Andor Földes on being a ‘Child Prodigy’

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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The pianist Andor Földes (1913-1992) was one of the great child ‘prodigies’ of the early twentieth century, making his public debut performing a Mozart concerto with the Budapest Philharmonic in 1921 when he was just 8 years old, and entering the Liszt Academy (where he studied with the great Ernst von Dohnányi and Béla Bartók) before he was even a teenager.

Földes went on to enjoy a hugely successful concert and recording career, as well as writing several books, including the seminal Keys to the Keyboard (1950, sadly no longer in print, but an exceptionally wise and notably humane book).

Continue reading Andor Földes on being a ‘Child Prodigy’

‘Rote Learning’ – a waste of time?

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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“Very young beginners, of five years or under, sometimes appear to make remarkable progress at first, and can be taught up to a point by imitation or ‘rote’. A large part of their lesson is taken up with rhythmic training and singing.
In actual piano-playing they progress a certain way and then they appear to stand still and, very often, to lose interest.”

Joan Last
The Young Pianist (Oxford University Press, 1954, 1972)

Rote learning seems to be very much back in vogue, and the remarkable progress which Joan Last writes of is something many teachers will be familiar with. Indeed, it is perhaps because of this ‘quick win’ progress that a number of prominent writers and trainers recommend teaching “by imitation or rote”.

The benefits would seem to include:

  • Building pupil confidence and ongoing enthusiasm;
  • Playing more advanced, expressive, interesting and impressive music than the pupil can presently read;
  • Exploring keyboard geography and developing physical freedom;
  • Developing musical memorisation ability;
  • Providing an inclusive option for students who struggle with reading;
  • Focussing more on technique and ear training;
  • Delivering quick results that impress parents and encourage students.

With such wonderful benefits, shouldn’t we all embrace rote learning as a core element of our teaching practice?

Certainly there are many who would answer that question with a resounding “yes”, but Joan Last points to a significant fly in the ointment: after progressing a certain way, players “appear to stand still and, very often, to lose interest”.

Martha Beth Lewis, a US pedagogue with more than 50 years experience teaching children, puts it far more bluntly on her advice page for teachers:

“Position playing and rote learning are mostly wastes of time. I think such methods are used by teachers to convince the parents that the teacher is doing a good job because the child can “play a tune” very soon. Such systems do NOT serve the student.”

So let’s take a deeper look at the subject, and consider why such esteemed writers and experienced teachers have spoken out against this approach…

Continue reading ‘Rote Learning’ – a waste of time?