Just this past week, I had an ice-breaking LIVE lesson with a new adult student. Naturally, the introductory inquiry sent by email turned out to be an invaluable opener, since the prospective pupil imparted a generous serving of his musical history. As counterpoint, I responded with a few additional questions to fill in minor gaps.
But where to go from here in actual preparation?
The answer lay in the unfolding of the first lesson that shaped an initial direction with a wide open space of flexibility.
I had assumed that since the student had been studying flute for a number of years, he was well versed in the treble clef, and because he had Classical repertoire exposure and enjoyed this universe, I could easily spring into early literature for the piano, UN-transcribed, with a window into the bass clef, in particular.
Method books are normally not an option (in my opinion) unless a prospective student cannot read music and needs a more organized exposure to the universe of symbols, notation, meter, etc.) However, if a teacher is creative even in this circumstance, a traditional Method book approach can be circumvented.
In this situation as described, I had a pupil who was a few steps beyond the Method books and could thrive, I believed, in a repertoire-based learning environment. (with technique-based assists determined after the initial meeting)
Educated instincts play a big role in preliminary decision-making about teaching materials, and some or all should be adjusted as the student evolves from lesson-to- lesson.
As it turned out, although the student brought an armful of piano books, one being a collection by Bastien, (since he had nonchalantly mentioned having taken a few piano lessons in the remote past) I browsed through the contents, thinking to ask him for a playing sample.
Most of the pieces, however, looked a bit complex and polyphonic, and I sensed the student shrinking from the task, so I had in my pile of possibilities a collection of Faber’s Elementary Five-finger position Classics (The Developing Artist series) that had Turk’s “Little March with its sparse bass line, neighbors to “landmarks,” Middle C and Bass Clef F, and a digestible treble melodic line. (It was in Two voices over an 8-measure span). Down the line, he might be asked to transpose this piece to various keys using a movable DO (Solfeggiated syllables)
After I’d demonstrated bench posture, a relaxed hand position, etc. I asked the pupil to read each line separately in very slow tempo using a singing tone that I demonstrated. (In this context, he learned about the role of relaxed arms, supple wrists) as I sang along with him.
Finally, I provided rhythmic framing as a primer model in sub-divided quarters.
He began shaping and phrasing very nicely with my prompts, but the coordination challenge of playing hands together, and focusing on the score, (not looking down at his hands) was at the fore of his work for the coming week.
Dozen a Day, Book One, “Walking and Running,” was paired with the newly assigned piece to imbue the LEGATO touch, with quarters leading in at slow sequence, then doubled to 8ths and culminating in 16ths—he was up to the task.
As mentioned, flexibility was my mantra in this first encounter with a new student. Given a different backdrop, with a pupil less musically versed and physically coordinated, I would have gone a different route.
For reinforcement of the singing tone, a buoyant rhythmic framing, and phrasing, I provided a follow-up video supplement.
Since the student will be learning from now on via Skype, due to significant travel distance, he will benefit from additional video support.
Yet he still has the option of combining LIVE lessons with web transmitted ones, as is convenient. This affords an opportunity to tailor make his piano study to suit his particular needs.