Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teaching and Learning

It might be true that teachers do almost as much learning as the students in their charge.

My students teach me so much during our lessons, probably without even realizing it. It might be a raised eyebrow when we're discussing time signatures (a topic that brings up questions for most beginners--ugh, math!) and my challenge is to use new words, to figure out how their mind sees and understands, to use analogies and imagery and charts if necessary to help them make sense of it.

Or it could be that a discussion on Baroque articulation during a lesson with a more advanced student prompts me later to consult my Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire which leads to an Amazon purchase and some dry yet enlightening reading (musicologists, while exceedingly smart, are generally not the most charismatic bunch).

And as a pianist and piano teacher, there's an absolutely huge area of interest that I must constantly be educating myself on, because even if I spend a lifetime becoming familiar with it there will always be more--and that is the piano repertoire. The other day I decided that I was going to sight-read my way through all of the Haydn piano sonatas. Haydn has never been a favorite composer of mine and so I haven't played much of his music, but he's very important. I realized that the best way to alleviate some of my Haydn deficiency would be to get my own two hands on his music.

To be perfectly honest, even though I've been teaching for about ten years, occasionally I still feel like I'm floundering and have no idea what I'm doing. I've been blessed with such amazing teachers myself and they always seemed to be so naturally excellent at it. Sometimes I'll finish teaching a lesson and think: What did we just do? Did I explain that well? Should I be focusing more on theory? How do I get them to keep their wrists relaxed and their fingers firm? When should I introduce scales? How do I fix that terrible habit they have? This is so hard!!

But you know what? In my wiser moments I realize that this struggle is a necessary part of being a teacher, and becoming a better one little by little. There's no formula, no one right way. There's only trial, error, progress, failure, breakthrough, and always, utter commitment to the student and the music. And there's learning. I'll forever be learning.


  1. Perfectly stated. I teach Middle School English, and this is something I am constantly struggling with.... you have to get in the mind of the student, and for middle school that can sometimes be a hard thing to do :) I imagine it is the same with piano.... for kids who have never had literature or any type of book in their home, I imagine grammar to be as foreign to them as the keys on the piano.. teaching is so much more than just knowing the subject.

  2. Well said yourself! Teaching is absolutely a whole different art form. Glad to know a fellow local teacher. :)

  3. I can relate to this so much! I teach figure skating but have the same struggles with weather or not I am really getting accross to my students, if I am explaining it to them the best way possible for their understanding. It is a challenge and I think I will be forever growning and building on my teaching skills, because no two students are alike! thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I love this! So much wisdom in this post. I completely agree - "there's no formula, no one right way. There's only trial, error, progress, failure, breakthrough, and always, utter commitment to the student and the music." Thank you for sharing!

  5. I'm so glad you can relate. Recognizing that we as teachers must constantly grow and evolve is half the battle!

  6. Thanks Ashley! I'm glad it meant something to you. It's encouraging to know other teachers who struggle and strive to pass on the knowledge and love of music!

  7. Loved this post! In my few spare moments at the piano in the past few days I have been going through a Haydn sonata in F major, Hob. number 23. I was starting to revisit this sonata that I had started a few years ago but after reading your post I am encouraged to learn it well. Haydn is so clever and witty. He must have had a good sense of humor! :)
    Thanks for the suggestion of Guide to the Pianist's Rep! I understand your sentiment of struggling to know the how's and when's of teaching. By the way, an older wiser piano teacher that I heard at a local chapter meeting last winter, who actually specializes in teaching her students how to compose, recommended teaching scales as soon as possible. Give them skills early on. So, I've been trying that and I like it so far.


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