“If you can’t imagine and hear the sound you want, it won’t come out of the piano no matter what the genre.”
— Gail Fischler
Continuing our journey of interviews around the world, we welcome Gail Fischler! (PhD, NCTM)
She is the past president of the Arizona State Music Teachers Association and Tucson Music Teachers Association.
Gail is currently teaching piano at Eastern Arizona College and maintaining an independant studio.
Gail and I first met when I won a CD from her a giveaway on her blog, and I’m really excited to have Gail here today!
She shares her valuable experience and her own ideas about teaching talent in piano.
How should students deal with performance anxiety?
When the performer truly knows that the music will survive a few bumps & bruises so long as they don’t interrupt the musical ideas, much trepidation is removed. (See #1 below)
I work to build practice skills that will allow my students to always move forward through a piece with no “do-overs”.
When someone is clearly uncomfortable and unable to express, from memory, to their full potential, we use the score.
“No matter what the level of the student, I incorporate performing into lessons, starting with small steps.”
When a student has learned a piece to the best of their ability (first with the score and then without), their last assignment is often, “Play this piece for your favorite stuffed animal” or “Play this piece for 3 people this week.”
Sometimes I have to make signature lines in their assignment books to hold them accountable.
Today’s technology also allows them to show me mobile phone pictures or videos of these performances. It’s so much fun to see the proud faces of student, friends, and family.
Our rule is it has to be 3 separate performances and they can’t be for the same person.
I have given this assignment to adults as well. They love being given permission to share their hard work in a situation that they have some control over.
“I also occasionally ask a student to come 5 minutes early so that they and the student after them can play for each other.”
I also occasionally ask a student to come 5 minutes early so that they and the student after them can play for each other. That way you have a total of 10 minutes to work with—5 from each lesson.
If students are taking an hour lesson I might ask the first student to come 10 minutes early, for a total of 20 minutes. The longer time allows students to give each other feedback which is good for both performing and listening skills.
What are three things or goals that you hope your students learn, if nothing else?
1. I want them to learn that music is not about the notes. It is a language for communication and connection to themselves and to being a human. This is one of the reasons my students and I started The Musical Adjectives Project.
2. I want them to be joyful in incorporating music into their lives whether as music professionals or avocational pianists. I strive to give them the skills to make this possible.
3. I want them to learn patience, stick-to-it-tiveness, and, most of all, the fact that if they dig deep within themselves they will discover surprising and awesome things there.
What’s the one ultimate must-have skill for pianists, and why?
“A fine tuned ear… is the difference between a person who plays piano well and a person who plays artistically.”
A fine tuned ear is essential for all pianists.
We pianists must listen like conductors and then respond to all the voices and conversations in play.
That is the difference between a person who plays piano well and a person who plays artistically.
If you can’t imagine and hear the sound you want, it won’t come out of the piano no matter what the genre.
I use forms to help students focus on distinct musical elements—the nitty-gritty details—when listening to recordings, their colleagues, and themselves.
The forms for young students allow them to draw pictures that express rhythm, dynamics, character, etc. (Editor’s Note: A simple picture can convey more depth than 100 words.)
“We pianists must listen like conductors and then respond to all the voices and conversations in play.”
At a studio class many years ago, one of my 15 year old students said in a disappointed voice, “But can’t we draw pictures too?”
I learned a valuable lesson that night. Ever since I have invited everyone to draw- on the back of the form, if necessary.
Yes, it takes extra minutes, during the time allotted for performance practice and listening skills, but the rewards are great.
This post is part of a series of expert interviews:
- Practicing for Smooth Performances with Erica Sipes
- Cultivating Confident Performers with Gail Fischler
- Inspiring Performer Started Piano at 20: Emir Gamsizoglu
- A Peek into Composing with Daniel Barkley