Welcome to S.T.E. (Saskatoon Talent Education)
My name is Zane Hrynewich. I have been involved in the world of musical education for close to five decades. The first ten years of my musical training as well as my initial foray into teaching centered around the Traditional Musical Education system. Later, as an aspiring jazz musician, I recognized a significant disparity between what I had been taught and what I actually needed to know as a contemporary pianist. This led me to question the validity of what I was teaching my students and I began searching for alternatives. I then discovered the teachings of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki.
Dr. Suzuki discovered that in the same way very young children have the ability to learn their spoken language, they also have the potential to learn to play music. I embraced Dr. Suzuki's teachings, becoming Saskatchewan's first Suzuki Piano Teacher and studied with with a variety of Suzuki Master Teachers, as well as Haruko Kataoka, co-creator of the Suzuki Piano Method. The Suzuki Method is based on a deep educational philosophy, revolving around a vibrant Parent/Student/Teacher relationship, positive reinforcement, and a strong musical environment.
One lazy summer's day, sitting on a bench outside a building at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, at an International Suzuki Convention, I was able to spend some one-on-one time with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. In his gentle, broken English, we talked about his philosophy. He explained his theories evolved by carefully studying the way children learn. Dr. Suzuki's words have have stayed with and inspired me over the years. Although I would no longer describe myself as a "Mainstream Suzuki Piano Teacher", Dr. Suzuki's educational philosophies and Mother Tongue teaching approach remain the backbone of my teaching.
"How can we have an entire industry dedicated to "teaching music," and never get around to actually showing anybody how to create music? I believe that the answer to this question lies in the European origins of our most basic ideas about what it means to "teach music." Remember, for centuries the primary goal of classical music education was to produce performers capable of reading a sheet of music and correctly playing the composer's ideas. And this is no small task. It requires both a formidable control over one's instrument and also a very high level of skill at reading complicated musical phrases on a written page. It also requires great sensitivity and expressive power. However, in the European classical tradition, the performer's role is not to understand how to create music but how to execute it."
..... David Reed (author of "Improvise for Real", "Understand the music you hear. Play the music you imagine")
The Anatomy of the Contemporary Pianist
The Traditional System of Musical Education
Back in the days of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, the ability to read, perform, compose and improvise were considered to be of equal importance. The technical/visual (performance) was combined with the creative, (composition/improvisation) to produce multi-faceted musicians. When, the conservatory-based Traditional Musical Educational system emerged, the emphasis was placed on performance, and for whatever reason, the creative elements were eliminated.
It is only in music that the creative process remains shrouded in mystery.
In every other art form, students begin to practice their own creative expression right from the very first day. Painting, drawing, sculpture, poetry, drama, and creative writing classes all give students the opportunity to experience the creative process as a normal part of their learning.
The Mother Tongue Method
The Mother Tongue Method of musical education involves teaching a student to play the piano in the same way as they would naturally learn to speak their language through listening, imitation and repetition, which develops a strong ear, superior concentration and excellent memory.
Mother Tongue is the backbone of the Suzuki Method. When I was first introduced to Dr. Suzuki's teaching philosophy, I believed Mother Tongue was his invention. I have now come to the conclusion that musicians have been learning in this way for centuries. The early composers were raised in a musical environment where performance, improvisation and composition were all part of their education. The world of music has always contained amazing musicians who have had little or no formal training at all. I have worked with many so-called "unschooled, self-taught" musicians, often skilled far beyond the scope of what is offered by Traditional Musical Education.
I used to wonder, "How did these people attain such musical prowess..... such advanced musical ears..... a strong working knowledge of the elements of theory..... the ability to improvise..... the ability to compose..... the ability to have musical conversations with others?" Musicians such as these are often categorized as "naturally gifted." While I don't deny this, I also believe much of their knowledge was attained through Mother Tongue learning.
Dr. Suzuki validated the amazing potential of children and carefully crafted an educational philosophy teaching the performance of classical music. My interactions with self-taught contemporary musicians planted a new seed in my mind, leaving me with two burning questions..... Do young children have the potential to learn elements of music beyond performance, like improvisation?..... and..... If so, how can these materials be presented to them in a natural, easy-to-digest manner?
Thus began a continuing process of presenting new ideas to my students, carefully observing their reaction, keeping what works, disposing what doesn't, and determining where to go next. Now, my teaching curriculum includes Performance, Reading, Hearing, Improvisation, Basic Keyboard Theory, Composition and Ensemble Performance, as well as the option to study Advanced Keyboard Theory and Digital Recording.
More Food for Thought
- Many classical musicians are lost without a piece of music in front of them.
- Many contemporary musicians, (jazz, pop, rock, etc.), with fantastic musical ears are lost when they are confronted with a printed score.
- Contrary to popular belief, Traditional Musical Education is not comprehensive. Its curriculum is centered around Western classical music's major/minor system, not touching on a vast number of elements essential to the Contemporary Musician.
- The elements of contemporary music such as jazz, pop, rock and improvisation are considered to be too difficult for young students by many educators, and those wishing to study these must often wait until they can attend post-secondary educational institutions to do so.
- Asking many musicians to improvise often produces a reaction of sheer terror because they have grown up learning to only play other people's music, but have never been taught how to "speak" themselves.
It Doesn't Have to be That Way
I have spent the greater part of the last two decades experimenting with my students to find ways to incorporate Dr. Suzuki's Mother Tongue techniques into the teaching of a curriculum, which includes skills necessary for today's Contemporary Pianist. As there are no existing "methods" pertaining to teaching these things to young people, I have had to carefully build my own.. The challenge has been to marry what I consider to be the strongest components of Traditional Musical Education, the "unschooled, self-taught" movement, and contemporary disciplines, (jazz, rock, pop, blues) into materials which can be presented in a natural, easy to digest "Mother Tongue" way.
To provide my students with the opportunity to obtain a diverse and comprehensive musical education consisting of the building blocks necessary for today's Contemporary Pianist - to nurture each student with respect and positive reinforcement - to never compare, never judge, but always support.
Strong performance skills are paramount to any musician. These include superior tone, fluid technique, musical sensitivity, and mature interpretation.
There is always much value in experiencing the repertoire of the great classical Masters, but there is also a wealth of music by contemporary composers in various genres with much to teach.
The versatile Contemporary Pianist should be equally comfortable performing the genius of Bach, the passion of Beethoven, the cool swing of jazz or the melancholy melodies of the blues.
"To play without passion is inexcusable!"
..... Ludwig van Beethoven
When it comes to the teaching of note reading, there are major differences in the way it is approached by Traditional Musical Education as compared to the Mother Tongue Method.
Traditional Musical Education is based on the VISUAL.....
In Traditional Music, note reading is the emphasis right from the first lesson. By focusing so strongly on the visual and abstract concepts of notation, the development of a truly musical ear is often compromised. In addition, participation is often restricted to children at an older age.
The Mother Tongue Method is based on the AURAL.....
This discipline teaches the reading of music in the same way children learn their language. They hear their language first, and begin the abstracts once they can speak fluently. This, more natural approach to learning promotes the development of strong musical ears as well as eyes. It also allows children to begin their musical studies at a much younger age.
“Historically, the Western classical music tradition has been based on the process of learning new pieces from musical notation, and hence playing by ear has a lower importance in musical training. In the West, learning by ear is also associated with the genres of folk music, blues, rock, and jazz..”
Music is"The Language of Sound", so the development of the ear should be a priority. Often, ear training is limited to very basic hearing exercises in preparation for musical examinations. This does little to build a truly musical ear.
A musician's hearing skills should include the ability to hear tone, dynamics, scales, chords, modes, progressions and anything else that would provide the tools to be able to have a fluent musical dialogue.
Hearing in music is an ability - just like any other ability, it can be nurtured, honed and expanded. The earlier this process begins, the better. The Mother Tongue approach is the perfect vehicle for this.
Those who do not understand often categorize the ability to improvise as some sort of mysterious "gift from above". In reality, just like learning a language, improvisation is an ability nurtured through a healthy learning environment.
Children grow up learning their language in a simple, natural way. They hear it, they imitate it and they repeat it. Grunts and groans morph into words and phrases, which eventually are joined together to form complete sentences, resulting in spontaneous conversations.
Improvisations are spontaneous musical conversations. My faith in Mother Tongue learning inspired me to devote many years experimenting with students, beginning with teenagers and working my way down to children as young as seven years old, to determine if they could be taught to improvise in an easy, natural way. The results have been amazing.
The ability to improvise goes hand in hand with a strong musical ear. As sounds become part of a musical vocabulary, they too will emerge as short phrases, becoming complete sentences and spontaneous conversations.
"Improvisation should be at the core of the music curriculum. It should come first and should remain at the core of music education throughout the later years of increasing expertise. Musicians educated with improvisation at the center will have a better-developed ability to think musically – to deeply understand music as well as be better prepared to interpret written scores."
..... R. Keith Sawyer
A strong working knowledge of Theory is another component in the building of a solid musical foundation.
Being comfortable in the practical application of theoretical elements at the keyboard is "musical gold". It can go a long way in supplying a better understanding of the printed score, being comfortable with the elements of improvisation, and providing the building blocks of musical composition.
Often, Theory is taught on paper, away from the piano, in preparation for an examination. Students learn to remember it, but often there is a disconnect when it comes to using it. I prefer teaching Theory at the keyboard, with the student playing everything they learn.
Traditional Music's theory curriculum is based on Western classical music's major/minor system. My version of Keyboard Theory includes many more components, necessary for today's Contemporary Pianist. Materials are learned and performed in all keys. This goes a long way to building a strong musical vocabulary, which carries over into improvisation and composition.
Sitting down with an eight or a nine year-old to play a blues improvise in an exotic key such as C#, or F#, or A-flat never gets old! Children are so intelligent and so malleable! If you don't tell them C# is a tricky key, they don't notice. They just do it!"
..... Zane Hrynewich
Musical composition requires creativity, a strong, musical ear, a working knowledge of theory, and is augmented by fluent improvisational skills. It isn't a "subject" within itself, but a natural progression for those who have been nurtured through Mother Tongue learning.
"Imagination creates reality."
..... Richard Wagner
The life of a pianist is often a lonely one. Other than the occasional duet, most pianists experience their music by themselves.
I believe the ability to perform with other musicians is invaluable. Therefore, in my studio, students and I play together every lesson. More importantly, the majority participate in two-piano duos, trios and quartets both in-studio and as special projects for recitals.
Ensemble projects include performing and interpreting the printed score as well as the opportunity to improvise.
What I Teach
Music for Children
"Musical ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited."
..... Dr. Shinichi Suzuki
Dr. Suzuki's words, as quoted above reflect a very important truth. Musical ability is not a "gift" reserved for "special" children - it is an ability which can be developed in all children. Just like speaking a language, some children may learn to speak more fluently than others, but all have the potential to speak.
I have had close to five decades of experience working with young children, including those with ADD/ADHD, autism, Asperger's Syndrome and other afflictions. Experience has taught me that all have the potential to learn and grow when surrounded with strong parental support, a rich musical environment, and gentle, positive nurturing.
- Children three and up with no experience on the piano.
- Students transferring from other disciplines are welcome. When placing such students, a careful assessment of the student's skills is completed and a study plan is developed specifically for that student.
Music for Adults
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
..... Albert Einstein
When working with the adult student, my approach is to tailor a program specifically for each student. I offer lessons in a variety of genres, (classical, blues, jazz, rock, pop, improvisation), however, I am careful to choose developmental repertoire geared towards building higher skill levels in the student. Ability development is encouraged rather than just playing pieces from a pre-existing "method". My goal for the Adult Student is to get them playing stimulating repertoire as quickly as possible, regardless of their skill level and achieve a positive sense of progress. Therefore, it is vital to quickly design a musical “game plan”, tailored to the specific needs of each student.
"In the 1960s when the recording studio suddenly really took off as a tool, it was the kids from art school who knew how to use it, not the kids from music school. Music students were all stuck in the notion of music as performance, ephemeral. Whereas for art students, music as painting? They knew how to do that"
..... Brian Eno
For those interested in Digital Recording, I provide three options:
- Live Recording/Digital Recording/Mixing/Engineering/Producing – for aspiring recording artists, singers, composers. We record students performing their own compositions, including vocals and instrumental parts. This provides a basic knowledge of live recording techniques. We also have the option to work with a wide variety of digital instrumentation, ranging from drums, to strings, to orchestra, to synthesizers and much more. Once instrument tracks are completed, mixing techniques are introduced. These include equalization, compression, reverb, delays, and exposure to literally hundreds of other plugins designed to produce studio-quality mixes.
- Mixing/Engineering/Producing – This is for students who do not wish to record their own compositions, but who are interested in the Mixing/Engineering/Producing aspects of recorded music production. We use pre-recorded vocal and instrumental tracks as a starting point to build a unique mix. Students learn mixing techniques, including panning, automation, equalization, compression, reverb, and digital effects. They may also choose to add digital instrumentation as well as experiment with other production techniques.
- Electronic Music – Students work with a multitude of state-of-the-art in-house electronic instruments, synthesizers and samplers to build their own electronic sounds. They learn about electronic sound creation and manipulation, as well as mixing, engineering, and production basics.
Latest News from the Studio
The Naomi Project
My friend, Sue Leonard, and myself traveled to Forest Wilderness Lodge in northern Saskatchewan to write and record music dedicated to celebrating the life of Naomi Heffler, who passed away in an avalanche in 2003.MORE