Music Students Should... Play Music!

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Classical Piano By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Piano » Classical Piano
Last updated: 24/05/2018
Tags: good teaching, music teaching, practical, teaching theory

"Music Students Should... Play Music!" or "Why Teacher Should Pipe Down"

As a music enthusiast (it is unfortunately both my job and my main hobby...), I could talk all day about music. Most music teachers spend lots of their time thinking about it. We can easily get caught trying to EXPLAIN it. Observations and philosophies about how to exactly do this or that, or lengthy explanations of degree-level technique. I've caught myself explaining to someone in what must have been their fifth lesson that the stroke (drumming) "really comes from the lower back"..., a concept so arcane even to players who have been studying for years. 

The point is, language is a limited way of learning music. Additionally, the brain is deliberately set up to imitate things it sees and hears. The way we learn to speak; hundreds of thousands of combinations of sounds, all of which have to be executed pretty perfectly in order to be understood. All learned by immersion and imitating. The brain continues doing this throughout your life, we adapt, we pick up mannerisms, accents, even new bits of language, phrases, even ways of thinking. Purely by being immersed in it. Imagine, on the other hand, trying to EXPLAIN how to speak English. How to make a hard 'g' sound to say 'dog'. You probably couldn't even explain how to make that sound.

So we show, we demonstrate, we 'model', and 'scaffold' (in teaching terms).

So, how can we get students to imitate us closely? As soon as I start talking, they're not really watching my hand. So I just... basically shut up. I demonstrate slowly, sometimes ultra-slowly, sometimes exaggerating the physical elements that I think are crucial to producing the sound we want. Remarkably also, students will pick up on things that you aren't aware of.

Imagine you're trying to teach a student how to make an accent in the middle of a run of notes (on piano). You would have to mention: finger curvature, wrist suppleness/tension, finger starting/finishing position, weight, shoulders, preparation to the accent, etc etc it goes on and on. If you demonstrate, the student will be able to pick most of this up without even knowing it. If they never see or experience bad practice, and they only see and experience good practice, you'll need to correct very little.

The student-teacher relationship is like any other, a friend, partner or family member: it can trigger our insecurities, and it can (where appropriate), be a great source of connection and community. It is a very easy trap to fall into, as a passionate teacher, to use teaching to get respect, love, approbation. The student's needs, however, must supercede this.

As the old adage goes, there are no bad students, only bad teachers. Shush! and let the student play!

Christopher Preece Classical Piano Teacher (East London)

About The Author

Greetings potential music learning person. I assume you're thinking about taking up music lessons in some form, and us getting along is the most important thing! So i hope this profile helps you get to know me a bit :)

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