Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jazz Transcriptions as Repertoire

Our jobs as piano teachers have many dimensions. We train ourselves to properly teach our students a vigorous and effortless technique. We act as mentors to our students in both their musical lives and their larger existence as a young person in a confusing world. We provide our students with positive performance opportunities. We attempt to help our students be good stewards of their musical talent by cultivating it in a way where they might share it with people who don’t get to hear music often. Yet, too often, we negatively influence our students’ musical horizon by not allowing them to explore, discuss, study and perform music they listen to that might not be from the standard classical repertoire.

I have found great pedagogical value in introducing my students to the recordings of the great jazz pianists.  A quick google search for "jazz piano transcriptions" turns up music for Bill Evans, Bud Powell, "Fats" Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Keith Jarrett, and Thelonious Monk.  Noah Symanzik, a very talented middle-school student in my studio, has been studying a transcription and recording of "Dinah" as played by Thelonious Monk from the album "Solo Monk."  Listen to an excerpt of Monk's playing, and then Noah's.  Noah is doing an admirable job of playing in an authentic style, honoring the tradition of this great pianist and composer, while at the same time learning about a type of music that might be out of the realm of the traditional piano lesson.

I encourage you to think outside of the box when it comes to repertoire for your students with the hope of making them more well-rounded while at the same time continually stoking their motivation through the study of music that they truly love.

Dinah - Thelonious Monk

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Meet Melody

Melody Gruber is an undergraduate student in journalism here at Michigan State University and is kindly acting as the student subject for the graduate level Seminar in Piano Pedagogy for the spring semester here at the College of Music.  Melody is a singer, and took violin lessons growing up, but is brand new to the piano.  My students and I will be teaching her on a weekly basis from level two of the Basic Adult Piano Course from Alfred.  We'll be supplementing this method with pop music she has requested as well as other works from the classical repertoire, and assorted technical exercises.  

A student like Melody poses an interesting challenge for my students in that her musical ability and knowledge is coming from a childhood background in music.  She's a beginning pianist, but certainly not a beginner.  Please see the following video for a peek inside Melody's first two lessons.  As you can see, her dedication, passion, and preparation are outstanding.

Do you have adult students like Melody in your studio?  How does your approach to lessons with a student like this vary from your approach with students of other ability levels?