Making Music at the Piano

Making Music at the PianoMaking Music at the Piano: Learning Strategies for Adult Students, by Barbara English Maris. Oxford University Press, (198 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016), 2000. 227 pp., plus appendixes, notes and index.

Barbara English Maris, professor emerita of the Catholic University of America, draws on her extensive experience to write an engaging, well-organized resource dedicated to adults who have made a place for piano in their busy lives. This book is designed for adult students of all levels. She emphasizes that there are "many pathways to musically satisfying experiences." It contains a wide variety of ideas on how to set realistic expectations, develop technical skills and value the process of learning. Maris developed the suggestions and activities in this book during her experiences with her students. She encourages adults to discover which of these techniques will bring them the most satisfaction. Furthermore, she is a role model of how to teach adults. Maris's text offers teachers added insight into the special communication skills and strategies that work with all levels of the adult learner.

Although written for students, this book also is a valuable resource to piano teachers who desire to understand the blend of contemporary and traditional pedagogical techniques, needed when working with adult students; for example, analogies are an extremely effective teaching tool when working with adults. Humor is another tool known to relieve tension. This author effectively uses both of these techniques. Maris also makes the point that conceptual and kinesthetic learning involve different responses, and adults will get frustrated when they do not succeed at their pieces immediately. This book will aid teachers in understanding what strategies to offer adult students to help them increase the effectiveness of their practice time and to be patient with themselves. For instance, productive practice sessions must include time for silent study of the music and time to assess what will be played. Teachers are offered many suggestions to engage adults, such as by encouraging them to participate in the selection of the music they play. Points to help adults avoid the pitfalls that will delay their progress also are offered.

This book is divided into two main parts. In Part I, the author focuses on "Pianists and Pianos." It discusses realistic goals for the adult student and how one can acquire a fine sense of musicianship regardless of a student's level. This theme of playing musically is addressed throughout the book and this idea is extremely important in maintaining student interest. The chapter on pedaling techniques for both acoustic and digital pianos is valuable for students of all ages to read. Pedaling techniques have always been one of the most misunderstood skills for students. This chapter presents a step-by-step approach to the use of all pedals that demystifies this area. In Part II, the author writes about "Pianists at Pianos: Productive Practice." Even the most motivated adults have limited practice time because of the demands of their careers and family. The author presents a large variety of effective practice techniques that will help students realize their goals, both mentally and physically. There also are many interesting and valuable activities providing guidelines in mastering rhythmic situations that will lead to the student acquiring the right listening skills.

Each of the thirteen chapters in this book is divided into four categories of material, including Concepts to Consider, Activities to Explore, Thoughts About Words and Additional Resources. The book is organized sequentially, and most situations an adult student will experience are described. Solutions and activities are offered to address these situations to create a positive learning experience for the student. Differences in learning and teaching styles also are addressed. Clear terminology, wide margins with boxed highlights, frequent topical headings and the overall layout of the book is very user-friendly for browsers.

The appendixes offer suggestions for sight reading, beginning a new piece and many other technical aides. The resource books provided are well recognized as being excellent in their area.

I am personally impressed with the thoroughness of this book. The teacher will gain many pedagogical insights from this book. Adult students will gain reinforcement of lessons and supportive guidelines that will make their musical journey an exciting and secure path.