is good.
I assigned a c major scale and arpeggio in separate hands for next week and told him that we would start with some basic sight reading in that key for next week (treble clef only). This would include clapping of basic rhythms and then transferring to the keyboard.
Does this sound like a reasonable approach to lay the foundation for actual music reading? If you don't answer this, it is fine. I know you are both quite busy. Martin
So Ausra, this situation is quite depressing for this teacher, right?
Ausra: Yes, it might be very hard to have a student like this. And I guess that probably his student got his early musical training based maybe on the Suzuki method. I’m guessing so; I’m not 100% sure, but that’s my best guess.
Ausra: Because the Suzuki method is based on learning how to play by ear, actually; you don’t read a music score…
Vidas: Until later.
Ausra: Until later. Until, actually, much later. And this method was developed in Japan by a violinist--you know, Suzuki. And it works for violin fairly well, because they have only 1 line. And I have heard violinists after many years, who were trained as Suzuki players when they were very small; and the advantage of this system was that you can start to play music very early, in that case. And they start teaching you when you are at the age of like 3 years old--which would be probably impossible, if you wanted to make your student sight-read music at that early age, from a music score.
Vidas: Mhm. Yeah.
Ausra: But what I also have heard--and that’s a disadvantage of this system--is that although they develop perfect pitch by playing by ear all the time, they actually never learn to read music very well.
Ausra: And they always struggle with that, even later on when they are adults. So, what do you, Vidas, think about this problem?
Vidas: First of all, about the Suzuki method: yes, Shinichi Suzuki developed this system in hope of helping children to learn like they would be learning their mother tongue. Because when they learn to speak their native tongue, they don’t learn to read first, right? They want to imitate first what their parents say--separate words, phrases. So the small kids also watch their peers and brothers and sisters play, let’s say, violin, or other instruments; observe them for a month, or two or three, or even half a year; until they are so motivated to pick up an instrument themselves and try it out, by ear without ever looking at a score. But as Ausra says, it’s a great system for developing perfect pitch; but if you’re not very very hard working, then reading music is a problem later on. Only those extremely hardworking students can be proficient in reading music as well, using this Suzuki system. So if Hubertus has a student in 8th grade--who knows if he was trained in Suzuki or not, but--apparently, he is a poor sightreader.
Ausra: Yes, and I remember when you know, way back, many years back, I was working at one school, and teaching first and second and third graders piano. I also noticed that for some students, it’s much easier to look at my fingers when I’m playing, and then to mechanically memorize what keys I’m pressing--and not look at the score. That was also one of the cases I had. This was also frustrating, actually, because I think that reading music from the score should come first. Of course, the progress then will be slower, probably, than learning other methods; but it will be definite, and finally it will lead you to more success.
Vidas: Especially if you are an 8th grader.
Ausra: Yes. So I would suggest, for Martin with this particular student, don’t let him play like this, not using the score. He must look at the score all the time until he will be able to play it correctly, with right rhythms (not to play like he says, eighth notes like quarter notes)...
Ausra: And only then, after he is comfortable enough while playing from the music score, let him play from memory or by ear.
Vidas: I have a proposition for Martin. It will be a little bit of extra work for the student, but in the end it will be much more beneficial. What about assigning sight-reading exercises or short pieces for your student at home, and asking him to record his playing and send the mp3 recordings to you--to the teacher? It would be like extra care and extra support from you. You don’t have to create them, but you just have to know that he has prepared something new for him. And he cannot really avoid playing from the sheet music this way--let’s say one page per day, or something. A short piece; maybe just one single line, LH, RH alone. What do you think about that, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I think that would be very beneficial.
Vidas: Because a student will not be willing to do this on his own, obviously, because it’s difficult and he has to force himself. So that would be like an additional level of support from the teacher. And also, when he comes to you on a weekly basis, to the lesson, how about spending the majority of the lesson time on sight-reading?
Ausra: I think at the beginning it would be great. Because that’s what he needs in order to be a better player, a better musician.
Vidas: Yes. So, assign him a collection of music; maybe...I don’t know, whatever you like at that level, and assign one page per day of something or one piece per day, and see if he can focus on recording his assignments and sending the mp3s to you.
Ausra: Yes. And I don’t think he will be very happy at the beginning with this new assignment; but you know, looking into the future, I think he will be thankful to you.
Vidas: True. And guys, if you yourselves struggle with sight-reading at the level that you miss quarter notes and mix them with eighth notes and they all sound the same and you feel the need to write down the note names above or below the notes, then you can do the same thing. Force yourself to record, and it will be like an accountability system for you.
Ausra: That’s what some of my students do, in solfège with exercises in C clefs, where we have to play one voice on the piano and to sing another voice; and we have like 2 different C clefs, like for example, tenor and alto, or tenor and soprano; so they just write in the note names! And it just makes me furious!
Vidas: Yes. It’s not clef reading at all.
Ausra: Yes, it’s cheating, actually!
Vidas: It defeats the purpose. Okay, so don’t cheat, guys. I think you want to succeed in this for the long-term. And remember that the first few weeks will feel like hell, but later on will be purgatory, right?
Ausra: Yes, and then…
Vidas: And then later, heaven!
Ausra: Yes, that’s right!
Vidas: And on this optimistic note, we leave you to your practice. Because when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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