The month of December is a good month for integration and absorption of skills.
The skills already learned can become easy and natural through the depth of learning that comes with time. Dr. Suzuki says:
This is a good time to balance the busy holidays with practice sessions that do not hurry to the next skill.
Dr. Suzuki also said:
Core Education is direct experience that integrates the mental realm with the physical and develops ability. When the ability to play is developed so that the thinking and physical movements are not occupying the person’s total concentration, but are integrated into the experience, the student can “play by heart” with feeling and with inspiration.
At this time it is important for the skills acquired be repeated enough times that they become a framework for other learning which will be built on top of it. The “framework” can also be compared to the software on a computer, or a map. Children’s brains are forming the neural pathways that are like highways for later traffic. It is much harder for adults to acquire new frameworks -like learning a new language for example or using technical devices.
This is why childhood is so important.
The framework for playing piano is being developed through playing the Twinkles.
It is so wonderful that the Twinkles develop both pattern memory (the sequence of the notes in Twinkle) and pattern differentiation (the rhythms in the variations). This absorption of the learning will enable the child to apply the framework of producing sounds to the new pieces.
Teaching legato is perhaps the most difficult and most important task to teach beginning piano students. When students play staccato it is much easier to relax the hand. When students first play legato there is a strong tendency to keep “pushing” to hold the note down.
Dr. Kataoka relates playing legato to walking:
This is a useful analogy and it is good to walk around noticing how your legs move smoothly without stopping as the weight shifts. Also notice how important your feet movement is and compare this to the first joint of your finger or fingerpad.
Another important aspect of legato is the movement of the thumb. Dr. Kataoka used to say “Don’t play piano like a monkey!” to students (and teachers) because they didn’t move their thumb. She was fascinated at how students used their thumbs when texting on their cell phones. To play legato the thumb also has to connect the sounds by moving and not pushing. The movement is sideways the way that the hand naturally grasps or picks up something. If you try this you can observe how the thumb moves differently from the other fingers. When playing the piano this movement becomes unnatural because the sideways movement also must make the key go down in order to produce sound.
The connection of the physical feeling of the finger moving with the continuation of the sound enables direct playing so that the piano effectively becomes the voice. The sound and the movement become the same thing. The child makes this connection of how the movement of the fingers and body directly affects the sound in a similar way to how a baby learns to move it’s mouth and tongue to produce different sounds.
The first step is the internalized sound. Please listen to the disc on low volume all the time. Then by directing attention to the sound as much as possible in practice and in lessons, the child learns naturally how to move the body to get the sound that they want.
Here is a recent NPR article “Musicians Hear Better” which cites research being done on the development of auditory discernment through studying music. Dr. Mark Jude Tramo, a professor of neurology at Harvard and director of the Institute for Music & Brain Science says in the article : A musician “is going to be able to do better on any task that involves auditory concentration.”
For holiday listening I would like to recommend a wonderful disc with pianist Martha Argerich performing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite with Nicolas Economou in the two piano version as well as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. It is the first disc on the Listening Recommendations page of this website.
I hope you are enjoying the journey of this research. Thank-you for your attention to it.