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Thread: Changing Styles of Teaching Piano

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Post Changing Styles of Teaching Piano

    I've come back to the piano after about thirty years away. When I first started, the emphasis seemed to be all on technique and scales. My teacher set me regular finger exercises and studies. I got the impression talking to others that this was the way to do it. When I came back, the emphasis seemed to be much more on "fun" and "expression". The emphasis was much more on getting the dynamics and expression right rather than on building solid technique.

    Am I wrong in this description or has there been a shift in emphasis and if there has is it a shift for the better?

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    Any piano study has to include both technique exercises and artistic expression. I think everyone should get ear-training as well, but that is still a minority view.

    The order in which those things are introduced may vary. I teach ear training, technique exercises and artistic expression all from the very beginning. But the early exercises are just a couple minutes a day of establishing hand position and differentiating one finger from the next. I do not introduce a list of exercises with minimum metronome markings until the mid-intermediate stage when students are playing things like the Clementi Op. 36 sonatinas and Schumann Album for the Young. At that point they can understand how the strength and speed training will help them meet the challenges of new repertoire, and are more motivated to practice the exercises.

    I do not know if there has been a shift in the past thirty years. I teach much like my first teacher did -- she was a Suzuki piano teacher, and we probably did more singing in the lessons than scales -- that was in the 1980s. I wonder if the difference might be due to the fact that you're thirty years older now, and you as a student have different needs? I have noticed that adult students do not require as much strength training and finger differentiation as children do, but it takes them longer to develop new artistic abilities like phrasing two voices at the same time or playing a clear cantabile melody over a quiet accompaniment.
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Aural training is certainly not out of fashion in the UK. For my next set of practical exams, I will have to (among other aural tests) have to identify a cadence at the end of a piece as perfect or imperfect and name the chords used e.g. IV V or V I or IV I.

    I think Suzuki has been more constant than other things.

    It's not just a question of age, I was in my thirties when I had lessons in the 80's and am now in my 60s. I think part of it was that my teacher then was a retired clergyman and taught in the way that he had been taught (in the 1930s ?) whereas now there is a much more "free and easy" approach.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Taggart & I have discussed this as I've discovered the same trend after returning to the violin. I also had lessons in the 1980s but purely in folk fiddle where different rules applied. I don't even remember the term 'dynamics' from my schooldays in the 1960s. It was a question of learning how to play loudly, how to play softly and how to manage a crescendo! Now, though, the advice seems based on the idea of how to project emotion into one's playing. Mistakes are tolerated, but a flat or dull performance is not - almost exactly the opposite of how it used to be, when my teachers would come down like a ton of bricks on technical inaccuracy.
    I agree with Taggart's comment on Suzuki, above. I'm just coming on to the Suzuki books now, and it's great to have the cd and the emphasis on listening.
    Hreichgott, your teaching method sounds an ideal mix. We just wondered if anyone else feels that teachers may be a bit too afraid to bore or put off pupils now with some 'necessary spadework'?
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    my teacher then was a retired clergyman and taught in the way that he had been taught (in the 1930s ?) whereas now there is a much more "free and easy" approach.
    Could be. Maybe it's related to changes in the educational system overall?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ingenue View Post
    We just wondered if anyone else feels that teachers may be a bit too afraid to bore or put off pupils now with some 'necessary spadework'?
    I do hear comments from people every once in a while (not teachers) who think that scales, exercises etc. are more or less useless and that students would be better served by just waiting until they encounter scale passages in repertoire and learning them that way. !

    I wonder what other pianists and/or teachers might have to say...
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member Sonata's Avatar
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    My teacher still places emphasis on scale learning and technique building.

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    Senior Member Ravndal's Avatar
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    My teacher teachs very much the same way as how Josef Lhevinne did.
    "That as s."

    - Mark Twain

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ravndal View Post
    My teacher teachs very much the same way as how Josef Lhevinne did.
    Interesting, just had a quick google and I think that's what my first teacher was aiming for. He used the Tankard exercises which stress the importance of musicality and the importance of playing the right note at the right time in the right way. (Tankard's emphasis)
    Last edited by Taggart; Mar-18-2013 at 20:53.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hreichgott View Post
    Could be. Maybe it's related to changes in the educational system overall?


    I do hear comments from people every once in a while (not teachers) who think that scales, exercises etc. are more or less useless and that students would be better served by just waiting until they encounter scale passages in repertoire and learning them that way. !

    I wonder what other pianists and/or teachers might have to say...

    That's what Argerich says she does. As far as I know Neuhaus had this approach in teaching too, as well as Leimer and his pupil Gieseking. There are probably many others.

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    Senior Member Ravndal's Avatar
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    Practicing scales is good for the fingers, musicality, virtuosity and the mind. So i don't understand why we shouldnt practice them
    "That as s."

    - Mark Twain

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    Because there are tons of music which are as useful as scales.
    From Bach to Bartok (or Kurtag ? or whoever else ?) there's more than enough pieces to work on that.
    Take the two and three parts inventions... do you really need anything else to make your fingers, your mind and your ears work ?

    Now, I've got nothing against scales in particular. I don't do any because I haven't the time. I'm not experienced enough as a pianist to give my opinion, but I don't do scales/arpeggio/etc. on guitar and I'm fine with it. But I'm fine if others persons do scales.


    The thing that really itches me with scales/arpeggios/etc. is that you're supposed to learn them without knowing how to use them.
    One day I'd like to add scales/arpeggios/etc. to my practice but in an improvisation/harmonization canvas, not just as a finger exercise - learning how to improvise a prelude would be much more interesting... or even how to improvise a chorus ! jazzmen learn those kind of things in a much smarter way than us.
    If you do scales everyday you should be able to harmonize them, etc. and I'm under the impression it's not the case for most of the classical musicians.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ravndal View Post
    Practicing scales is good for the fingers, musicality, virtuosity and the mind. So i don't understand why we shouldnt practice them
    Quite agree. I think people are worried about boring their pupils but the cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

    Part of the joy of scales is the things you can do with them - different tone levels in each hand, playing staccato against legato, dotting the rhythm in one hand, playing them in thirds or sixths, playing them in contrary motion.

    If you wait for a piece with scale motion to come up, then when it does you will waste time learning the technique.

    Quote Originally Posted by Praeludium View Post

    The thing that really itches me with scales/arpeggios/etc. is that you're supposed to learn them without knowing how to use them.

    ...

    If you do scales everyday you should be able to harmonize them, etc. and I'm under the impression it's not the case for most of the musicians.
    The point about scales is that it teaches you good fingering practice so that when you come to do sight reading you have the technique and the ability to go "Ah a D minor scale" and then "I know how to finger that so I can make adjustment for the passage before it"

    As to harmonising it, the whole point of scales is to develop an awareness of tonal centres and then you can progress to harmonisation e.g. via figured bass or simply by knowing the chord changes involved in a scale's cadences.

    That doesn't work if you're playing folk \ modal music however.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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