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January 20, 2014

“Teaching is not what you say or do.  Teaching is what you have the STUDENT experience in your presence.”
–Sam Holland


What do we want the student to EXPERIENCE in the lesson?  I don’t have to think about it very long to come to the conclusion that what I want my students to experience through their lesson is good music.  Regardless of where the rest of their life takes them, I feel it is my job to impart on them a love and lifelong appreciation for (good) music.  I want them to understand the technical and theoretical side of things, but most of all I want them to have an emotional connection with music.  I want them to experience a piece of music drawing them in and transporting them to another time and place.  I want them to feel as though they can express themselves through their music.  I want them to make music a part of their everyday life.

There are three primary ways in which we can help students to experience polished, expert performances of pieces:


1. Teacher performances of student pieces.  There is much value in playing a student’s new piece for them before they learn it for themselves.  In this way students are able to hear the final product.  It is motivating for them to hear a piece that they love and think, “I want to be able to play the piece just like that!”  A first performance of a new piece by the teacher can lead to some initial discussion about the piece.  How does the title convey the mood of the piece?  How does this piece make you feel?  Where is the most climatic moment of the piece?


Of course, as teachers it is imperative that we strive to perform our very best at each and every lesson.  Often this means practicing our students’ music in advance of the lesson.  Recently, one of our veteran teachers, Margie Nelson, was “caught” practicing her duet parts immediately before her Parents Class last month.  Margie’s dedication and professionalism was such an encouragement to us.  She teaches a group of beginning students who were all playing duets that she has performed literally hundreds of times in the past 20 years.  Yet, in her taking the time to prepare each duet for the specific child she was giving the students the experience of wonderful music.


2. Teacher/student duets.  We have a wonderful opportunity to play with our students and influence their musical shape.  We can “guide” the performance by directing the student through our own playing.  In the early years, often the most beautiful musical moments come during the playing of duets.  One of my very favorite duets is “One Fine Day” from Side By Side 2B (Cooper/Glennon, distributed by Alfred Publishing).  I know this was one of Frances’s favorites as well, as I believe it was played at her memorial service.


3. Teacher Performances.  The greatest way that we can help our students experience music is by performing for them.  We piano teachers can be a very humble breed and often fail to self-promote.  However, we must remember that we are one of the strongest links our students have to music, and classical, art music in particular.  It is up to us to give our students a taste for this wonderful music!  Whenever I have a performance, I make it a point in the weeks leading up to the performance to perform for my students in repertoire class or their private lessons.  I firmly believe that it is important to hear the literature I am playing and also to hear me playing and enjoying music.  I know that from my own lessons, some of the experiences that stand out to me are those in which I listened to my teachers perform their own music.


At The New School for Music Study we are fortunate to have a body of teachers who are wonderful performers as well.  This year we have a faculty recital series of five recitals, culminating in our full faculty recital on May 4.  Last weekend, our students were privileged to hear a recital by new faculty Charl Louw and Kristin Cahill.  The recital featured music by Beethoven, Scarlatti, Debussy, and Spanish composers, all of which was beautifully performed!  In addition to the recitals, many students had the opportunity to hear and discuss this music in their repertoire classes.  I hope that the experience of hearing live music will stay with them for many years to come!


Ultimately, as Elvina Pearce so wonderfully wrote, the entire lesson should be an experience, based on student discovery.  So much of the experience is related to the music that the student hears during their lesson.  As teachers we have a tremendous responsibility to shape a student’s musical perspective.  Their EXPERIENCE of hearing good music can influence them for the rest of their lives!

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This site is created by the faculty of the New School for Music Study, a division of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

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