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Playing for students

  • Loretta
    Loretta O'Driscoll

    Just curious to see if playing for students is a regular part of your teaching.


    I often play small figures to show them how the hand should look. Sometimes, I play through a piece so the student can hear it in its entirety. I find this particularly helpful for students who tend to be aural learners. I certainly do not do this with every piece and every student, however.


    Lately, I have begun to think about whether this is beneficial or not. I worry that they might think, "Oh dear, am I ever going to get this?" Or maybe it is helpful and can be a source of motivation?


    Your thoughts?

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    replies to "Playing for students"
    • Dawn
      Dawn Penland

      I'm an adult student and my teacher does the same as you.  She demonstrates how it should sound.  I don't think it helps but I don't think it hurts either.  The reason it doesn't help me is, I can't remember how it sounded.  I need a recording I can play many times.  I'm really frustrated right now because she says I'm not playing in the proper time.  I can't hear it, so I can't fix it.  I play with a metronome. 

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    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      I sit at the instrument all the time to demonstrate things for a student. But it's never so they can how a piece should sound. That should be something that they learn themselves by reading the notes and rhythm correctly. I'll demonstrate technical issues, tone, hand position, etc. I think that playing a piece for the student so that they can hear what it sounds like will make them play by ear and not pay close attention to what's written on the page.

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    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      I think I was taking lessons for at least a year before the first time I ever heard  my teacher actually play in front of me. She did once in a while, but very rarely.

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    • Loretta
      Loretta O'Driscoll

      I'm beginning to think I shouldn't do it. I think you are right on...they need to learn from the music.


      Thanks everyone for your input!

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    • Elinor
      Elinor Niemisto

      Not hearing your teacher play seems to me like trying to learn French from a book.  Sure, you have the pronunciation guide and the rules of grammar, but without an excellent sound model, you are missing a lot of the nuances and phrasing of the language.  Obviously, you want to learn to read so that you can find the right bus and order from the menu.  I think the teacher should demonstrate the sound as well as the look of the techniques. Should your beginning sound be the only one you hear?  Of course, you listen to recordings and  live concerts.  Is this enough?

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    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Elinor- I agree with you to a certain extent. The student should learn the notes and rhythm from the printed music. But along the way the teacher can demonstrate any number of things besides pure technique. If the piece calls for a slow crescendo over two measures for example, the teacher can certainly demonstrate that and it will help the student to hear how it's done. Ritards, tempo changes, muffling, etc. are in the end all technical issues, and it can be very helpful for the student to hear how it's done. But I don't think the teacher should be playing the whole piece right at the beginning just so the student has it in his ear and will likely learn it (incorrectly) by ear.


      It's already difficult to keep beginner students from playing by ear because the material they are playing at that level is melodic, simple, and short. After they hear it one time, it's easier for them to play it by ear than to read the music, especially if they are also learning to read music. So it's very important to include things in the lesson that force the student to read the music, and read it accurately.

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    • Donna
      Donna O

      Just a note from a student perspective.   I am an adult student and I do tape every one of my lessons with my teachers permission.   I find that I review the lessons at least once between lessons mostly for what I need to focus on, but I often go back much later when I am trying to polish a piece to hear the nuances that my teacher has played. Generally he will only play an entire piece if I ask him to , so that I know what It should sound like.  He will however often demonstrate what I am doing vs. what I should be doing for snippets of a piece.   I find it helpful to have this reference, particularly when I am totally unfamiliar with the music.
      Donna

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I find hearing my teacher play invaluable as I am an aural learner. She recognizes this so if I´m not getting something she´ll play for me. I have to agree, however, with the trap of not paying enough attention to the actual music. I think my teacher makes a good compromise by playing something that I´m not playing that demonstrates the same feeling or technique. This is, however, often because she would rather play something she knows well rather than fudge the notes on the piece I´m playing, but the result is the same nonetheless.

      Sam

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    • Saul
      Saul Davis Zlatkovski

      I find that it is essential, but it depends on how you play and what you want to teach.

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    • Kate
      Kate Hopkins

      I am an adult beginner that started lever harp just a few months ago. My teacher would often play a new piece for me or show hand position or technique. It was all very helpful. For the technique, it was easier to understand a correction if I could see it in her hands first. For the music, it was also invaluable, not because I would learn it by ear, I don't think I would remember it enough, but for many of these pieces, I would have no idea what it was or what it sounded like....hearing the finished piece would inspire me to unlock all the notes and tempo so I could play it. It was more of getting a preview of your destination.

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    • CT
      CT Tendinae
      I think it's very useful. I'm also an aural learner and while I've gotten much better at reading the music, it's nice to 'get started'. (for longer pieces, she only plays the first measures so I can get the 'feeling' of it - usually that's enough). 
      And of course, it's really beneficial because of the reasons that were already posted - I can watch her hand position, the phrasing, the things that are hard to convey in words but suddenly become clear when played etc.
      For me, it's really motivational, it gives me the feeling like 'I want to be able to do that too, so I'm going to practise really hard on this piece'. So it isn't demotivational at all!

      I've had several teachers (I was taking lessons in a 'center for art and cultures') and some of them didn't play at all, they were like 'the lesson is about you, I can already play the piece'. However, eventually that approach didn't really motivate me. Sometimes, pieces are quite hard to master and you only hear your own stumbling and you forget the bigger picture, how beautiful those tricky passages can sound when executed well. And perhaps this is only me, but eventually I'll start hating the piece because it sounds horrible how I do it and I'm thinking like, I'll never be able to do this etc. etc.
      When the teacher then plays it during a lesson, you suddenly hear how it can sound with a bit more practise. Usually the teachers will give some pointers while playing 'see how I'm doing this, you could try that too etc' and that really helps - then I know how it supposed to sound and I learn how I can make it sound like that as well.

      Someone equated it to 'learning french' but I'd like to equate it to learning how to do a physical examination on someone (I'm a medical student).
      It's absolutely vital that you get enough experience by examining someone by yourself - eventually there won't be anyone to help you or check your work etc. But you can't just learn it by doing it over and over again - you need to see it in action, it's necessary to observe it lots of times. The supervisors that taught me most, were the ones who first said 'come over and look what I'm doing', explaining every step and everything they were paying attention to, and then had me repeat it, giving feedback when needed.

      When it's done that way, 'playing for students' is a very powerful teaching tool because you're also giving the student the opportunity to put into practise what they just saw.
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    • Seoid
      Seoid O'C

      Surely it depends on the teacher, on the student and on the musical goals/abilities?

      From a student perspective:

      My teacher doesn't play much in lessons and never did.  Obviously she'll demonstrate techniques and sometimes will play certain passages (usually to help me get the timing) but she doesn't usually play a piece through before I learn it.

      I think I would find it motivational rather than intimidating though, because it gives you a clear idea of what you are aiming for.  But maybe it depends on the student.  Personally, I am not an aural learner - I find it much easier to learn from sheet music but I do find it helpful to listen to performances of whatever piece I'm trying to learn.  (At my level my teacher only goes through difficult pieces with me and I am expanding my repertoire of easier pieces myself).

      I know that for traditional music a lot of it is taught completely by ear, which is something I find very difficult.  I have met a lot of traditional harpers who don't read music at all (but I do think they're missing out).  I think that aural learning is something that is underemphasised in classical music and for a student who can already read music, what is the benefit of not playing for them?

      As a side note (especially for teachers who aren't well known or who don't do public gigs often) I think it reinforces a teacher's authority to play occasionally - especially for a certain sort of student.  Reminds them why you're the teacher and I'm the student.

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    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      I think it also depends on the student's background.

      I already had a fairly decent musical background before coming to the harp. I could already read music, understood the fundamentals of music theory, understood concepts such as dynamics and articulation in music...

      Until I got to far more complex music I had no need for anyone to play the early pieces for me to get what they should have sounded like. I could read the music at that level and easily know how it should sound. Physically making it sound that way was another matter and somehow my teacher managed to convey the techniques well without having to sit down and do it for me.

      In fact I can honestly say I don't know how she taught me. I don't remember how I learned, only that I did, which to me is the  mark of a very skilled teacher. When you realize you know something and are almost unaware of the learning process that occured for you to know it you know you were in the hands of a great teacher.

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    • Irene
      Irene C

      Hello,

      I am now studying for my grade 6 RCM and I always ask my harp teacher to play some selections for me so that I can choose a song that I like. Once chosen, I do agree that one should spend a lot of time reading/analyzing the piece before putting your fingers on the harp.  Humming it would help, but  I do not have that skill,  so I find hearing it played on the harp helps. 

      Irene

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    • Jessica
      Jessica Wolff

      This was a guitar teacher, but it applies as easily to harp. I asked my teacher to give me a metronome reading or something (such as playing it herself) to help me with a vihuela piece I didn't know. She said to listen to a lot of music of the same period or type and I would develop a sense for how it ought to sound.


      I do think that harp hand positions are less cut-&-dried or simple than guitar hand positions and that the student benefits from watching the teacher play.

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    • Kreig
      Kreig Kitts

      It might also be good for students to have practice staying in time with another musician and being sensitive to somebody else's expression while playing. A key to good chamber music is whether the players are listening to each other or just each playing their part, coincidentally at the same time as a few others.

      I remember once where my first teacher, as homework, had me write out a brief musical phrase of my own invention. As part of the next lesson, I played some variations on it, using minor keys, lever trills, glisses, etc., as some practice improvising and embellishing (I'd expresssed interest in improvisation and reading from lead sheets early on), and at a couple points I played it while she played an accompaniment on her harp. That was enjoyable trying to make my tone complement hers and I could see it being an occasional part of the lesson for future chamber music (the playing along part).

      For some students, accompanying the teacher might be a good lesson as well, since there's a lot of music with harp as accompaniment, and a lot of good solists are terrible accompanists because they don't have that sensitivity to playing with another person, especially in a supporting role.

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Last summer I did a masterclass with Sarah Bullen. We were focusing on phrase endings in Grandjany's Fantaisie, and we played the 1st variation together. Not only did that sound incredibly impressive, but it helped a lot. Its a lot easier to repeat something when you are "forced" to do it. So I suppose she WAS playing for me, but by playing together I was able to get instant feedback about which parts of the music she wanted me to work on, down to the note. It was quite the experience.

      ~Sam

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