Sunday, May 03, 2009

Creating First Experiences in Collaboration

Piano teachers interested in enabling first collaborative experiences for their students might want to check out Jennifer Thomas' Teaching Your Piano Students How To Accompany on the Music Teacher's Helper Blog. Jennifer quite correctly diagnoses the misconception that many piano students (and their teachers) have regarding their performing goals:
Most piano students take lessons with the intention of being solo performers, without realizing that at some point in their years as a pianist, they will undoubtedly be asked to take on the roll as an accompanist. The piano is the most commonly used instrument to accompany both vocalists and instrumentalists, and all great accompanists you see today, at some point in their training, had to learn the art of accompanying.
At the professional level, it is much more lucrative (and reliable in today's economy) for pianists to become collaborative players rather than soloists. The relationships built through the process of working with others rehearsing and playing great repertoire are some of the most satisfying aspects of music-making for those that take collaborative playing seriously. Teachers that enable these experiences for their students may in large part end up creating more lifelong musicians (whether professional or amateur) if the experiences are of a positive nature.

I also like Jennifer's 10 Be-Attitudes of Accompanying at the end of the article. Here are four of the attributes that are particularly valuable:
3. Be able to play while watching a conductor, or soloist.

4. Be an active listener, and watcher.

5. Be able to match the soloists style and phrasing.

6. Be a team player, instead of the “star”.

What were your first encounters with ensemble playing? How did they influence your subsequent development as a musician?

For an integrated website/studio management system useful for both your teaching and collaborative needs, take a look at Music Teacher's Helper.


  1. Thanks, Chris - for sifting through the haystack of blog articles, and helping good ones like these emerge to our attention and for our benefit!

    Jennifer's article on "Teaching Your Piano Students How to Accompany" is indeed insightful and practical. It's a wonder how so many of us (including yours truly) possess the enviable skills as collaborative pianists, but don't (or dare not) impart said skills to our piano students. Well, this certainly has to change - and it starts with me!

    Kudos once again for an awesome blog, Chris!

  2. Hey Chris, thank you so much for the post about the accompaniment. I actually can never spell or pronounce that word, and have given up trying.
    Anyway, the tips are really helpful, and you've inspired me to post about my own experiences as an accompanist :)

  3. Chris - great blog. I think any pianist serious about collaborative work, especially with singers, should be *required* to take voice lessons. Back at UBC, as a piano student, boy, did my phrasing change when I switched to voice. When I accompanied singers, I paid way more attention to their need to, well, breathe! I also learned when a singer is hanging on to a high note, that's not the time to dilly-dally on the keys - and an "artistic accelerando" was a good idea! LOL

  4. I read this blog as a singer and voice teacher. I feel that it is my job as a teacher to teach my students how to work with pianists. It is so VERY important to be able to wordlessly communicate breath points and tempo changes through how the consonants & vowels are pronounced. The good collaborative pianist knows how to read those signs, but if the signs are not there, the collaboration falls apart. To that end, I'm adding master classes to my voice studio in the upcoming school year where the students will sing for each other, but with a new pianist each month (at least, that's the plan!). Keep up the GREAT info Chris!