Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Sandow

Pasting in below a comment I made on Greg Sandow's blog on this post of his:

One way of putting the problem is that classical music is sometimes perceived as a top/down situation where the student/audience has only the supporting role of reverencing the canon, along with the performance practices of the moment. I'm a music therapist and for me it's the client that's the primary concern, so whatever type of music and performance style that works sets the direction.

If I read Greg correctly, he's trying to refresh the relationship between the audience and the music by reducing the top/down dynamic and introducing a more general equilibrium. I think music educators can do something similarly with their students ("at least loosen up a bit") by helping students broaden their relationship with music beyond the technical advancement that's usually the main focus.

Include a little improvisation in lessons. Find a key that suits the student's voice on a song or two and teach them the I, IV & V chords in that key. Get four hands going. In my experience there are lots of classically trained musicians for whom improvisation is terra incognita, and given the skill levels involved, that seems a shame.

Back in the old days before guitar tuners, one trick I'd show people tuning was to take the string way sharp or flat then work back to being in tune. Playing pieces in ways that are "wrong" can help you find what's "right". And if you're client centered, the "right" way for one person to play a piece will not be the "right" way for someone else.

Encourage a little composition. It's a great way to play with theory, and increases appreciation of well composed pieces.

Anything to augment all the solo playing. Find an instrumentalist who needs an accompanist for a couple of pieces. Maybe the local teachers organization could connect people for two (or more) piano pieces. Ensemble playing is a different way of learning how to play music that can round out a student's feel for music.

As a music therapist, one thing that never ceases to fascinate me is the myriad combinations of talents and abilities individuals bring to music making. The better we can understand just how it is a particular student is processing music and performing it, the better we can help him or her become a better musician, and to be less likely to burn out and give up music on down the road. And from Greg's perspective, I think they'll be more the kind of audience players and composers enjoy creating music for.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know about your blog until your comment on mine today, and I'm enjoying reading your back posts very much. I think we may have a lot of common interests, including horn, Zen, banjo, and possibly improvisation. I played guitar for many years (folk, classical, and finally jazz), but haven't done much since I got tendinitis in the late 80's. I also played some 5 string banjo, mandolin, and e-bass. One thing that might interested you that is related to this post is my book, Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians. I agree with Greg Sandow that what classical music needs is a lot more people who are acquainted with music beyond listening to their iPods. But if you are traditionally trained and don't have a band or orchestra after school, what do you do? My book is a compilation of 5 years of my course in the subject at the University of Iowa, and gives any classical player the ways and means to begin improvisation without having to be a jazz player. The book is especially useful for music therapists, who have to relate musically to many clients (it makes a good complement to Tony Wigram's book on improv for therapists). It's published by GIA Music (

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts.