Music Educators Association of New Jersey

Serving teachers and students since 1927

October 2018



On October 18, 2018, Ingrid Clarfield, Professor of Piano at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, presented a lecture for MEANJ members and invited members of several other New Jersey music associations.

Her topic: Keeping the Spark Alive and Still Learning after 50 Years! Pedagogical Tips from A to Z. Ingrid, assisted by Todd Simmons, beautifully illustrated most of these tips in performances of musical excerpts. The composers ranged from Nancy Faber, William Gillock and Robert Vandall through Dennis Alexander, Friedrich Kuhlau, Friedrich Burgmuller and Cornelius Gurlitt, to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Debussy and Granados.

ARTISTRY can and should be taught at the first lesson. Play “Hot Cross Buns” on the three black keys. Point out a three-note slur, i.e. a three-note motif such as can be found in Beethoven's Sonata Opus 81a, first movement. An excellent way to teach artistry is in duets, emphasizing shaping, timing and voicing.

BEAUTIFUL TONE should be taught when teaching dynamics. Reach for the level where tone is beautiful. Why not practice Hanon exercises using different dynamics or touch - one hand staccato and the other legato?

BALANCE Teach balanced dynamics from the beginning.. As soon as a student is playing a melody in the right hand and an accompaniment in the left hand, the accompaniment must be played softer. In some cases the left hand has two dynamics, with a stressed note at the beginning of bars.

CHOREOGRAPHY relates to mood and tempo. End with a gesture. Discuss whether the body is still, or the body moves a little to the right. A right hand crossover needs to be practiced in time. At the beginning, choreography will appear to be teacher-taught.

COLOR involves voicing, timing and pedal. Decide if you want to use the una corda pedal. Listen for color changes within a piece.

DEALING WITH PARENTS is essential to a successful learning/teaching experience, but should not be overly time-consuming or emotionally draining. Ingrid does not spend more than ten minutes on an email. By the third email, she states “This is my final email on this subject.” We must respect our own time.

EVERY STUDENT learns differently. Adapt your teaching style to their learning style. Expose your students to all genres of music and the arts. Encourage them to listen to opera, chamber music, symphonies, and to look at paintings and poetry on line.

FINGERING Good fingering makes the music flow better. Some students prefer 1-2-4 fingering for a triad rather than 1-3-5. Suggest alternate fingering, for example, in an arpeggio 5-3-2-1 versus 5-2-1-2 (flip) in a certain passage. The student has a choice to make the passage smoother and more musical. Whatever works!

GOAL NOTES Going to the goal. Write in a crescendo mark shaping a phrase toward the goal note. In Romantic music we go to the long note. Sometimes the goal note is the softest note. And timing of the roll toward the goal is also important. Ingrid asks students to mark GN over goal notes and beautiful goal notes with a heart.

HARMONIES going from major to minor are not just for theory class studies. Musicality and memorization are affected by students' awareness of modal changes. Ingrid pencils in smiley faces in students' music where the music changes from minor to major. Discuss the possibility that major sections may be played with a pointed finger and minor sections played with a flatter finger.

IMAGINATION Inspire creative performances by igniting students' imaginations. Encourage a student to make up his own words (lyrics) to a phrase. Ask a student to do research about a composer. Involve students in selecting repertoire, creating assignments, choosing how much to study in a week and evaluating their work. Ask them what they like about their playing, as well as what they don't like.

JOY We must help students find and convey joy and humor in their music, including rests and fermatas.

KEEP STRIVING to learn new repertoire and new teaching ideas. Teach third movements. Ingrid quoted Judi Dench: “You should learn something new every day.”

LEARNING a new piece before a student begins it means that a teacher knows where the difficulties are and can help students with a rhythm or technical problem such as a trill.

MEMORIZATION must be taught early using kinesthetic, aural, visual and analytical memorization skills, all of which are needed for successful musical performances.

NOTICE All composers give us instructions. Use highlighters on tempo changes and teacher-added dynamics. If there are three repeats of the same music in a piece, change the dynamics of the second and third iterations.

ORCHESTRATION Mark in possible orchestration of a piece, i.e., “This melody could be played by a flute or a French horn.” Make up a story line or an opera for the piece to illustrate.

PRACTICE makes permanent! Teach how to practice correctly at all stages of learning. Emphasize under tempo, artistic practice; hands alone. A teacher should play a section or a piece for a student.

QUESTIONS should be asked at all lessons so that we are sure students really understand what was discussed.

RUBATO must be taught after the correct rhythm has been learned. You may write every rubato in students' music.

"STUDENTS rise to the level expected of them, so it doesn't hurt to aim high!"

TECHNIQUE means knowing how to physically express oneself musically and in the proper style. To help memory, transitions need to be isolated before linking them to previous or following sections.

UNDERSTAND the role music plays in a student's life and adapt suitable and attainable goals. Remember, the role changes as they get older!

VOICING is essential and can be taught from early training using rote exercises. Most difficult may be highlighting middle voices. Vary ways of presenting, practicing and polishing repertoire.

WRIST MOTION AND DIRECTION are important and can be taught from early stages.

XEROXING music is illegal! Make sure students buy the book.

YOU might spend only 30 or 45 minutes a week with a student, but what happens during that time can have a major impact on that student's life.

ZOOM IN on exactly where the problem is in a “trouble spot passage.” Dissect it. That's how to fix it. Sometimes start at the end of a piece.

To sum up, Ingrid noted that she constantly learns from her students and from her own mistakes; she encourages all of us to do the same. Ingrid was so engaging and entertaining that we did not want the meeting to end.


Beverley Shea, Hostess and writer
Nancy Modell, page design and photos
Lisa Gonzalez, photos