[:en]Critical Thinking in Piano Playing[:]

[:en]shutterstock_208347706Let us talk about critical thinking today.

What is it and why do we need it in our playing?

First of all, let me quote what critical thinking is.

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.   

A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems…
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively …
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought…
  • communicates effectively with others …

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.

( ~ Richard Paul and Linda Elder,  The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008)
From the brief definition and explanation here, you might wonder how it is directly related to piano playing.

You might think, “hey, this is way too complicated, I just want to play some piano / I just want my children to enjoy music, do we have to be so serious here now?”

It is precisely the reason why I want to stress the importance of critical thinking here today.

In order to play well, we need to think. WE THINK BEFORE WE PLAY.
We process the data, we analyze it, we decide what is going on in the music and what we do to project the sound we want with different techniques and musical expressions.

In order to correct ourselves in practice and improve and progress, we need to be able to detect what the problem lies and how we find the answer to solve it.

In order to learn more effectively, we need to listen to the teacher’s guidance and be open to try and explore new ways of playing, practice, listening and understanding.

And I am not even talking about really high level of playing here. I am talking about beginners. The way I see is this:

The old way of teaching/practicing/playing is the teacher tells what the student needs to do, and when the student is not doing it right, the teacher also tells the student what went wrong and how to correct it right away. Gradually the student depends on the teacher to think for him/her. There is no independent thinking involved and no attempt to ask question and find answer for it.

This kind of spoon-feeding passive teaching-learning system does not work anymore. It is wrong on so many levels. It should not have been done in the first place and should not be done ever again continuously, in any subject by any teacher of any instruction in any school anywhere ever. It kills the independent thinking and the ability to solve problems in an individual of any age, especially when the an individual is young and cannot see for him/herself what is going on in the lesson/instruction.

Let me get this straight here: no one, and I stress, NO ONE IS THERE TO HELP YOU AT THE PIANO WHEN YOU ARE PLAYING. You are on your own. Even when you are playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

So you either start taking responsibility for yourself, or you don’t.

Of course there are various levels of playing that requires different levels of thinking. The better you want to play, the more you need to think critically. The more advanced you want to be, the more you need to use your brain (and body – meaning not just the fingers).

I have taught many students and worked with many young musicians, some learn faster progress quicker others not, yet they are all taught by me. How come? Because they have never taught to think and learn in an effective way, which requires A LOT OF THINKING ON THEIR OWN. The traditional way of musical training /instruction suffocates students that they never learn how to think and analyze their own playing and generate their own solutions to solve their problems.

That is why I always ask my students a lot of questions in their lessons and want them to find their own answers with some hints provided. Total dependence on teachers’ instruction leads to unidentified fear and mistakes at the piano (lessons, performances, exams etc). That is also the reason why most students fail to sight read quickly. Without understanding the content of the music (by that I mean the harmony, structure, the whole synthesis of the piece), one is merely repeating something mindlessly over and over again. And who wants to listen to that and gives a high score for such meaningless performance?

I believe there are things to be done here and they will be done drastically. With critical thinking learnt in musical training, it can be applied to all other aspects of learning, work, and life.

Start THINKING today!

Teresa Wong


A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

Source: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766[:]

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