Dear Parents,
We are at the important stage of learning legato and focusing on creating “ringing tone”. Therefore, I am going to “remix” some of my previous writings on tone with new thoughts for this blog.

Developing ability continues in a spiral so that we are always always coming back to the most basic points as we advance. Students in books 2 and up will come back to the Twinkle rhythm to practice tone production with a relaxed hand on sections of their pieces. Great pianists will repeat the sound of one note over and over to achieve the best sound.

Understanding develops in a spiral as well. It is not necessarily the things we study and take a test on that have deep meaning to us, rather it is what we internalize and use that has meaning and depth. As we continue to understand and research how children learn, our own ability to apply that knowledge becomes greater.

Listening is Step 1

By listening, the students are internalizing the sequence of the notes, the rhythm and the tempo of the songs, and the tone as well.
It is interesting that the students know which is the good tone immediately when I ask them. They can already hear when the tone has tension in it, just as babies hear and respond to tension in a persons voice. Everything is absorbed by the child, even our own attention and feelings. Dr. Suzuki says:”

Tone has living soul. Without form it breathes.”

Ready is step 2.
Think about what you do when you seek to hear something -you become still. This is a kind of “focusing” with the aural sense. When students become “ready” they become still and thus become able to really hear the subtleties in the sound they are producing.

When the student practices with the “ready-go” method they are able to put their whole concentration into the physical-aural connection of making tone on one note. They do not have to think about the reading or even the sequence of the notes. Because they are playing only one note, they can learn to balance the body without tension and listen for the tone rather than thinking about which note to play next.

Teaching tone is step 3.

Teaching tone is bringing awareness to the natural state of learning the children already possess. The sound/tone is already internalized through the period of listening. Now we can ask “Did all the sounds have ringing tone?” This is teaching awareness. You can notice the difference in how the note is sustained when it is played with a “hit tone”, or with a relaxed moving finger. The hit tone is very loud at first and then dies off quickly. The “heart tone” has more of a bell shape to the sound.
Dr Suzuki says

“Music is the language of the heart without words.”

and also:
“Beautiful Tone, Beautiful Heart”

Twinkle A: Listen for short clear sounds. Listen that the rhythm is natural and not too slow.
Twinkle B. Listen for the long sound. The practice of playing one sound and listening until it stops is very useful. This is a good review practice even though they are already playing Twinkle B.
Twinkle C: make sure the rhythm is accurate. Sometimes the children still confuse Twinkle A and Twinkle C.
Twinkle D – Legato-smooth connected singing tone
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:

“For legato, all we need is to do with the fingers on the keyboard what we do with our legs when we walk normally. Human beings are not naturally stiff and do not find it hard to move. Normal people shift their body weight from one leg to the other with true dexterity, and walk lightly while smoothly balancing the body. It is the same with the fingers.”

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.

When the student is able to play legato well on a single note the next task is to stretch out the hand and connect the Do with the So. Then they can successively move the weight from one finger to the next in the same way as walking.

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.(it was popular in Japan before it was in the US) To play legato the thumb also has to connect the sounds by moving and not pushing with the joints locked in a stiff position. 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.

Once the student can play a beautiful legato on Twinkle with a natural body, it is relatively easy to learn the notes of the melodies in Book 1. Singing the solfege with the disc will also make this go much much faster. You may want to select the Twinkles plus the first few pieces on the disc and put them on repeat for a couple weeks while the students are first learning these beginning songs.
The most important point is that the students can play with a beautiful tone and a happy heart:
Dr. Kataoka says:

“Being able to play the piano using a heartfelt, true, natural and musical tone becomes a great joy throughout your entire life.

Please focus the practice time on listening for ringing tone.
Leah Brammer