This was my final paper as an undergraduate student at University of São Paulo. Although a lot has changed in how I view music in the past decade, this ten year old document still accurately represents many of my beliefs; mostly, my critique on how we lack standardized methodology to approach recordings as official documentation that guides music interpretation. I believe it counts as a youthful attempt to approach the theme, one I would love to undertake again. It included an entirely new score edition of Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez's Sonata Breve, edited by the amazing Filipe Fonseca.

                                           Paper in                                           Music score

                                  Brazilian Portuguese                         Lorenzo Fernandez 

                                                                                                  Sonata Breve                        

If you like my work and desire to see more of it, or if you use the music score edited by

Filipe Fonseca and would like to thank him for it, please make a donation using PayPal or contact us with questions and suggestions!

PUPPETS, WHEN IN DOUBT, USE PUPPETS

Dos and Don'ts!

Teaching young students what to do takes time and patience. At first, students are not just learning music, but also learning what to expect from music lessons, how to behave in the room and around you, and what kind of relationship they should develop with their teachers, their practicing and music it self!

   PERFORMING

THE INSTRUMENT IN FRONT OF STUDENTS

After regular pleasantries "hello... how are you doing?... how was your week?" it is highly recommended that you ask your student if they would listen to you playing a short piece. You must play for your students as often as possible, but specially at the beginning of lessons.

Have you ever heard of mirror neurons? They are neurons that we all have and that activate automatically just by observation of others acting and moving; allowing passive learning through basic instinctive copying.

Students come to lessons scared, many times tired and hungry after school, and most of the time not in the mood to think too hard. Bringing students to a receptive, learning prone, open state of mind, is a huge part of the lesson!

By allowing students to take two minutes at the beginning of lessons to acclimate to your studio, and passively watch an AWESOME musician like you making music in front of them, you will be stimulating their brains to be active; through sensory stimulus their mirror neurons will work even if the student isn't in its best, and the brain will start to shake away the kinks of a distracting day, allowing the student to receive more information. 

I normally do that every so often when noticing that I am losing their total concentration, so I try to give them small mental breaks without completely stopping the lesson, keeping the flow of information but not through pushing their brains towards total fatigue; we just need to vary the stimuli in quantity and quality. 

PLEASE, PLAY FOR YOUR STUDENTS AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE!


This applies to those mistaken teachers that repeat what their teachers told them when saying "don't ever watch anyone playing your pieces or you will copy it". That is absurd in many levels! Of course that watching one specific performance in a loop is definitely dangerous in that sense, but, it also proves that the student has high capacity for learning through imitation, what can be a huge plus if well directed.

If you could teach your students how to critically watch others, and allow them a healthy quantity of passive learning, I guarantee you that the student will actually be able to visualize the end line you so desperately want them to see! Not knowing what the end go is, keeps students from fighting harder to get there!

For more information, if you read Portuguese, I will soon post here an article I wrote on the "Suzuki method and mirror neurons, how important it is to also teach without music scores". Please research Mirror Neurons and make a plan to have students watching videos, watching you playing, watching other students, as often as possible!

The 7 D's technique for neurotypical students!

  First lessons are the best, the possibilities are endless and this initial encounter will inform many, many of your current and future choices. I have a basic to do list for every first lesson, verifying what I need to learn about the student that will then inform my next one billion decisions.

I like meeting students outside of the room to establish dominance-boundaries, using the door as a literal physical boundary; I nicely introduce my self, first to the child, then to the parents (that feels like an enormous change for the child, as they are used to be left out of conversations; "suddenly this is all about me?" I see it on their faces!). So I go straight down to their eye level and say hello!  I show enthusiasm to see them, I establish if physical contact will be welcomed by trying to shake hands, and just then invite them and their parents to enter my studio. My studio is my World and I subliminally teach that they are welcome to come on board, but just when or if I say so!

  We are now inside the room and I already used our first minutes together to discretely find out if the student has vision; listening; facial expressions; embraces visual communication; communicates verbally; responds positively or negatively to touch; understood that there was a change in space that requires change in behavior (out-in-out of the studio) that will later be expended into the dos and don'ts for years to come!

  Then I continue going down my "to check list" and verify their response levels. Many of my decisions on repertoire and approach of piano thechnique(s) will be decided by how fast and how much response I get from the student. Visual response, verbal response, physical reactions, memory and adaptability, enthusiasm, cooperation levels, these are all tested in the first few minutes we are together for the first time!

   I will purposefully drop something on the floor (a pencil) and check if the student helps me to pick it up; I will play dumb and forget my own name to test if they remember how to call me; I will use the theater of introductions to clear the air from any tensions and establish that this new safe environment is all about our new friendship, and that I count on them to be on their best behavior.

After (and if) we get to a place of positive response and everyone seems happy, I start teaching. Happiness is proven to help long term memory, and the one thing that will make students stop playing the piano earlier in life is fearing lessons.

   By now we already established that my name is Dani, and I checked if the student is alphabetized; if yes, we found out that the first letter of my name is D and we will established how the D looks like on paper. While allowing the student to pick up the pencil I purposely dropped on the floor and then draw for me the letter D on a piece of paper, I am checking if they did that with the right or the left hand and what is their motor skills level. Testing their lateralization is the second most important item in my priority list.

  If it is clear that a student is left handed, ambidextrous or laterally-undefined, I will most likely work with material that uses both hands equally or I will invert the lateralization of the repertoire for the first few months, to better accommodate their natural use of hands/arms/legs. Forcing children to invert lateralization is proven to be unhealthy and provoke long term learning damage.

Pianos are instruments built by right handed man, for right handed man; and on the same historic trend; traditional piano technique was developed by right handed white male composers, and for right handed rich white woman!

Ow, the nerve!

Of course that isn't completely the case any longer, but the instrument is still laterally tendentious. For centuries writing in general with the left hand was forbidden in schools, and a large portion of the repertoire we use for beginners emphasizes melody (RH) over accompaniment (LH). We have to recognize the laterally-bias nature of the instrument's design, to stop the atrocious practice of forcing left handed students to use primarily their right hand!

Well done! But just so this text stays on the shorter side, lets assume all that I did so far failed! This new student is too euphoric to sit down and listen to me; the parent is a lump potato sitting quietly inert in the corner of the room and not helping me at all; this lesson is not working as planed and we just have a few minutes of concentration to teach this student ONE THING before they loose focus again and I send them home. I ask my self, what would be the one thing I should send this student home with? Further more, what should I expect them to remember when we meet again in 7 days?

Well... probably my name!

    I first teach them how to find the "D" on the keyboard, and you might ask me "is that because you are a narcissist?" well... actually no. The "D" is in fact the easiest key of the keyboard to be found visually and/or manually, and most students can quickly count all 7 D's on the piano. After quickly identifying that the piano has sets of two and three black keys alternated (what is not that easy to realize), students can really easily find the key that is in between the sets of two black keys, the "D".

The "D" is the only white key that has it's own set of black keys. Many teachers introduce white keys using the C first, I don't because I despise fixed hand position, and also because the C can be mistaken by the E if the student is Dyslexic. I also don't start this introduction using the "A" because a student that is laterally-undefined will mistake the "A" and the "G". For a person that is well defined laterally and has some sense of left and right, it is easy to see the difference between "G" and "A"; but believe me in my old age when I tell you, those two white keys will look absolutely the same for a person that does not have any work done on lateralization. 

     Remember that I said that the piano has 7 "D's"? Well, I hate to break it to you, but some parents will lie about the fact they have a small electronic keyboard instead of an 88 keys instrument at home, or they won't even know what that means. If the child gets home, counts the D's and can't find all 7, they will, first thing next lesson when you ask them, tell you the truth about how many D's they have on their home piano, and you will know for sure how many octaves their home piano has.

So hail the majestic and most helpful, Mr. white D!

For more information on Lateralization, just Google it!

 

Frustration and Perspective: Consensually Designing Other's Futures!

It seems redundant to say that a musician has to be a very patient person. The amount of hours that it takes to understand, incorporate and solidify information at an instrument, as a theorist or as a historian is, to say the least, discouraging. But imagine then that as a teacher your power of will is even more limited, and that your frustration levels will be constantly poked by other's state of mind.

When a student isn’t presenting the expected result, many friends tell me that the first thing that comes to mind is "why am I not practicing my own repertoire right now? instead of dealing with this unengaged person..."; or that you could be resting, so your practicing would be more productive and you would be a happier person; but no, that annoying person that doesn’t care is in your way. There is an ocean of frustrations waiting to occur as you become a teacher, and you will, inevitably, have to learn how to deal with it, or, if you don't,  YOU WILL HURT PEOPLE by trying to make them behave your way too fast, or towards a direction that doesn't speak to them.

I am advocating here for a smart solution that might keep your brain engaged even in difficult cases. If you look at your students as fun and challenging projects that you have to overcome, exactly the same way you look at your Scriabin Sonata, your Dissertation in Modal Theory or your Book on the History of  Female Composers; you will understand that, these are enormous  projects that don’t happen in one night, one week, or even one year. This might allow you to be patient in days that students are not presenting satisfactory results, and instead of pointing a finger on their direction, you might then choose to hold them by the hand and keep walking together towards improvement.

The complexity of the situation is severely heightened when you then realize that you have 20 of these projects, looking in your face every week, moving through the room, doing or not what you ask, waiting to be organized, re-categorized, worked at, and sent back home to work on their own for a few days. With 2 or 20 students, you are writing 2 or 20 dissertations, learning 2 or 20 Scriabin Sonatas (I wish he had that many :-) and you are responsible for the words in each and every page.

 That is when I start seriously looking into giving my students some perspective. I try to include in their musical diet small portions of other's realities, and of possible future realities of their own. The possibilities ahead of them, the potential outcomes of working in one direction or another, will slowly give them the independence you so desperately wish all of them had from the beginning. 

Now, here we have to face a new set of serious problems, as many teachers don’t have perspective themselves. Not knowing that a student that hates Beethoven might be fine playing Fats Waller, or that a student that doesn’t memorize their music might actually have the potential to be a superb sight-reader; in short, finding out, sometimes weekly, what will make a student spend that extra mile a day working, is a part of your job.

Perspective has to be treated with the utmost sincerity but through the lenses of inspiration, and never fear. As we are learning by studying the brain, happiness allows for better long term memory, as fear might make a student work harder in front of you, but completely give up when you are not looking.

When I talk about happiness, I am not talking about allowing students to have total freedom and no structure; I am only trying to balance their air flow, their muscle tension and hormonal reactions that facilitate learning when a body believes in it's well being. Here the magician in you has to work like an infallible machine. You will, many times, have to be sneaky about making a student produce without telling them they have to.

Unfortunately, for your disappointment, most students will never adapt to the lesson system that allows you as a teacher to sit back in your chair, listen to their pieces, give them two, three comments, and send them home. You will discourage people from music making if you don’t give them alternative paths that fits their lifestyles and personalities; the perspective into what else is possible beyond what would be ideal for you as their teacher.

 Basically, I am politely trying to say that, I am sorry to inform you but,

teaching isn’t about you.

As it goes with parenting, teaching isn’t about choosing a destine for a person, but instead, allowing this person to see what is available, possible and desirable for them selves.

If anything, you have the power to gear them towards a destine you imagine more fitted; but if persisting in making them change without consensually designing a clear path for such, you also have the power to completely shatter their souls. It is up to you to choose to be patient, and practice your teaching with love and respect.