Physiologist Homer Smith cites skilled piano playing as one of the pinnacles of human achievement because of the “demanding muscle coordination of the fingers, which require a precise execution of fast and complex physical movements”. This remarkable human ability provides an insight into the power of the brain.
Consider Frédéric Chopin’s popular but challenging Fantaisie-Impromptu. This work requires playing approximately nineteen notes per second. The performer must learn these notes to such an extent that conscious attention to them is virtually no longer necessary. This is the aim of any playing of music—to render the technical demand to an almost unconscious level. Daniel Levitin says, “Plain old memorization is what musicians do when they learn the muscle movements in order to play a particular piece”. Much of this repetitive practice routine is more or less an algorithmic task. There’s nothing particularly creative about learning the motor mechanics of a phrase; if you repeat an action in a certain manner and for a sustained period of time, the brain faithfully will learn, and the muscles will obey.
I don’t mean to underestimate the physical demands of playing nineteen notes per second on the piano. Each finger requires at least two vertical movements as well as lateral ones. Each finger movement involves all three joints, and even motionless fingers are tensed, ready for action. Performing approximately 380 distinct motor actions per second, a skilled pianist can do all of this and still focus on the musicality of the work. This muscle count is calculated before we even get started on other muscular systems in the hands, arms, and shoulders. Further, each note must be timed and executed with an individual’s interpretative judgment, and when notes are played simultaneously, the fingers must differentiate volume levels for acoustic mixing of treble and bass, sometimes accentuating an inner melody. As if this were not enough, Fantaisie-Impromptu requires the mastering of polyrhythmic demands, meaning two rhythms occur simultaneously. Almost every bar requires the right-hand to play sixteen notes against the left-hand twelve. This is a far cry from ‘Rub your tummy while patting your head.’ Fantaisie-Impromptu is difficult but not as fearsome as some pieces in the literature of piano music. More complicated works have passages that require up to thirty notes or about six hundred muscle movements, per second, although this does seem to be the upper limit for muscle coordination. When it comes to complex muscle coordination, musicians – not footballers are the super athletes of the world!
Excerpts from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin. Reviews below.
“Terrific…eminently practical…excellent discussion…I came away inspired and excited, and I heartily recommend it.” – Inge Southcott, The Music Trust, Australia.
“This book really does deliver…a great resource on a piano pedagogy list…wonderful support for the teacher.” – Dr L. Scott Donald for American Music Teacher.
“A deeply impressive work, the breadth of research is fascinating! It is Griffin’s combination of his many years of practical experience as a music educator and consultant, with his broad overview of research and primary sources that makes this book so valuable and unique. A combination of big-picture theories and ideas with immediately practical strategies and examples.”
“Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ brings together recent developments in learning psychology and cognitive neuroscience and presents them in a very readable and engaging format. The strength of Griffin’s discussion lies in his clear explanations of the terminology as well as practical ways in which teachers can foster highly motivated, self-driven learners in both the classroom and private studio. This is a fascinating book, deserving of a wide readership. It provides clearly written explanations of a number of important developments in psychology and neuroscience, and articulates the benefits of music learning with convincing clarity. It’s a book to share with parents and senior students for the insights it provides on the benefits of sustained effort and perseverance –a message that can’t be heard often enough in our fast-paced, distracted, sound-byte-driven, contemporary society. Highly recommended.” – Dianne James, October, 2014 for Ritmico, New Zealand.
“Rarely do I come away feeling so inspired. Incredibly beneficial.” – Music Matters Blog
Also by Michael Griffin
Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a wonderful collection of 130 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.
“Will prove useful for almost everyone”- Rhinegold Music Teacher Magazine.
“This is a great resource to add to one’s library of rehearsal tricks.”- Anacrusis, ACCC, Canada
Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging. Available at Amazon.com
Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents. “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at Amazon.com
Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.
View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!” – St George College, Australia
Available at Amazon.com