Monday, December 30, 2013

On the Greatest Challenge of Teaching Piano

Arizona-based piano teacher and music therapist Marijane Nguyen writes about what she finds the most challenging, but ultimately the most rewarding about teaching piano:

We hadn’t seen Nadja for nearly ten years. I always had such respect for her as a teacher – Nadja has an intensive background in ballet and danced and toured professionally in Europe. She remembered L, our daughter, and we told her that L was dancing with a competitive dance company at a local studio. I told Nadja, however, that I thought that the students did not receive enough training in technique, something essential in order to get to the next level. Nadja began to tell us that the “competitive scene” in dance has changed the training that young dancers receive, and that sometimes more focus is put on growing a studio rather than hiring teachers with appropriate dance training and experience themselves. Nadja compared it to music, knowing that I was a piano teacher, and expressed, dancing “on the surface” level doesn’t promote progress, but rather students must be taught to “go deeper,” to learn what’s behind each movement, to understand that if something isn’t working, it’s time to stop and examine body alignment, the physiology of the body, etc. In piano playing, if something isn’t working, we do the same – stop and examine what’s going on, isolate the area(s) of difficulty, determine what will help then practice with intention. I was thrilled that someone else got it! Proper training is key, and in piano, musicality must be developed over the years. Every note, rest, tempo, dynamic mark, phrase, articulation has an intention, even in the earliest and simplest beginner pieces. That, for me, is the great challenge of teaching piano. But when a student makes that connection, it’s a beautiful thing.


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