Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When Left Is Right

It's been well over six months since I've blogged anything.  The ensuing months brought life-changing news concerning loved ones, broken bones, broken wallets, loss of much-loved pets and loss of dear, close friends.

During all the upheaval I continued to teach.  I have several students who've been officially diagnosed with dyslexia.  Kids who've been told what they can't do, why they "can't learn normally".  They've been told they trend towards being hyper, have the focus ability of a gnat, demonstrate abnormal coordination issues.  In truth their de-coding abilities are slower because their brains must re-rout to comprehend the input.

Why must students possess rapid de-coding abilites in order to be considered "normal" learners?

Dyslexic kids are brilliant.  Their minds never stop, and every week their keen, unusual observations amaze me.  Their enthusiasm, their progress despite their struggles have brought a smile to my face and happiness to my heart when I really wanted to just spend the day in bed.  Watching their weekly lessons have also brought back memories of my own struggles as a child and my continued struggles as an adult who plays piano just fine but will never conquer reading issues.

These kids work harder than any "normal" thinking kid.  They want the success.  Badly.  Too often they're working so hard their efforts become frantic because they're impatient with their brains.  So I encourage them that it's okay to slow down and take their time, and I watch them think through which hand they need to use, which finger on which hand they need to play, which lateral direction to go on the keyboard when notes on the page are going vertically up and down.  One student had issues seeing the pattern of two and three black keys on the keyboard, so I turned the three black keys into a "house" with a front door for "F", a back door for "B", and a roof in the middle.  It created a visual image and solved the problem.  Another student flips right and left all the time, so when this student starts playing a right-hand part with the left hand, I chuckle and say, "One more time with your other right hand."  The resulting grin turns into a laugh, and my day is brighter.  Rhythm issues are solved not by counting until I'm blue in the face but by chanting "half-note-DOT"; or "h-o-l-d" (for longer note values like whole notes); or "short-long" (for quarter/half-note rhythms); "quarter-dot-short" (for dotted quarter-eight rhythms). Rests are reinvented as "play-wait-play-wait" because they seem to process better the idea that "wait"  means silence.  I supposed "rest" also means silence, but in daily life resting isn't always quiet.  Neither is waiting, but waiting includes (at least briefly) a command to pause, and so far that term works really well.   Come to think about it, "rest" is actually a longer sounding word than "wait".  There's four letter sounds, and for kids who already have decoding issues, cutting out excess sounds seems like a great idea.

None of this is in textbooks, classrooms, or online.  It's things my old brain thinks up because it's easier for me to understand, and it seems to help the student.  All of them are reading, all of them are playing hands together.  And all of them are grinning when they leave their lesson.

And you know what?  I'm grinning, too.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Giddy about Gershwin

After years and YEARS of trying to wade my way through Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, I have finally GOT IT.  It's amazing, once things click and I understand all those frickin' accidentals, never-ending 7th chords, and (seemingly) sporadic key changes, just how much FUN  it is to play this piece.  My husband and I have been giving "out-of-the-practice-room" performances of the 2-piano arrangement Gershwin penned, and with each run-through I see new connections, new cool compositional techniques, while feeling the notes becoming more and more comfortable in my brain and therefore in my fingers.

We played it for some friends over Easter weekend.  The wife is a church pianist, a fabulous sight-reader, and an accomplished musician.  When she expressed how impressed she was that I played the piece by memory, I felt my usual reaction of gratitude mixed with frustration.  Everyone assumes that if you can memorize well, you can do everything else well.

I really wish that were true.

I could tell she didn't really believe me when I told her I can't read at the speed I can play, and that I can't do what she does every Sunday.  The disbelief in her expression said it all.

But this week I'm not letting it get me down.  I've got the Gershwin in my fingers, in the keyboard, and finally in my brain.  And I will start scheduling public performances soon, and maybe even get a performance with the wind ensemble arrangement.  It is a tremendously awesome work, cheerfully and whimsically scampering from one end of the keyboard to the other and back again.

And I fly on its whimsical journey when I sit down and play it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Keyboard notes; Desk Notes; Floor Notes

Okay, it's been a while since I've blogged anything.  Or written anything.  Or practiced anything.  I sort of got tired of fighting the whole reading part.  I've been feeling increasingly depressed about my own limitations even as I work with students whose reading steadily improves, most often well beyond my own reading.

I've been wasting a lot of time wishing that I could get my reading to improve, too.

Regular musicians, professional musicians, amateur musicians, they all feel confident in their ability to learn new stuff.  And they're always talking about learning new stuff.  And they're excited about learning new stuff.

I hate learning new stuff.  It takes so frickin' long to unravel on the page what I should already know.  I really SHOULD know.  And the same problem creeps into my horn playing, which I can tell you is unbelievably annoying.  One staff, one note at a time, one frickin' line.  Brain doesn't compute.  Or maybe Brain WON'T compute.  At least no where near as fast as I need it to.

But I like playing new stuff.  And I love the feel of the phrases and the composer's musical genius under my fingers as they dance over the keyboard when I've finally internalized the frickin' notes.  Then the music takes me away.  I love hearing my horn part merge with the ensemble to re-create yet another composer's genius.  Ahhh, what an awesome feeling, music, when those sound-waves penetrate beyond the heart, beyond the soul, beyond the limitations of the world as we know it.

But until that happens, there are notes all over the keyboard, notes all over the desk.
And notes all over the frickin' floor.

There are notes EVERYWHERE.  Except in my Brain.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hands Full of Notes

I have a studio recital soon, on which I'll be playing three Liszt concert etudes by memory.  And reading Secondo on several beginner student duets. Guess which of these I'm freaking out about?

Hint: It's not the Liszt.

I was playing the Secondo of a simple Schubert Marche with a student.  My thoughts went something like this:

"Bass clef both hands, bass clef both hands ... hands are unison, okay, got it ... which line am I on, I just lost the measure ... ears don't fail me now .... okay, back online, things sound good ... uh-oh, she's taking this a lot faster than last time, natural adrenaline and she practiced.  So now my eyeballs need to move faster, and my brain needs to think faster, and ...hey, wait, these notes on the page don't look right at all ... oh, dang it it that's the Primo part and I was supposed to turn the page.  Lost the right hand ... again ... hands are unison, remember?  Oh, dang it, hands just went backwards and I can't figure out which hand is supposed to be playing which rhythm ... hands are unison, REMEMBER!!! Go by the sound ... ears, take over for my eyes and feckless brain cells ... forget trying to keep up with the notes... I chord pattern ... V chord pattern ... uh-oh, a whole slew of notes and rhythms because we're approaching a cadence ... come on, dang it, I've only been reading through this thing every week since the beginning of the semester ...."

Sounds like a joke, right?  Unfortunately, I'm not kidding.  And this is a very simple C-Major Schubert duet Marche.  Basic I, IV, V, with an occasional minor thrown in.  ARGH.

I'm not sure knowing about my dyslexia is a good thing.  I used to work my butt off trying to improve my reading skills because I thought my deficiency was due to lack of practice.  Now that I've realized why I can't read at speed well enough to even fake it, I've had issues with wondering whether it's worth pursuing anymore.  Whether true or not, in my experience a pianist is only as good as his/her sight-reading ability.  Poor reading impacts everything from learning new pieces to expansion of repertoire to accompanying opportunities.  Any opportunties, for that matter.  While I might have the potential of playing with an ensemble, do I really want to expose my lack of reading skill, even when I've got the piece in my hands and off the page?  Referring to the page presents problems because the notated patterns look quite a bit different than the keyboard patterns, the latter which I see and understand just fine.

So while my hands are full of notes and my ears and my heart are full of music, my eyeballs and my brain are somewhere around Pluto and of no help whatsoever.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

To See or Not to Sea

First of all, I wrote the title on purpose, because I totally missed "died" vs "dyed" in a Facebook post lately and got all upset over the "death" of Betty White.  But strangely enough, the theme fits into my subject.  It's all about seeing versus sea-ing: understanding what your eyeballs are telling your brain, or feeling totally lost; i.e., at sea.

I was turning pages for my husband's performance of J.S. Bach's Italian Concerto today.  You know the old saying about page-turners?  The only thing they can do is screw up.  I never had any issues turning pages until someone told me that.  But I'm getting off track.  Anyway, he was in the middle of the first movement and began to frantically nod his head.  I had been following the left hand line, so I knew where he was, and he wasn't at the end of the last score yet, so I waited.  More frantic nodding.  I decided that his head movement was telling me to turn the page rather than emoting to the music, so I turned said page, still thinking it was way too early.  But by then I'd lost where he was anyway, so I figured it best to get to the next page.  Fortunately I didn't screw him up, and the movement ended, and after that I decided that no matter where I thought he was, when his head started moving, I would turn said page.  The third movment goes lickety-split, and he took it faster, and my eyeballs couldn't even follow the left hand, so I turned pages whenever his head moved and things went fine.

Later in the day, I asked him about it, specifically what he sees when he's reading the score.  His answer, that he glances at the entire line, boggled my poor brain.  I have trouble absorbing one measure at a time, and here he is, deciphering whole strings of them.

I wish I could do that.  I wish I could read what I see, play what I read, no matter what the speed.  I can't even read along when I've memorized and know the score.  Here he was, reading whole lines at lickey-split tempos that my eyes couldn't keep up with, much less my brain.

So, it's kind of like catching the difference between "dyed" and "died".  Or "see" and "sea".  My tendency is to misunderstand the first (and sometimes the second, third, and so on) time I read music, and that makes for getting seriously lost with no hope of getting back on track.  I can't trust my brain to correctly understand what I'm seeing, so I have to re-read over and over to make sure I got it right.

And that, unfortunately, means that whenever I try seeing the score, I end up lost at sea.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Announcing release date for "Eye for Eye"

Even though technically this blog site is for my dyslexic musical side, I am happy to announce the release (September 28th, 2016) of my newest suspense-thriller, Eye for Eye, published under F.Lynn Godfriaux. Available through Amazon in ebook and tradecopy formats.  Email me to receive the 25% off order code!  This is a real page-turner sequel to Blind Eye!!

"The Little Engine that CAN"

Remember the children's story, "The Little Engine that Could"?  While other, bigger, more impressive engines failed to climb the hill, the little blue engine thought to herself, "I think I can, I think I can...."  And of course, she made it up the hill, then chanted to herself all the way down, "I thought I could, I thought I could!"  Mom always referred to that book whenever she tried coaching me on sight-reading music.  But no matter how much I told myself "I think I can", I couldn't.  And then Mom (a New England Conservatory graduate and a fabulous sight-reader) would frown down at me and say something like, "Well, you're just not trying hard enough."

I really do not like that children's book very much, because it makes success sound achievable if enough effort is made.  "You can do it if you try hard enough."  In my case, no matter how hard I tried, what reading approaches I used, or years and years of playing for church, my sight-reading remains miserably insufficient.

As a teacher, I avoid the approach, "You can do it if you try hard enough" like the plague.  No matter what level the student is, I focus on where they are currently, their work and effort, and I avoid comparing them with pedagogical expectations.  Every student is different, and to try to mold reading ability into a single (and simple) expectation is ludicrous.  I focus on what they CAN do, rather than what pedagogy gurus and methods tell me to have them achieve.

My point is that, instead of considering what a student's reading level should be, be supportive of what the student can do.  And remember that every student has their own unique strengths that you as a teacher need to recognize and nurture.  Pedagogy methods have slowed student progress to a snail's pace. Thinking that students will become better readers by dumbing down the entire pedagogy approach is like trying to argue the correct way to install a roll of toilet paper.

As a child, I could not read my way out of a paper bag, no matter how hard I tried.  As an adult, my score reading is painfully slow.  However, my musicianship, interpretation, and memory skills still make me a successful performer and teacher.  And my understanding of what it feels like to be told to do something my brain isn't wired for allows me to help all students, whether or not they have reading issues, discover and build upon their strengths.