When it comes to working with a pianist instead of recorded music, there are a couple of things you need to realize and integrate!
What you need to know, before I go any further, is that my beginner days of accompanying ballet weren't exactly the easiest. I started playing for a professional school before ever having been to a ballet or played for a recreational class, even. It was scary. I cried. Legit. A lot! So, if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed as a teacher who's never worked with a pianist before and now you're walking into the studio feeling inadequate or insecure, take heart, you're not alone and if you dedicate effort to learning how to do it well, you'll grow to enjoy having a pianist immensely.
First, you need to realize that they are a real person with expressions and thoughts and feelings. When they’re playing music for you, they're not just a musical metronome, the music they play for you is an expression of themselves, of their very soul.
Here are some thoughts of mine that could dramatically improve and brighten your abilities as a teacher..
If the music you get is not at all what you were thinking (it happens a lot, I'm sure! We can feel from the piano that it's not right often), you need to know how to ask for what you do want. Is the accent you want? What is the quality you want? Do you want a 3/4 instead of a march? Would you prefer a racing galop rather than a grand allegro 3/4?
Try something like “that’s a really great piece of music, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for. I need music that encourages the sharpness of the frappe. Could we try a bright 2/4?” Capitalize on the team effort; we instead of you and I.
40% of accompanists for dance feel disrespected, often, like they are second class citizens in the room. This should NOT be the case and I expect you agree with me. One of the ways to avoid accidentally causing that is thinking about the relationship as a team effort rather than you're the boss and they're just the hired help. This is not to say you're not the leader, as the teacher, you are, but every great leader has a servant heart and lifts up their team and in turn, the team will go to great measures to serve.
If you’re not really sure what you want, you definitely need to plan on taking The Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers the next time it opens for registration. (Learn more about it here HTTPS://www.thebarrepianist.com/THEOMTC)
Say you are using a slow for stretching or floor exercises. When your planned exercise is done, if you were using recorded music, you might just pause it or stop it, right?
When you have a pianist playing for you, it’s best to allow them to finish the 32 count phrase they’re playing. Add some port de bras, or some extra foot stretches, or perhaps just a full body stretch on the floor. The point being, your pianist is playing music for you, music they might even be creating on the spot. Have respect for them and their artistic spirit by allowing them to finish the 32 count phrase they're in rather than cutting them off mid-phrase just because your planned stretches are done.
Along that line of thought, plan your exercises to be as square as possible. 32 counts. or 16 counts plus an ending of 16 counts (or 8 counts if you must, lol). Doing so helps your exercises to match the music so much better; which makes for a more musical exercise and a happier pianist!
Use the music and really listen to it, phrase wise.. your dancers will learn from you and pay more attention to the music phrasing they’re listening/dancing to.
What I mean by this is, if it’s a slow 4/4 plié exercise, start your musician by saying “rea—dy—aaaaaa—-nd” in the tempo you’d like the plies to be. Alternatively, for that sharp frappe we were just talking about, make sure your voice is strong and bright! Your dancers will subconsciously pick up on the physical qualities you want just from hearing you speak your “rea-dy AND!”
Experienced ballet teachers often feel that they deserve the best pianists, that they’ve “served their time” with the inexperienced ones. However, these teachers are often the best suited to work with a new accompanist for ballet class; they can explain and count exercises more clearly and confidently than an inexperienced dance teacher.
Vice versa as well, an inexperienced ballet teacher should work with an experienced and knowledgeable pianist who is able to teach, guide and help out as they go. This is the best balance of knowledge, strengths and weaknesses.
As an inexperienced teacher, you may not be in a position to ask for anything, but if you have an affirming environment, I recommend asking if you can work with a pianist who can guide and teach you along the way, you'll grow so much faster than if you're working with a new ballet accompanist.
Take heart, the art of using music in ballet class isn’t a sprint, especially if you're working with the added layer of a pianist. It’s like fine wine; gaining richness and nuances over years of experience and knowledge. Just when you think you know something, you learn more!
If you dream of being confident and capable counting in how you use music now instead of years from now, you need to consider taking the Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers the next time registration opens up!
Sign up here to nab your free 3 page PDF guide for ballet teachers who want to be more prepared and capable when it comes to working with a pianist!
(I promise to never, EVER, give or sell your email address to anyone because I wouldn't want that done to me!)
Hey! Great to see you here! Listen, if you're a ballet teacher who loves to learn about music in relation to ballet classes, you're in the right place! Sign up to get a free recording and stay in the loop with monthly newsletters and alerts about new blog posts.