Piano Teaching: An Isolated Existence?

Pathways for Teaching

It’s become something of a cliché to say that the life of a piano teacher is a terribly isolated one, implying we have little or no meaningful contact with colleagues, operating entirely off our own steam, without support.

In this article I am going to consider from a personal perspective why I don’t personally feel isolated as a piano teacher, and hopefully offer some useful tips for those who do.

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Online Piano Teacher Training

Guest post by Garreth Brooke

This is an updated and expanded version of Garreth’s previous post.

Like many other piano teachers I have studied music but not pedagogy.

When I first began teaching after finishing my music degree this did not seem such a problem, and certainly it did not stop me from finding work or  my students from telling me that I’m a good teacher. Increasingly, however, I’ve realised that if I want to be a great piano teacher I need to be trained both as a pianist and as a teacher. It doesn’t matter how much we know about music or how well we can play, we have to also understand how to communicate that knowledge effectively to our students.

A 2014 survey on the UK-based Cross-Eyed Pianist blog of private piano teachers revealed that less than half of the respondents had teaching diplomas, and only 30% had training in music pedagogy. This is understandable. Piano teaching often comes as a result of a passion for playing the piano, not because we have always wanted to be a teacher. I’m certainly true in that regard, and indeed actively avoided teaching until forced to by circumstance, when I realised to my surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In an ideal world, once we realise we want to be a piano teacher, we’d all be able to afford to take 3 years off and get a degree in music pedagogy but unfortunately that’s rarely – if ever –  realistic. Luckily there are several options for part-time study for teachers who are based in the UK or who use the UK examination boards, including studying for a diploma with an exam board like ABRSM or Trinity, getting a qualification from a pedagogical group like Suzuki or Kodály, attending the EPTA’s Practical Piano Teaching course, or signing up for the Curious Piano Teachers.

Only one of these, however, allow you to get a qualification from a recognised examination board from the comfort of your own home: the Curious Piano Teachers run a course that prepares student teachers to take either the ATCL from Trinity College or the DipABRSM in Teaching from ABRSM. This course was however not open for enrollment when I was researching what I could study (the next enrollment date as I write is likely to be in June 2018) and I was therefore excited to learn about the RCM’s Online Piano Teacher Specialist Course, which is run more frequently. (NB for Brits – this is the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music, not the Royal College of Music).

I eagerly signed up and was thrilled to be invited to share my experiences with the Pianodao readers. I first wrote an article on this topic back in February 2017, when I was in Week 3 of the course. What you are currently reading is the revised and updated version, written in September 2017, a few months after I completed the course.

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Returning to Learning

What can piano teachers learn from stepping into the shoes of the beginner and taking up a new skill or pastime?
Quite a lot, in my experience…

Like many adults, I periodically look to introduce a new discipline or hobby into my life. And as a teacher, it is always fascinating to put myself in the position of student.

The latest activity to find its way onto my list of exploits is Pilates, the exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates and often mentioned in the same breath as Yoga (though I think, quite different!)

This lot are learning Pilates too. They look happy, don’t they?


Pilates-1

And certainly I was hoping that I would find Pilates enjoyable – and hopefully beneficial for my health and fitness too.

And inevitably I also hoped that putting myself in the shoes of the complete beginner, there would be teaching parallels that I could reflect on, and which would give me fresh insight.

In this post I am going to list a few observations I made, followed by questions for self-reflection which make connections to piano teaching.

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