Piano Teaching Tips from Melody Bober

Melody BoberI hope your teaching year is off to a fabulous start and you are enjoying your students as much as I am treasuring every moment with mine! We recently presented our fall piano recital on Sunday, November 11th. It is always a bit of a challenge to prepare selections after having just gotten back to school in September, but it seems the students always come through with excellent performances. I’m always so proud of them. Along with Fantastic solos and duets, we have added something special to our recitals: Trios! These have been so popular, the students actually clamor to participate. There are several reasons for this:

  1. They love the camaraderie. Duets are special, but having 3 people on a bench is just exciting – to play, listen to and watch. And the ensemble possibilities are endless: a teacher and 2 students, a parent and 2 siblings, 3 siblings or 3 friends, etc. It’s a lot of fun.
  2. They love the sound it creates. Again, duets offer a fuller sound, but having very part of the keyboard covered gives a whole different dimension.
  3. They love the challenge. Not only do trios give the students a great opportunity to count and keep a steady beat; they offer wonderful musical and expressive skills as they listen for the integration and blending of parts.

I am excited to introduce Books 5 & 6 of Grand Trios for Piano for your intermediate and late intermediate students. Let’s take a look at “Prelude in G Major” from Book 6. This piece is fast-paced, with a key change to E flat Major in the middle section that offers a change in dynamic level as well. A challenging rhythmic section provides the segue back to the “A” theme with a powerful ending, making this piece especially nice for a recital opener or showstopper lose. Here are a few tips on learning, preparing and performing this trio:

  1. Your intermediate students are getting older (and maybe bigger!). Feel free to add a bench for the performance so everyone is comfortable. I have students that want to share the bench until they graduate. That is perfectly fine as well!
  2. One of the main challenges of playing trios is getting acclimated to the layout. The middle part is probably the most difficult to follow. During practice, make sure your students know exactly where to look as pages are being turned.
  3. Assign the page turn to the part that can afford to drop a hand. For instance, the high part could turn at measure 9; the middle part at measure 18; the middle part at measure 27. Of course memorizing is ideal – no page turns to worry about!
  4. Knowing the parameters of each part is also helpful. Where does their particular part lie on the keyboard? What are the highest and lowest notes? How close will they be to their neighbor’s hands? Studying this as the learning process is taking place puts them at ease and creates a higher level of comfort when they finally put the piece together as a group.
  5. The Students will want to make special note of the dynamics as the melody is transferred between the three parts. One of the star attributes to playing trios successfully is being sensitive to fellow players and contributing their individual part in the most musical way to benefit the work as a whole. I have students that enjoy learning each other’s parts. This is another way they can become familiar with the design of the piece.
  6. Rhythm, phrasing, articulation are all important teaching tools within each part.

As in all music, these components of expression will bring the piece to life. When learning individual parts, it is crucial to abide by the tempo marking and obviously play with a steady beat. This can be achieved several ways:

  1. Use the metronome at home and at the lesson.
  2. Play one of the parts with your student at the lesson.
  3. Make a recording of the other 2 parts and have the student play along.

One of the major deterrents teachers have from using trios is the time factor and getting students together to practice. I have found that if you practice individually with the metronome or recording as stated above, the task of putting it all together becomes much easier. If the strict, disciplined practice has been done on their own, they may use the sessions where they are together to get used to the sound of everyone’s live performance, discover the musical flow of the piece with all three part, and become confident in their musicianship skills. We already know they are going to enjoy the time together!

Many times we as teachers have to go the extra mile to provide opportunities for students to come together to practice. Oftentimes, I will provide donuts and orange juice for a Saturday morning practice, or perhaps an evening pizza party/rehearsal would be fun. Encourage students to go over to each other’s houses for a special time of practice and fellowship. If they are old enough to drive, many of my students will just pop in on each other’s lessons for a few minutes of practice. This is extremely helpful.

Do you have students that get extremely nervous at recitals? Maybe even decide not to perform at all? Trios are a wonderful way for these students to stay involved in a nonthreatening way. Having two additional people working with you, right beside you, is less intimidating than being on your own. It keeps them playing, and they usually resume solo work at some point.

Want to really energize your recital? Perform “Prelude in G Major” as a double trio. You won’t believe the amazing sound 12 hands can make!

I would like to add that utilizing trios with your younger students is a thrilling experience as well. The Grand Trios for Piano books 1, 2 and 3 offer opportunities for props, costumes and added instrumentation as their imaginations allow.

Wishing you all the best as you incorporate trios at your next recital!

Sincerely,

Melody Bober
Author, Arranger, Composer

Grand Trios for Piano, Book 6Prelude in G Major

 

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3 responses to “Piano Teaching Tips from Melody Bober

  1. Melody is a fabulous, dedicated and passionate composer! We are blessed to have her works available to us!

  2. A nice article. We do group work a lot in my studio. I have especially enjoyed working up piano team pieces. There aren’t very many arrangements for 5 so I’ve had to improvise, but the result is tremendous. I even did one for four students who are beginners using Twinkle, Twinkle little star and they had such fun. Even at the performance I told the audience that we might start and stop several times as they “work” on it. Everyone loved it. I think ensemble work helps the students so much in so many ways. Thanks for the suggestions. I do also use your grand duet and grand trios books!

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