Ivo Kaltchev , associate professor, and Francesca Hurst and Antoinette Velikina , doctoral students in piano performance, were quoted in a June 11 Washington Times article about teaching children how to play the piano. See the story below.

Playing on a higher scale

From: The Washington Times Date: June 11, 2007 Author: Jen Waters Antoinette Velikina always knew she would be a pianist. The 33-year-old from Northeast learned to play the ivory keys at age 5 while growing up in Bulgaria.Today, she is a doctoral piano student at Catholic University of America in Northeast. She also gives piano lessons at the university and at the Harmonia School of Music and Art in Oakton."It's like a sport," Ms. Velikina says. "You have to keep your muscles in shape. It requires a lot of listening to music, going to concerts, being familiar with different artists and their way of playing. If you don't like music, it's difficult to be good at the piano. If you like music, you like to spend time at it. This is what it takes to be really good."The best students usually start in their youth, area pianists and piano teachers say. However, students who learn as adults still can master the instrument.Children usually are mature enough to begin lessons at age 6, says Ivo Kaltchev, associate professor of piano in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University. He has a doctorate in musical arts in piano performance.Young piano students need to be able to concentrate for at least a 30-minute lesson, he says. Otherwise, Kindermusik sessions, for children 6 months old or older, are sometimes recommended. In Kindermusik, a music class for preschoolers, students learn notes and rhythms through games.Many children start piano lessons at age 10, but it's more difficult to master the physical skills then, Mr. Kaltchev says. When children are younger, if they are shown a passage of music, they often can repeat it immediately. Playing the piano requires skills that use small muscles and bones."With adult students, when they study piano, physical motion is more difficult," Mr. Kaltchev says. "It's reverse when it comes to understanding intellectual concepts, like scales, notes and intervals."When beginning lessons, students learn to recognize notes and rhythms, he says. Students learn how to listen, how to play and how to read music. Beginners also need to learn the geography of the piano, such as the octave groups, the keys and pedals, he says."It's like learning a different language," Mr. Kaltchev says. "We also work on their ear. It involves singing, repetition of tunes and motifs. It's a very complex process."Apart from technical skill, imagination sets great pianists apart from average musicians, he says."They are telling you something," Mr. Kaltchev says. "They are touching your soul. It's like a new discovery every time. Although you've heard the piece many times, they make it very special, moving and interesting. Only people with great talent can do that."The Suzuki method of piano is another option for young beginners, says Carol Prochazka, co-chairwoman of the piano department at Peabody Preparatory in Baltimore. She holds a doctorate of musical arts in piano performance. The community school has about 2,000 students of all ages and abilities taking lessons every week. Tuition is based on a 16-week semester, averaging about $80 per hour for a lesson.Instead of reading music, the technique focuses on training the ear, Miss Prochazka says. The method usually is used only for children age 9 and younger. Sometimes teachers modify Suzuki training in combination with reading music.The independence of the piano from other instruments is something most students find attractive, she says. The piano is not a single-note instrument, so musicians can play many octaves or notes simultaneously. It is more complicated than many instruments, however, requiring the use of all 10 fingers at once."You can express yourself without words," Ms. Prochazka says. "Parents will say that when their child is upset, they will go and play the piano. You can express emotions without knowing what the emotions are."New students should try to play with other musicians as soon as possible, Ms. Prochazka says. Teachers and students might try to create an ensemble or duet. Because classical music is not part of popular culture, it's important for children to have an opportunity to be around other children who are interested in the classical piano pieces.Acquiring performing skills is another important aspect of playing the piano, says Inja Stanic, director of the International School of Music in Bethesda. The Serbian-born pianist began playing at age 7. She has a master's degree in piano performance.She always encourages her students to do recitals, such as a recent performance of 270 students in the Music Recital Hall at Montgomery College in Rockville. Weekly 30-minute lessons are $36, with monthly tuition. "This way, they can learn to share their music with other people and friends," Ms. Stanic says. "When you study music by yourself, it can sometimes be a lonely activity. By sharing, they can build self-confidence. It's kind of like public speaking. You have to have the courage to do it."Etudes, scales and other piano exercises all pay off when a musician takes the stage, she says.When playing classical music, students also learn a bit of history, says Ignacio Rodriguez of Potomac. He learned to play the piano as a child. His daughter, Alexandra, 17, has played the piano since age 4. She is a student at the International School of Music."Music is a great thing to offer everyone," Mr. Rodriguez says. "It's an experience beyond regular schooling. It's a way to express oneself, release stress and be creative. Music is very good for the development of the brain. Being a musician requires persistence and dedication."In some instances, playing the piano has been a good way to escape life's stresses, says Francesca Hurst, 28, of Annandale. She is a doctoral student in the piano performance program at Catholic University and is Mr. Kaltchev's student.She also teaches piano lessons at Catholic University and Trinity College in Northeast and instructs private students as well."When I'm playing, I forget about everything else and get absorbed in the music," Ms. Hurst says. "There are a lot of things you can find in music, like humor."

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