With gratitude to our mentors who light a path of learning with love, inspiration, knowledge, commitment and enduring patience.
My intent in teaching is to make the pupil better than they are by leading them through musical and technical obstacles and helping them find solutions right there at the lesson. From the very beginning I know that progress will be painfully slow if the pupil can’t read with some degree of fluency. So I assign sight-reading exercises as a primary function of each lesson. For starters, they are forbidden to look at the keyboard. The object is to find any interval or register without looking, the way string players find every position on their instruments while looking the other way. Many of my pupils who could not read fluently, eventually make amazing progress.
Playing with expression is priority number 1. All scales, arpeggios and exercises must be programmed musically with specific dynamics. If pupils disregard interpretive marks in their scores, I am tough and loving at lessons. I tell pupils “A wrong dynamic is like playing a wrong note.” I impress upon each pupil, gifted or not, that the only way they can communicate a musical feeling is by making a physical connection to the feeling. In a sense, feeling must be programmed into the entire body—into every muscle, and every gesture. Of course this happens in stages over a long period of time.
Since each pupil is different, the approach must be flexible. For example, pupils who play perfect scales may not be able to play a slow theme with any sense of conviction. So why practice scales all day? I prescribe slow movements of Sonatas and slow pieces in addition to virtuosic pieces, which they do easily. Musical pupils who fumble on every technical passage must make physicality their prime focus. With such a pupil, I often take their arms and hands and manipulate them in order to give them the proper sensation.
Such pupils practice lots of scales and various technical methods, such as Czerny. For pupils, specifically adults, who have little time to practice, I always assign one technically demanding piece in their repertoire. It is forbidden for pupils to tell me “I’ll work it out at home.” All problems are recognized, analyzed, and worked on right there at the lesson until the pupil achieves the task at hand.
In short, lesson time is supervising practicing with my pupils. They recognize the process and then are able to practice productively at home. All lessons are recorded so that pupils can recall vital information during the interim between lessons. In all cases, being able to do something that they hitherto found impossible ignites a joy within pupils that transfers to their very lives. In return, my joy is double to theirs.
Throughout my career I’ve worked with students of diverse ages and abilities and have seen them at different stages of their lives and educational trajectories.
My pedagogical method is first of all to approach students as individuals, developing a flexibility of teaching strategy based on a pupil’s needs and interests. As a piano teacher, I try to recognize what areas require particular attention and development, and in accordance, I assign appropriate repertoire that addresses these needs.
I also keep students’ preferences in mind, trying to find pieces that they will truly enjoy working on. However, this does not mean that I’ll let them play only works by Chopin, or those from the Romantic period just because they feel a stronger connection to this type of music. From my perspective, stylistically diverse repertoire enriches the soul, expands knowledge, and contributes to a musician’s growth.
I also believe that knowledge of music history and theory is indispensable to a full appreciation of a composition’s meaning. Therefore, my pedagogical intent is to build a solid foundation that nurtures a convincing interpretation based on harmonic, structural, and stylistic understanding.
To this end, we often analyze music during our lessons. Students need to be receptive to harmonic changes; feeling colors; appreciating the many details of articulation, phrasing, so they will have full access to the emotional content of a musical composition and be able to play it expressively. If these ingredients are fully integrated, students will feel inspired and they will enjoy pieces that initially were not interesting to them.
In this particular cosmos, I’ve noticed that picking the right repertoire for my students has become as tricky as making my own repertoire choices, especially if preparation for various competitions is involved. Regardless, a good teacher has the responsibility to choose repertoire wisely, to draw on students’ strengths and to consider what will ultimately realize their full artistic potential.
I do believe that scales and different types of arpeggios are an indispensable foundation. To this effect, I require students to play scales in all keys in contrary motion, at a distance of a third, sixth, tenth, along with twelve arpeggios from the same note, broken octaves, etc.
In addition, I assign etudes by Czerny, Moszkowski and Clementi that provide a good start before moving on to Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin and Rachmaninov.
While working on technique and repertoire are always valuable, one has to remember that a healthy body is equally important in our profession. Therefore, I spend adequate time talking about how to use our body efficiently– sharing some stretching exercises that I practice on a daily basis. In this endeavor, I want my students’ muscles to be as healthy as mine.
I believe in approaching most technical difficulties by rote long before we hit them in the music. When we find it in the music and it is easy to play because they already know how to finger it, I point that out and say aren’t you glad you already know …. We start out with simple versions and go to the not so simple. When they are advanced and have many technical things that they know, we rotate through them weekly so they do not forget. The technic supports the repertoire.
Thank you to our three contributors to this blog!
I welcome an array of thoughts, comments about piano teaching, philosophies, and methods.