Collaborative Music Making for Pre-College Students

By Graves, Jody | American Music Teacher, June-July 2008 | Go to article overview

Collaborative Music Making for Pre-College Students


Graves, Jody, American Music Teacher


I remember standing backstage after a concert I had played with a violinist in Washington, D.C. The concert included Beethoven's D Major Piano/Violin Sonata. A woman came up to me and said, "Thank you SO much for providing the background music to the violinist?" While those of us within our field resonate with her obvious naivete, there continues to be a serious lack of awareness among our young pianists about the value and opportunity of collaborative pianism. As an example, each year I interview prospective piano majors at the university, most of whom have had an average of 8-10 years of lessons, and only about one in 10 applicants has any pre-college experience as accompanists? We need to ask "why is this rich aspect of piano training excluded from pre-college study?'

As teachers of piano in particular, we are in a position to lift up the art of chamber music and accompanying as a prestigious, and yet accessible form of performance art for our students. When students are involved as accompanists from an earlier age, they develop a sense of responsibility to other musicians and to the music. In turn, this brings another dimension to their own solo work in terms of developing skills in reading, understanding balance, shaping inner lines and hearing how the harmonic rhythm supports the melodic shape and direction.

If you find opportunities to incorporate accompanying and chamber music into your pre-college private studio, here are some helpful coaching and rehearsal techniques:

* Count and clap or conduct the music, with the partner, before playing. This is especially valuable if there are rhythmic issues between the parts. Verbalizing rhythms out loud together is also a wonderful tool for working out those spots.

* The pianist should play the vocal or instrumental parts on the piano. This is a great way to learn transposition when playing with certain brass or woodwind instruments.

* In vocal music, the pianist should know the text as well as the singer.

* All breath marks should be marked in the pianists score.

* The pianist needs to learn how to hear multiple parts. For example, have him play just the left hand while the partner plays the melody. Do this in different combinations depending on the ensemble. …

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