Wednesday, June 19, 2013



I want you to take a second and think about something you are really good at 
- a skill you've practiced and perfected since you were 4. 
Actually, how many of us even remember what we did when we were 4? 

I can't remember a thing about how I was taught when I first started lessons, including who my teacher was; I only remember the rewards I got from my mom AFTER piano performances. That's why parent's support and involvement are really important to child's development in piano lessons.

While there certainly are concert pianists who are excellent teachers, they are usually not a good fit for most students. Here I've gathered some reasons from my own experience studying under teachers with an active performance schedule, and parents of students who have studied with concert pianists before transferring to me.

1. A great performer doesn't equal a great teacher. 
 The ability to play piano doesn't equal the ability to teach. These are some of the most important realizations I made during my graduate studies. I used to think my performance degree from a music conservatory and ability to relate to kids and be personable made me a good piano teacher. While these characteristics did give me an advantage, they are poor substitutes for actual knowledge in how to properly teach piano. This realization I made about myself now makes me flinch a little whenever I hear of non-pianist colleagues teaching piano "on the side".

2. A concert pianist's commitment and priorities are to their performance career and rightly so; not their student's pianistic developments. 
 This greatly reduces the quality of a child's piano studies - a teacher's expert feedback and guidance is necessary on a consistent basis to maximize learning. I know this because I've studied with two different teachers with active performance schedules. This commitment to performing often resulted in substitute teachers for weeks and sometimes months at a time. 

Once, when I was backstage at one of my previous teacher's performances, she apologized to me. She apologized and said I was one of her biggest regrets as a teacher because I was her most talented student at the time and she felt that her absence had driven me away from the instrument--this was my violin teacher.

3. It is very likely that many things about playing piano come naturally to a concert pianist; things they never had to learn to do or be taught to do. 
 This natural ability can become a stumbling block when the time comes for them to teach a concept to a student. The ability to break down and adapt a musical concept into easily digestible and understandable bits is one of the most important skills a teacher should have.

4. Unrealistic expectations for students in terms of speed of learning and amount of practice is another possible cause of rift between a concert pianist and the student. 
Patience is a very important attribute of a good piano teacher. While I believe there is certainly a minimum amount of work needed to properly learn any skill and cultivate excellence, I don't expect all my students to practice in preparation for competitions or a career in music.

5. A concert pianist most likely started learning piano at a very young age. 
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, very few of us remember things we did when we were 4. Even if a certain concept was something a concert pianist needed to learn and practice when he was young, it is very unlikely he remembers how he was taught. 

"Just do it" might be a great slogan for Nike, but it is horrible for teaching, and many things I do now while playing piano really has become that, I "just do it". My studies in piano pedagogy in graduate school forced me to return to how basic musical concepts and expressions should be taught, things that I do naturally now and take for granted.