Plant a ‘purple moment’ in every lesson.
Call it what you will – every lesson needs at least one.
Perhaps it came in the duet you played with the student. The ritardando and diminuendo in the last two measures left both you and the student momentarily speechless. It might have been with a piece that had been practiced slowly for several weeks. You asked the student to double the tempo. As if almost by magic the speed was there, the performance was quite flawless, and you and your student wanted to shout and celebrate. There are many ways in which a moment in the lesson represents a break-through or a special musical highlight. Those are memorable moments, and they make all of your lesson preparation and all of the student’s practice worthwhile. We thrive on tangible accomplishments. And those purple moments deserve celebration.
Depending on the teacher and the student, lessons can vary from one of weekly routine to the excitement of weekly discovery and progress. Basically speaking, everything we do in a piano lesson is focused on the sound. Our emphasis on technique is to serve the ultimate goal of making the correct sound at the correct time. When we analyze the harmonic structure of a piece, the goal is to find the moments of greatest harmonic tension and shape the sound to comply with those intensifying and relaxing harmonies. Our students practice the balance of melody and accompaniment so that the listener will be carried away “on wings of song.”
It is easy to gloss over a special moment in a lesson, passing it off with “That was nice; now over here in measure 49….” Such a comment does not amply reward the student for that accomplishment, and does not document the fact that something special was achieved. When the student’s sound has reached a new level of accomplishment, that moment needs to be documented (“That’s exactly the right sound for that measure!”) and celebrated (“I’ll remember that a long time. That was your ‘best-ever.'”)
Some students struggle to reach an acceptable level of accuracy. For those students, accuracy usually means correct notes and rhythm. (Forget the dynamics and fingering.) Where are the “purple moments” in such a lesson? Can that student flourish without the thrill and praise of the purple? It is the teacher’s responsibility to create those moments, providing the student with the thrill of sound achievement and high praise. Duet playing is a helpful vehicle, for the teacher can provide shape and texture which the student does not realize alone. Teacher and student look at one another and say “Wasn’t that a great sound?! Let’s do that again!” The teacher can also model a shaped phrase or effective balance between hands. The student tries to imitate that shape. It may take several attempts, but once accomplished, we celebrate that special moment.
Erica was a sophomore piano pedagogy major and teaching little Rebecca in her first year of lessons. On that week’s assignment was a simple black key piece “Star Light, Star Bright.” Erica helped Rebecca play quietly and accurately high on the piano, creating a “twinkling sound.” “I have a part to play, too,” Erica informed Rebecca. “Let’s play the duet.” Erica shaped the rich accompaniment, Rebecca played accurately and quietly, and the result was truly beautiful. After the piece had ended, there was a moment of silence followed by Erica’s saying in a whisper “Oh, Becca! That was so beautiful. I hope I never forget the sound we made together.” Then there was another short pause after which Erica suggested “You know what we’re going to do with ‘Star Light, Star Bright.’? We’re going to make that ‘our piece’ and play it in every lesson.” And they did, and gradually added more “our pieces” to their repertoire of duets. That was a Purple Moment celebrated meaningfully.