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Posts tagged ‘piano’

Putting words to music

This post is an open activity to anyone. One of my classes has been discussing expression and the communication and teaching of this in music. It is a challenge to listen to short piano examples and say what words it conjures up in your mind. On a more abstract level the task is to name the ineffable. As teachers we somehow need to convey this abstraction to another person, our students, so that they can achieve this for themselves on their instruments. What makes it even more difficult is that in music we speak through sound, yet describe it with something else… well, you know Plato’s allegory of the cave? Yes, that’s the perpetual state of communication in music. -Not really, but we never *touch* the essence.

Teaching expression is a topic that is rarely taught in an experiential way, partly because it is easier that way. I mean, as a teacher, I have answers if there is something definitive, but with music and expression we are drawing upon associations. For me to create something that embodies a certain emotion is different, conceptually, than the way my 14 year old student would do it, and will be different still than how the student who is a 50 year old father conceives of the same musical sentiment.

As a class we wanted to explore this idea of experience and understanding and so we created a few examples for you to listen to. The task is to choose an example (you are welcome to choose all three if you like!) and listen to it. Comment on this post with whatever words the example conjures up for you. If a certain place in the example is where you thought of the word, add the time when it happens. For example you might write that you thought of ‘red’ at 8 seconds and ‘tricycle’ at 23 seconds. We are looking for words.

The hope is that as many different people from all walks of life can contribute, because that will expand our collective experience. Having this window into your understanding can in turn allow us to deepen our understanding and will be food for our discussion on how we might teach and explain to our students.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Please do post a comment! Thank you!


Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Phil Hilficker

Broadening Horizons with #MUS654

It’s a new academic year and a new chance to look at how we learn and teach. MUS654 is just that chance. It’s a class I run at the University of Chichester where my final year undergraduates studying private teaching focus on learning to create a curriculum for a student. This is not something that people often have either spare or even professional development time set aside to learn this and so often, at least in music, it is the kind of thing that is done ‘on the job’. There isn’t a comprehensive music curriculum for each instrument and with all the differences that individual students can bring, with their goals, skills, age, levels of dedication, oh the list could go on and that’s not even accounting for any of the variables like instrument, style, how or where they learn – privately or in school. The list really can go on indefinitely.

Creating a curriculum is tricky, takes thought, and requires a knowledgeable and skillful teacher. It is easy to sit back and do what you’re told as a student, and yes, it is easy to resort to doing the telling as a teacher, but that’s not really the way meaningful learning happens. It’s also easier to teach thing to others just how we learned it, instead of having a rounded insight that lets us forge a new path and mould experiences around each student so they are really able to do the learning. Those last three words are the clinchers “do the learning’, not listen to someone about the learning. I am keen to broaden my perspective and grow and that’s the point of this class: to take the time to dissect, analyse, and rebuild something that really enables learning.

An Intro to MUS654:

I’ve put together a 10 week set of resources under the MUS654 tab on this website and I encourage you to pick and choose elements to dive into, activities to complete, and blogposts to read. This year we’re starting by looking at the satellite topics that I have set out – first thinking of the Mechanics of Sound but also musing ahead at repertoire and the possibilities of how and why we might adapt what we already know to serve as a useful teaching tool.

  • We started with a tune we all knew, Twinkle Twinkle, and used two examples – both student creations. Have a listen and ask yourself as a learner and teacher, what could you use these to learn. This was really an exercise in planting seeds for what’s to come in future weeks.

  • Another seed planting exercise was the invitation to annotate this article on What is curriculum?You can join us. The link will take you to the article in a page – which means you can annotate and comment all over it. If you don’t like being known online, you are very welcome to use an pseudonym.

I look forward to posting about our progress on considering and creating our own curricula over the next few months. Do comment on anything that interests you, ask questions, or connect and tell us about how you do things. My students and I would love to hear from you.

Featured Image CC-BY-SA by ReflectedSerendipity

On Performance

Last night I had the pleasure of performing a recital accompanied by my friend and colleague on the University’s lovely 1876 Dancy D Steinway piano. Oh I love my cello and I love to play for people. Performing for me is interesting because I am trained to do it, but in life I do many other things as well and this kind of solo performance is a slice of the pie. Finding balance is a quest. (recordings from the concert are at the end of the post, in case you want to skip the reflective part!) Read more

Romanticism: It’s happening! #CClasses

This is session two of three in this round of the Connecting Classes project. What’s happening here is a different sort of teaching where actually you control the pace, and how and when you pause, reflect, and interact with both the content and with others. For this class, we have core lectures like many classes, but we do various things alongside this project as well. I record/archive all my lectures so that students can look back for a particular reference or find a bit of analysis that they might have missed or not quite taken in during the class. We use of an interactive reading list, so they can click straight through to the university’s subscription material and have the references I’ve used at their fingertips. This Connecting Classes project is one more way to engage, and for me it is possibly the most fun.

The idea (for those of you not in the room) is that we, who are in the room will all be listening and commenting on the three interviews below. We will use our own devices to listen. That means the room will look odd to a passer-by. They might peep in and see a room full of silent people with headphones on who are tapping into computers or their phones. I promise we are all on task! As we listen, we take notes and all our comments, ideas, questions, are typed and shared as Tweets. The tiny detail that makes this useful and a pedagogical tool is that we TAG our notes with both the project hashtag and the class hashtag:

#CClasses #MUL316

The beauty is that you (who could be across the world) are also welcome to join in when and where ever you can. The value of using Twitter is that anyone can join in, and with the tags, we can add your comments to our group notes. The live event is happening today, 4 Nov. 2016 at 11 am GMT, so you will see lots of activity then…

Let’s get to it!

Today we are listening to three interview with professional musicians on the topic of Romantic Music. They total 30 mins, and I suggest you give yourself an hour to listen and comment. If you can look on Twitter for the hashtag #MUL316 you will see other people’s comments too and maybe you can reply to someone – you may have the answer they are looking for! Enjoy!

  • 25961d_6941cf070a1542ae927abe640afaa362-jpg_srz_325_257_85_22_0-50_1-20_0Our first musician is Katherine Schultz, a cellist from Portland, Oregon. She speaks to us about practising and approaching this music in the following 10 mins. of audio.

  • 2bii-j-plowright-photo-2-reduced-for-web-page1Next Jonathan Plowright, concert pianist and Head of Keyboard at the University of Chichester, speaks about understanding and context within this music. He himself is preparing to record the complete piano music of Brahms:

  • 0lb7vgkcFinally we hear from a vocalist. So much of the great Romantic music literature is for voice. Mezzo-soprano and Head of Voice at the University of Chichester, Susan Legg (@susanlegg) takes us through the first song in a song cycle Frauenliebe und-leben by Schumann, identifying key features and explaining how the voice and piano work together with the words. She finishes the interview by performing the song. Beautiful!

I am hugely grateful to our musicians for allowing me to interview them, and for their willingness to share their expertise and knowledge with us.

Please keep listening and adding comments. This is meant to be a catalyst for further discussions and is by no means limited to the 11am time slot. If you tag them #CClasses and #MUL36 I will be able to find them and add them to the story! (I will share that via this website, so the public can see)


Join us next week as we hear from composers and conductors on their views about having their music performed and performing the music of others (relating of course to Romantic composers!). I am telling you the topic in case anyone would like to do some prep homework and come up with a spectacular reference to the views of a known or unknown Romantic composer on this topic for our discussion next time!


Featured image CC BY-NC by Smackfu

Cry me a river

I love the idea of dressing up and why not do this with a melody? There is so much that can be learned from listening to other people and other instruments doing the same things. Today I went did this with Cry me a River. This morning I went in search of people to help me make a backing track and I was extremely fortunate that my colleague Rob Westwood agreed to play the chords in the key I requested so I could go home at the end of the day and work on it for this post. Melodies played by different instruments is not a new idea. There are transcriptions of music for so many instruments – whether it is because the saxophone was invented just over a century ago and that instrument is perfectly capable of playing music that was written for another, so there are transcriptions to help that instrument access the centuries of music that came before across various styles or just because something is beautiful and someone wants to play it.

There is also something to be said for understanding music as it is played/sung/performed on another instrument. As a cellist, I do not need to breathe in order to make sound. Well of course I do, but If I hold my breath I can still produce sound, whereas a singer or wind player actually needs to breathe.

As my last post for this week’s topic on What makes a melody? I decided to take a melody that is typically performed on an instrument different from mine. So what about process? Did I just look up the music and go?


I listened.

and listened

and listened some more.

Then I played it.

Then I listened some more.

then I played it while thinking about the words.

If I had more time than a short spell in an evening to spend on it, I would refine … links where different words are emphasised, and perhaps I don’t want you to hear a bow change, or maybe I do want you to hear a bow change.

As an aside, I am also learning to sing this (yes, I have singing lessons – I’m a student too!) and I wonder if having played it on my main instrument will have an impact on my capability to access emotional and technical expression when I sing it.

It’s a new topic for those of you following #MUS654 tomorrow. Hope you have enjoyed thinking about melodies in all their forms this week.

Featured image CC BY-SA-NC by Guy Mayer