Wednesday, March 22, 2023
HomeMusic Educationwhat make a very good piano instructor? – The Cross-Eyed Pianist

what make a very good piano instructor? – The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Visitor publish by Dr Michael Low

That is, partly, a response to the article Ought to there be minimal {qualifications} for piano academics.

Earlier than I focus on a number of the factors made in that article, I want to make clear the next:

● The intention of my response is to not level fingers as to who or what is true or flawed. All of us are entitled to our personal opinion and the aim of this text is to offer an alternate viewpoint.

● All of us are distinctive people, what works for one particular person (musically and in any other case) may not essentially resonate with one other. In an excellent world, we are going to be taught to respect another person’s opinion with out the necessity to resort to some type of on-line slur of abuse. Nevertheless, the world we reside in is way from very best.

● All the pieces within the article relies by myself expertise as a human being, educator, musician and a pianist.

I need to applaud the creator of the article for being so articulate and standing up for what she believes in. The music trade and the world of piano instructing will all the time be indebted to academics with Lorraine’s ardour.

I agree that some type of panel or administrative board (discover I ended in need of calling them ‘third-party’ interlopers) may be helpful not solely to control the standard of piano academics, but additionally to offer normal info and guideline to aspiring piano academics as to what good instructing may be. In the end, this doesn’t assure that everybody who’s examined and handed by the board will find yourself nearly as good academics (as Lorraine rightly identified later in her article). It’s all very properly having the ability to persuade a panel of examiners or judges that you’ve got the credentials to be a very good instructor, however making use of what you might have studied in actual life is an artform in itself, and one which takes a lifetime to good. I additionally see the good thing about CPD (Steady Skilled Improvement) for piano academics, however I need to admit that the most effective academics that I do know have usually been musically curious (in a wholesome means) and all the time thought-about themselves as college students of the humanities. Generally, it’s my opinion that being a very good instructor has much less to do with the qualification and extra to do with being a relatable human being, as instructing is the transference of information from one particular person to a different (and fairly often from one era to a different). In the end, instructing is a religious train which requires persistence, empathy, integrity, dedication, and generally even humour – in brief, all of the qualities that make one a honourable human being. Although it might sound apparent, we frequently take it as a right that some type of qualification is the minimal requirement for all professions. Unhealthy instructing is usually attributed to academics having little, or at instances no {qualifications} or formal coaching, whereas a superb scholar is usually the product of sure extremely certified people.

Whereas Lorraine asserts that, in her expertise, the vast majority of poor college students have been taught by unqualified academics, I want to recommend that there are a lot of different explanation why a piano scholar may not have as strong of a musical basis as one would love, a few of which I’ll try to deal with beneath.

Firstly, no instructor is ever whole accountable for how a scholar develops, as I strongly imagine that there additionally must be a way of accountability on the coed’s half. As a lot as I benefit from the 1984 movie Karate Child, I’ve come to search out Mr Miyagi’s well-known line ‘No such factor [as a] dangerous scholar, solely [a] dangerous instructor’ a bit simplistic. It’s because I pay all of my college students the praise of being accountable for their very own choices (musical or in any other case). Take a standard musical prevalence: if (for no matter purpose) you left your sheet music at residence as an alternative of bringing it to your lesson, then it’s no fault of your mother and father. And if we’re making ready for an exterior examination or efficiency, there might be musical penalties must you select to not practise your scales and technical work correctly. A instructor can do their greatest to assist, facilitate, educate, even go so far as training with a scholar, however on the finish of the day we can not play for them. I recall assembly a superb Singaporean piano instructor throughout my travels who informed me that she was ‘embarrassed past phrases’ as a result of one in all her college students had taken a reasonably spontaneous alternative to play for a really well-known piano instructor when she was on vacation in China. I may need learn the state of affairs incorrectly, however on this occasion the instructor clearly felt that each one her college students are a mirrored image of her instructing and private credentials. Once I reassured this instructor that she isn’t in the end accountable for every little thing her scholar performs, and given the circumstances it was very comprehensible, she checked out me as if I used to be talking Wookie! As wonderful as some piano academics are, I generally surprise if their dedication and dedication (significantly in Asia) have extra to do with the preservation of their very own self-image and status. This is smart from a enterprise standpoint, particularly when you’re making a dwelling in a results-driven tradition.

Secondly, I imagine that the gaps in all our musical growth usually have extra to do with the dearth of curiosity (and even laziness) on the coed’s half reasonably than lack of effort by the instructor. A sweeping assertion maybe, however I depend my fortunate piano stars that I used to be lucky to have studied with a number of the most sought-after piano academics within the enterprise. As completely different as all my academics have been, they have been unanimous in believing that until I studied extra Bach and work on my sight-reading, I might by no means attain the musical heights of my fantasies. I generally surprise if issues would have turned out otherwise if I had at that stage come throughout Maria Tipo’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Grigory Sokolov’s performances of Rameau and Couperin … Sadly, I used to be younger, hot-headed, and lacked any kind of emotional or musical persistence. Why play contrapuntal music after I aspire to carry out works with eight-note chords on each single beat of the bar? What I failed to note was that contrapuntal musical traces exist inside nearly all chordal textures. And who wanted sight-reading after I was in a position to be taught new repertoire simply as rapidly by means of obsessive practising? I used to be flawed in fact, and it was solely years later after I turn out to be a instructor that I began addressing these musical gaps. To this present day, I’ve by no means felt that the proficient however wildly undisciplined Michael Low of twenty years in the past was a mirrored image of any of my academics.

In the end, it’s as much as the coed what they wish to get out of their piano classes. As a instructor, would you flip down the profitable proposition if a possible shopper presents to double and even triple your charges, solely to let that they’ve completely little interest in studying the right way to learn music notation? The identical shopper’s final purpose is to play just a few soundtracks from iconic Hollywood films or well-known pop songs when internet hosting elaborate dinner events. As a instructor, do you tackle such a scholar within the hope that, whereas that is removed from a ‘correct’ or ‘very best’ means of instructing the piano, perhaps the coed will change their thoughts someplace down the road and recognise the significance of studying music notation? Such an prevalence may be uncommon, however it isn’t solely unimaginable, and I’ve skilled it. Or do you merely refuse to entertain such profanity? The state of affairs turns into much more sophisticated when there’s a new instructor making an attempt to construct their status. Does the brand new instructor flip down this very worthwhile musical enterprise and run the chance of shedding out on future purchasers of the identical social standing? I can not communicate for everybody else, however after I began instructing I took on anybody who wished to learn to play the piano, partly for monetary causes, however most of all as a result of I imagine that I’ve to work laborious in forging my musical status. I did every little thing (inside purpose) to help my college students on the subject of note-learning, even to the extent of spoon-feeding them. Wanting again, I most likely ought to have thought-about a much less strenuous methodology on the subject of studying musical notation, however that was an essential a part of my journey as a music educator, and I definitely don’t suppose any much less of myself for the musical choices that I’ve taken.

Photograph by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on

The Piano Instructor’s Musical Blanket

Think about going to mattress with a blanket lengthy sufficient solely to cowl three quarters of your physique. In case your pull the blanket over your chest, then your ft might be uncovered; and if you cowl the decrease a part of your physique, your chest might be chilly. Any scholar and piano instructor value their musical salt will let you know that managing time is likely one of the most difficult components throughout weekly classes. In different phrases, one can by no means have sufficient of it. If you happen to spend all of your lesson engaged on technical research and repertoire, you run the chance of neglecting different features of the coed’s musical growth reminiscent of sight-reading and aural. By spending a considerable time on the latter, you can find it laborious to delve into the small print and the emotional subtleties of musical interpretation. And due to this, I might argue that there’ll inevitably be gaps in any scholar’s musical and pianistic developments. It is vitally troublesome for any instructor to deal with all of the musical weaknesses in a scholar. Generally the instructor simply isn’t skilled sufficient, however more often than not this can be a logistical situation. By the identical token, most academics will not be so dangerous that they can’t deal with any of the extra evident points in a scholar’s taking part in.

I’ve by no means been eager to offer my new college students a ‘examine record’ of issues we have to do to enhance their taking part in as I discover that in doing so solely creates rigidity and dangerous emotions particularly when the coed (for no matter causes) feels connected and constant to their earlier instructor – I’m talking from expertise as I’ve been on the receiving finish of such a therapy throughout my scholar days. Reasonably discover out what was achieved and what hasn’t been achieved so properly and construct on this. Identical to any musical efficiency, in the event you look laborious sufficient, you’ll all the time be capable of discover interpretive discrepancies. It’s as much as the person how they transfer ahead from right here.

Once more, this can be one other unpopular opinion, however learning with extremely certified or sought-after academics doesn’t essentially imply that you should have all of your musical and pianistic questions answered. This may sound like a simplistic assertion, however extremely certified (and well-known) academics usually have the musical gravitas to draw extra superior college students. This in fact makes full sense – you aren’t going to check with one of many professors who teaches in a music conservatoire if you’re simply excited about taking part in Grade 3 stage (nothing flawed with that in fact, as all musical and pianistic targets are private), and, conversely, you don’t search assist from a main faculty piano instructor if you’re learning the whole Liszt Transcendental Etudes (once more, this can be a generalisation – and maybe a bit tongue-in-cheek – as a result of I’ve come throughout wonderful piano academics who’ve but to have the chance to showcase their instructing credential at a tertiary institute). The dilemma lies on the highest stage of instructing, the place prestigious music faculties are extra excited about having well-known performers than precise academics on their instructing roster. I knew of a superb younger pianist who gained a scholarship to check with one of many twentieth century’s most prolific pianists in London, solely to have a handful of classes resulting from his instructor’s personal private commitments. And I’m positive all of us are aware of the story of Martha Argerich, who recalled solely having 4 classes (in eighteen months) when learning with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Michelangeli asserted that he taught Argerich ‘in silence, and away from the piano.’

I want to depart you with the next scene from John Avildsen’s 1984 movie The Karate Child. I’m positive a lot of you’re simply as aware of the film’s plotline as I’m: the teenage Daniel LaRusso and his mom Lucille transfer to Los Angeles and reside in the identical house block because the Japanese immigrant Mr Miyagi, who accepts Daniel as a karate scholar when he turns into the sufferer of bullying. What follows is a mentor/scholar relationship that encompasses not solely, karate however life itself, as within the following trade:

Miyagi (to Daniel): You bear in mind lesson about stability?

Daniel (nods considerably hesitantly): Yeah.

Miyagi: Lesson not simply karate solely. Lesson for complete life. Complete life have a stability, every little thing be higher. Perceive?

As piano academics, it’s our responsibility to show our college students the mechanics of the right way to play the instrument together with the essential of music reminiscent of rhythm, note-reading, musical notation, in addition to interpretation and music appreciation. Nevertheless, as a lot as we wish all our college students to succeed and turn out to be worldwide prize-winners, it’s value remembering that, in the end, each scholar is completely different and a few are extra than others. On the finish of the day, it isn’t the instructor who does the taking part in or performing in sensible exams. Simply as it’s left to Daniel LaRusso to search out the stability in his life that in the end propels him to turn out to be the karate champion, our college students will in the end should stroll by means of the musical door that we open for them, and that might be sufficient.

Michael Low, March 2023

Take heed to Michael Low’s podcast with The Cross-Eyed Pianist



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