How are you making lessons better? : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

This is not supposed to be one of those topics which slams a certain group or person, so please do not get offended. I want to open a discussion of traditional piano lessons very candidly. To take a step back and look at members of our community who have, at some point in their lives, taken lessons. Some people have been taught to read music, but not think as musicians. For example if a person reads and performs written music well but cannot offer variations on themes, improvisation, or change the chord style of their music. I meet adults like this all the time. Even though they can read music they in essense have no comprehension of the musical thoughts they are playing. It follows that truly good piano teachers must do more than just teach reading skills.

Isn't it funny how some students are so good at their ear playing but have some kind of mental block about the written world of music? What about the students who love to read & play peices but have no desire whatsoever to compose or use their imaginations? As a music educator one starts with this mixed bag of learning styles from different students who have varied strengths and weaknesses and there is no "holy grail" of a method out there! That's what all of us do for a job! I am curious... what constitutes a successful outcome in this field and how are good teachers overcoming the mediocrity of cookie-cutter old-school lesson strategies? KJ

-- Kyle Johnson (, March 10, 2005


Your question already has certain biases. But what the heck-I'll give this a whirl.

What do you mean by cookie-cutter old-school lesson strategies?

In my view a successful outcome is that the student is permanently hooked on playing the piano. We're in this for the long haul.

I like to design a unique program for each student (with a lot of commonalities in the first few years). No cookie cutting over here!

As for improvisation, some people really have no interest in composing. Actually very few people do. I have interest but no time to compose. And to have one's works performed is a marketing challenge to say the least. So it can be difficult to compose.

Very few kids can actually make a career of music, but they can all have cherished memories of their piano lessons.

-- doggie (, March 12, 2005.

My posting was a hasty one, and upon re-reading it decided that the wording was not exactly what I wanted. I am trying to get other music educators to discuss their feelings about different learning styles, especially since no one method really seems to address this. For example my student roster is incredibly diverse. I have a 16yr old who is the leader of a rock band, writing his own tunes and learning music theory, improv, etc. I have an autistic teen student. I have adult students. Singer-songwriters, I have kids who are really very ear-oriented and others who gravitate towards the structure of written music. Extremely smart kids, learning disabilites, the whole gamut of educational challenges. I could go on and on, but needless to say I have a large "bag of tricks" from years of teaching and playing. As my own teaching has evolved, I have become very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of certain approaches. It is my feeling that throughout time there have always been certain piano teachers who are great. Why? It's because they are able to understand their students as individuals and teach accordingly. Good teachers are well-versed in teaching composition, creativity and musical literacy using various methods. Knowing ear- training, sight-singing, music theory, anything that works! It means making yourself a better teacher and asking honest questions of your performance. When I read over some of these message posts it is clear that some teachers think they have it all figured out. They obviously use a certain method and if for some reason it doen't work then it's the student's fault. I say let's talk about some of the ways piano instruction has failed in the past. I have loads of examples. That is what I meant by "cookie cutter lessons". The ones where the teacher goes through the same well-rehearsed motions with every student, not caring to make any further effort with the ones who don't "fit". I do not mean to say that all of us are that way. But I do beleive that there are things every one of us could do to be better teachers. I'll just throw this one out there: as a teacher is is our duty not only to teach to a student's strengths, but more importantly, to teach to their weaknesses.

Hope this clears up my first post. kj

-- Kyle Johnson (, March 12, 2005.

Hello Kyle,

You certainly bring up some valid questions. I agree with you that teachers need to be very creative in their teaching. I have the opposite problem of being percieved as dogmatic. Some, I know, find it hard to reconcile the fact that I am a successful Suzuki teacher, but equally comfortable with other approaches. I don't worry about it though, because I know that my teaching has been hewn from the needs of my students, and by what works for me as a teacher. As to the outcome of studying for many years, it seems to me that it depends on the person. Doesn't everyone know those that excell at composition, interpreting, improv, pedagogy? My colleagues all seem to have focused upon one or another of their talents, so I guess it's normal the students might display certain strengths, too. Students should have the benefit of learning as much as possible in the best way possible. I do try to improve my teaching, playing and musicianship constantly. I have little interest in composing because I barely have time to play, to my satisfaction, the music of truly great composers. Some of my students enjoy it, but again, time is limited.

-- Lea Johnson (, March 12, 2005.

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