Piano Teaching Philosophy
musicians, as well as life-long learners and appreciators of music. To do this, I utilize a student-centered approach where students are active participants in their own learning process. I challenge students to engage with literature through questioning designed to promote self-analysis and independent musicianship. Combining the student’s self generated observations with my insights on areas of growth for the pupil I construct an individualized approach for each lesson.
I have over twenty years of experience teaching the piano of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of ability. I am passionate about music and my main goal as an instructor is to create an environment that is
educational and creative in order to foster the development of independent
One of my primary goals for students is musical literacy. I work to help students connect the keyboard to the staff, getting them to read as many notes and cover as wide a range on the keyboard as possible. To do this I primarily use the following three techniques: (1) the Francis Clark method books series (The Music Tree for youth and Keyboard Musician for adults); (2) composition and dictation assignments using computer software or staff paper, as I have found having students write out music greatly helps them internalize the rules of notation; and (3) assigning the student’s favorite music to encourage engagement with beginner students during the first months of study. Because the repertoire for beginners often can dampen the initial excitement of taking piano lessons, working on a favorite song grabs students and harnesses initial enthusiasm. Using a student’s favorite tune can be a strong motivator to acquire note reading skills.
For example, a five year old beginner expressed great interest in learning Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Seizing the opportunity, I made a simple arrangement, though even my abridged version necessitated skipping months ahead to cover the notation needed to understand it. Despite this difficulty, the student’s excitement for the material helped him rise to the challenge, and proudly perform the work at a talent show just a month later show. Since that time I have
been arranging and simplifying dozens of works for my beginner students. As students advance past method texts, I assign pieces from the common practice period, along with jazz literature, in order to cover intermediate techniques of pedaling, voicing, etc., but I continue to rely heavily on student solicited musical selections, using, or making, arrangements that challenge the pupil’s growing edge. If I do not know about the requested song, I educate myself. I received feedback from students that my willingness to grow musically inspires them to expand their own musical tastes. It also keeps lessons fresh, resulting in more exciting, creative, and highly individualized instruction.
I guide students to discover proper technique for themselves. This problem-focused approach to technique errors solidifies students’ awareness that proper techniques are not arbitrary, but valuable components of piano practice that will improve their musicianship.
Proper technique is another important facet of my teaching and is greatly influenced by my training as a yoga, and yoga dance instructor. However, unless the student is playing in a way that might result in physical injury, I generally refrain from immediate comment on too many technique-related errors, so as not to overwhelm the student. I wait until either the student asks why they are having difficulty playing a certain passage, or some technical obstacle presents an opportunity to create context for explaining the benefits of postural alignment and fluid technique. Then using questions like “Have you tried relaxing your fingers to play that phrase more smoothly?” or “Why are you tensing up your shoulder to jump down the octave?” combined with role modeling using my own playing,
My diverse musical background, ranging from classical piano performance to membership in a gamelan ensemble, provides me with a vast array of resources to draw from to meet student’s needs. When discussing shaping melodic lines, I augment my twenty years of piano experience with what I have learned from private vocal instruction, experience in a touring choir, and my studies of South and East Asian flutes. In explaining harmony I borrow from classical and jazz theory as well as private composition studies to help students grasp musical structure. When helping students internalize rhythm, I use drum kits, didgeridoos, percussion instruments, folk dances and clapping games to assist students in finding the music’s pulse. When preparing students for performances, I draw from my experience in recitals and band performances.
My studies in ethnomusicology compel me to discuss a particular work’s historical context and encourage students to imagine themselves in that time and space to gain a better understanding of the “soul” of the piece. “Put on your powdered wig,” or, “Get that foot stomping!” are sample statements I use to excite students about classical or blues pieces, respectively. This musical time machine perspective creates opportunities to discuss how the piano has changed over time (i.e., the fortissimo on Mozart’s piano was not as sonorous as that of a “modern” piano), and how these changes have impacted the aesthetics of performance practice, dynamics, and pedaling. In this way I transmit agreed-upon conceptions of traditional classical interpretation while opening the space for students to explore the work using their own musical sensibilities, as influenced by their own musical experiences living in the 21st century. I find that this approach to piano study turns students into actively creative musicians, which is, to me, the goal of musical study.