The latest provocative teacher exchange is taking place on Facebook at the “Art of Piano Pedagogy” which has now become a private forum.
When it comes to teaching philosophies, many are intensely opinionated.
From my perspective, I passionately believe in sharing my ground-up musical insights with students to justify my presence at the lesson in the first place whether
“live” or by SKYPE.
That means I see my role as being a mentor and font of inspiration, while the student, on an equal footing with me, feeds back in kind what I have to carefully process and refine in my own studies so that we both come to common conclusions about phrasing and interpretation.
How often a student has “taught” me something that I would never otherwise have learned in my solo practicing cubicle.
Does that mean that I in some way, stored HIS idea and patented it as my own–copying him, in the negative sense?
In truth living life is copying others that came before us and likewise in the musical arena, gads of students will have studied the same pieces over decades, coming to varying interpretive conclusions with and without teachers.
Yet if I’m invited into a pupil’s learning environment, to be a guide or teacher, it’s my obligation to bring something original and unique, not carbon-copied, that ignites a student’s self-realization process.
So what is my teaching philosophy, and does it require a pupil to “copy” me?
1) I see myself as an eternal learner with a deep commitment to peeling away layers of a piece in a patient setting.
The student is simultaneously engaged, but may not have the experience to approach his music in a way that produces the most gratification for him.
He plays, I listen. I give something back about how to improve (from my perspective) a phrase or musical line. He may not have known there were three voices to isolate and study. I owe it to him to suggest that he delve into these separate lines.
He may not have realized that the fingering he has chosen has tripped him up. I feel obligated to offer a smoother fingering, while trying his out again. I watch him experiment with what I have in mind.
If it works for him, the music soars, not the teacher’s ego.
Which leads next to:
2) The music matters most, not who is leading or following.
I can be a follower if a student has a percolating idea that has enriched or changed my ideas about a phrase. At the same time, I can be a leader, helping a student map out the form, structure and harmonic rhythm of a piece.
3) The singing tone and how to produce it is my mantra.
I remember how I internalized the sound ideal I wanted from the piano as a young student but had no idea about the physical means to the end. My mentor led the way, working note-by-note, teaching me about relaxation, dead weight gravity, and relaxation. All sprung from the music itself and its organic substance.
In this creatively woven environment, I was not “copying” my teacher as a trade for self-initiated learning. I needed and hungered for direction and received it.
4) What about lessons and video follow-up?
I affirm that these amount to self-clarifications of my musical ideas synthesized with what “played” out during the lesson. In so many words, I can’t produce a custom-made video without having as its basis what the student “gave” me to work with.
Here again, I’m not on a podium of reserved perfection, but indebted to the pupil for stimulating thought about how to interpret, shape, or otherwise approach a piece so that it best realizes the composer’s intent.
To the contrary, here’s an example of a literal copying approach, that keeps the student in a boxed-in relationship with her teacher.
(The mentor is a fine pianist, and this example is not meant to discredit her playing samples)
On the positive side, the student and teacher are getting quite a bit of exercise in the spoon-fed, this-is-how-you-do-it, learning process.
To close here’s a sample of my conducting a student– an opportunity to teach and keep in shape.
Fundamentally, this interchange clarified the voicing of Bach’s A minor 2-part Invention, No. 13 on an animated level. In addition, the student had many videotaped lessons where she and I together explored counterpoint, and Bach’s various composing techniques that included inversion, modulation, etc. This was part of a layered-learning approach that increased the student’s playing enjoyment.
Lillian Freundlich, my most influential teacher was actively involved singing, conducting as I played and showed me piece-by-piece how to learn by increments. However, her biggest gift to me and all her students was how she imbued the singing tone through months of hands-on exposure. For her divine MODELING I am eternally grateful.
These videos represent the legacy she passed on to me.
The Art of Breathing and piano playing
Close-up playing models for J.S. Bach (over Skype)
To breathe is to “copy” every human being that ever came before us.