Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dance in the Piano Studio

Seitz, Jay A. "Mind, Dance, and Pedagogy." Journal of Aesthetic Education 36. 4 (2002): 37-42.

Aesthetic movement - or "dance" - has traditionally been used mostly in early education but recently, educators have begun to examine the role of kinesthetic learning in all levels of childhood learning. A basic definition of aesthetic movement is that it consists of reflective gesture - the imitation of reality. We see this occurring naturally in young children who use parts of their body to mimic objects in the world, such as arm flapping to describe a bird or plane. Dance is also used to express emotion, which we see in the way modern dancers use their bodies to convey pathos. Jay Seitz refers to the work of Rudolf Laban, who claims that the use of movement specifically in arts education increases artistic expression in children, even more so when children are encouraged to engage in movement from a young age.

At some point between kindergarten and grade 1, children are expected to sit quietly for extended periods of time. While this is probably to keep classroom chaos to a minimum, it does not make as much sense in the private piano lesson setting. I began formal piano lessons at age four and I recall being reminded before each lesson that I should "sit still and listen carefully." Sitting still for thirty minutes! Although I was a quiet child, I likely had trouble holding my perfect piano posture for what would have seemed like hours. Thankfully, today's piano lessons are less rigid and I have the freedom to engage my students in movement activities right from the beginning. I have found they are able to relate motions to music better than if I simply explained. Marching is an excellent way of feeling the pulse while making flowing arm gestures illustrates legato and phrasing. I've also noticed that beginning the lesson with dancing uses up energy, meaning the student will be able to "sit still and listen carefully" later on.

Most significantly, dance helps my students feel the spaces between the notes. Piano students often fall into the habit of simply pressing the keys without thinking of the relationships between them. Engaging students in "continuous flow" activities develops their auditory imagery to hear the links between notes, which in turn leads to a more musical and intentional sense of phrasing.

This article helped me to place my students' physical abilities on a general timeline. Between the ages of three and four, children are able to mimic jumping and marching but they may have trouble balancing and performing more precise actions. By ages five and six, they have mastered skipping, and they are able to mimic geometric shapes and animals. Understanding these stages will help me to tailor movement activities to the specific abilities of each student and I am already enjoying the process of creating fun and increasingly complex exercises as my little students grow in physical and musical awareness.


Chairat said...

In retrospect, I consider myself fortunate that I began my musical education in group keyboard lessons, in which everyone was regularly encouraged to move to music. It helped tremendously that I was part of a group of children around the same age as me, as this made me feel less shy about it (i.e. since everybody else was moving to the music, so did I). I think that this kind of training has been really beneficial for me because it helped me to internalize the music; to feel that the music was a part of me. As a performer, being able to achieve this sense of oneness with the music that I am playing is a deeply rewarding experience. I believe this is one reason that movement can increase artistic expression.

Another key reason, in my opinion, is that motion and emotion are intimately linked. (Incidentally, I think that it is no coincidence that the words “motion” and “emotion” differ by only one letter and that the verb “to move” can be employed in both contexts; we move to music and we are moved by music.) Not only can music evoke extra-musical motions (for example, the pattern of two alternating staccato notes depicts the ticking of a pendulum clock), but the physical gesture required to play a certain musical passage also conveys the psychology behind the sound. For instance, the large left-hand leap in the very opening of Beethoven’s titanic Hammerklavier sonata, especially if played at the composer’s dangerously fast metronome marking of a half note = 138, conveys a sense of formidable daring. This is quite appropriate, as one is about to embark on the adventure of going through this forty-minute sonata.

Karine said...

As a singer and teacher, I use dancing to facilitate and change up my learning routine, as a kinaesthetic learning tool. As we know, there are visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic learners. It is important for teachers to integrate different learning styles to their teaching, making sure that every student has access to an approach that suits him best. A teacher has to be able to teach the same concept in different ways. I think that it is wrong to ask students to remain in a constricted position during a music lesson. Music is all about expressing ourselves in an artistic manner, and if one feels constricted, expression and enjoyment will probably lessen, and it will create tensions in the body that will make playing or singing harder. In the classroom, dancing is great for stimulating self-expression, keeping students stimulated, and helping release tension.

As performers, it is important to vary our learning process using different approaches. It helps us to remain stimulated, and not to get caught in an unimaginative routine. Musicians focus most of their time and energy on sound quality, and reading scores, which represents auditory and visual learning. Instrumentalists use kinaesthetic learning when they learn the fingering on the instruments, and develop muscle memory. As a singer, it is more difficult to have a sense of muscle memory since the instrument is hidden inside our body, and the majority of the muscles that are activated in the singing process are much smaller than of the arm or hand. While singing, the whole body must be engaged, and that it sometimes a struggle. Dancing comes in handy as a tool to accentuate the phrasing of the piece, as well as making sure that the whole body and the breath is engaged during singing.

mary wei said...

Fortunately, my first piano instructor was an amazing elementary music teacher with tons of creative ideas. I remember singing, dancing, doing crafts (for finger acuity) and just having a good time. We did a lot of practices and games based of Orff and Dalcroze. She introduced a lot of movement and we used our bodies a lot for pitch references. Even though I hated practicing, I loved piano. However, when I came to Canada and switched to a younger, more "by-the-book" kind of teacher, playing piano meant sitting there and pressing the black and white keys. She emphasized techniques and pulse, and left no room for creative teaching. As a result, I actually quit piano for a year and a half because her teaching style was so rigid that I was discouraged to continue. Since rhythm and movement are so innate to us, as teachers we should explore this area. Using different senses - audio, visual, tactile - we can communicate better to learners of various kinds. And to get up and move around during a 30-60 minute lesson is helpful to give the mind a break.