Friday, July 27, 2012

Discovering Joy in Teaching

When you are a classical musician, teaching comes with the territory. This is true for many reasons. From a personal and practical perspective, it just makes sense for me to make teaching a part of my life. It is difficult and competitive to piece together performing opportunities and to make a living that way, there is always a high demand for well-trained piano teachers, and teaching is perhaps the most reliable way of putting into practice the skills I've spent years studying and mastering. Passing on those skills to eager (or sometimes not so eager) students is a natural extension of being a performing artist.

But there are deeper reasons too. Teaching is a tradition that has been valued and handed down for as long as classical music has been around. The very best performers and composers were also teachers. Haydn taught Beethoven, Beethoven taught Czerny, Czerny taught Liszt. Musicians who have been lucky enough to receive good training can often trace their "lineage" back to these great composers by finding out who taught their teacher, and who taught their teacher's teacher.

Perhaps most importantly, a one-on-one mentorship is simply the way musicians learn. It's not possible to learn to play an instrument well in a classroom or group setting. Playing classical music is a craft, and it requires those intense, weekly, hour-long lessons of instruction with a "master" to acquire the proper technique, to understand how to play in different musical styles, and to be guided in developing one's expressive and interpretive musical voice. Just as I've had mentors that have trained me, I can be a mentor to young pianists, and so it goes.

It took me a long time before I began to appreciate the opportunity to teach piano lessons. I first started teaching in high school, I taught lessons through college and graduate school, and now I am teaching private lessons for the first time as a non-student. I've come to believe that while teaching is arguably the most straightforward and logical thing to do with my training, it is also one of the most generous things I can do. Teaching enables me to pass on knowledge while also trying to excite passion and creativity in my students.

And I've also learned that my students can teach me just as I teach them. I had one student who started taking piano lessons at the age of 19, realized that music was his calling, and began to practice and study doggedly so that he could catch up. He is enrolling in a conservatory this fall. I had a student who practiced scales so much (unbeknownst to me) that she gave herself tendonitis (not a pretty story--she had to take a lot of time off because of her injury--but it is still a testament to her determination to excel). Another student could sight-read music better than I or any of my fellow graduate students could, yet he had a mental block when it came to really mastering or polishing a piece of music. He came to me saying he wanted "to learn how to learn." A current student of mine is a former Marine in his forties who, according to his wife, is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He hadn't taken a single lesson before his wife bought him a keyboard as an anniversary gift and I began giving him lessons. Learning an instrument as an adult is about ten times harder than learning as a child, but he has serious goals for himself that I'm sure he will reach.

These students have really stretched and challenged me, and given me the unexpected pleasure of learning alongside them in every lesson.


  1. "and mastering..." very punny my dear!

    1. I get all of my jokes from you, my silly man :)

  2. thanks so much for following, I have just followed back :)
    Would be happy if you could like my new facebook page:

    Talk to you soon babe :D

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  4. Good article; I think you'd make a great teacher!


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