“The greatest scientists are artists as well,” said Albert Einstein (Calaprice, 2000, 245). As one of the greatest physicists of all time and a fine amateur pianist and violinist, he ought to have known! So what did Einstein mean and what does it tell us about the nature of creative thinking and how we should stimulate it?
In our last post, we suggested that community singing might be a simple way to introduce creativity into one’s life. In the post before that Einstein’s musical hobbies served as an example of personal creativity providing the kind of recreation that enables professional innovation. And in an even earlier post on Einstein, we introduced the idea that creative thinking can be done with your body as well as your mind. In this essay, we want to link all these themes through Einstein’s experience to suggest that the daily practice of music might actually stimulate not only everyday creativity, but genius-level creativity as well
Sensibility is the ability developed by learning through the senses. In Dr. Kataoka’s book Sensibility and Education translator Dr. Karen Hagberg explains the Japanese translation of the term:
“To Dr. Kataoka “Kansei” (translated as sensibility) is the sum of the five senses, plus the intangible heart and soul, through which children absorb their environment.”(1)
When we remember holidays, it may be the aroma of certain foods or the scent of the Christmas tree that remind us of our feelings and experiences as children. It could be the Christmas lights or the sound of carols. Ultimately it is the “intangible heart and soul” that remembers the feelings of Christmas and the Holidays.
Holistic learning is a process of ingesting the environment in an intuitive way through the senses. Children learn through touch, sound, intuition. Babies and children learn through absorption of the total environment rather than part by part. In holistic learning, the child can have the grasp of a concept without necessarily knowing the details or even being able to produce anything. It is this type of learning that enables a person to perceive what is going on without necessarily being able to actually say in words what is happening. Einstein discusses how his discoveries all came to him in such a way without words or formulas first.(2)
In learning language, babies are absorbing the environment and understand long before they are able to articulate. Children in general understand feelings even when they do not know exactly what is being said. So, “knowledge” in this way is not really measurable. Students who have this kind of sensibility awareness are able to cope with problem solving issues that another student going only by the textbook answers may be unable to solve. This is how a person can be in a completely foreign country where he or she does not speak the language, and yet be able to communicate and act appropriately without ever learning the customs or being told the protocol. Contrast this with how a person can grow up to be completely unaware of how other people are thinking, feeling, or perceiving; and thus unable to make good decisions. We see this in real life and wonder how to educate children to make wise judgments in the complexities of day to day reality. Holistic learning involves preserving and nurturing the natural way children learn from birth through their senses and with their feelings. How can we preserve and nurture sensibility? Essentially, by having awareness of the child’s senses and giving credence to them. Dr. Suzuki said:
“Skillfulness in rearing a child comes from knowing and feeling as he (the child) does in his heart.”(3)
So this involves taking the time and the presence to experience life directly with your child. It includes not thinking of other things when the child is talking. Also it includes giving space for your child to enjoy the moment without rushing to the next thing, In this way there is time to discover, learn, and absorb without extra instruction or thinking.
Find the place of a calm, peaceful happy heart inside yourself, and notice how your child responds to you. As Dr. Suzuki said:
“The mother’s smile is the child’s smile.”(4)
In music study, the child who learns holistically can play freely without the burden of too much thinking or worrying in the way. Music then becomes a form of direct expression and communication. It’s wonderful to have your child share their music with friends and family during the Holidays. When children can give their music as a gift to others they can experience the joy of giving. These experiences will be their treasure, an integral part of the memories and feelings of childhood holidays, a part of their sense-ability.
1. Sensibility and Education, Dr. Haruko Kataoka, p. xii
2. Einstein on Creative Thinking
3. Ability Development from Age Zero, Dr. Suzuki, p. 23
4. Words for the Day, #2-A collection of 31 sayings by Dr. Suzuki written on shikishi. (picture is on left beside the quote)
“The task of the teacher is not
to put knowledge where it does not exist,
but rather to lead the mind’s eye so that it might
see for itself.”
The holon diagram is a developmental hierarchy of piano skill acquisition. It is derived from the Piano Basics teachings of Dr. Kataoka. The basics are always the same regardless of the difficulty level of a piece.
The skills are built from the bottom up. Dr. Kataoka often reminded students and teachers not to put the roof on the house without a strong foundation and good walls as a metaphor for this idea.
So, at the bottom of the diagrahm is sound/intention which is obtained through listening. The student must have this idea or actually internalized sound before they are able to produce sound. The sound is the concept of the whole upon which everything else is built.
Next, “ready” is state of awareness/concentration and balance which is necessary for the other skills. Without proper balance and focus, it is not possible to play a legato melody with good tone. (It is possible to have ready and not yet be able to play legato.)
The hierarchy is a general idea and not absolute, but is none the less useful for pedagogical study. It is only a beginning to researching not just how to teach “only one point”, but how to teach the most important point. It enables a teacher to find the point that will produce the most significant benefit.
For example, it is much better to teach good tone (no tension) before teaching dynamics.
Teaching dynamics before good tone and rhythm can actually make the overall playing and development of the students ability lower. It doesn’t mean however that you absolutely never teach dynamics before everything is perfect. It is a guideline.
The idea then is that the “whole learning” which is the internalized sound and later the stage where the piece is first “memorized” is balanced with a specific one point that is the most fundamental for the student at that point in their learning.
While you may be working on tone, the student has the concept of phrase internally from listening. When they are able to physically produce tone, the phrasing will then already be there. If we skip straight to the phrasing, the awareness of the tone of each sound may be lost.
So, we keep working on the most important basics in our teaching, we provide the environment of the whole-the listening, observation and demonstration.
We will work with this diagrahm in teacher lessons and relate it to the integral learning concept.
When parents think about how their childcan learn to play the piano, the first questions that usually come to mind are things like ‘how to learn and memorize the notes?’ and then a little later: ‘how do I get my child to practice?’… Learning how to play piano involves many different abilities – specific mental skills, the ability to physically coordinate one’s use of the body, the integration of emotional feelings and the senses, and a strong motivation as the fuel. Integral learning is a holistic approach to education which creates ability by giving attention to all of these aspects of the child’s development. By using this holistic approach we can focus on the aspects in each individual child which need nurturing, and thereby enable the growth of the whole child.
The Integral Learning diagram divides the process of learning into four quadrants – mental, physical, senses, and inspiration. Naturally, the quadrants overlap, but this conceptualization of learning can be very useful in assessing children’s development.
The Mental Quadrant of integral learning is what we may traditionally think of as learning — or the process of acquiring knowledge about specific things. By listening repeatedly to a music reco
rding, the child comes to “know” how the music sounds. This enables the child to play (or, ‘speak’) the pieces naturally the way babies extract the sounds of their native language and become able to speak. (1) This process of pattern recognition (also know as statistical learning) is an implicit process (e.g., not necessarily effortful) that is important for acquiring different kinds skills. As infants become toddlers, many scholars believe that they use ‘pattern recognition’ to learn how words piece together to form grammar; this involves knowing which parts in the phrases are the same, and which parts are different. Similarly, the recognition of patterns in musical sound is actually an important part of both teaching and learning music. Learning to read music can be thought of as the next step in pattern recognition which involves pairing melodies and rhythms with visual symbols.
The Physical Quadrant of integral learning includes the process that the child goes through to develop a sense of their body through through attention to their own posture and the coordination of their physical movements. Understanding exactly how their physical movements produce certain sounds is a critical link. Through repetition of specific spots the physical ability to play patterns is linked with the sound. These patterns are then the building blocks that are used in all of the pieces they are playing.
As Dr. Suzuki says:
“Knowledge plus 10,000 times equals ability.”
The Inspiration Quadrant: Inspiration literally means “to breath in”, or to fill someone with the desire to do something. First, we nurture children’s motivation and provide true inspiration for them by holding the vision of them playing piano beautifully. We also foster motivation by creating an environment where the child can hear and see wonderful performances, observe other children playing and learning piano, and perform regularly in recitals so they experience the inspiration and excitement of sharing their music.
The Senses Quadrant involves direct learning through the senses. Researchers define various types of senses. Even rhythm can be considered a sensibility. (2) In the Integral learning concept, senses can be defined as including both ‘physical’ senses (tactile (e.g., touch), auditory, visual) as well as emotional sensations.
The auditory sense is primary in music learning as it is in speech. By immersing the young child in music during their sensitive period of language acquisition, they are able to learn music as a language directly through the auditory sense. The tactile or touch sense is important in learning to use the hands to receive information and develop sensitivity. For more information on the tactile sense read the previous blog “The Touch Sense”) The visual sense is then useful to link the music with the visual symbols (written score).
Emotional development is also in the senses quadrant as it involves an inner response/sensation to the stimulus of the environment that does not necessarily involve thinking. It includes feelings such as respect, appreciation, a sense of well-being, belonging, confidence, perseverance. By focusing attention on these positive feelings as soon as they are observed in the child, parents and teachers can greatly influence the development and deepening of these attributes. Dr. Suzuki says:
“Character first, then Ability.”
(For more reading on this subject read the blog “Affirm, Motivate, and Inspire”)
So this quadrant is broad in scope and critical in children’s learning. Dr. Kataoka writes about the relationship of the senses with piano study and the development of the child in her book Sensibility and Education.(3)
As parents and teachers we can use the integral learning concept to analyze how to help each child by focusing our effort on the quadrant which needs most attention. For example, a student may be able to understand what to play (mental quadrant)but not be able to physically do it. By focusing specifically on physical skill this student can progress. Another child that may be able to play easily with physical coordination, but may need help with understanding patterns in music and how to learn new pieces by understanding patterns. Emotional and motivational needs can be addressed through a similar type of focus and often involve giving appropriate feedback to the child and adjusting the environment to support learning.
At different ages and stages these needs change, and we can adjust the focus to optimize learning by creating balance in the quadrants.
In the center of the four quadrants of the Integral learning diagram; inspiration, feeling, thought, and doing come together. This is a state of integration, total concentration and ability. I like to call this “playing by heart” because the child can play piano freely with “heart tone”. Another way of saying this is to be in the state of “flow”.(4)
Playing piano is an ideal learning medium to nurture the whole child.
1 Hay, J.F., Pelucchi, B., Graf Estes, K., & Saffran, J.R. (2011). Linking sounds to meaning: Infant statistical learning in a natural language. Cognitive Psychology, 63, 93-106.
2) Wikipedia link about various senses
3) Sensibility and Education by Dr. Haruko Kataoka
(Highly recommended- available on Amazon through the link) 5) Dr. Suzuki’s term for beautiful tone
4) TED Talk on the “Flow” State
Sensory education is a wonderful research topic for Suzuki Piano teachers. I would like to focus on the importance of the touch sense in teaching long sounds and it’s application to teaching Twinkle B where a long sound is first introduced.
When you touch something, it activates the neural receptors in the fingerpads. These neural receptors provide detailed information to the brain about the environment they are touching. Educational thought leader Dr Maria Montessori said
“The hands are the instrument of human intelligence.”(1)
The Montessori educational materials are manipulative and many involve the sense of touch such as the sandpaper alphabet letters that the children trace with their fingers. In learning to play the piano it is useful to use this same kind of tactile learning to feel the length of the sounds and connect this with the aural sense.
Doris Koppelman talked about the correlation of physical movement and feeling the long sounds in her book Introducing Suzuki Piano. She said:
“Since pianist need do nothing active to make a tone continue after first making it sound they frequently have an inferior sense of the duration of notes as compared with string players, who must measure in advance and plan for the amount of bow needed, or wind and brass players and singers, who must do the same for the amount of breadth needed. “(2)
The connection of the long sound with the touch sense allows pianists to have the same kind of experience as other musicians. You could call this ear-hand coordination. There are three points I would like to discuss about teaching this connection between aural and tactile in playing long sounds:
1. The first is developing the aural awareness of the length of the sound.
One way to do this is to play a sound and ask the child to listen and raise their hand when the sound stops. You can let the sound completely dye out. The children enjoy this and it develops concentration on the sound.
2. The second teaching point is to develop the awareness of touch sensitivity in the ready position.
This includes a tactile awareness of the keyboard with the black and white note positions, and feeling the smoothness of the key. Also the touch awareness includes recognizing finger numbers by touch (not only sight). This way the student can feel the ready position, and not need to see the finger on the note in order to feel secure. The most sensitive part of the finger is on the pad, not at the tip, so that the hand is in a relaxed and balanced position in ready.
3. The third step is then to associate the touch sense with the sound.
The way that I teach is to integrate the sound and touch senses so that the movement of the fingers corresponds directly to the length of the note. So, as the notes become faster, the movement becomes smaller. Doris Koppelman demonstrated this concept of progressively smaller movements in her video by clapping quarter notes, then eighth notes, and then sixteenths. Naturally the size of the movements for the clapping become smaller as the notes become faster. This is same with finger movement. At this point we are working on one note and one pattern at a time. As the groupings and phrases become larger, we are involving the whole arm and use of the whole body which is not in the focus of this presentation.
Here is a recording of 2 students working on Twinkle B. For both students I am directing their attention to feeling the long note. For the first student I also play an accompaniment to Twinkle B and direct his attention to hearing the long note even after the accompaniment chord. This is a good way to further develop keeping attention on the long sound:
The touch sensitivity enables students to directly feel the sound, and essentially feel the music they are playing.
“Learn to feel it” is one of the three rules for Deep practice that Daniel Coyle defines in his book The Talent Code. He correlates “feeling it” with concentration. He tells about how he observed students in a class called “How to Practice” at the well known Meadowmount music camp. They are asked to listen to a violin playing first in tune, and then out of tune and connect with how it feels. He quotes the teacher saying:
“If you hear a string out of tune, it should bother you, it should bother you a lot. That’s what you need to feel. What you’re really practicing is concentration. It’s a feeling. “(3)
In playing piano we want students to connect this feeling of concentration with producing long sounds, and ultimately also in producing different attributes of tone such ringing tone, clear sound, what Dr. Suzuki calls heart tone.
By bringing the awareness of touch into learning from the very beginning, we engage the student, enable them to focus, and to express music with feeling. Dr. Suzuki said:
“The ability to feel music means understanding the human heart.”(4)
1. Maria Montessori, Absorbent Mind, p, 23
2. Doris Koppelman, Introducing Suzuki Piano, p.67
3. Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code, p. 90-91
4. Shinichi Suzuki, Ability Development from Age Zero, p. 42
Following are suggestions to optimize learning in the lessons:
Please make a habit to set up your child promptly with their bench/footstool and books, and put the assignment sheet on my piano. Even older children need some help to make this step go quickly. This is best to do as soon as the previous student is finished. Next, you can organize you notes and score, and work the video. This will be a non-verbal signal to your child about the importance of the lesson time. Therefore in this time it is best if the adults do not talk too much.
It is better to talk casually after the lesson.
2. Assignment Sheet
Please provide an assignment sheet that is filled out with the main point of the lesson, and the main points on each piece that were covered at the last lesson.
It is also important to have the review pieces listed. This is also a signal to your child about the importance of the assignment and your role in helping them. Also, with a clear assignment sheet I can follow through with the assignment and provide continuity.
Please turn off all electronic devices so that the children are the total focus of attention. Electronic games can be engaging. When siblings are playing with very interesting toys like this it makes the concentration at the piano a little harder. Texting by the parent can be especially distracting, and can make a child feel that they are actually being neglected by their parent, even though the parent is “present”. Many teachers and researchers are coming to this same conclusion. Dr. Karen Hagberg wrote about this in her recent article in Piano Basics. She references Dr. Sherry Turkel, the Director of Technology and Self at MIT, author of the book “Alone Together:Why we Expect More from Technology and Less from each other. Dr. Turkel says that “mobile connectivity allows us to bail out of the physical realm at any time.” You can watch her TED talk video which is very interesting:
Sherry Turkle – TED Talk
When the adults are totally focused on the lesson the children will best be able to concentrate.
4. Observe without interference
Please observe the lessons without instructing your child to pay attention, or giving other directions. It is the teachers responsibility during the lesson to nurture the child’s attention and behavior. You can observe the process of learning this way. It may be that I allow the child more time to get ready, or learn through doing without giving the answer. I may be allowing the child to learn through experience that if too much time goes by without focused attention there is not enough time for the new piece, or the make-up song, etc. In the long run this will develop concentration and motivation much more than verbal directions about concentrating or hurrying up. So, please observe what is ignored as well as what is affirmed. Please take notes and also use the musical score to refer to. It works well to put some notes such as the spots directly onto the score. Other notes may be better in a notebook. Keep a main point for each lesson. It is good to keep a notebook that you can look back on months later and reflect on the progress, and the points to stay focused on.
The child will feel your concentration and attention, and without the judgement will be able to turn all of their attention to the learning.
5. End of Lesson
At the end of the lesson I will summarize the main points. This is a good time to ask any questions about the assignment. Next, please help your child clean up the environment (stuffed animals back in place, etc.) Often this is also a casual time to talk and that is important too. Most of the time logistical questions can be saved for e-mail. Please be mindful of the next students lesson time and leave quietly.
After the lesson on the way home, please affirm what your child did well, and talk about what you will work on for the next week.
Thanks so much for your part in making the lessons an environment for optimum learning experiences.
In the post “On the Rhythm- Part 1″, the beginning steps of listening and feeling rhythm were discussed.
Next, when students begin learning a piece, they usually find the correct notes (pitch) first. The student may also have the general feeling of the rhythm so that the piece is recognizable by ear. However, the exact rhythm needs to be reinforced by the parent and teacher as the next step. It is difficult for students to feel longer notes for example, so there is a tendency that these note values are played shorter when the piece is being learned. The dotted half note in “French Children’s Song” is a good example of this. Another familiar example is the dotted quarter notes, and also the half notes in “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
There are several ways to help the student with feeling and playing the correct rhythm. The student can play with the teacher who is keeping a steady beat. At home the parent can sing the melody in correct rhythm as the child plays. At the lesson, the student can clap the steady beat while the teacher plays. Sometimes it helps to show the child a metronome, which they are very interested in, and then the teacher can play the piece with metronome at various tempos keeping a steady beat. This help the students differentiate rhythm and tempo. At a later stage, the parent can clap the beat (softly) for the child at home practice. This can be done in the lesson first to make sure it is helpful to the child.
Specifically, on a spot such as a dotted half note, the teacher can clap the beat on that note when the child plays so that they feel the pulse on the long note. By clapping the pulse without counting “1, 2, 3” the child will be able to play without too much thinking. Of course understanding counting is important too, and is good to do after the child can feel the beat without the use of numbers.
Recognizing the rhythm of pieces without hearing the melody is another good tool for internalizing the rhythm. The teacher or another student can clap the rhythm of a piece, and then the student(s) can guess what song it is. The students enjoy this activity. Mary Had a Little Lamb and London Bridge have the same rhythm until the last two measures, so students have to listen until the last two measures to know which piece is being played. This internalization of the rhythm helps students perform the pieces better, and is also a step towards reading rhythm.
By bringing awareness to the long and short sounds, we are preparing the student to learn the visual symbols for these note values, and enabling them to play and feel music with good rhythm.
The preparation that is done in the last week before a recital or concert is critical to a successful performance. Following are key points:
1. Listen to the recording as much as possible.
Notice when the volume is right so that you are able to hear the music clearly without it being to loud or soft. This way you can make the best environment for listening to many repetitions. If you have more than one child performing, you can make a playlist with the pieces and then use the repeat option. On the week before the recital play only this piece or pieces continuously in the house, in the car, even with headphones backstage before going onstage.
2. In practicing the last week before the recital, affirm each part that is done well in order to build confidence.
3. Notice when the tone is really clear and ringing. Focus on the tone as much as possible without too many instructions, so that the child can internalize what they have learned.
4. Focus the process of practice:
5. It is also good to have a performance practice time (in concert dress) one or two times in the week before the performance, but not on the concert day. At these times have your child (student) practice the exact procedure of the performance. This includes walking on stage, bowing, getting ready, playing through the piece without stopping, finishing well, bowing, and walking off stage.
6. On the day of the recital, please practice with good concentration in the same way that is done every other day: hands separate, slow hands together, spot the opening, the ending, and other assigned spots. Do not play hands together in a fast tempo straight through the piece - this can make the piece get worse! If the child makes a mistake while playing in tempo hands together on the day of the recital, it can inadvertently happen again in their performance. So, it is a good time for lots of listening, rest, and hands separate spot/part practice. You can think of the hands separate and spot repetitions (skill development) as savings in an account to “spend” at the recital.
7. Be well rested and have appropriate concert dress, and arrive early to the recital. On the day of the recital of concert do not plan any other activities. It takes a lot of energy to perform well and rest is very important. Please be sure that your child is dressed in concert attire that is formal. For girls, this means dress length is at or below the knee. This way they can have good balance and use the pedal easily. Please make sure the shoes are appropriate for walking on stage and pedaling – no flip flops, and check for the best height. For boys this means they can move freely in a jacket, and shirts sleeves are not too long to get in the way of the hand and arm movement. Additionally, please have them wear dress shoes.
It is important to allow the child to be prepared physically, and also emotionally. If the child has time to relax as well as to practice, and additionally has enough time to dress, and drive to the location without any hurry they will be able to perform with confidence and concentration. Therefore, balance practice with preparation, free time and rest.
Please recognize that the recital preparation is the key to a successful performance.