Good teaching starts with clear expectations. These are my expectations from all my piano students of all ages:
“I am a professional, and I want us both to be PROS.”
I need you or your student to be…
Patient. With yourself and with me.
Respectful. Of yourself and of me.
Obedient. If lessons are going to succeed, you have to do what I ask. You have to do your homework. Come prepared with your music. And if you have any problems with anything...
Speak up if something is not working for you. It’s my job to be good at reading you, but I can’t read your mind.
These are some of my beliefs that directly impact how I teach:
Let’s perform a thought experiment.
Imagine all the foods in the world. Without a doubt, there is a vast number of things which we as humans can safely consume, and which we, as a people do consume on a daily basis.
Now, imagine all the baby food in the world; food specifically made for or processed to be eaten by babies.
How many different baby foods are there compared to foods for general consumption? And remember to include all the baby food in that first estimate, because baby food can be consumed by everyone.
The world of music is very similar. The analogue to “food” is what I call “real music” and I take “baby food” to mean music that has been either composed by or edited by a person to be more palatable for beginning piano students. This can go by several names, “lesson books” and “easy piano” are but two.
I can’t speak for all instruments, but in keyboard music, the amount of introductory music in the world is dwarfed both in quantity and quality by everything else. If all you are ready to eat is baby food, your options are limited.
But, you say, “Babies can eat real food if prepared correctly!” You’re right. This is where the metaphor breaks down. In today’s society, the vast majority of music practice is unsupervised (I’ll probably only see you once a week), but babies cannot feed themselves.
It is quite easy to choke on music that is out of your level. Or you might struggle with it long enough and eventually consume the piece, but because you aren’t ready for it, it goes unprocessed, and your performance comes out as musical diarrhoea.
We all have to start at introductory music, but we need to move quickly out of it before complacency sets in. That’s why we need to go fast. We can’t go fast unless you put in the unsupervised practice time.
Sadly, most people never make it out of the baby food phase. Most people never practice enough to get out of it. This is how adults are able to learn better than children.
Children eat what you tell them, but adults are the ones most likely to try and push themselves out of it because they got into liking music for the normal music. Not the intro stuff. Kids don’t have this bias, and most of them never have any motivation to get out of intro music because they don’t know any “real music”.
This is why I insist my students listen to music I recommend.
I have my students read about composers, and I spend time teaching them about the fascinating world of musical history. Comedy, drama, villians, heroes, irony, hubris, surprising truisms, it’s all there.
This is why the first few years of learning the piano are the hardest and the fastest.
These things take time. Time out of the day. They cannot be rushed.
I believe in the power of ontogeny. When we are created, our fastest growth is accomplished before we’re born, and in childhood. The way I see it, gestation akin to learning to read music, and learning how to physically play at the instrument at the most rudimentary level. Childhood is where we play our first pieces and begin to feel that we’re really alive, that we’re really playing our instrument. Adolescence is where we begin to learn who we are as musicians, what we like and what we don’t like, and where we pile on skills and take more and more responsibility, and adulthood is about honing and perfecting those skills, and marketing them if we choose.
Doing this out of order is absurd, and attempting to skip around is folly. At some point you may learn to trust my judgement.
To continue this metaphor, I wish all of my students to grow to be perfect adults, but that’s not going to happen. Everyone doesn’t make it to adulthood. Many people stop growing before then. To be an adult is to be a musician with no weak spots, and the reality is that many musicians have weaknesses in one way or another, and it’s a fact of life that we learn to deal with our weaknesses. This is why I make emphasize that we become well-rounded, strong, knowledgeable adults who understand what our weaknesses are and that we have to work around. That takes integrity, and humility.
I believe this is our life. I believe we only get one, and that we should spend it the right way. My job changes over the course of your or your student’s development, but I’m here to help you find your way–the way that is best for you–whatever the consequences. I think the idea that everybody should be able to do everything is charming, but wrong-headed.
If you want to play an instrument, but can’t be bothered to take the time to practice, you can’t. Don’t waste your time. If you want to play an instrument well, but you can’t be patient enough to pay attention to the details, then you don’t deserve to be any good.
These have been some of my thoughts and beliefs. If you’ve read all this, there is one word you may have noticed I never mentioned. That’s because, barring the extremest of circumstances, it has no bearing on our situation–at this point.
August 31, 2016