Musical Marination

the student who doesn’t want to learn

Posted in Piano Lessons by Rivki Silver on 07/28/2010
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Last week a parent confessed to me that her child didn’t want to take lessons, but that she didn’t want her to quit, and though it wasn’t something she would normally do, she was going to force her child to continue.

Hmmmm.  I didn’t like the sound of that.

This child had taken lessons for a few years previously (with a different teacher), but had either not learned or not retained many basic skills.  She needed a beginner-level book, but since she is a ‘tween, I wanted something which didn’t contain pictures which she would find “babyish.”

I had already tried several approaches with this student.  I selected an adult-beginner book for lessons, but it was proclaimed “too hard.”  On the mother’s request, I provided several folk/traditional songs, but the student “hated” them.  Also on parental request, I attempted to teach, by rote, a popular song the student had expressed an interest in learning, but it was also “too hard.”  I then switched to a different set of books (Piano Discoveries by Vogt & Bates) which came highly recommended to me from another teacher.  Immediately after this switch, the student went to camp for a month.

It was the week preceding our first lesson after this hiatus that the mother confirmed my suspicions.  The child was uninterested in lessons.  And I was uninterested in teaching a child against her will.  So, yesterday, before the scheduled lesson, I called the mother to discuss the matter.

In the conversation, the mother (again) expressed the feeling that if the daughter could “just do songs she loved,” then all would be well.  However this is not a viable option (nor a teaching style with which I am comfortable).  This child is not yet able to read notes with any fluency, and songs which require hand movement out of fixed positions have been too frustrating for her.  Also, her rhythm reading ability is weak, and she is uncomfortable with playing hands-together.

Thankfully, the mother did say that after returning from camp, this child sat down at the piano and opened the lesson book, wanting to play a bit.  The mother also agreed to talk to the child before the next lesson.  With these two factors, I felt it was possible that the child’s interest could be built back up.

Things which may help:

  • Give her more choices, the kind where it makes her feel good about choosing, but the result, no matter what her choice,  is still something with which I am happy.
  • As always, encourage encourage encourage!  Focus on positive language.  Instead of saying, “No, that’s not the right note,” say, “Almost.  Look again at that third note.”  When she plays a line correctly, give her praise.  A lot.


  • Give a choice between three performance pieces (from Grand Solos for Piano by Bober)
  • Give her a choice in the lesson book between reviewing the piece from before break or going forward
  • With new pieces, give her a choice if she wants to stay with hands separately or to try for hands together
  • Continue with Theory (also the Vogt & Bates series).  No choice there – sorry!
  • In between these items, shmooze a little about how I also would gain and lose interest in lessons when I was a student, about when I would play publicly at galas and receptions someone would always come up to me and express regret over quitting lessons, etc.  Throw in a few heart-to-heart kind of comments.


Thankfully, the lesson went well.  I felt that she was much more receptive than she had been before the break.  She even smiled a couple of times.  Though I felt a little awkward throwing in my anecdotes during the lesson, I did it, and hope that some part of the messages were received.  Her mother said that the only complaint the girl had was that she had a stomachache during the lesson (which she did not tell me).  Time will tell if this is a psychosomatic response.

For this student it will be more important than usual to keep my finger on the pulse and see if we can continue to keep the interest level up.

transcribing with an eye (or ear) for In Harmony

Posted in In Harmony by Rivki Silver on 07/27/2010
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Last night I had a short window of time between when my baby went to sleep and went my husband came home from work, so I plugged the CD player into the extension cord, hustled over to the piano, and managed to transcribe the bulk of one song.

I began transcribing songs in 2005, when I was asked to accompany a Bais Yaakov High School girls Shabbaton (I didn’t play on Shabbos, of course.  I think it was on Sunday).  The girls gave me a cassette tape of a rehearsal.  That was it.  I had to figure out the rhythms, chord progressions, melodic and harmonic lines.  It took me forever.  While I had studied rhythmic and melodic dictation in university, this was more grueling and much trickier than I recalled.  More familiar with classical pieces than pop, I made the songs far more complex than needed.  And much more of a headache for myself.

Since that rather inauspicious beginning, I’ve had the opportunity to transcribe a number of songs for various performances, and it has become easier and easier.  I’ve become acquainted with typical progressions in pop songs and familiar with the common rhythms which stymied me previously.

For this particular project I need to transcend mere transcription.  In Harmony, the group for which I’m arranging pieces, has certain considerations which need to be, um, considered.  We only meet once a week for an hour-and-a-half, and the members of the group have widely varied backgrounds, from operatic training to just “liking to sing.”  We are looking at a small late October performance (five pieces or so) and a large late-winter/early-spring concert, where we will be headlining.  Rachel, fellow co-musical director, and I are aiming for around 15 pieces for the large concert.

Currently we have four pieces, and not polished at that.  We have been working on them for months, and the other members of the group are nervous that we will not be able to work up enough pieces in time for the large concert.  The pieces we have been working on are complex, with three- and four-part harmonies, full instrumentation (keyboard, drums, guitar and woodwinds), and musical structure and ideas which have proven trickier to learn than either Rachel or I anticipated.  With these factors in mind, we are aiming to arrange the remaining songs with the following criteria:

The pieces need to be exceedingly easy to learn.  This means cutting out a lot of the nuances which I happen to enjoy, but have proven confusing.  No more than 2-part harmony.  Simple melodic and harmonic ideas which are repeated without variation.  In addition to a score, a simple “road map” detailing the order of verse/chorus/bridge with their respective repetitions.  Doubling parts so that if we need to take voices off and put onto instruments, it will not weaken the integrity of the piece.

Holding these factors in mind, last night I pulled the verse, chorus and parts of the bridge and chord progression off the CD.  I also pulled a potential harmonic line for the chorus.  Now I intend to have another listen, solidify the bridge, chord progressions and see if there’s a harmony for the verse, or if I need to create one.  I will also need to decide if we should keep the song’s structure as is, or if it should be simplified to expedite the learning process.

Where to start?

Posted in Planning by Rivki Silver on 07/26/2010

There are a number of  projects I’m currently involved with:  Arranging the Taunter for Band; transcribing and arranging Avraham Yagail and that Miriam song for In Harmony; arranging some Pesach songs for beginning piano; getting a few ensemble pieces to a pianist friend of mine and logging some practice time on both the piano and the clarinet.

During the Three Weeks I wasn’t working on any musical projects, and now I find that I have so many that I’m not sure where to begin!  Since we have an In Harmony rehearsal scheduled for Wednesday, I’m prioritizing those songs, then picking out pieces for collaboration, then the Taunter.  Progress report to come.