Hm… what should be the primary quality, the most needed, the most desired quality, that would make a piano teacher fulfil their teaching duties to the fullest?
Could it that the teacher should be kind and accepting of the student’s individual pianistic customs? Could it be to be compassionate, or perhaps able to instil confidence to their pupils? Could it be to be ever-pleasant? Or, what about having a tendency to succumbing to the students’ idiosyncratic voguishnesses? Could it be this and that and the other thing?
It could be all, albeit unachievable, but some of them qualities, and perhaps one of them, should surely be paramount in a teacher’s journey.
I have decided that the primary quality a teacher should have is to understand the quality of the student. Because, when a teacher apprehends the ‘quality’ of the student that stands in front of him, he would then efficiently lead the student to make the most out of their own qualities.
But before going any further, let us understand what is the “quality of a student”. For me, the quality of a student is what a teacher perceives as the gestalt of the student; i.e. how the teacher perceives the student through their physical, verbal, nonverbal, and piano-performing signals they emanate.
So, in order to feel the quality of the student, we need to answer two questions: a) what the student’s provenance is, and b) what the student’s desired end-product is.
Every student enters your piano studio with a bagful of distinct history (or provenance, as we say). Some of them come with lessons from a previous teacher, some have a grand piano that sits around at home, others like to listen to piano music in general, and some of them had to come to you simply because their parents forced them to have piano lessons.
Some questions to answer here are: What type of music my student likes to listen to and wants to play? Does he receive the necessary psychological support to pursue the piano? Has he got an instrument at home to practice? Is he busy in his everyday life? How old is he? (yes, age matters—read here why).
Your goal is to understand which provenance follows a student, and then you take it from there.
The reason to do that is to decide how to implement your teaching regime to a particular student; for example, you would approach differently a student that likes the piano and one that doesn’t. You would teach differently a student that likes to play Michael Jackson on his five-octave keyboard than someone who adores Keith Jarrett’s solo improvisations. You would ask for a bit more commitment from a student that sports a Steinway grand in their living room than from a student that his parents live with benefits and cannot afford a keyboard at home. As you can appreciate, the students and thus the individual teaching strategies, are innumerable.
After finding the student’s inclinations through their provenance, the next step, and perhaps the most important one in order to teach them efficiently, is to get a sense of where a student wants to go with their piano.
You achieve this through dialogue, so as to explore the student’s presuppositions and future pianistic goals, but also sometimes through the student’s own playing. I more than once understood a quiet student’s pianistic goals by listening to the way their sound came out of their fingers; a few years ago, to the astonishment of my student (and to mine to be honest) I understood his penchant towards Adele’s music by how he was projecting the chords in the “introduction” of the Beethoven’s Pathetique (bars 7 & 8).
This led me to evolve my teaching behind the scenes, change my teaching pace, and make micro-adjustments to his future repertoire. I said ‘micro-adjustments’ because one must not alter his teaching dramatically to cater for a student’s musical caprices; I teach the classical piano and my goal is to make every single student of mine to have a classical sound (per se). I would refuse to make their playing jazzy, pop-like, or anything else, because, frankly, I do not know how to do those things.
What my students want from me is none of my business. My students come to me for my own distinct product; as you wouldn’t go to a Chinese restaurant to order tacos, equally you won’t ask a jazz pianist to teach you how to play the La Campanella. The Chinese restaurateur couldn’t care less if you wanted tacos because he only prepares chicken fried rice and other Chinese indulgences. The same applies to the jazz pianist: He wants to make you the next Oscar Peterson, not the next András Schiff.
At the same time, dialogue and general verbal communication will often give you telltale signs of what the students want to eventually achieve with music and the piano.
Here are a couple of examples:
Example 1: Student says: “Sir, when I finish school I want to do piano and [so and so].” That “and” near the end of the sentence means that the student does not want to wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the piano: I.e. they don’t like the piano enough to make it their sole future occupation (sorry to break the news)—meaning that probably they won’t progress enough to compete in this merciless world of music job-hunting.
Example 2: Student says: “My last two piano teachers weren’t inspiring enough”. Again, that means student is not interested in the piano and superficially seeks to find a pedagogue as a means to entertain themselves and to be magically injected with the ad libitum superpower of endless inspiration.
Example 3: Student’s says: “Sir, I practiced at my aunt’s yesterday afternoon, since I couldn’t bear the b flat being so out of tune”. That shows a commitment on the part of the student, a sense that time is of utmost importance, and perhaps an urgency to perfect the art of piano playing.
So, your goal as a piano pedagogue and teacher is to masterfully lead your students abide to yourown end-product calling. To achieve this, you must possess the quality of identifying the student’s individual quality.
Good luck on your musical endeavours.
Copyright © 1st of November, 2020 by Nikos Kokkinis
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