2. What Happens if We Think Like Children

Children are curious like cats and will take chances out of naivety and they have an ability to be awed and amazed by what we see as small things. Adults lose much of this curiosity so it’s necessary to compensate.

The technical challenges we face when learning to do music is that the movements we need to make on an instrument are not intuitive.  As a piano player I know what that means. When I tried to learn to play the accordion I found it difficult because the orientation and angle of approach to the keys is quite different and could not get both hands going so I gave up.

Now you may say why am I giving this as an example wouldn’t a successful experience make more sense than a failed attempt in order to inspire you? I think it makes the point that the newness and alien nature of the challenge is what makes it so hard.

Be like an explorer then? Children do this naturally. They don’t shy away from challenges. So we can learn from remembering what it’s like to be a child. All physical disciplines whether it being an athlete or a musician require a balance between relaxation and muscle movement.  With hockey, golf, tennis, dancing, running and numerous others they all involve a degree of relaxation, control of momentum and transfer of weight.

1. Physical Self Awareness

All adults need to learn how much of what they do in their daily activities are full of habits of repetition. These activities like simultaneously carrying grocery bags, balancing the mail and getting your keys out and unlocking your door indicates a multi-tasking skill taken for granted because our lives have learned these basics out of necessity. But think of it. You typically can manipulate several tasks while trying to enter your home or maybe unlocking your car. There’s never just one key to find it’s one of many. But we still handle it easily. While carrying groceries we can select the right key with one hand and then open the door.

The simple explanation is that we have developed motor skills. What actually takes place during these tasks is not so-much muscular although that’s a part of it but independence of motor actions. Fingers, feet, body movement, harms, legs etc. all participate but the common element or single characteristic that ties them all together is repetition and knowing your limitations.

Our brains were trained in childhood to handle most of the things we do in adulthood. What about the brain of an adult? Why is it slower to learn? Because it wasn’t designed that way. The growing years are the formative years and things are in acceleration compared to what occurs after we reach adulthood. Do we let this knowledge defeat us or can we use it to our advantage?

Attributes of a Total Musician

Why have I chosen to describe a “total musician”? Do you need to be a “total musician” to be entertaining or be considered worthy? These questions I want to answer so that you understand the different ways and points of view from which musicianship can be seen.

I like to believe that we all wish to become better as musicians. At some point during a musicians career they realize that one way to improve and become recognized is to try to play with musicians who are more experienced than yourself.  We don’t need to be a total musician to be entertaining or even famous.

A total musician in my view will have the following attributes but are not requirements to enjoy playing or even for gaining a following:

1. Playing by ear – this ability can range from simple melody to total harmonization and ability to play inner parts that may be part of an orchestration or arrangement. Tip

2. Adaptability  to playing with other musicians. This is understanding when to respect the space of other musicians in a kind of soundscape. A landscape artist for example does not draw the sky green and the grass blue. And the barn does not need to be the main element of a drawing. Similar analogies can be made to playing with others.

3. Reading music – This takes on more than one type of reading and can include some very specific skills.  For instance a classically trained musician will not be able to sit down and play a jazz chart.

4. A sense of rhythm  –  Improvising has not always been a Jazz musician’s skill. Bach and Beethoven and Paganini were all considered masters of improvisation. One very useful ability is an awareness of breaking down the beat into smaller subdivisions. Jazz and other styles will often blend and melt the triplet feel with a straight eighth note or sixteenth note feel.

5. Phrasing – Understanding that melody imitates singing and includes an awareness of where to breathe, when to be expressive and how to go about improvising. Popular music uses a technique of singing or playing a melody ahead or after the beat. All kind of music use what is called rubato. What you take away needs to be given back and of course the reverse is true also. The notes are performed so that if there is a speeding up then there is also slowing down.

6. Knowledge of structures and form example: What is ABA or Theme and Variations or Rondo or ABA etc.

7. Ability to change keys and understanding the harmonic movement and chord progession when changing key.

8. Solfege and relative pitch. Solfege or Solfa is a system from the 1800’s that originated in England and involves the familiar do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do

9. Relaxing and understanding the degree of tension and relaxation necessary to achieve the best results. The best way to play without getting tired is to relax.

10. Knowing that silence and space are an important aspect to a performance or composition.

 

Tip #4 Making a Deal With Gravity – Transfer Weight

We learn from experience that certain physical actions and movement can be tiring if we repeat them as if we were purely mechanical objects. But we eventually learn how to do repetitive tasks in a way that lets us endure and prevent strain. The key to better sounding music and greater endurance is a combination of transferring weight and making a deal with gravity. For a simple comparison we can walk long distances without getting tired. What if you march the same distance? You would need to raise your legs higher and would find yourself getting tired much quicker. The fingers are the same. We can use our fingers, hands, wrists and arms and even body to affect the way we play. The role we give to gravity is important. If we let our fingers transfer the weight of our arms we are dealing with a predictable factor. Our arm weight is constant. We can play smoothly. If we want legato, that is playing without space or silence between each note then transferring weight is both efficient and effective. When Newton discovered gravity the amazing realization was not simply that the forces were there but that the movement of objects could be predicted and manipulated in a consistent manner. Remember hand position , finger curvature and providing the correct amount of opposing force to get the sound you need. For example: The melody is usually in the right hand. Then that would mean that more sound is required in the right hand so let gravity do the work by simply transferring the weight. But the left hand is an accompaniment. So, let the arm muscles provide a steady opposing energy up so that the left hand sounds quieter.

Tip #3 Think of a Piano as a Percussion Instrument

The piano is considered by many to be able to recreate an orchestra. But it is also viewed as a percussion instrument. Pretty versatile! I recommend that you set time aside to try out a rhythmic pattern and focus on relaxing the fingers but maintaining a curved position while your knuckles remain on the same plane as the top of your hand. Try it on one black note then maybe some adjacent black notes. The goal here is to recognize the need to relax. Also the weight of the arms is a factor when playing. Normally with a melodic passage the fingers transfer weight. But with a percussive passage the fingers need to maintain a relaxed yet rigid position. The most important thing you can learn about playing the piano is to relax and transfer weight. The muscles that are needed are mostly the ones that keep the position. You still need to remain fluid. In percussive playing the transfer of weight is from arm to arm while the fingers are the buffer.

Tip #2 Sight Reading

Having a developed ear will help assist in sight reading. If you can hear where the melody is going and can find that on the instrument that will allow the reading process to happen faster. For me I was lucky. I grew up with the Beatles who had lots of great melodies and I used to play along with the recordings. When my parents bought me a Beatles song book I started playing what was written and soon discovered that my ear was occasionally wrong and even more of a surprise that the published music was occasionally wrong. This gave me a sense of satisfaction and made me feel clever. >> Useful Sites

Tip #1 Playing by Ear

Playing By Ear – My personal experience was the result of having a father who loved jazz and had a little bit of musical ability to play by ear. He was not afraid of making a mistake and he would often try to play the melodies of some of his favourite tunes. Whatever his intention it worked to get me interested because it got me trying to do the same thing and I discovered that I could actually find the notes faster than my dad. So a lesson for parents. Two suggestions. When you try to do something and can sort of succeed your child will possibly also try to do the same thing.
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