Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Difference is in the Details

We are always doing some sort of warm-up before the pieces for the week. This week the preparations begin for the end of the year piano "report cards", through the National Guild of Piano Teachers.

The NGPT has established fine charts and levels of scales, chords, arpeggios, sight playing, ear training, transposition and improvisation for each level of piano study. There are 6 elementary, 6 intermediate and 4 preparatory young artist levels of each category.

I like to photocopy the sheet from the book so that the student can highlight his progress as he makes his way across the chart at his level. When performing 10 pieces for memory, up to 3 of these musicianship elements can be counted as the same level of difficulty as memorizing a piece. Often there are parts of this list at which a student excels, so we cross those off first.

Now is the time when the copies get taped into their "hardest" book cover, and we make plans to learn as many of the seven elements as diligently as possible. Because the motivation of learning a "few scales" can seem easier than a whole piece, we really learn some good technique. I am always encouraged by the way students are diving in to these challenges right now. It's almost as if spring studies get ramped up now. I think they feel the details of the change in the seasons coming too.

According to a nature preserve I visited over the weekend, the month of March includes details that the monarchs have left Mexico, the robins will soon be gathered in our yards in groups of 20 or more, and the average high is above freezing almost every day. My camera broke recently and I did not take the pictures you see above. But I hope to have a new camera as there is soon going to be a lot to photograph. Although we still had a snowfall on Sunday that was snowblower worthy, I am also sensing the sun that is higher in the sky. The awakening from a long winter is so invigorating.

I wonder whether the monarchs do any warm-ups before they fly every day. Caterpillar Calisthenics? What an amazing trip they make to and from Mexico. What kind of preparations do they make?

This weekend, there are several students of the studio "Going to State" in piano, through the Minnesota Music Teachers Association. It will be held over two days at the University of Minnesota, Ferguson Hall. We are having the tough last lessons, reminding them that they are competing against all the other winners, and that details matter. Strong musicianship will serve them well. What an amazing trip some of these students make, from all over the corners of this state and western Wisconsin. Thousands started the journey last fall with music, many of them participated in the preliminaries and now, some have survived to make the finals. It is also a long arduous journey.

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