Confessions 7: How wide are piano teacher’s job descriptions?

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions.
In this series he shares their answers…

Question 7

How wide are piano teachers job descriptions?

“I know, in my own experience, I was reluctant to share my own personal musical thoughts (and original tunes I had composed) with my teacher. Which probably caused my student days to be less productive than they could have been … Should it be in the teachers job description, to pick up these vibes and act on them? If so, how?”

Ioana Andreea Boancă : I don’t know about picking vibes, but at a certain point I start encouraging my students to compose and I help them… but maybe I do that because I am a composer and I need to pass on my knowledge… I don’t know.

Now that I think of it, if I ever wrote something down, knowing the things I know now I probably wouldn’t have shown my work to my teacher, because he wouldn’t know how to help me. Not all piano teachers are composers. Some of them here (Romania) can’t even analyse a piece… so

Nikolas Sideris : Hmmm… Ok, I see what you’re getting at, but here’s a pet peeve of mine:

As we as piano teachers would not want a guitarist to teach piano, I as a composer would not want a piano teacher to teach composition.

I think you know what I’m getting at, but I’ve seen many times piano teachers with a rather poor theoretical background in music, to be asking if there’s an “101 class for composition”.

Everyone, depending on their training, can pick up vibes that others don’t. A composer will pick up different vibes than a piano teacher will. Same with Ioana, I try my best to help my students advance in that part, but I do know what I’m doing (like Ioana).

Jenny Walker : Time is often an enemy but I do try and recognise their leanings and preferences. I was a shy child and know that some need more encouragement to play in public and compose.

Jimmy Rotherham : I had the experience of teachers who were not at all interested in my composition and improvisations when I did show them 😦

I would say yes, to this question – by encouraging composition and improvisation.

Joanne Snowden : I would hope a good teacher could pick up on the vibes. However, we see our students just 30-60 minutes a week for just 45 or so weeks a year – we can’t develop a connection with everyone with such limited contact, and some students will be harder to reach than others.

Donal Gormley : Yes. And if we don’t feel comfortable with what we’re doing, we should start looking for the “101 class for Composition” class Nikolas is running! 😄

We should continue learning and developing as much as we can in these areas and if we have a student who is really keen, we should search out an expert for them to go and study composition independently with.

Sarah Martin : I would certainly encourage any interests such as composition but I wouldn’t attempt to teach it in any way other than perhaps offering general suggestions on improving/ refining it. I usually find that it’s the younger ones who bring me something they done so that’s perhaps a different experience but I certainly don’t feel qualified to teach in any way at a higher level other than what is needed for grade 5 theory.

Naomi Craddock : I think we should encourage improvisation and composition skills in every student. I have sent students wih exceptional talents to jazz specialist teachers and to composers.

Alison Matthews : Ideally a teacher would pick up on this.

I want to foster a love of music (not just piano) and exploring all avenues is important, but of course piano is central.

By building good relationships with pupils and treating them as individuals, rather than a one-size fits all approach means we should be able to pick up on these vibes. I absolutely agree that there is a point we have to be responsible enough to pass pupils on to more appropriate teachers.

Frances Magdalene Wilson : Yes. On a basic level it shows one is interested in what the student is doing outside of lessons.

I encourage students to bring or play music they’ve composed and occasionally we have written simple pieces together. I’m always delighted when they tell me they’ve played in school concerts or have been to a concert. Anything that fosters an interest in and excitement about music is good in my humble opinion.

Conclusions

Once again, a question coming from my own personal experience as a student.

Obviously, to begin with, a relationship between teacher and student needs to be conducive to pupils feeling free enough to share information. As expressed in the answers above, having a student confess to dabbling in composition , shows they are enthusiastic outside of written music supplied to them each week and this is something to rejoice in! It’s a revelation like this, that could lead to a lifetime of musical performance and possibly a career in the field.

It was also heartening to note that many respondents admitted their lack of expertise in this field and suggested the pupil be referred to other tutors, with a specialist subject in mind. Hopefully this is field that more teachers may wish to branch out into?

Next: in the final instalment of Simon’s series he has one more question to ask … as well as wrapping up the series with some overall conclusions! Stay tuned…

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music
Simon is a regular contributor to Pianodao.

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