So, I have only one rule for learning to play the piano with two aspects; never give up - and remind yourself that the only people who fail at anything are those who stop trying. Consider how true that is, that those who succeed keep pressing on. This is indeed the key: keep on keeping on.
A supportive idea comes from Winston Churchill, who once remarked that "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
This constancy of application is necessary to succeed at learning to play the piano THE WAY YOU WANT TO! Let that inner musician guide you and all will be well. Even if you think you don't have an inner musician, I am here to say that you do have one, and I am here to help you find it, to help you listen, to be your mentor, your coach, your teacher, and to encourage and to help you achieve your goals with music. I am also here to help you find your own inner teacher so You can be your own best teacher. Even if you have no goals yet that is fine. Exploration often yields great finds.
I come from a musical family of professional and amateur musicians. I studied piano and pedagogy at two universities, Florida State University and The University of Houston with outstanding piano and music professors. I have teaching experience with children and adults that is from the 1980's and I am returning to my first love, Music - and I am accomplishing that mostly by teaching.
After raising a family and having two careers intervene in my life, I have made the career change of a lifetime back into music. So, I come with maturity, patience and a love of music that never says die. And if you want to learn to play the piano, for your own enjoyment or to prepare for a career in music, you can study with me and you will find yourself declaring, " I Can! "
If you want to hone your already developed skills to be fully prepared to enter college as a piano major or music major I can help you achieve that. If you want to learn to play the piano just to have fun, I am here for you also. If you are a beginner and need someone to help you set a solid foundation and to learn the elements of music and piano playing, then look no further. If you want to give piano a try to see if you will like it, I'm an excellent choice as a teacher.
My students will, when they are ready, be paired with other instrumentalists in chamber music and will be involved in the accompanying of singers. This is so valuable for musical education and its worth cannot be overestimated. We will have fun pursuing the development of the art of music in our lives.
I help my students listen carefully to themselves and to evaluate their own playing with an accurate and discerning ear. I teach the student how they can be their own teacher. Once years ago when I was a mere lad of 17, I was living with my uncle, John Marcellus, who played principal trombone in the National Symphony Orchestra at the time. One day backstage after a rehearsal I attended, with my uncle standing next to me, I told Armand Sarro, who was another trombonist with the Orchestra, of my desire to audition for both Julliard and The Curtis Institute to hopefully become a student. He looked me straight in the eye and said "you don't need those other people to tell you how to play music at the piano. YOU are your own best teacher!". He was intense in his expression and completely serious.
I felt somewhat shocked at that unexpected response. Later my uncle chuckled and remarked, "that's Armand for you, gets right to the point with his opinion!". At the time I thought Mr. Sarro was just an crazy old man, but as the years went by, I see that those were very wise words and behind them a lot of depth. That comment has stayed with me for many years and it took me quite a while before I really believed what he said, because I could finally validate it with my own experience.
There is nothing more valuable to a musician than to actually learn to be his own best teacher. Only in this manner can we achieve our highest potential as a musician. The key to this is active, careful listening to oneself. Inner musician - meet inner Teacher! We do not need to look outside our true selves to find what we need. As the slogan of J.C. Penney years ago was : "It's All Inside", there is a profound meaning there as it also relates to the source of music making.
I combine discipline and structure with freedom and exploration to help the student find that music does indeed live inside them and that they can tap into it and bring it forth. These elements are needed for any goal you have concerning playing the piano. Whether you are planning to compose your own music, interpret the works of the great masters of classical music, or play your favorite music for fun or a career, no matter the style or genre, it is first necessary to find the musician that lives within yourself so you can realize your musical desire. I can help you do just that!
- James Heuser
Email: James@FourPointsPianoTeacher.com Phone/text (512) 969-8529
True art is nothing less than true life. Musical arts are so important especially in today's society of over indulgence with sports and athletics. It is needed to bring balance and harmony to our lives. Like old religions and spiritual practices of the East, or the path of the Christian mystic, music makes us turn within to find its meaning and value. It is that inward life that is important to cultivate to have a balanced society and humanity, and much of that is achieved through the study of music, including the piano.
Classical music has much to offer in this regard because it does stay current and its message does not drop away with the passage of time, but rather ripens as a fruit unto maturity as time marches forward. So, there is a musical legacy to learn, to share and to communicate that helps every one of us. Even the simple beginning study of the piano moves us in this direction. And is most enjoyable.
Let us learn from the great pianists who have left us such a rich legacy. Case in point is two great musical artists of the 20th Century: Artur Rubinstein, and Dinu Lipatti, though Mr. Lipatti may be less known due to his short lifespan. Mr. Rubinstein expressed a great Joie de vivre, exuding an unmistakable nobility and expression of what he termed the "soul of humanity". Mr. Lipatti was one of the most illumined of interpreters at the keyboard, whose sublime renditions of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and others, was rarely equaled by other artists. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist and conductor referred to him as the most spiritual artist of his day.
We have film and recordings of this great musician to fall back upon to learn from and study. I had the opportunity to hear Artur Rubinstein play live in 1976 at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. His great hallmark was his practically perpetual singing tone and absolute freedom at the piano concerning not only his approach to the musical phrase and line, so-called, but his movements and approach to what many refer to as technique He exhibited a level of artistry that was rare, and a never ending "line" no matter what. His line was fluid almost always, and he could bend, stretch and cajole the musical phrase to expand and contract and move in any direction as if it were child's play, with any shading, any intensity needed.
His command of the pedal was astounding, such that its use was intrinsic to the music and often the listener did not notice it, as it was an integral part of what was heard. His technique served the art of music and did not exist independent of that art. This is perhaps the most important point of my taking effort to write what I do here - that technique is to serve the creation of the beauty of music as it is expressed, rather than being an end in itself. This may be easy to say, but is it easy for the musician to self-evaluate to ensure he or she is staying true to Art in this manner?
Yes, he could be a showman, but his focus was on the music and bringing the composer to life, as it were. So much can be garnered from simply watching and listening, that one does not need an official "lesson" from him; he was a walking, living, breathing example of artistry in action, and some of that was captured for posterity - Us!.
Notice that he did not seem to tire, was effortless in his movements, and often kept quite physically still at the piano. If you happen to catch his eye, he sometimes seemed to be in an almost non-physical state of consciousness as it were, moving into the core and essence of the music, as if in another world entirely. He went beyond intellect and emotion into a grander dimension. His great freedom at the keyboard did not limit him to a staid hand position, or same curvature of the fingers, nor the same approach all the time to producing large sounds, delicate sonorities or other elements of the music relating to pianistic technique.
Notice he can come down in an attack to the keyboard as needed and with a full round tone, or pull the keys to himself ever so gently, sometimes seeming to push them away from his body, sometimes lifting fingers high, sometimes barely moving them, sometimes employing movements from the shoulder for great sounds, and sometimes not using such movements to produce large sounds. Sometimes the forearm rotated, sometimes not, even in similar passages. Often he accomplishes the most delicate of phrasing and voicing with hardly a perceptible movement of any kind. He used his physical movements - large or small and everything in between, the "technique" to serve artistic ends. Music and technique are inescapably entwined as one in his playing, as they serve to inspire the listener, not to be perceived as separate elements but as twin sides of one noble art.
Essentially he allowed his fingers, hands, arms and body to make the necessary motions to serve the needs of the music and as such was one of the most technically "free" pianists who lived in my opinion. His technique served music and was not an end unto itself. Though his reputation was not as a technician, his technique was unparalleled in many ways. Because it served the music always, it was not the focus of his attention nor the audience as a separate element. He was so caught up in the music itself he often took the audience with him to that higher level. When the technique of playing the piano and the art of music itself are One, then one has mastered technique.
Listen to his recording of the G-flat Impromptu of Schubert, op. 90, or the Chopin Berceuse. Such attention to the detail of the architecture of the music is astounding - especially the Schubert in which his movement of the line and the placement of the moving middle voice figurations is justaposed in a wonderful balance and spacing so that his shaping of phrases on small and large levels achieves a poetic balance not usually heard in that piece. His conception of musical architecture is on the micro and macro scale, where there is attention given to the smaller architectural elements of phrases, balanced by a larger architecture of sections, as they are balanced within and around one another.
Some pianists have done essentially the same concerning the marriage of technique and art, Horowitz as an example, especially later in his career. Now I do not wish to enter into any discussions as to who was the greater pianist or artist, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Lipatti or some other. All are artists in their own right and really cannot be compared meaningfully in that manner. So, I do not. Instead I cull that which is of value from each one. I could have mentioned others, but have decided to focus here upon Rubinstein and Lipatti.
Horowitz also strove to out-picture the Art of Music in his playing. His perceived technical gifts were so unusually developed that some people focused on that, though Mr Horowitz was focused on the music first, as was Mr. Rubinstein. For Horowitz, Art was his first focus also. Much has been written about Horowitz. I would now like to focus on the wonderful Romanian pianist, Dinu Lipatti.
Concerning Dinu Lipatti, the world lost a great artist when he passed from the screen of life at 33 years of age. He left a discography that is simply amazing; especially when one's ear moves beyond the limitation of mono recordings. His last recording was in the year 1950. When one takes his recordings and studies them and hears the absolute wonderful balance of voices and clear line in Bach, the piercing depth of sublime emotion in works as the Mozart a Minor Sonata, the soaring dimension of the Chopin D-flat Nocturne, one can only imagine how how must have sounded live in performance. As one listens to his Chopin E minor Concerto or 3rd Sonata one realizes that his technique was also married to the music and no one could be said to "outplay" him, even though his health was reported to be frail. Though he did not record the larger works such as Tschaikovsky or Rachmaninov Concerti, the works he did record to my ear were not bested by any other artist.
Of great value is his Schumann and Greig Concertos. The poetry, line, movement of line and the life of the music came across through those old mono recordings. That is amazing in itself. The control of shading, dynamics, undulation of the natural movement of the line was unceasing in its balance and symmetry. Take for example the cadenza in the first movement of the Greig Concerto. Go to a quiet place, and listen beyond the limitations of the recording technology of his day, train your ear to do this, and listen to that cadenza, again and again, moving into it. You will discover a sweeping, penetrating, sublime way of playing it that you have not heard anywhere else. Not in ultra thunderous crashes, because such an approach removes the sublimity of the piece. Yes, the music is marked fortisissimoat that point, but it was not intended to be at the price of a forced or harsh tone. Rather it is Grandeur that is needed, on a sweeping scale.
It takes an adjustment to the ear, because we are spoiled with our technology of today, to hear what I am addressing since this recording is mono, not stereo. As was mentioned earlier, one must retrain ones ear to move beyond limitations of older recording technologies. With Lipatti, each recorded performance was like being in a musical church or temple, where the religion of music becomes evident because we feel ourselves being stirred from within by his performance. So, I advise all my students to study his recordings and learn from them, learn how to really listen to music and its inner life, so you can bring that forth also in a similarly grand manner. When we can conceptualize our musical goals first it is much easier to realize them.
Once the ear hears the music within, ones body finds the way to make the physical gestures needed to bring out that which is being heard. So the first thing to learn and learn well is how to listen to the music as we play compared with how we intended to play. For in classical piano music we are trying to recreate the intent of the composer as best we can, in the final results of our music. In this way we strive for a higher ideal, to bring it forth in the here and now. This can be said of all true art.
In my studio, for the students who are ready, we study how to accomplish the bringing forth of Art in Music and how our technique supports that end. Music, musical art and technique are facets of one thing - Music. Is is all about the Music! This is possible with any student willing to apply himself/herself. One reason that it is possible is that I teach technique as part of music making from the very first lesson and forward from that. If we practice scales, arpeggios, octaves and the like, it is always with a view towards making the sounds beautiful and serving a higher purpose than merely typing at the piano keyboard. I do not train typists. :) While rote practice has a purpose to an extent and is used successfully in teaching beginning students for many teachers, it is not an end to itself and at some point must be abandoned for greater elements as it serves the needs of Music.
It is important to notice that any two students of mine may not necessarily execute that technique exactly the same from a visible point of view. That is because each students physical equipment is a little different than the next student and subtle adjustments are needed to compensate. Though all relax while playing and keep a natural but strong enough and supple "bridge" of the hand while playing, and maintain a sense of almost pulling the keys towards themselves, generally speaking, and maintain a sense of relaxation, cultivating that feeling of from within as it were -- some pupils have larger hands or smaller fingers, or have a more or less supple shoulder and arm structure compared to another, some have a taller torso or shorter torso and physically are stronger or less strong, longer or shorter arms, or whatever.
None of that makes any difference in making music at the piano, because each student learns to bring forth his or her own sound and conception of the music from within themselves no matter their physical attributes, as they focus on what the music is saying to them. Why do I say "what the music is saying to them", when we are speaking of interpreting the works of the great masters in which we strive to bring forth their true and full intent?
Here is why - we can take two artists playing the same piece of music, both undeniably dedicated to bringing forth the full intent of the composer, but those interpretations will be different from one another! Case in point is the Eb Major Prelude and Fugue of Bach from WTC 2 played by Sviatoslav Richter and Rosalyn Turek. Each represents that they faithfully recreated Bach's intentions with this Prelude and Fugue. Their sincerity and scholarship is undeniable. Their individual admirers would agree. But their performances are very different from one another. Very! Simply find these recording and listen to them and it will be obvious.
Each is a highly respected pianist considered to be among the best in the world when they lived. I use this example because the contrasts of these two faithful interpretations are very obvious. One can see, through such an example, that bringing forth the true and authentic intent of the composer always has the personal stamp of the pianist-artist upon it. Individuality still triumphs. Musical art is not absolute, rather it is Absolute. Notice the placement of the capital "A". There is a distinction.
So, this all starts with what I call the "inner musician". It is through my assistance in helping the student actually listen to themselves in very detailed ways, that they gain a sense of what to do at the keyboard to bring forth the music. So I do not teach a "method" except for the method of individual artistic development, in which each student is treated as they truly are, an Individual. Only in this manner can ones highest musical potential be discovered and unleashed.
And we have great fun doing all this! Come be a part of my studio and see for yourself.
Making the Case for Ensemble Playing:
(Note that a good pianist is first and foremost a good musician)
"In its essence, the orchestra and the choir are much more than artistic structures. They are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence, following a strict discipline of organization and coordination in order to seek the harmonic interdependence of voices and instruments. That's how they build a spirit of solidarity and fraternity among them, develop their self-esteem and foster the ethical and aesthetical values related to the music in all its senses. This is why music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility, in the forging of values and in the training of youngsters to teach other kids."
--Jose Antoinio Abreu
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The slogan 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race."
--- Calvin Coolidge
The Value of Constancy
Classical Music as Foundation for Creating Music for Our Age
Some Thoughts on Piano Technique and Creating Music at the Piano
TGext or phone: (512) 969-8529
Classical Music gives a needed foundation from which the performing artists and composers can bring forth the music of our times, of our age. Shall we forge a Golden Age with music to express that? The study of classical music at the piano gives a great foundation for our new music to blossom and expand as is its nature. It is Our music in the process of becoming, as we pay close attention to its development.
Music that ennobles, uplifts and inspires is needed every day in our lives. We hear much music these days that can make us cringe or want to leave the area in which it is playing. So, this is a call for 'musicians to be', to take up the study of the best of classical music as a foundation to create the music of our times, which can as we make wise decisions help lead us to a greater harmony of the individual and society as a whole.
Examples such as the poetry the choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was based upon, with its expression of Universal Brotherhood (we nowadays see this also as a universal Sisterhood - so it is clear that all are included) is a shining example of that which many agree the music of our Age wants to aspire towards and become.
Classical music is replete with such noble music and assists in developing the character of students as the inherent inspiring qualites of the music find their way into the character of the individual as ones attention is placed upon it. That is, as one is judicious in selecting the music, because not all that may have the label "classical" music evokes the highest qualities we would want to encourage in our children and youth; especially as we move into the 20th century and beyond. So, discretion is needed here as in all things.
Music has affected each generation for better or for ill. So, how about we make sure the effect is an inspiration for the good of all? Isn't that a wonderful goal! So, I encourage parents to consider the quality of the music their child is exposed to and how it affects emotional, mental and even physical development. There is more and more of a body of scientific studies showing the efficacy of classical music in assisting in these areas so I won't outline them here since it can be found easily online. It is becoming more evident that music helps shape our emotional being, the mind and the quality of decision making. And making good choices is no small matter.
If your child is very young, at the age of a toddler for example, it is a good time to start music training with body movements and good music. They learn to sing and feel the pulse of music and the movement of musical line, if that is paid attention to. These are important elements in the forming of the musical culture of the future, since the children and youth of today ARE our future. When they feel the line of music and express it with movement, they are also learning to look for something greater outside their physical body or perceived self-contained being. It causes them to expand awareness, which is a valuable asset to have in any phase of life.
This early musical involvement helps them enjoy their musical studies later in childhood and they learn they can sing in tune (any small child can learn this when guided properly), and count "beats" accurately, actually as they feel them. There are many organizations and schools of thought that use these concepts very successfully, whether Kindermusik, Simply Music, Music Together, Suzuki method, Dalcroze Method (Eurthymics), Diller-Quaile School, Rudolph Steiner's Eurythmy, the Kodaly method, etc. Some are even used at the Conservatory level, such as at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music, one of the finest schools of music in the USA.
I encourage all to take up the study of music, whether early in life or later, for enrichment and bringing a needed balance to our busy lives.