Bruce Berr is a full-time faculty member of the Chicago College of the Performing Arts of Roosevelt University, as well as an independent piano and pedagogy teacher in Glenview, Illinois, where he works with children as well as other piano teachers. He is known nationally as a clinician, educational composer, and author. His column on personal obse...rvations, “ad lib,” appears regularly on the back page of American Music Teacher, and he has been an associate editor of this magazine since 1997. His newest music publication is Eight Sound Poems For the Late Intermediate Pianist, from Opus Music. Explore his website at BruceBerr.com. More

The art of practicing: I really should be practicing well

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I do apologize to Gary Graffman for filching his title as blatantly as I have, but let's face it—although the quality of one's practice may be just one factor in determining how fast and far one progresses at the piano, it's a critical one. In the studio lessons and piano classes I teach, a large percentage of the time is devoted to how to practice...
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The great compensator

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A full range of expressive gestures evocative of other instruments is always at  our disposal. We pianists are constantly grappling with the fact that our instrument cannot truly sustain tones. A few fractions of a second past its production—marked by a meteoric rise in loudness—every new sound plummets in volume as surely as if it were b...
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How do you teach memorization to elementary and intermediate-level students?

Last year I attended an excellent lecture that John Ford did on the teaching of memorization. I enjoyed his extensive summary of mainstream ideas on the subject, as well as several novel ones. I asked him to share his thoughts with the readers of this publication. I suspect you, too, will fi nd his essay useful and thought-provoking. Forget-me knot...
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What Aspects of Teaching Pedaling Do You Think are Most Important?

Most aspects of piano playing and teaching show characteristics of both science and art. Some appear to be more on the "method" side of that spectrum, others on the "intuition" side. Pedaling seems to be significantly more than fifty percent art, due to the enormous variety and complexity of sounds that can emanate from the instrument, and also sin...
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Extraordinary Teaching Spaces

Extraordinary Teaching Spaces
In my travels around the country as a clinician over the past decades, I have enjoyed meeting many new people—students of various ages, independent and community music school teachers, university professors, and music store owners. Occasionally, I have been fortunate enough to also see the home studios of some independent teachers. The variety...
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What are the most important rhythmic skills for the early-level student?

I remember the first time I heard Elvina Pearce talk about piano teaching. I was a doctoral candidate in piano performance and pedagogy at Northwestern University in the mid-1980s, and a special class of master's and doctoral students was assembled so that "Mrs. Pearce" could teach both at the same time. From the very start I was riveted by the pre...
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What is the "practice toolbox" you use with your students?

​Helping our students learn how to achieve expression, ease, and accuracy in their playing requires that we impart effective practice procedures. Some of these involve the how of playing, what we commonly call technique: awareness of how we move and use our bodies; how to prepare, execute, and follow-through when creating gestures; when to relax, w...
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How do you decipher rhythms when transcribing the recordings of Bill Evans?

​I have been a devotee of the music of jazz pianist Bill Evans since my early teenage years. I own many of his recordings and have listened to them numerous times over the decades, constantly hearing new things in them. I also was fortunate to hear him perform live on campus when I was a college student in St. Louis in the 1970s—a marvelous ex...
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Can young students learn rhythmic flexibility?

It has been said by many that in music, rhythm is what happens between the beats. That is true, yet those words don't sufficiently communicate what we actually experience in rhythm. Much of what we teach is from notation, an inherently artificial and scant symbolic representation of music. These two facts conspire to create a problem: you can't fai...
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Why should I consider having my piano tuned in anything but equal temperament?

Three years ago my piano technician, Robert Guenther, asked me if I wanted to try out a well-tempered tuning on my 1913 Steinway Model O. We have known each other for decades so he was aware of my interest in the science of music, including different tuning systems. He mentioned that several of his clients had been using well temperament (WT) for t...
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What aspects of teaching rhythm are the most difficult for your intern teachers?"

​Yes, you may remember seeing this same topic previously in this Department—twice! When pedagogy teachers are confronted with this question (either artificially by us in this magazine, or in reality in their classrooms by the inherent complexity of helping other people learn how to teach effectively), crucial facets of teaching that are important t...
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"Is a physically gifted student likely to be rhythmically reliable and musically aware?"

Anyone who has taught piano or any other instrument for more than a short time invariably must deal with one of the major challenges facing a music teacher. That is, becoming a good player simultane ously involves diverse kinds of learning: perceptual, physical, emotional, intellec tual , spiritual, etc. To make matters even more complex, each stud...
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What is your plan for teaching a new piece? How does it vary for different levels of students?

Learning a new piece is like building a house. First there is a conception of the end result. The foundation is then laid - the more solid and stable, the  better. Then the frame is erected and the most basic infrastructural elements are added. The skeleton then has more "flesh" progres sively added until the process is nearly com plete . The ...
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How do you teach polyrhythms?

I n my college years I encountered a recurring four-against-five pattern in a 20th-century piece, and my initial attempts to do it were not successful. My teacher recommended that I approximate the pattern ("fake it") while I learned the rest of the music. He also suggested that I first try tapping the polyrhythm away from the piano, which I did af...
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When is it appropriate to leave rhythms UNperfected for a given student? Have I mis-assigned a piece in that case?

from the series: The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Sometimes quantity is quality. As a young teenaged pianist, I had great fun learning transcriptions of Dave Brubeck improvisations. His was the first jazz piano music that I sunk my teeth into. I loved the sound of the rich complex harmonies, the counterpoint, the unique textures and voicings (I...
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How do you teach measure groupings (hypermeter) to your intermediate-level students?

from the series: ​The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Bruce Berr, Editor I  was introduced to measure groupings when I was a college junior - not by a teacher but a classmate. We were  rehearsing the scherzo of the Beethoven Cello and P iano Sona ta No . 3, Op. 69 (see Excerpt 1). We did our first run-through at a moderate tempo just to ...
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What common pitfalls occur in the teaching of rhythmic subdivisions?

from the series: ​The Heart of the Matter: Rhythm Bruce Berr, Editor M y colleague Craig Sale and I have swapped departments this issue by each contributing an article in the  other's subject area. Both essays deal with avoiding common teaching pitfalls. It has been stimulating for us to focus on different areas, and we hope that you will...
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What are some interesting rhythm challenges found in intermediate-level Scarlatti Sonatas?

​The  music of Scarlatti appears to be frequently overlooked by many teachers. It is more common to hear intermediate-level pianists playing much more of the music of other Baroque composers such as J.S. Bach. Part of the challenge for us as teachers is simply that there is so much of Scarlatti's music available, it is an overwhelming wealth o...
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What have I learned being an editor of the Rhythm Department?

I once heard it said that no one learns more at a clinic than the clinician. As strange as that may sound, based on my own experiences, I believe it is true and it applies to more than just workshops. When someone is put in charge of something, an interesting phenomenon occurs - one perceives more and ponders it more deeply. An extra sensitivi...
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How do you get students to really play the rests in their pieces?

Introduction This same question appeared in the Rhythm Department almost nine years ago in the Winter 1997 issue of  K ey board Com panion. Three excellent teachers - Linda Poquette, Steven Rosenfeld, and Mary Jane Clarke - presented insightful ideas, and a lot of ground was covered. I invite you to look (again!) at those essays in your librar...
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