piano, piano instruction, piano teaching

What we learn from our piano students

Mentoring is a perfect complement to a life-long musical journey that includes practicing, growing repertoire, and accruing insights about the multi-dimensional aspects of artistic awareness. And what better way to enhance the development of a teacher, than to have a regular opportunity to assist students in their unique growth process.

From our seat away from the piano, we have a dual perspective, objectifying our relationship to a particular composition through attentive listening infused with an analysis of what might work to un-constrain a phrase, or nudge it toward the liberation of physical encumbrance.

It’s a big responsibility that has a willing partner to the whole undertaking: the pupil, who is no less than a full participant in a mutual journey of enlightenment.

Many of our piano students ask pivotal questions about fingering, harmonic progressions, rhythmic flow, the singing tone, phrasing, structure, and we have the obligation to provide the underpinning of sound foundational learning through our responses. It means we need to peel away our own process of musical assimilation, and frame it in cognitive, affective and kinesthetic terms.

In the two-way learning transaction a pupil might suggest an alternate fingering that for him/her seems more natural for a particular hand which invites a mentor’s reconsideration of what might have worked all along in theory, but needs adjustment in practice.

Flexibility is a big component of teaching because students of all levels and abilities require that we reject the one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring, and instead, tailor a curriculum to meet individual needs.

In one particular lesson that transpired a few days ago, the student asked riveting questions that required my demonstrations of weight transfer in the opening measures of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor. She was also curious about harmonic modulations, and the geography of her hands in various tricky measures.

Such inquiries required a careful set of responses that fed a layered-learning foundation we had both enjoyed over the years; It came with a common nurtured language that needed my elaboration/modeling to grow an improvement. Yet, the very fact that I had to deeply ponder each question, and devise a particular route to help the pupil, grew my own musical insights and understanding. Still, the process would not preclude my altered consciousness in response to a student’s experimentation.

We are fortunate to dwell in this ever-evolving cosmos of aesthetic expression; to be on the giving and receiving end of an unfolding musical relationship that is mutually satisfying and progressive.

It’s all the more reason to Thank students after each lesson for what we continue to learn from them.


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