What I have learned

I have been teaching for a while now, and like most piano teachers, I heartily regret the first ten or so years of my teaching career – I had no idea what I was doing. My degree is in Performance and Pedagogy, so I thought I knew what I was doing, but like most piano teachers coming straight out of college, we tend to teach beginners up to intermediate students the way we were taught in grad school: emphasis on interpretation and performance, minute details, some technique, not nearly enough effort and time spent on building a good foundation, nor taking the time for lots and LOTS of repetition.

I shouldn’t be, but I am surprised that I am still learning new and important things. One of the recent most impactful ones came out of my growing frustration when students didn’t play well at a lesson.

I try to be very precise and unambiguous with the things I want my students to work on at home, but still, students were often not as well-prepared as I thought they could be. I remember one student in particular who kind of stumbled through his piece. I realized I was getting angry at his seeming lack of preparedness, especially since we had carefully set up goals and strategies at the previous lesson – and then his mother said, “At home he doesn’t play hands together, he only plays hands separately.” – So why on earth would you try to play hands together at the lesson?? When I asked him to play hands separately it was obvious that he was in fact very well-prepared.

So now, regardless of what a student asks – “Do you want me to play hands together or hands separately?” or “with metronome or without?” or “with the book or without?” or anything else -, I say, “Play it the way you play it at home.”

Sometimes they will say things like “- but I only got through the first two lines” to which I respond, “Then I would like to hear the first two lines.” – “But I only know the right hand” – “Then I would love to hear right hand for the first two lines.”

Once in a while a student seems to struggle with a piece and when I ask, “How do you play it at home?” they may sheepishly say, “Well – I usually play it *really* fast …”  No wonder they don’t recognize the piece when they try to play it at the correct (= slower) tempo for me.

One would think that my students have become used to this “Play it the way you play it at home” but every so often there is a student who plays through a piece and it gets progressively worse and worse. Why?  “I only practiced the first page, I haven’t learned the second one yet.”  So they were sight-reading through the second page (but making it appear like the second page was part of their preparation). I try to explain that that is not a smart idea because it makes it look like they didn’t practice at home.

I guess, it all comes down, again, to communication.