Meet the Composers at MusicalEar

Carl-Axel Andersson and Björn Roslund are composers and pianists, and lecturers of Ear Training at the Malmö Academy of Music, Lund University, Sweden. They are composers for the MusicalEar ear training and music theory software application.

Who or what inspired you to take up music and make it your career?

CA: It was probably a combination of early piano studies and academic studies while I was in my early twenties. I also had a very good friend, a guitarist, who inspired me a lot. And of course my love for music itself.

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing?

While studying music at the Malmö Academy of Music, a very good teacher in music theory inspired me a lot. He made me interested in the construction of good music, whatever the genre.

How did you come up with the idea of creating MusicalEar, a software programme for ear training and music theory based on your compositions?

CA & BR: Years of teaching experience in different types of schools and levels taught us a lot. We both believe that good (and efficient) teaching in ear training somehow needs to be based on, or connected to “real music”. We also believe in (the necessity of) integrating ear training with other music subjects. So that is basically what MusicalEar is all about.

How can MusicalEar help music students, music teachers and musicians?

If you are a music student or a musician you can improve your aural skill and knowledge in music theory with MusicalEar.MusicalEar will improve your aural skills and deepen your music awareness (understanding) and thus make you a better musician. It provides a fun learning experience with interactive learning activities.

If you are a teacher, you can use it as a teaching aid in the classroom, or for homework.

Which compositions in MusicalEar are your personal favorites?

That is a hard question to answer since all of the songs are designed to fit a special purpose in the program. But I like listening to “Twisted Blues”, “On the Prairie” and “You can lean on me”. Other favourites are “In Between”, “Harmony Scene” and “Dorian Tango”.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

When we listen to music, we associate and relate to the music we have heard before – our musical experience. Developing aural skills involves practising the ability to hear new things in the music and learning to put names to what you hear. Having a good ear for music doesn’t necessarily mean being good at writing down (notating) music, but this does contribute towards a better understanding of music. This is one of MusicalEar´s most important aims.

MusicalEar is a versatile tool for conveying a better understanding of music (which might be the most fundamental challenge for aspiring musicians). This makes it a new, unique learning tool for improving and deepening aural skills and knowledge of music theory.

What are you working on at the moment?

We are working with a number of new exercises for the part of MusicalEar called “Exercises”, for example Chord Progressions in minor keys and a set of exercises in rhythm. We also have a number of new songs to add to the part called “Songs”.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Ten years is a long time to grasp. But we will certainly still be working with improving MusicalEar towards making it the best computer based tool for improving your aural skills, probably translated into many languages.

MusicalEar is an ear-training and music theory application. To find out more about MusicalEar, visit the website, where you can download a free demo from the website http://www.musicalear.com/ (click on “Get MusicalEar” on the top of the page)

Guest post: How to be confident (when you’re not feeling it)

A guest post from Grace Miles, founder of artiden.com, a blog about the musician lifestyle. She helps pianists get the most out of music with psychology.

Remember the “spotlight”?

When all eyes are on you, every little action feels 100 times more obvious.

We all want more sparkle in our performances– and it comes with the right mix of confidence and nervous energy.

Being confident is easy.

So is performing comfortably.

You just need to make the right choices and behave the right way. 🙂

How People Really See You

Imagine giving a speech, making it up as you go, to a crowd.

How will you look?

There’s something I call the ‘glass wall’ effect.

In one study, people gave speeches (made up on the spot) and were asked to rate their own nervousness.

These ratings were compared with the audience’s ratings, and they found that the audience always thought the speaker was less nervous than they really were.

In other words, people looked more confident than they really felt.

Not many people notice how much you’re really shaking inside– that’s the glass wall effect.

People see you, but you’re separated by the glass wall and your emotions don’t come across as clearly as you might think.

This is consistent with tons of other studies–we think our feelings are more obvious than they really are.

(But don’t get carried away: your feelings aren’t invisible to everyone else– it’s a glass wall, remember.) 🙂

Of course, looking less nervous isn’t the same as looking confident and composed, and actually feeling that way.

The answer is so simple yet so powerful.

The Secret to Being Confident

The first step is knowing that people can’t see how nervous you really are.

When they told the speakers that they project more confidence than they actually feel, the speakers gave better speeches and felt more confident overall.

To be more confident, we just have to remind ourselves that people don’t see how nervous we really are.

Shy, clipped phrases may be taken as calm and controlled speech, and so on.

When this burden is gone, then we’re free to focus fully on whatever we’re doing.

But remember that you do want some nervous energy in you– this adds the spark and excitement that amazing performances thrive on.

Act it Out

You smile because you’re happy but you’re also happy because you smile.

Your actions change your feelings.

To let this hit home, let’s look at a study where two groups of people are watching the same cartoon.

The first group holds a pencil between their lips in a way that makes them frown while watching the show.

The other group holds the pencil between their teeth so the “smiling muscles” are activated while watching the show.

It turns out that the people who smiled actually found the show a lot funnier (and enjoyed it a lot more) than those who frowned.

So fix your posture and let yourself smile.

This sends signals to your brain: you’re ready and you’re not afraid to have fun.

People don’t expect to see a nervous trainwreck when they first see you, and they’re not going to think you’re nervous at all if you behave with confidence.

But how does confidence come naturally?

“Natural” Habits

It comes without thinking when you make it a habit.

Confidence just means faking it until you get it right. (Click here to tweet this)

The first few times you try this and remind yourself of the glass wall effect, it might feel like you’re forcing it. And you might be.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re on your way to forming a habit and you’ll reap the results when the time comes.

(Some people say that performing puts them in the state of flow, and who’s to argue with that?)

Personally, I’m not the most extroverted person, but I can work a crowd like anyone else.

The Confidence Kit

1. Remember the glass wall effect.

2. Fake it until it comes naturally.

3. Rock on.

The trick to performing is having the right mix of nervous energy and confidence. (Click here to tweet this)

The most technically sound performance falls flat when there’s no underlying hint of nervous energy.

So make sure you leave a comment letting me know how you plan to use these new insights. 🙂

And here’s where you come in: if you know anyone– absolutely anyone– who might benefit from this knowledge, just send them a quick email with a link to this post.

They’ll thank you. 🙂

Grace Miles blogs about the musician lifestyle at http://artiden.com/, designs good designs, and makes great music on the piano.

The Virtuoso Parent

This post is inspired by the excellent book The Virtuoso Teacher by music educationalist Paul Harris, which I have been reading on the recommendation of George Bevan, Director of Music at Monkton Coombe School, and author of an excellent blog on music teaching and practice. I will distill my general response to the book in a separate future post.

As private instrumental teachers, we interact with the parents of our students on a regular basis. They deliver and collect their offspring to and from our homes or teaching studios, they pay our bills, they (hopefully) recommend us to other parents of potential students: they are, in many ways, our “bread and butter”. It is therefore important that we maintain good relations with the parents of our students.

One of the most crucial roles of the parent is to ensure that the student completes the assigned homework (practising) between lessons, and we rely on parents to do their bit and encourage their children to practice regularly. I am sure all of us who teach privately have come across certain “types” of parent:

There’s the one who feels the teacher should be left alone to do everything, has little involvement with lessons and the teaching studio, and occasionally appears at concerts or other events, usually comparing their offspring unfavourably to other students/performers. Or the one who, on picking up the child, berates them about practising in front of the teacher, or complains to the teacher how little Timothy is “so difficult about practising and never listens”. Then there is the pushy parent who wants to do it all, who regularly questions the teacher’s judgement, pushes for the child to be fast-tracked through graded exams, hovers over the child while he/she practices, and re-teaches the child between lessons, often undoing the teacher’s careful work and, ultimately, leaving the student feeling confused. There are parents who don’t reply to emails or text messages, but who are quick to demand lesson slots are rejigged at a moment’s notice because little Amy has a playdate on piano lesson day, or who never pay on time. These are the petty exigencies of running a private teaching practice, and it is important that we don’t let these niggles get to us too much.

I am fortunate in my own teaching practice that the parents of my students are a really wonderful bunch of people – supportive, enthusiastic and encouraging both to their children and to me, as teacher of their children, and many of them have become good friends. I’ll call these types of parents Virtuoso Parents – and they are worth their weight in gold, so be nice to them and get them on side.

So what makes a parent a Virtuoso Parent? First, don’t confuse the Virtuoso Parent (VP) with the Tiger Parent (or Tiger Mother). VPs know that too much pushing can be detrimental to the child’s progress, and that hot-housing, in any subject, may not be best for their child: equally, they understand that the right kind of support will help the child reach his or her potential. They are interested and enthusiastic.

The VP reads the teacher’s notes in the practice notebook (generally, the teacher-home means of communication), ensures the practising is undertaken, fills in the practice notebook and leaves helpful comments for teacher at the next lesson. VPs also understand that enforced or negative practice sessions are a hiding to nowhere, and that sometimes just being in the same room as the child who is practising can be useful and supportive (piano practice can be a very lonely business!). When I was growing up, my mum used to do the ironing in the same room as the piano while I was practising.

VPs understand that the teacher often works to a tight schedule and relies on students arriving and leaving lessons on time to run an efficient studio. VPs enjoy involvement in the teaching studio, whether by making cakes for student concerts or signing their children up for ‘extra-curricular’ activities such as masterclasses, competitions or trips. They take on board the teacher’s suggestions for “further listening”, watching YouTube clips, or going to concerts. They communicate with the teacher, and are accommodating and sympathetic if the teacher has to reschedule a lesson due to other commitments or illness, and they rarely make unreasonable demands on the teacher.

The best part is that the children of VPs tend to be keen to come to lessons, are eager to learn, and make noticeable progress – because they feel supported both in lessons and at home.

More on how parents can support their children from the Piano Education Page

At the Piano With……Pierre Tran

Pierre Tran

What is your first memory of the piano?

My first memory of the piano is from my childhood. Twice a week, my auntie used to teach Chinese songs to small pupils. I liked to join the group after school whenever I could. I still remember when she was at the piano, I was very much impressed with her small hands caressing the keyboard without any effort and without any harshness. Unfortunately the piano was very bad, always out of tune. However these magical moments remained deeply laid in my mind and somehow they have shaped my future both as a musician and as a teacher.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

As I said, my love for teaching was subconsciously dictated by my auntie. She was an outstanding teacher, a very patient and dedicated one, as she was also to me as a child. I have never seen her scolding children. Her voice always remained calm. Her manners were soft and gentle under any circumstances. That’s simply amazing! Later, in the course of my own life, I became a very young father. This first fatherhood, not only awoke a great deal of responsibilities towards my son, but at the same time raised many questions about education at large. So, teaching became second nature for me. At the age of 23, when my strong desire to transmit any valuable knowledge was finally fulfilled with music, I knew for certain how my life would be, whatever obstacles I might find ahead.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

Thibaut Sanrame (1932 – 2001), concert pianist and one of the closest Scaramuzza’s disciples (see below), was the most remarkable piano teacher I experienced as a student. As a young adult, I spent ten years studying under his guidance (1979 -1988). Thibaut Sanrame was the leading proponent in France of a new teaching method, radically different from the mainstream curriculum. His students came from many European countries as he spoke German, Italian, French and Spanish (Germany being his third country of adoption – after France, and Argentina, his place of birth). Most of them, as young professionals, were looking to acquire a special tonal quality unseen elsewhere. My last teacher’s musical vision has changed my life from within. I became much more aware of myself in every aspect of playing piano. I discovered the unity of a human being where, for example, it is faulty to separate the so-called technical work from the musical one. From 1979 onwards, I stopped playing scales or any kind of technical exercises devoid of music. Today, I prefer to teach how to tackle any specific technical issue related to an ongoing situation which takes into account, not only the spirit of the composer or the score studied but, more importantly, the real features of the student sitting beside me.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

Your question is appealing for me because I met all of my musical requirements basically from only one teacher and one School of Piano, the Italian ‘Bel Canto’ applied to piano. So, as you can guess, I am not a mixture of different influences which sometimes garner several antagonist ways of playing piano coming, historically-speaking, from French, German or Russian Schools…, despite having scrutinised many of them. Definitely Maestro Vincenzo Scaramuzza (1885-1968) was the most significant genius teacher I came to know when, more than thirty years ago, I decided to become a teacher myself. Scaramuzza trained numerous internationally renowned pianists in Argentina, such as Martha Argerich, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Enrique Barenboïm, and Fausto Zadra (who set up a school based on Scaramuzza’s research in Lausanne, Switzerland, the ‘Fondation CIEM-Mozart’, now closed, and the ‘Vincenzo Scaramuzza International Piano Competition’ in Crotone).

Scaramuzza’s extraordinary teaching method remains the main influence in my own way of thinking and of teaching piano. I wrote a book in 2009 titled (in French): ‘le Moi intime du Piano’ (Publisher: Van de Velde) partly focused on his life and on his stunning achievements. My friend, Rossana Cosentino, who lives in Scaramazza’s hometown in Italy, also wrote a small article dedicated to her grand uncle (see http://www.art-piano.com).

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

You know, I have had so many memorable situations in my life as a piano teacher, it would be unfair to only pinpoint one! A teacher should live memorable teaching experiences at every lesson, shouldn’t he? For me, the most musical significant experience happens when both teacher and student are mentally and emotionally ONE, both feeling the joy of learning and the joy of discovering the hidden meaning of music….whenever it occurs. On the other hand, I have kept in my mind most of the students I have taught, exactly from the starting point of my career, and perhaps I am also somewhere in their memory. Recently, I received an unexpected email from a student I had not seen in a long time. We immediately started to chat again as if we had never stopped meeting each other: the friendly and musical link was not broken. A very moving situation indeed!

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

To make them relaxed and confident. Usually they arrive at their lesson full of stress and tensions. Most of the time they finish their lesson in quite a different mood. This gives me a great satisfaction! I like to teach adults because there is always a kind of freedom in the air during a lesson tailored to an amateur who is ‘just’ fond of music. There is no binding academic syllabus. Thus, we can carry on a very good research on how to be a better musician, whatever the level involved.

What do you expect from your students?

I have no other expectations from my students but to be happy when playing music. Music at its highest goal is linked to ‘self discovery’. Only ‘self discovery’ can bring true happiness to your life. Put another way, I would say the more you are on the path of being a true pianist, the more you need to know about yourself. Then, by reversing the process, the closer you are to the music. Your musical thoughts and feelings are more profound. You can understand Beethoven more accurately when he ‘speaks’ of philosophy during his last sonatas, like in the Arietta from the Opus 111.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Please, do not mix up exams or competitions with festivals. I love festivals! There are no better ways for sharing music at large scale. Hence, festivals help classical music to be widespread, not to be confined to enclosed social spaces. I can still remember stories related to the very well known ‘La Roque d’Antheron Festival’ at its debut, at that time when you could move freely from one recital to another, and when most of the artists were easy to reach, mainly because they all shared a simple life inside the same compound. Nobody can forget Maria Joao Pires, when she surprisingly showed up with all of her children and stayed in a caravan! Unfortunately things are not so entertaining nowadays!

On the other hand, I wonder whether exams and competitions are so helpful in terms of inner musical growth. I strongly believe that once playing music has become a social target, it loses its true value. Music, as a noble activity, must remain an unspoiled free educational goal for all of us, even if you are studying at a Conservatoire where examinations are simply unavoidable. Of course, I do not discourage any of my own students to take any exam, when it is needed or simply desired.  Hence, part of my work is to make several of them ready for competing at an international standard.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

I do not make much difference between beginners and advanced students. Both of them are treated absolutely equally. As I said, the motto of my school is: ‘the love of music’. I agree with Heinrich Neuhaus, the famous Russian teacher, when he stated that it is a hard job to teach beginners because you must be very clear at your first steps’ guidance. Your student’s future somehow is in your hands! Once he (or she) has been misguided, it can be difficult to correct him (or her). On the other hand, according to my daily experience as a piano teacher, I often need to remind advanced students of the basic laws applied to playing piano because it is so easy to get lost in the midst of overwhelming emotions or even worse, of meaningless virtuosity. So, can you see much difference between of the two?

What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?

I have never encountered the so called ‘worst aspects of the job’.  When you are, like my auntie, fully dedicated to your job, you can spend endless time in searching and in improving yourself without any bad feelings, can’t you?

What is your favourite music to teach? To play?

I like to teach ‘singing music’ like Maestro Scaramuzza did. You know, he taught the Italian ‘Bel Canto’ to all of his students over sixty years! What I like the most is to underline the hidden singing lines in all music. We can still find so many everywhere unnoticed, especially in Mozart’s Sonatas.

I play most of the well-known composers from Couperin to Debussy, and less well-known ones like Komitas, Gurdjieff for example. I also like to discover new pieces. So I do a lot of sight reading and at the same time I am still trying to explore news ideas on music scores I have been playing for decades. It is endless and very inspiring work…

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

One may feel uneasy with this question. However, I think that your students have the right to learn more about you and to understand where you want them to go. From my point of view, Grigory Sokolov is probably the most incredible pianist in the world. He is able to underline hidden singing lines in such a colourful way that your musical experience becomes a unique one.

Obviously, there are many great piano teachers in the world. For me, one thing matters: have you made your own path from a thorough practice which allows you to be an efficient teacher?

Personally, I have been pushed to go beyond one’s own limitations where new ideas may rise up. No question must remain unchallenged for the sake of music. For this purpose, I have introduced a new postural sitting position at the piano, using a unique ergonomic cushion, if desired, along with the ‘revolutionary’ application of ‘the indirect weight’ which completely eliminates the habit of striking the keyboard. The use of the pedals was reconsidered. All these new techniques may enlighten your musical thoughts and ultimately may lead you to the quest of how to produce ‘organic sounds’ as applied to music (see document at http://www.art-piano.com).

The Art of the Piano, directed by Pierre Tran, offers one-to-one tuition, workshops for the piano and masterclasses. Teaching beginners and training professionals. A new way of learning the piano, friendly and focused on a thorough understanding of music. Bilingual teacher (French/English).

The Art of the Piano has an expanding customer base, throughout many European countries, including the UK.

The company is run by Pierre Tran who has been involved in the piano tuition business for many years. Pierre Tran is well trained to run the school, having previously worked for L’Art du Piano.

www.art-piano.com

An article about Pierre Tran in Petersfield Life magazine