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Musings Columns

Follow Jane's regular column "Musings" in Clavier Companion, beginning fall, 2009 and appearing three times a year.

"Musings," Clavier Companion. What matters more: talent or effort?
September/October 2011

Literature on childhood education today is addressing this very circumstance? that praising (and overpraising) children for their talents or their abilities may be counterproductive.

"Musings," Clavier Companion. Blizzards, performances, and best-laid plans
May/June 2011

So how do we teach students to prepare for blizzard-like conditions in performance? Consistent and strong practice habits, practice, and preparation can help one respond well to the blizzard of the unexpected.

"Musings," Clavier Companion. Chopin's teaching
May/June 2010

What do we know about Chopin’s teaching? After all, teaching was an important part of his life and provided his main source of income. What can we take from Chopin’s teaching in the 1800s and apply to our own professional models today?

Polyphony Columns

Jane's popular column “Polyphony” appeared in each issue of The American Music Teacher, official journal of Music Teachers National Association, from April-May 2002 through June-July 2009. Links are below to most of the columns.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher.
April/May 2008, pp. 60-61

My choices, and undoubtedly those of most individuals, will be based on personal perspectives, artistic taste, aesthetic sense and sense for what fits the hand well. For example, pieces that exhibit strong character and personality often stand out; they capture one's attention. I look for literature choices that I believe the majority of students will find compelling or stimulating based on my teaching experience.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher.
February/March 2008, pp. 70-72

Many of us are acquainted with natural-born teachers, but that does not mean these people did not consciously work to develop various aspects of their teaching. In truth, many we believe to be "natural-born teachers" undoubtedly worked, studied and analyzed their teaching to develop those talents, knowing that they, in fact, are not instinctual teachers and that most skills can be developed to higher levels.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
December 2007/January 2008, pp. 42-45

This is the music that sends us dancing! It is impossible to listen to compositions by Scarlatti, for example, for any length of time and not feel buoyant and physically involved. Where do things go wrong? The music seems to be accessible on the page--sometimes textures are not so thick, and many of the early pieces appear as two-voice pieces only.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
October/November 2007, pp. 54-56

An intriguing and certainly thought-provoking question this is! At first thought, I believe it has to do with thinking and listening in more creative ways than those to which we are accustomed. It could mean doing something differently and in ways we might not immediately explore if we had continued on our normal path without stopping to listen to an inner voice and to act differently.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
August/September 2007, pp. 64-65

Students must know that we are on their side as their supporter and biggest cheerleader, and they must know, too, that we remain their teacher. Many psychologists say that several steps are involved in making a change. The first is the decision to make a change in some habit, and that decision should be accompanied with a decisive experience or moment.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
June/July 2007, pp. 80-82

All students are different, so no one principle holds absolutely for everyone. That being said, I do believe that for most students at the elementary to lower-advanced levels, some pieces should be memorized and others studied and played with the score (learned up to tempo, and performed appropriate character and musical understanding).

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
April/May 2007, pp. 66-69

We can reflect the joy of accomplishment in our attitudes toward music practice, music lessons, the entire process of learning a piece from beginning to end.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
February/March 2007, pp. 72-74

The beginning of moving away from a rut or sameness in teaching is first the realization that we may need to change--an awareness of just what is happening in our own teaching. Then, with that awareness, we can begin to make a shift. I find video or audio taping to be, perhaps, the most helpful way to connect with one's own teaching style and mode.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
December 2006/January 2007, pp. 52-53

For piano students to be able to play "into the keys" with some finesse, they should have developed some skill controlling nuance. I often suggest teaching this to beginning and elementary students within the five-finger patterns, with a goal to play each five-finger pattern beautifully as a phrase, with a slight crescendo going up and decrescendo coming down.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
October/November 2006, pp. 72-74

This month's column addresses two very different aspects in teaching. The first portion of this column centers on the development of empathy as a necessary component of great teachers, while the second pan focuses on the teaching of technique and metronome practice.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
August/September 2006, pp. 74-76

Group teaching can provide situations for students to reap wide-ranging benefits through peer learning and can facilitate teacher opportunities for review, reinforcement, presentation of new concepts and other aspects of teaching. Group lessons provide an opportunity for students to assess their own progress in relation to their peer group and in relation to others with similar interests and commitments.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
June/July 2006

This is a wonderful question that undoubtedly comes from a teacher seeking to motivate her student and herself. Students like to know the expectations for a lesson, such as what may happen when, how the lesson will be structured and so on. Having a structured and balanced lesson is important for the student, and, yet, we all need and thrive on variety and creative ways to approach issues we may have dealt with before.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
April/May 2006, pp. 72-74

This month's column addresses two very different aspects in teaching. The first portion of this column centers on the development of empathy as a necessary component of great teachers, while the second pan focuses on the teaching of technique and metronome practice.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
February/March 2006, pp. 80-82

For many years I would have called myself primarily a private/applied music teacher, but I also devote substantial time to class teaching of piano pedagogy. Where am I most at home? Is it in the "doing it" or the "talking about doing it?" Many people agree that the actual teaching of the lesson is the most stimulating part for them. And yet, during a course I taught this past fall, I was vividly reminded of what we know well to be true: that appropriate and experimental ways of talking about, analyzing, preparing and practicing for teaching, help bring about change in teaching--personal growth in our own teaching.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
December/January 2005/2006, pp. 48-49, 55

This is the first "Polyphony" column I have written since Hurricane Katrina hit land. So many of us watched with disbelief and anguish the destruction, pain and horrors that afflicted so many. A major city in our country was nearly destroyed and additional areas in the Gulf Coast were completely destroyed. One could not help but to put themselves in the shoes of the individuals who lived and worked there--who had homes there....

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
October/November 2005, pp. 64-66

Occasionally in this column I like to highlight information from a lesser-known book that may be helpful to independent teachers. Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Learning, and Performing is a handbook and home-study course by Lucinda Mackworth-Young. This is truly a workbook for teachers, written in straightforward style with room for penciling in reflections and answers applying to teaching situations.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher,
August/September 2005, pp. 78-79

The end of the spring semester has come and gone. Commencement has come and gone. I watched a number of students graduate and know they are now beginning their teaching careers. I have so many things I would like to tell them about the future, but know they could not fully process it yet. They really will not know what I am talking about until time and experience, success and mistakes take them from new teacher status to seasoned music teacher.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
June/July 2005, Number 6, pp. 98-100

Q. You have spoken about the sound ideal for a piece and of the importance of projecting a musical interpretation and performance to that very high level. Would you clarify this?

A. In the mind's ear, one has an ideal of the perfect performance of a piece. You may have even heard this perfect performance, perhaps by a concert artist, on a recording or even in a wonderful interpretation by a student.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
April/May 2005, pp. 76-77

The teaching year has an unmistakable rhythm to it as we come to a junction where students suddenly seem to perform with more depth and sensitivity and deeper musical insight.

Whitehead and the Stages of Romance, Precision and Generalization

In the 1920s, British mathematician and educator Alfred North Whitehead wrote an essay titled "The Rhythm of Education," in which he discussed the progression of a student in a formal learning situation.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
February/March 2005, pages 94-95

Maybe it is because I turned 50 several years ago that I started asking more frequently, "Just what is important?" either with respect to the day's proposed activities or in a situation that can seem difficult with a student. Perhaps the issue is not that important, but again, maybe it is. I ask the question consciously and subconsciously about much of what goes on in teaching.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
December 2004/January 2005, pages 52-57

Naming or labeling what we are doing in routine practice--that is the subject of this column. It seems simple. By naming the activity or practicing technique, we are giving it credence as something to be applied in different music practice situations. The name gives the student a label to use to apply and then apply again. It allows the student to transfer the skill from one piece to another piece and, thus, produces a higher level of comprehension and practice skills.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
October/November 2004, pp. 66-69

Recently, I came across a book titled Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning by Deborah Stipek, Ph.D. and Kathy Seal (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2001, ISBN 0-8050-6395-1). Written primarily for parents and useful for teachers, this book contains a wealth of information that can be used by music teachers in their associations with students. This column is based on the Stipek/Seal book, which comes as a highly recommended resource for teachers.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
August/September 2004. pp. 76, 77, 83

This Polyphony column appears in two parts. The first part provides some personal reflections on the beginning of a new teaching year. The second section comes as a result of questions and feedback from the April/May Polyphony column on "Art as Process." In it we try to face some issues we all encounter in authentically allowing our teaching and philosophy to deal with art as process. Next month, we will return to a question-and-answer format, and I invite your questions and comments on that and future columns.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
June/July 2004. pp. 78, 79, 83

A version of this article first appeared in' the Piano Pedagogy Forum, Volume 3, Number 2, and is reprinted with permission of Piano Pedagogy Forum of the University of South Carolina. it can be accessed at www.music.sc.edu/ea/keyboard/ppf.

Jane Magrath: Doug, we are interested in your investigation of emotional health and the student musician. Can you give us some background for this topic?

Doug Weeks: Creativity and emotional health a topic not extensively addressed in the music curriculum and one both sensitive and complex to discuss--is the subject of the pioneering work of Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
April/May 2004, pp. 78, 79, 86

Q: What inspired you to write this column about "art as process"?

A: Recently, I participated in a conversation with five individuals who were enrolled in an art workshop. It was at the beginning of the multi-day gathering, and they clearly were eager. Some were professional artists, but most were not, and all were attending a week-long workshop titled "Painting, Passion, Art." They were all ages and from all over the country and had diverse backgrounds and painting experiences, from a young mother who stated that in her experience she had only painted walls; to a woman from Albuquerque in her 60s who painted off and on to express herself; to a man from Chicago who acknowledged himself as an artist and made a living professionally, he said, as a massage therapist and also by selling church collection envelopes to churches (you decide this one).

"Polyphony," American Music Teache
February/March 2004, pp. 72-73

Q. I often hear teachers comment on performances of other teachers' students in a positive way, impressed with the students' ability to perform musically, with security, and with seeming personal involvement and enjoyment. This applies to most students in the studio. Do you have any insights here?

A. One of the most important aspects of teaching, in my opinion, is for a student not to perform in public until he or she is fully ready.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
December/January 2003/2004, pp. 48, 49, 53

Q: My question concerns students who play mind games on themselves in performance. Do you have any suggestions to help a student who seems to prepare well technically and musically for competitions, but on some occasions plays mind games on himself prior to or during recital or festival performances? The result is that the performances frequently do not match what had been accomplished on these pieces in practice and studio.

A: While it is not possible for an rain-depth answer here about various aspects of performance anxiety, an introduction to visualization connected to positive performing strategies seems appropriate.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
October/November 2003, pp. 77-79

Recently I came across a book tided Dealing with Difficult Parents (And with Parents in Difficult Situations) by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore (Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, 2001, ISBN 1-930556-09-8). This book, written primarily for school teachers and principals, contains a wealth of information that can be used by music teachers in their associations with students' parents. This American Music Teacher column is based on the Fiore/Whitaker book, a highly recommended resource for the music teacher.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
August-September 2003, pp. 80-81, 106

Q: Do you have suggestions for getting off to a good start at the beginning of a new teaching year?

A: The beginning of an academic year is an important time since it makes a new start possible with many students. Almost every student is excited, glad to be back at the beginning of the year.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
June-July 2003, pp. 78-79

I notice that in recent months I have returned several times to the topic of "practice." Perhaps it is because we spend so much of our teaching time helping students practice--seeking new and different ways to assist students in growing in their own practicing. Let's face it, teaching students to practice--to hear, understand and enjoy the music they are playing--is at the center of what we do as music teachers. It happens with all levels and ages of students.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
April/May, 2003, pp. 70-72

This column presents a guest interview with Gary Amano and his colleague Dennis Hirst from Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Both Amano and Hirst have had numerous winners in MTNA national, division and state competitions. We felt readers might be interested in some of their insights and views about entering students in competitions.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
February/March 2003, pp. 69-70

In this month's column, I would like to deal with two issues--the sameness of the private lesson setting, and meaningfulness in what we do in teaching and within out personal lives as a whole. Both topics deserve much thought, and cannot be fully dealt with in a column. This forum can, however, serve as a starting place for renewal during these winter months.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
December-January, 2002-2003, pp. 74-75

Q: Today, most piano teaching courses discuss learning theories as part of the course content. I am interested in learning styles and teaching to a student's learning style. Where might I find additional information, since my college courses in the past included little of that information?

A: You are correct in identifying an added content area in most piano pedagogy courses around the United States.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
October-November, 2002, pp. 83-84, 86

Q: Should teachers assign piano literature based on hand size?

A: Hand size with respect to performing piano literature is an issue affecting a large percentage of all pianists, especially young children whose performance ability may increase faster than their hands grow.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
August-September, 2002, pp. 78-79

For more than twenty-five years, I have approached the beginning of the teaching year with excitement, exhilaration, renewed creativity and passion. I am certain I am no different from most music teachers in this country, for we are in our profession because we treasure what we are doing, and we engage in our work with total commitment. At this point in the teaching year, as we plan and dream for our students and ourselves, it is easy to be idealistic and perhaps to be more objective.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
June-July, 2002, pp. 74-75

Summer is a time when we all seek opportunity for refreshment and rejuvenation. With some of the stress and urgency of the spring semester removed, we have time to reflect and replenish, to renew ourselves. Many teachers elect to continue teaching private or group lessons during the summer. Others take a break from teaching for the entire term, claiming their own personal time and space for renewal. Many attend workshops, practice and refresh.

"Polyphony," American Music Teacher
April-May, 2002, pp. 72-73

Welcome to this inaugural posting for Polyphony, American Music Teacher's new column! This column is meant to hear and share the many voices of teachers throughout the United States. In exchanging ideas, sharing philosophies and trusting ourselves to change, experimentation and challenges, we grow and deepen as musicians and teachers. In the coming months I welcome your questions, thoughts, reflections and insights on the art of teaching and on what has been meaningful for your students and your art.

Additional Online Articles with links.

“Keynote Address. A Tribue to Richard Chronister and the Eight Fallacies in Teaching.”
Piano Pedaogy Forum, v. 3, no. 2, May 1, 2000.

“Keynote Address. Reflections from Norway: The European Piano Teachers' Association 21st Congress.”
Piano Pedagogy Forum, v. 2, no. 3/September 1, 1999.

“Keynote Address. Process vs Product in Teaching Adult Amateur Pianists.”
Piano Pedagogy Forum, v. 1, no. 3, September 1, 1998.

Keynote Address
(Musings on “What to Teach” in a Piano Pedagogy Course),

Piano Pedagogy Forum, v. 1, no. 2/May 1, 1998.

“Keynote Address
(Musings on Being a Musician as a Way of Life),”

Piano Pedagogy Forum, v. 1, no. 1/January 1, 1998.

Selected Articles without Online Links.

These articles may be secured from back issues or library copies of these journal volumes.

"What Role Does Fingering Play in Music Reading?"
Keyboard Companion, Summer, 2002,
Volume 13, Number 2, pp. 15, 17.

Imagine that you sit down to read a transcription by Busoni. It is important that you imagine reading a score with a thick texture that you have never heard or played, and one that is not fingered. Of course without the presence of key fingerings as guideposts along the way, your reading process is much slower and the playing is awkward. Clumsy and faltering hand shifts creep in due to an inability to plan ahead.

"What are the Pluses and Pitfalls of Student Competitions?
Keyboard Companion, Spring, 2002,
Volume 13, No. 1, pp. 52-53.

When piano teachers think of student competitions, a myriad of quite different perceptions come into the minds of different people. Of course, we almost always relate our perception of competitions to our own experiences. Yet many diverse competitions with vastly different purposes exist: Does the student competition require advanced level repertoire—one in which the most “competitive” students perform?

"Is there a process vs product in teaching adult amateur students? Keyboard Companion, Winter 2001,
Volume 12, No. 4, pp. 30-31.

I recently sat on a doctoral dissertation defense for a paper on adult music programs in Community Music Schools in the United States. Ramona Graessle, then Ph.D. candidate, had investigated the status of programs and educational opportunities for adults in the community music schools. We as committee members reflected upon the large number of schools reporting increased demands of adult offerings in the programs, particularly as the baby boomers begin to come of age.

"Romantic Pieces by Burgmüller."
Clavier, March 2001, pp. 14, 16-17.

The composer Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller was born in Regensburg, Germany December 4, 1806 to a musical family. His father, Johann August Franz Burgmüller, worked as an organist and musical director for the theatre; he founded the Lower Rhine Music Festival in 118, an important event in the German musical calendar to this day. A younger brother, Norbert, was exceptionally gifted and composed music as a child including numerous songs and a symphony; he died at the age of 26, leaving his second symphony unfinished.

"The Joys of Music Education: An Interview with Marguerite Miller." Clavier, April 1996, pp. 28-30.

Her eyes always sparkling, Marguerite Miller can speak endlessly about the joys of music education and playing the piano. She has touched the world of piano teaching in many ways. In 1994 the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy honored her as the first recipient of its award for excellence, service, and dedication to acknowledge her 50 years of teaching piano pedagogy courses, college-level applied piano, class piano, and private piano for teachers and high school students.

“An Experienced Clinician Comments on Workshops.”
Clavier, March 1996, p. 45.

Frequently I meet piano teachers who are searching for ways to revive their teaching through new materials, new ideas on teaching techniques, and reviews of teaching literature. The concept of renewal through workshops is not new; in fact, almost all professions host development workshops and seminars throughout the year. Those for piano teachers usually take place in the summer when schedules are sometimes lighter.

“What are the most important aspects of technique to cover in the first years of piano study?
Keyboard Companion, Winter, 1993,
Volume 4, No. 4, p. 21.

The first years of piano study are critical ones for developing technique in the young student. The extent to which various elements of playing are developed in the early years should be greatly expanded. Central to the development of technique in the very first year is the establishment of a good hand position and the establishment of the ability to move freely about the keyboard.

"Describe your own home practice. Why do you do it?"
Keyboard Companion, Spring, 1992,
Volume 3, Number 1, p. 10.

Why do I continue to practice and to perform? It is difficult to imagine not doing so. The love for music that I felt at a young age, my love for playing the piano, for expressing the music through playing, has only intensified through the years as I’m sure it has for most musicians. The basic reason that I “do it” is that I love the music—the literature itself.

"The Sound Ideal." The American Music Teacher,
December–January, 1989–90, pp. 24–25.

Music instruction begins and ends with the teacher’s imagined concept of an ideal performance—a sound ideal. As music teachers we can easily imagine how the various stages of the teaching process relate to our perceptions of how the music should sound. First, we hear the student perform the music.

"Bernstein's Anniversaries and Other Works for Solo Piano."
The American Music Teacher, September–October, 1988, pp. 16–21, 66–67.

Leonard Bernstein is a man of many personalities, many characters. Even as a youth of twenty-one he stamped his foot so hard on the floor while playing the Copland Piano Variations that the chandelier fell in the apartment below. According to another story, Bernstein refused to play for a luncheon held during parents’ weekend at camp—that is, until he learned of George Gershwin’s death. As a tribute, Bernstein spontaneously gave a touching performance of Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2.

“Building Pianism."
Clavier, January, 1988, pp. 40–41.

How many skills does a student need to play the first movement of the Clementi Sonatina in C Major, Op. 36, No. 1? To play it well he should be able to voice a melody over an accompaniment, produce an even sound, articulate and phrase, control tonal shading and nuance, play legato, and maintain an Alberti bass.

"Joan Last: First Lady of British Piano Teachers."
Clavier, September, 1985, pp. 6–11.

Anyone who spends a day with Joan Last will find it hard to believe that she is 77 years old. This leader of British piano teachers thrives on the people and activities in her multifaceted life: keeping in touch with both former and current students, giving workshops throughout Great Britain and the United States, composing, preparing and dubbing cassette tapes for her radio series ofr the blind, and pursuing her many hobbies—photography, bird-watching, writing poetry, and conducting interviews.

"The Piano Teaching Literature: Please Refresh My Memory.
Clavier, February, 1984, pp. 25–28.

All teachers refer to lists of piano music. They frequently consult contest repertoire lists or music stores’ inventories of stock on hand or announcements of new publications. Annotated and graded literature lists refresh teachers’ memories and alert them to newly available music that is appropriate literature for pupils at certain levels.

"Avant–garde Teaching Materials for Piano."
The Piano Quarterly, Number 123 (Fall, 1983), pp. 46–51.

A body of teaching literature which remains largely untouched by many teachers is that involving avant-garde techniques. Ideally, the pianist-teacher is aware of the advanced (concert) literature of Cage, Crumb, Feldman, Davidowsky, and others which requires such non-traditional practices as preparing the inside of the piano, the use of harmonics and sympathetic vibrations, the execution of a score with non-traditional notation and with directions perhaps created solely for that work, and the execution of free of ad libitum rhythms, pitches, phrase sequences, and/or dynamics. This article offers a compilation of pieces using these or similar techniques which can be played by pre-college students.

"Nerves, Memory, and Pianos, Part 1."
The American Music Teacher, June–July, 1983, pp. 17–18.

It happens to the best of us. We prepare diligently for a performance, even to the point of over-practicing, and then some circumstance gets in the way and we perform not nearly as well as we are capable of. Excessive nervousness, memory slips, or the bad piano we have to play all have been singled out as culprits time and time again. Because the circumstances surrounding a performance are always different, solutions to insure an ideal artistic performance are always different, solutions to insure an ideal artistic performance are difficult, if not impossible, to offer.

"Nerves, Memory, and Pianos, Part 2."
The American Music Teacher, September–October, 1983, pp. 14–18.

In a previous article on this topic (see The American Music Teacher June/July 1983) we explored some reasons why students and amateurs perform, the importance of intelligent preparation and practice for performance, and the concept of excitement as opposed to nervousness in influencing one’s approach to a performance. This article continues our discussion of three potential hazards that many pianists allow to adversely affect a diligently prepared performance—excessive nervousness, fear of forgetting, and struggling with an unfamiliar piano.