Support for Important Aspects of the Simply Music Method

Potluck Creative Arts Lesson LineSimply Music

At the Simply Music teachers’ conference I attended in January 2010, some of the most experienced teachers told everyone that the three most important elements of the Simply Music method are:

  1. The practice pad — which even their most advanced students use, without fail, whenever learning any new piece.
  2. Controlling the events — i.e., always playing every part of every piece slowly enough to play only the correct notes with the correct fingers in the correct order.
  3. Speaking instructions aloud — because doing so makes your brain pay much more attention and therefore learn much faster and more effectively.

Here are some interesting pieces of support for these and some other important things the Simply Music piano method has you do.

From The Itch, by doctor and journalist Atul Gawande, published in The New Yorker, 2008:

“If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.”

Learning: Control the events to get things right early on, because, soon enough, how you play a piece will truly depend far more on what’s taken place in the past and hardly at all on what you may believe to be a new opportunity to get things right in the moment. And make sure you use your practice pad when starting to learn any part of any piece, to get the pure visual information into your brain as cleanly as possible, giving you a big head start for all the practice and playing that will come later.

From Does Mental Practice Enhance Performance?, by James E. Driskell, Carolyn Copper, and Aidan Moran, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 1994:

“A review of thirty five studies featuring 3,214 participants showed that mental practice alone – sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish – improves performance significantly. The results were borne out over a large number of tasks… Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.”

Learning: When you don’t have access to a keyboard or even your practice pad, go over everything in your head. When you do have access but haven’t taken the time to practice with them, go over everything in your head — even at bedtime before you go to sleep — no more excuses for missed days of practice! When you’re in a group lesson, watching and listening to other students playing, go over everything in your head along with them. When you’re practicing at any time at all, carefully imagine the piece based on what you already know of it without letting your hands speed away from you. In all these ways, relying on imagining your way through your pieces will dramatically improve your results, even when you can’t physically practice.

From Keyboard Magazine, March 2010, classical pianist Gabriela Montero talks about getting to know a new piano she has to perform on, and how she doesn’t prefer standard technical exercises:

“So instead, I play the piece I’m going to perform, slowly. I’m extremely interested in phrasing and coloring — exploring the different sounds I’ll ultimately project. When you practice slowly, you can be much more detailed in your approach to tone production. That eventually translates into a wider range of colors when you play a piece at full speed. It’s really a diligent kind of work. I feel like I’m crafting something, piece by piece… Touch the instrument slowly and deliberately. Play the music you’ll perform at a greatly reduced speed, accentuating dynamics and tonal colors.”

Learning: Control the events. Going extremely slowly is as good for you as it is for renowned concert pianists. Bring things up to speed only later on when you can do so while keeping every note controlled. And enjoy the fact that you, also like concert pianists, can practice through pieces instead of exercises.

From A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano, by Katie Hafner:

“To reinforce her son’s innate musical talent, Florence, who was also a voice instructor, taught Glenn to sing along to everything he played, planting the seeds for what would become a lifelong habit. Florence was an exacting teacher. ‘He was never allowed to play a wrong note,’ recalled Glenn’s cousin Jessie. ‘If he did, she stopped immediately right there and then.'”

And, about a technique Glenn learned from Alberto Guerrero, his only teacher other than his mother and a brilliant musician in his own right: “Then there was the ‘tapping’ exercise… the tapping consisted of placing the five fingers of one hand on the keys and tapping each of those fingers with the nonplaying hand. The idea was to record in the brain what it was like to play with a minimum of muscle movement, as the fingers alone did the work. This exercise was followed by slow staccato practice before the piece was brought up to tempo. Glenn became an enthusiastic adopter of the tapping exercise. Wrote Beckwith, ‘It accounts for the clarity of individual notes in Gould’s fast runs, one of his most indelible personal trademarks as a player.'”

Learning: Control the events! Go slowly enough to get things right each time, only speeding up later when you can keep things controlled! If you make a mistake while still learning a piece, stop and do it over to overlay the mistake with clean information! Sing when you play! Learn pieces by touching the playing hand with the fingers of your non-playing hand! Do all these things even if you don’t think you need to and even if you feel silly doing them!

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