Teaching Thoughtfully: Reflections on the 2012 Practical Piano Pedagogy Seminar

Written by Krysta Hawkley
Krysta is a faculty member at the Levine School of Music and attended Practical Piano Pedagogy at the New School in August 2012.

 

What kind of teacher are you?  Are you a detailed planner, who knows what will happen in every minute of the lesson?  Maybe you’re a reactive teacher, with no particular plan in mind, but a “bag of tricks” at the ready for whatever issues you need to react to in the lesson.  Perhaps you’re a long-term planner, with a very clear vision of what your students will be playing in 1, 2 or even 5 years’ time.

My teaching over the past few years has been a combination of reactive and detailed.  For many students I went in with no specific lesson plan, ready with my stack of teaching tools to address problems on-the-spot.  For other students, I planned every lesson in great detail – sometimes even writing down exactly what I wanted to say when describing a concept to the student.  There are teachers of every kind teaching piano today, and all can be successful in their own ways.  But here’s a new challenge I came away with, after this summer’s workshop at The New School:

Are you a thoughtful teacher?

I’ve always done a fair amount of thinking about my students and their progress – how I can help them make their practice time more efficient, how to help them truly understand the difference between a quarter note and an eighth note, and what will help them understand the musical importance of dynamics.  What has changed, as a result of what I learned from the summer’s workshop, is the way I come up with solutions to these issues.  My new challenge is to create thoughtful solutions that will help to develop a whole musician; it’s a challenge to think 5, 10, even 20 years down the road, to what will make my students self-sufficient pianists.  Here are a few examples of thoughtful teaching, observed at The New School, that have influenced my own work:

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[li]Introducing students to the sound, feel, and look of 8th notes, months before they name it or encounter it in a piece.  By the time the students have to play an 8th note, they already have an internal understanding of it.  That’s thoughtful.[/li]

[li]Presenting students with an easy-to-remember acronym – R (rhythm) I (intervals) M (moves) – for practice steps that apply to each new piece in their method book.  They are taught to prepare themselves for what they will play – no more jumping into the piece thoughtlessly, making completely avoidable mistakes.  That’s thoughtful. [/li]

[li]Asking a student to conduct as you play, responding to the sounds they hear (changing dynamics, tempo, etc.) – giving them a unique opportunity to listen to and internalize all the details of a new piece.  That’s thoughtful.[/li]

[li]Including composition in each week’s assignment, giving students a chance to express their own musical ideas – and emphasizing the need for the student to create a name for their piece, so they learn to make connections between sound and title.  That’s thoughtful.[/li]

[li]Creating a “structure” for each lesson – a list of broader concepts you’d like to cover, so the lesson time is guided and meaningful (rather than hurried and stressful).  That’s thoughtful.[/li]

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These are just a few of the ideas that are changing my teaching – from reactive to thoughtful.  From “I’ll just wait for the problems to arise and fix them on the spot” to “How can I help the student to think and understand, preventing problems from arising in the first place?”  This approach demands a deeper level of commitment to my students and their progress.  It also creates rewarding, satisfying results.  I am becoming a thoughtful teacher – one who plans for the future and strives to create capable musicians.  One who finds ways to help students internalize their music, rather than just imitating sounds.

What kind of teacher are you?

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