A Word about Learning and Memorizing…

Here is a new way to look at understanding human memory: the memory unit. I consider the basic functional memory unit to be the amount of material which can be played or studied six times and then played by memory the seventh.

This is based upon the limitations of the short term memory. These limitations are 10 – 15 seconds and 5 – 7 “chunks”. A chunk is a single idea which can be made of many individual bits of information. A one octave C major scale can be looked at as either 8 chunks, where each note requires a new idea. Or a single chunk, the entire scale being conceived as a single idea which contains all of the note and fingering information.

The short term memory only lasts about 10 – 15 seconds before information is dumped. If the memory is re-heard (read: rehearsal) within this time limitation and the content can begin to be moved intact into the long term memory.

This is a critical point. I once had a student tell me that they always got lost in a particular passage in the middle of a rather long phrase. They had attempted to memorize this passage working in sections which exceeded the capacity of their short term memory and the information was not moved intact to the long term memory. They simply had no idea of what was in the middle of the phrase.

I know this sounds rather technical and mechanical, however, our brains are chemical machines and consequently do have a predictable pattern of behavior at a certain level. Try this experiment: Select one measure of music, play it 6 times, close the music and play it again. If you are successful, you stayed within the contents of the short term memory. If not, either you played really slow, taking longer than 15 seconds, or didn’t group the notes into any chunk or pattern. Next expand to a two measure passage, and then three and four measures. At some point you will reach your limit; that is your memory unit.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule #12 EAT AN ELEPHANT.

The only way to eat an elephant is also the only way you can learn a 30 minute concerto: one bite at a time, any more and you will choke on it.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Commandment #9) THOU SHALT NOT WIGGLE THY BOTTOM ON THY BENCH.

Though there are some artists who regularly bounced around on their benches, I don’t think this is a mannerism suitable for most players. Your playing levers (arms, wrists, hands, and fingers) need a stable fulcrum in order to operate with maximum efficiency. Moving around reduces the stability of the primary fulcrum (the torso) and can be spatially disorienting. I think the best models for our students are not the young stars who emote and gyrate as they play but rather the really old timers who sit with great repose and make the least extraneous effort.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com

 

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The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given #2 by Sarah Flanagan

This is the second installment of Sarah’s wonderful words of wisdom.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
(Or… What Every Potential Music Major Should Know)
By Sarah Flanagan

“Majoring in music is a marathon – not a sprint!”

This isn’t rocket science, but when Andrew told me this, it geared me up for the years of majoring in music that I was about to face back in 2002. Before college I felt like I could do just about anything with only a little bit of work. Once I started though, I felt like I couldn’t do ANYTHING without a LOT of work. My how perceptions change when you are in the heat of the battle, but remembering that it is a marathon and not a sprint gave me the gumption to suck up the difficulties and hold out for the end. Few runners run a marathon to come in first place, because there is only one first place to be given out. But all marathoners run to finish the race and finishing such a great distance makes you a marathoner. Not finishing just makes you a runner. I was so happy to finish my musical marathon and thankful for this wonderful piece of advice.

My freshman class started the year with over 50 music majors. By the end of 4 years of college, I believe only 30 were left. I was proud to be one of them.

“Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time!”

I think this is actually a proverb of some sort that Andrew likes to pass on to students. Without actually looking it up, I might guess it was originally from Africa or someplace exotic like that. I can just imagine sticking a fork into the tough hide of an elephant and imagine how long it would take to just chew one piece of elephant, let alone eat the whole beast. What an overwhelming task without even considering how it might taste!

What Andrew was referring to were the elephants in our piano practice though. Our elephants can be difficult passages, extremely long and involved pieces, our struggle to make ends meet, or anything we feel overwhelmed with at any given time. We all have elephants we need to get past and if we don’t realize the right way to get past them, we might just find ourselves trampled by them.

I have learned that big and difficult things take time, effort and patience, but they are well worth it in the end. The elephant is not impossible to eat! If I take a bite at a time and take those bites regularly, I know I can overcome it. The added benefit is that much patience and perseverance is learned in doing so.

“…Wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Prov. 13:10

What words of wisdom were given to you along your musician’s journey? Which wise words remain important parts of your life even today? I can think of so many more wise words from so many other people in my life. I’m thankful I have them and I am thankful now as a teacher I can pass them along.



The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given by Sarah Flanagan

Today’s and tommorow’s posts are from guest blogger Sarah Flanagan. I have known Sarah for about 10 years. Her success as a musician, teacher, and most importantly a person has made me very proud to play a small part in her life.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
(Or… What Every Potential Music Major Should Know)
By Sarah Flanagan

My name is Sarah Flanagan and I am a former student of Andrew’s.
I took piano lessons from him during the summers revolving around the beginning of my college career. Actually, I came to Andrew to bring me up to speed right before college and then whenever I was home from college I continued with lessons. The summer before freshmen year my new college teacher gave me an assignment to start a Chopin prelude, a Debussy prelude a Beethoven sonata, and a Bach prelude and fugue. I was psyched about the pieces but totally trembling inside too. I needed to be whipped into shape in order to survive my freshmen year and Andrew gave me the tools and advice needed to make it through.

Fast forward almost 11 years and I am now a certified piano teacher with a degree in Keyboard Pedagogy from Cedarville University in Ohio (2006). I keep myself busy with a full studio of piano students, accompanying for the Village Voices choir, accompanying soloists, and playing piano for church. I have just recently finished my term being Secretary of the Downers Grove Music Club. Previously, I had been Vice President of the Downers Grove Music Club and Membership Chairperson for ISMTA Naperville Chapter. Aside from music, I also enjoy gardening, exercising, cooking, organizing women’s meetings for church, and taking care of my husband and dog.

I sometimes think about all of these things I do and positions I have held and wonder what they all really mean. I am certainly not as decorated as many of the teachers out there. Though I do what I can, I very much understand that there are higher degrees to be obtained and loftier positions to be held. When I think deeper into the places I find myself in life though, I think back to the people who have helped me get there. I haven’t achieved the highest degree, but the degree I DO have would be deficient if I had never taken the little golden nuggets of wisdom that many teachers and supporters have given along the way. I could hold more prestigious positions, but the positions I have held mean nothing if I haven’t learned something from the people I deal with in the various organizations I’ve been a part of. I could have twice as many students, but the students I have now would learn nothing if I hadn’t learned some things myself.

All along the way I have been given pieces of advice and pieces of encouragement that have stuck with me and have kept me patient, sane, grounded, calm, and steadfast in my musician’s journey. I’d like to share a couple simple pieces of advice that my former teacher shared with me several years back that have helped me along my way (which includes college and beyond). You may even want to pass these along to your own students who are making their way to college this year.

“Learn to say ‘No’ because many opportunities will arise and you can’t do everything, but you need to be able to choose what things are most important to you and go with them.”

Andrew told me this the summer before I went off to college. I attribute it to my success as a music major. He was right! I couldn’t do everything that presented itself to me. My piano professor expected me to practice daily at least 2 hours BEFORE I did my regular homework. I was left with very little free time at the end of the day, and so I ended up saying “no” to a lot of things in order to focus on doing the things I wanted to do the most. Admittedly, a lot of times I ended up using that free time to relax and enjoy time with friends. And that was ok. I could do the things I wanted to do because I learned to say “no.”

Required reading in one of my pedagogy classes junior year ended up being a book called “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud. I highly recommend this book as it speaks more in depth on this subject. It’s a good read for musician or non-musician alike.



Commandment #8 Thou Shalt Practice Thy Scales

These are the building blocks of all technique. Certainly in the “common practice era” scales were the basic building blocks of music however; the sequential finger work found in diatonic scales is most certainly applicable to more modern sequential patterns. Scales are actually very hard to play well and need the special attention they receive. I have known several adult players who had reasonably developed techniques, yet had never spent much time specifically on scales. This was very evident in their scale playing and other passage work. Smooth flowing scale passage involves a very high degree of technical mastery which is very hard to achieve without specific and extensive effort.

It doesn’t take hours of daily effort (though that is not a bad idea when one is younger and occasionally when one is older) but a lot can be accomplished by even 10 or 15 minutes every day, right at the beginning of the day. Plan out a technical regime of scales, arpeggios, chords, and etc. in all keys for the month, you will find that your progress becomes accumulative. The effort in learning D major will improve the performance incrementally of all other keys. After a couple of years of this effort you will find yourself with a great mastery of the basic building blocks of Western music.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com

 

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A Fellow Traveler

Recently I was visiting with a fellow traveler in the piano world. He is one of the few people I have met in my life who has traveled a nearly parallel road as mine. He is a piano tuner and rebuilder, teacher, and has a similar education as my own. What a treat! In the course of our conversation I shared with him my experience as a church musician. His reaction showed me some of the unique advantages I had gained from my time behind the keyboards.

A little over 11 years ago I took a job at the New Life Lutheran Church of Bolingbrook as their organist. Now I had a semester’s worth of organ lessons in college and had “played” the organ for a couple of years at another church but I was and am no organist. But, as someone always willing to do something new and challenging I jumped in.

As time went on I quickly learned the liturgy and ran through the limited amount of music for both the piano and organ I had for the preludes and postludes. After repeating myself a few times I began to get bored with the whole process. I knew I wasn’t giving or getting everything out of the opportunity. So I decided to use the opportunity of needing a steady supply of new piano music to create a need and motivation for me to greatly expand my repertory. Rather than doing a scatter shot approach to learning new music, I decided to play through more systematically the repertory of the piano.

I started very simply with the Clementi Sonatinas and much of Anna Magdalena Bach book. I moved on to other literature of Chopin, Mednter, Debussy, Beethoven, and Bach. A funny thing happens when you set out to learn 5 – 10 minutes of new music every week; after few years, you have really learned a lot of music.

I am not sharing this to brag, but to encourage those of you with a similar opportunity and need to take full advantage of the discipline such a situation can place you under. I have become a big advocate of learning complete cycles of music. I cannot begin to explain everything I learned about music, Beethoven, the sonata, or myself after playing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas or Bach’s 48. Even if the cycle is as small as Bach’s 2 Part Inventions, learning and playing them all will give you a unique perspective quite different from knowing only a few.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule 11) KNOW THE LANGUAGE.

Music is a foreign language and it has many dialects. There is vocabulary, grammar and syntax, meaning and context. As with any language, the better you understand all of its subtleties, the better you can express yourself in that language.

If you compare the harmonic language of Bela Bartok with Serge Rachmaninov’s you can see a significant difference in their use of dissonance even though they lived at the same time. The most stringent dissonances in Rachmaninov’s music would be almost consonant in Bartok’s music.

Understanding the syntax of music allows for a quicker and more accurate recognition of patterns and structure. Without this understanding everything is meaningless randomness which happens to sound nice. While French may be pleasing to listen to as a harmonious language, I have no idea of the meaning behind those sounds so my appreciation and understanding is severely limited.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Dear ANR #2 …

“Should I wait until the air conditioner gets turned on to tune my piano?”

The corollary would be waiting until you turn the heat on. Both reflect the futility of trying to time the tuning of your piano to some magical point in the seasons. The question does swerve toward the truth in recognizing that climate and environment have an impact on tuning.

There have been many studies done looking at the impact of various climatic and environmental changes upon the tuning of a piano. From my own experience I can tell you that tuning a piano for a concert without the hot stage lights on for an hour is a futile effort. As soon as the lights come on the radiant heat will quickly knock the piano out of tune. The heat is not affecting the moisture content of the wood in the soundboard as much as heating and thus lowering the tension of the strings. The soundboard will dry out some but this is a much slower process than heating the strings and harp.

If your piano is placed in the direct path of your HAVC air flow, especially if it is the air delivery vents, then every time your furnace or air conditioner comes on you will drive your piano out of tune.

It is not so much that a particular part of your climate control system is running, it is all a matter of stability. If you keep your piano out of direct sun light, and minimize the presence of sun light in the room itself, keep air movement across the instrument to a minimum, and maintain a constant humidity and temperature, your tuning will remain relatively stable.

However, one of my primary rules for the care and feeding of your piano is that you enjoy it! If that means putting in front of the window and playing with the sun in your eyes and the window open because that is what you enjoy, then by all means DO IT!! Enjoy your piano, we can fix everything else!

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



The Dark Side of Social Media

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

We have all heard about how “social media” is going to change the way we do business and organize our lives. While this may be true I have had the unfortunate experience recently of seeing personally how this new media can be very destructive to one’s business and reputations.

I have always found it tacky and unseemly to solicit referrals and complimentary letters. I figured I would let my work stand or fall on its own merits. After being in business for 25 years and growing pretty steadily even through some very difficult years in our industry, I assumed I was correct in my practice. Then along came these new social media. As any of you who have been practicing your art and business for any length of time have learned you cannot please everybody all of the time and there are some who are impossible to please no matter what you do or say. In the past, we could just let these people go their way and be glad they were out of our lives. Not anymore.

Now these people have a large public forum in which they can veritably scream their displeasure and not be bothered with truth or fairness. And folks, you are defenseless against such an attack. They can say anything they want and give you a low rating with unsubstantiated accusations. This becomes a permanent record of your business for the whole world to see.

As we all know complainers are much more vocal than those who complement, so in the normal flow of life they will leave a much larger mark. In these new forums, if those who would compliment your business don’t bother to do so, all you are left with are the complainers. And it doesn’t take many to make you look very bad.

So, here I am now asking you, if you have ever done business with ANR Piano, and whether you were 100% satisfied or not, would you mind sharing your thoughts? After seeing how much damage a few negative, unbalanced comments can make, I have made it a point to spread as much good rating as possible, especially among the small businesses which would be hurt the most by these professional complainers.

Even if you have some honest complaints, I would love to hear about it. I know as ANR Piano has grown rapidly over the past several years we have not always been able to live up to our standards of customer service. We have often become over whelmed just trying to manage our growth and too often things slip through the cracks.

I think the take-away from my experience with these impossible-to-please folks is that regardless of the challenging people we encounter in our journey we need to stay focused on our goals and continue to serve our fellow humans as best we can. We cannot worry about those disturbed souls who would prefer we were all as miserable as they. None of us are perfect, nor do we always provide perfect service, but our humanity and occasional failings do not diminish all of the good we otherwise do.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com