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Fantasie Impromptu
Image by Sabrina Tang via Flickr

Chopin in two sentences!

A former piano student I had the pleasure of teaching for two years grew up in Korea.  She had studied piano for six years before I met her, always in a class situation.

She described her classes as only playing the notes.  The teacher would walk around the room, saying “OK, next” when students knew the notes.  So the students would turn the page and go on.

Hence the following story.

First lesson

My student (I’ll call her “K”) played something for me, I don’t recall what.  Everything sounded like everything else.

So I said, “Where’s the melody?”  K’s response was a confused facial expression.  She honestly didn’t know.

After some discussion, K said, “I thought it [playing music] was just playing the notes!”  Given what transpired in her previous piano classes, this was not surprising.

Second lesson

K and I discussed what she would like to work on.  (This was Continuing Ed., no requirements.)  She answered, “Chopin, Fantaisie Impromptu.”  I took a very deep breath while thinking about what I would say.

My initial reaction was that she would never be able to learn the piece, given her current  repertoire.  Had she done anything with complicated rhythms between hands?  No.  Nor did she have a practice plan to handle this piece.

And then I thought further.  She had the chops, she sight-read well, and she was accurate.  She loved the piece, and had the maturity to accept that she might need to switch to something else.

So I said “yes,” wondering whether I had just made a big mistake.

Next lesson

K had broken down the rhythms, and was playing very slowly, fitting the right hand’s 16th notes in with the left hand’s triplets.  Accurate, yes, but think about it.  It wasn’t music, and getting the sweeping sound required would take forever.

So I took another big risk, suggesting that she just play it.  Let each hand do what it wants to, and don’t analyze the rhythm so meticulously.  K reacted with surprise.

Next lesson

It worked!  Just like that.  Yes, the tempo needed to be faster, but the music was there.  I wouldn’t recommend that leap for every student, but K was ready to go there.

More progress

With a student recital coming up,  K wanted to perform.  So we started working on presentation.

Since K had never performed before, we practiced walking to the piano, how to begin the piece, and bowing afterwards.

Next lesson

I asked K how she had been practicing the piece.  How was it going?  How did she feel, with the recital a week away?

Her response:  “I ask, ‘Where is melody?’  Then I bow to wall.”

So there you go.  Chopin in two sentences!   : )

Have you taken chances with your students?  What was the outcome?  Please share your experiences in the comment section below!

While you’re here, please take a look at my new E-book,Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer ~ making steady progress without getting stuck!  Print version coming soon!  Proofed first copy last week!!!  Very exciting!!!

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