Thursday, May 2, 2013

Screen-Free Week 2013: Using YouTube to Teach Musical Interpretation

This week is the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood's annual Screen-Free Week.  I'm writing a couple posts about how a restrictive approach has helped us maintain a mindful, engaged relationship with screen technology.  (I wrote about our viewing of old movies together here.) 

A significant element of N.'s work at the piano this year has been developing his interpretive skills.  Now that he has a very responsive piano to play, he's been learning to hear differences in interpretations and to achieve those differences in his own playing.  All year he's been working on his own (not in lessons, because the piece is really above him) on Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331, first the Rondo Alla Turca and more recently the first movement.  We have several recordings of different pianists playing this piece (including one featuring an early nineteenth-century piano with built-in tambourines for the "turkish" effect!), so we've talked a lot about differences in phrasing, pedal, and dynamics in the various recordings.  N. has experimented with trying to play like Pletnev or like Gould.

But most of the time N. plays student pieces, and we don't have CDs or records of those.  Here's where YouTube is a gold mine.  Tons of proud parents have uploaded videos of their kids playing the standard student repertoire, so after N. has worked on a piece for a while, Tim will often find some YouTube videos of it to help him hear some interpretive possibilities, or just to hear better what he is doing by contrast in his own playing.  These online videos give N. the opportunity to hear many competent students playing the pieces he plays, an experience he'd be unlikely to have in real life. 

I remember being shocked (and upset!) by the radically different interpretations of Bach's cello suites recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and Pablo Casals when I first heard the latter in high school.  I loved the Ma version so much that it seemed like Casals was ruining the suites.  I'm glad N. is learning early on to appreciate a range of interpretations and to experiment with his own.  Making music is not just playing the notes, but speaking through them.

1 comment:

Adrienne Pilon ("A") said...

We, too, have used YouTube for just this purpose--for me on piano and for G on guitar. It is good for learning pop pieces, too. Further, it's fun to look around and see what's there.