After 50 years of teaching piano I can honestly say I have finally been to enough lectures, conferences, talks, events, presentations, recitals, demonstrations...you get the picture. During all that time it has not been the teaching of piano that has changed but the world and society in which we teach. When I started teaching the television was our main competitor for a student’s time. There were only a few choices for methods of teaching and everyone knew they produced better trained musicians in Europe than we did here in America. Now we have multiple distractions for students. We teachers have many choices of method books, games, apps, and even instruments to enhance our teaching. And, the European teachers have come here which has caused the training of young pianists to improve exponentially. In the meantime children are still children.
We want the knowledge and skill we impart on them to be reinforced at home in the form of practice. Most people do not understand the amount of effort and time it takes to become a musician. They see talented young people and assume their ability to perform well is all about their talent and not the work or the training. The level of training has improved dramatically over the last 25 years especially locally. Competition level students are playing much more difficult pieces at younger and younger ages. Not much has changed in the way these students are taught. They are given solid, time tested skills for playing the piano. They are motivated and wise enough at a young age to do exactly what their teacher tells them. Which proves that it does not matter what method book you use, students will play well if properly (or some might say old fashioned) taught.
So where does that leave everyone else? If our students do not play well enough to compete should we just tell them to go home and forget the piano? Of course not. The difference between teachers and their approach to student’s needs is as varied as there are people. It’s the music that demands adherence to the discipline of the art. As a judge I am frequently amazed at how children can get from key to key with collapsed knuckles, drooping wrists or flat fingers. They are certainly pleased that they can make some music but I doubt their teachers feel the same way. We know that a healthy hand position will allow for speed and control, that keeping time is as important in making music as playing the right notes, that all the dots and squiggles on the page are important. Our biggest challenge has always been encouraging students to see the importance of reading, practicing, memorizing, polishing and performing music correctly. So why is this important in the 21st century?
I started writing these thoughts before COVID-19. I had stopped on the previous paragraph because I had not made solid determinations about the need for serious music study. It is important to me but it’s value to others was not as clear. Since this pandemic has struck, I have been teaching remotely through the use of the internet. I have been most grateful for this amazing tool we have now and have used it almost constantly for weeks. As the world slogs through this devastating time I have noticed something new with my students. They are practicing much more regularly than before. Remember all those distractions I mentioned earlier? Gone. They do their school work at home so there is no bus ride, sports, dances, club meetings, etc. Many other activities are curtailed so what have they found to occupy them? Music. The piano is sitting there, out of tune but still friendly. They have lessons to prepare for so they do it. As much as I find listening to them over the net to be difficult and taxing, I am enjoying the new found excitement my students have in learning new music honing their technique and presenting their finished products with pride. Now I know. From the perspective of a piano teacher the art of playing the instrument is still an important part of children’s lives. I will continue to do my best for them and enjoy the beautiful results.