Last year I had the pleasure of spending time with Dr Randall Faber at the 2013 Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference.
When I left for the conference, I flew up from Adelaide to Brisbane, got the hire car and then went to the international arrivals to get Randall to drive together to Toowoomba. He came straight off two flights (from Michigan into Sydney then Sydney to Brisbane) and was excellent company (despite his lack of sleep and jet lag) for the drive. I was unsure what to expect when meeting him, not knowing what he was like. There was no need to over-think it. Randall was very approachable, generous with his knowledge, professional and gentlemanly.
Before I left home to head over for the conference I had discussed where I was going and what I would be doing with my students. I asked them if they had anything they would like me to ask Randall. He very graciously answered all of their questions one afternoon over some delicious Gelati!
He has also allowed me to share his answers here on the blog with you.
1. Have you got any ideas for strengthening my tiny fingers? (From Lilly)
RF: Reinforce with the weight of the arms (Practice your Gorilla Arms!) and that will help overcome the resistance of the keys.
2. I’m a Grade 2 AMEB classical student, what book would you recommend for me for technique? (From Grace)
RF: The Piano Adventures Technique and Artistry book in level 3A, 3B and 4 would suit this level and give you extra pieces to play too!
3. Can you please publish some Dr Who music?(From Tony and Owen)
RF: I will look into that and have a listen to them! (As a side note, this was something that Randall and I discussed at another time, too. In regards to popular music with different types of students, there are some exciting new FPA books published recently – the Faber Studio Collection)
4. What technique should I use for a Glissando? How would you teach it? (From Simone)
RF: When the glissando is ascending you use your fingernails here (pointing to his right hand). And don’t push down heavy – you need to stay relaxed and light to create the sound. Don’t push to the bottom of the key, or you could get stuck halfway! On a descending gliss use the back of your thumb (RH) and make sure there is no tension in the thumb. Let it ripple up and down over the surface of the keys.
5. What do you know about science?(From Tony)
RF: (Answered with a completely straight face!!) I know quite a bit about science! In fact my brother is a nuclear physicist! I took several physics classes at the University of Michigan. When some of my classmates found out that I was a musician, they laughed, and thought that I would flunk out of the course. When the exams results came around, my scores were at the top of the class. So after they thought a music major could not be successful in the class, I did better than many of them. I told them I had chosen music because it was more difficult!
My daughter is quite the violinist also but is very much into the medical sciences.
6. What is your favourite music to listen to and play? (From Milly)
RF: That’s a good question! I have liked playing Chopin but my tastes are changing. He was a very fine pianist and it is very pianistic writing. Now I’m getting more into playing Beethoven. I think it is due to the more typical clarity and his representation of the perfection of the universe as opposed to the more intimate person reflection of the emotions that show up in Chopin. (I commented on it being a coming of age as a piano player). Yes, my musical knowledge and tastes continue to grow and evolve.
When listening to music, I just like a good song by a good artist. It doesn’t matter if it is Beyonce or whoever, as long as it is well done, well produced and well sung. I like soulful blues influences in there too.
If I’m listening to classical music I like Mozart. I love his Piano Concertos and the happiness in some of his movements.
7. What inspired you to write your own series? (From Elisabeth)
RF: Nancy and I found our students were struggling with certain musical concepts and skills. The material just wasn’t right and there was a big gap in the market. So we wrote Piano Adventures® primarily to keep the students engaged, to smooth out the learning process, and to bring our students more success and happiness when they were learning piano.
8. When did you start learning the piano? (From Milly)
RF: I was 8 years old. By today’s standards, that is a late beginner, but in those days it was pretty average. Now we know that it is very helpful for students to start piano lessons even earlier. I wish I had started earlier!
9. Do you play any other instruments?(From Suzy)
RF: I played cornet and trumpet when I was young. I also played saxophone in high school and played a Hammond B3 organ in my rock band days.
10. How do I develop my performance confidence? (From Sarina)
RF: the first step is adequate preparation – a lot of careful practice with attention to building and repeating good habits. Be very sensitive to how it feels and how it sounds. If you prepare well, you can be confident in your repertoire. When it is time for your performance, recognize that others want to hear you play. By taking the attention off yourself, you can confidently share the music you have prepared so well.
11. I’m having trouble with the long trills in the Bach Invention in D minor how can I improve these long trills? (Sarina)
RF: Ride the wave of the trill by varying the wrist height. Practice the trill at different tempos. Ideally the trill will be independent of the rhythm of the other hand so you are not trying to lock it in together. The trill doesn’t have to be fast, try it with different tempos, while the other hand plays, to achieve more independence.
It was wonderful to meet Randall. He was so willing to share his knowledge with the teachers at the conference and with my students in their questions. Each of them was excited to receive a personal response from him and I’m very thankful for his willingness to engage with, and encourage my students (and as a teacher it was great to have someone else reinforce the things they had been hearing from me in lessons!)
If you would like to learn more about Randall, a short biography can be found here.
Also, Joy Morin recently did a tour of the Faber Studio in Michigan if you would like to have a look, head over to her blog!