How do you teach musicality?
We have all heard it from our beginning (and sometimes more advanced) students-that awful, wooden, unmusical playing. What can we do to fix it? If we tell them to crescendo to a certain note and then get softer, they stiffly climb up and down the dynamic ladder, and it sounds even less musical! Can musical playing be taught, or do some students just "have it," while other students most decidedly do not? In this issue, two teachers share their creative approaches to teaching musicality. These ideas will not only increase your students' joy of
Using a child's natural creativity
by Rachel Ferer
The joy of studying any instrument comes from making music. Music notation, often the primary focus of initial lessons, can be a mystery to many beginning students as they try to learn a new language and symbol system. Interpreting music goes far beyond a basic understanding of notation; it is the ability to internalize the music and attach one's own thoughts and feelings as a performer. One of our main goals as teachers should be to guide our students toward developing their own personal interpretation of the music they study, and this can be taught while students learn the basics of notation.
I have found several ways to allow for creative exploration and interpretation during
Creative stages of development
From early childhood to young adulthood there are stages of creative exploration. According to Jane M. Healy in lOur Child's Growing Mind,1 children experience
Describing the character
After relating this story to the piece, Sarah's musicality improved significantly, and she was more connected
Drawing the feeling
Some students express themselves better through visual arts, and Chinese Painting (from Music Pathways Solo Level A published by Carl Fischer) is an excellent piece to explore with these students. Built
She also presented a theme of Chinese culture with her depiction of a Chinese kite flying in front of a temple, and this led to a
When several of my students visually interpret the same piece, I am careful to not let them see each other's creations, so each one will be completely original. Over the years, Boat on a Lake (Music Pathways Solo Level B) has yielded many different boats as well as settings for the boat. Alec created a very detailed ship that helped us discuss the idea of playing with strength and grandeur (see Figure 2).
Kate created a very different colorful boat, which brought up the idea of color in music (see Figure 3).
The stories that often come out of these pictures enhance discus
Rewriting the title or lyrics
Sometimes a title fits the character of a piece; in other cases it is better to create a new title. My students have given some very inter- esting and imaginative responses when they renamed a piece. One very creative student, Ashley, has written new lyrics for pieces. She gave UYlga Boatman the words "This is hea-vy, yes so hea-vy" for the first four measures (See Excerpt 3).
The word "hea-vy" was given to the half and whole note, thus reinforcing the rhythm and character of those notes.
The words she created for Just a Bit Blue work as a rhythmic aid. The middle two lines have the following lyrics attached, "Just a bit blue, just some blue, it's my favorite color. It's the color of the sky, of the sky, of the sky" (See Excerpt 2).
The repetitions of "of the sky" not only aid in the rhythm-they also mimic the repetition of notes in this section.
Creating the context
If we want to teach musicality, we must be prepared to guide our students past the notes on the page. Creating a visual and literary context around a piece gives our students a sense of ownership that enhances interpretation and provides important rhythmic and memory tools. When students create their own interpretation, the music breathes with life and vitality, becoming more enjoyable for the performer and more meaningful for the listener.
Moving from the notes to the music
by Jennifer Donelson
A student's natural expressivity
I'll never forget the day that my seven-year-old student John walked into his piano lesson with an alligator made out of a box. It was complete with carefully carved-out eyes, a
I was amazed.
Where I would have seen a box that needed to be crushed and hauled off to the recycling bin, my student saw raw material that begged to be shaped into a reptilian friend.
What do they see? What can they see?bThis incident prompted me to think about John's experience at the piano. When he sat at the piano working on his pieces week after week, did he see a bunch of notes that had to be played cor
"What note is that?"
"Did you play the right rhythm there?" "Where was your crescendo?"
"What about that sforzando at the end?"
I realized that these types of questions might help a student pay more attention to the score, but they did not help the child see beyond the notes to connect to the musical and expressive content of the piece. If I didn't teach John to stop playing notes and begin playing music at this early stage in his
What kind of interpretive decisions can a young beginning pianist make? I believe we can find the answer to that question by looking at how students express themselves in day-to-day life. Once we discover these creative and expressive capacities in our students, we can creatively apply their experiences to their budding pianistic abilities. In this way, we shape a child's natural abilities into a meaningful musical experience.
Having a musical conversation
One activity I like to do with beginning students who have just learned about the groups of two and three black notes is a "musical dialogue." In a conversation with my student Raphael, I discovered that he was very interested in dinosaurs. When he spoke about them, the rather stilted tone he used to talk about other things melted away into a naturally expressive and excited cadence. After discovering his interest, we planned and rehearsed a conversation about dinosaurs.
"Hi, my name is Jenny!"
"Hi, my name is Raphael!"
"I really like dinosaurs."
"I do, too!"
"My favorite dinosaur is the Triceratops."
"My favorite dinosaur is the Tyrannosaurus Rex."
Next, I asked Raphael to place his index fingers on each of the notes in a group of two black keys. I spoke my first line in the con
After finishing the conversation, I asked Raphael to imagine having the same con
In this activity, Raphael made his first interpretive decisions. He showed that he could adjust his playing to fit the musical context. The best part about the activity, though, was that his interpretive decisions were based on his natural expressivity and did not require learning a new concept. It helped Raphael think of the notes that he played as a coherent and meaningful phrase, rather than just an unrelated series of tones. This connection of speech
Reading between the lines
The next activity I usually do with my students helps them see that there are unwritten musical principles built into their music-principles that can only be followed when one reads between the
Making dynamic decisions
When my students are learning to play with legato and basic dynamic contrasts, I introduce them to some unwritten principles about the dynamics of phrasing: that the final note in a phrase is frequently tapered, and that most phrases have one or two notes which are the "goal" of the phrase and therefore receive the most emphasis. Through a basic understanding of speech inflection, however, students already instinctively know these rules. They know that it would sound funny if someone made the last syllable in a sen
By creating activities in which musical phrases are directly connected to speech inflection, I help my students continue to develop their ability to think of a series of notes as a coherent musical thought, com
Using life experiences
A student's life experiences can also be explored in learning to creatively interpret a piece and give an expressive performance. Students can connect a rollercoaster ride to the tension and repose in a musical phrase. Tone can be explored through a child's knowledge of color. Voicing can be related to a student's experience of trying to listen
By doing activities like these with my students, I have found that even at an early stage they can begin to see their music as something that is creative and expressive, something that is much more than a series of correct pitches. When they make con
1 Healy, J.M. (2004). Your Child's Growing Mind: Brain Development
2 The Angry Alligator by Dennis Alexander (Alfred Publishing, 2002).