greenspun.com : LUSENET : To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us : One Thread

Dear Jim,

I have tried to do some outlining with students in my studio. It is difficult for most of them but especially for the poorer readers amongst them. In your experience, does it take some amount of fluency in conventional music-reading skills to be able to outline successfully? If the result is bumps and stops and a-rhythmic playing, doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of outlining? Would like to hear from other teachers/performers on the connection between outlining and music-reading ability.

-- Noriko Tsuchiya (NT2469@aol.com), July 23, 1998


Very interesting point. Most of us are so used to reading from note to note to note that changing to reading an outline -- jumping like a mountain-goat from each note to the next one a little distance away -- can indeed feel very odd and be a bit difficult to do. To help students deal with this, I would suggest being sure they understand what the point is -- namely, to allow them to play at tempo, with all the feeling and shaping of the piece in place right from the beginning -- to they see the goal clearly; and have them do it under your close supervision at first: might make sense to do it only in lessons for two or three or four times, not in their home practice.

Students will be helped by a calm confidence on your part that this process *will* work, they *will* get it, it will just take a while.... Of course you'll radiate this confidence better once you know that outlining really does work -- and I assure you it does. I've had so many examples, from the most elementary pieces played by beginning students to major concert works I play myself. I once worked with a super-gifted woman who was scared of the scherzo movement of the Beethoven Cello/Piano Sonata in A Major, Opus 69 -- we all have pieces we're 'scared' of, I imagine -- and I had her rigorously do it with outlining from the very beginning. Her performance, with a professional 'cellist, was simply stunning; and effortless!

Those who do not already have conventional reading habits may have an easier time reading an outline; beginners, that is. But everyone can do it; it just feels odd for a time, that's all. After you get it, it's very liberating; gives you the feeling as you look at the score, "I am master of all I survey!"

Please, let me know how it goes. Regards, JB

-- James Boyk (boyk@cco.caltech.edu), July 26, 1998.

I am an adult beginner, and a pretty bad sight reader :( (I am working on it!). I especially have difficulty reading both hands at the same time. However, I have had good success learning simple pieces using outlining, and I would like to describe my experience in short. I first read and practice only the left hand, till I can play it through, without any rhythmic breaks. Then I start filling in the right hand notes, starting with only the downbeat of each measure, and then adding the notes on the main beats, etc. I have noticed that every time I introduce a new note in the right hand, I do start breaking up, even though I could play the left hand alone quite smoothly. However, after playing it a few times, I once again have a good flow going, and only then do I add more notes in the right hand. At this point I'm playing the left hand mainly by rote (or by ear) so I can concentrate on reading the right hand alone. In one of my pieces, I made several copies of the music, and using white-out, I made a sheet for each of my outlining stages, so that I wouldn't be distracted by the notes I wasn't going to play. I found outlining very helpful in getting rid of a persistent problem I had, of breaking up between measures, or phrases. I also noticed some other advantages: (1) I could see the "big picture" right away, and also noticed some interesting harmonic relationships (2) The piece sounds good right from the start (well, almost) (3) I can go back quite easily to the pieces I learnt using outlining, and play them through even after a long break. Outlining does take time and patience, and I have to hold myself back because I am so eager to play the whole melody right away, but I think it does pay off. Mr. Boyk, I would like to know what you think of my outlining method, and if I could do anything to improve it. I don't know if it would work on more advanced pieces.

-- Priti Vora (pvora@primaxsoft.com), November 24, 1998.

It's so great that you find the approach useful. Thanks for vivid description of your experience. Quick comments: Yes, it works for even the most difficult pieces. For them, too, it lets you see the 'big picture' and lets the piece 'sound good' from the beginning, and it solidifies your knowledge so the pieces stay with you, as you've noticed.

Another way to approach outlining is to do both hands in outline from the beginning, as described in the book. (And by all means refer to Whiteside's books, listed in the Appendix, for detailed descriptions of the process.) As you noticed, introducing new notes tends to interrupt the flow, and then it comes back. That flow is precisely the most important thing! And it needs to be carried in your body. Your whole body carries the phrase, and it's *that* that outlining is supposed to be helping.

Remember too that when you're outlining, you're playing the whole piece in every regard--feeling, body, dynamics, shaping, the works--Except for some of (or a lot of) the notes.

Copying the score and whiting out some notes is a great idea. Perhaps even better would be writing out the most basic outline yourself, for writing the notes gets you more in touch with them than crossing them out! Another technique is to use a highliter marker....

Sounds like you're doing great. Please let me know how the other techniques are doing for you, the ones in Part I of the book, for instance. Hope these comments are helpful.

-- James Boyk (boyk@cco.caltech.edu), November 24, 1998.

This is a piece of a comment I posted on another thread in this forum:

"Outlining" would seem to offer another option, but in this particular piece (Mozart K283), vertical harmony is so essential to the genius of the music, and also establishing good fingering in the muscle memory seems key to performing it at tempo. Not only does Mozart's music seem to strongly resist being "stripped down," but also, when I attempted to "outline" the first phrase (a collection of descending runs based on intervals from accompanying diminished 7th chords in the LH), I could feel myself gravitating toward fingering that bore no resemblance to what I would have to use to play all the notes [and at quick tempo].

Especially regarding fingerings, and bearing in mind the thought that "you learn what you do," could this be potentially counterproductive to eventual goal of performing the *whole*?

I realize that the main point is to practice the continuum of musical motion (rather than work out a piece technically), but so far I have problems separating the two. My mind strongly wants to hear the harmonies.

Perhaps one can eventually learn to hear the harmonies inside as one reads the peripheral (unplayed) notes along with the "outline" notes, and somehow use the same fingers to play the outline notes that will play them when the piece is whole, and this might actually benefit one's sightreading, but this would seem to be nearly as rigorous a discipline as just playing all the notes to begin with. . .

I'm not trying to play the devil's advocate, but merely trying to show what I have encountered so far since reading the book and attempting to outline a piece I'm presently studying. I'll certainly give it more time. . .


-- George Gilliland (lgd@epix.net), March 05, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ