Do we know our piano educator lineage?

All topics musical, not specifically piano-related

Postby Beckywy » Thu Mar 09, 2006 8:34 am

I was wondering - the way we have our family trees, do we know the tree of our music educators? Who our teachers learned from - who learned from - who learned from?
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby Stretto » Thu Mar 09, 2006 11:36 am

No, I don't really know the backround of any music teachers I've had. With my beginning teachers, I only vaguely remember one saying they had gone to a Christian University in music. The other 3, I don't know anything about their backround. Although not horrible teachers, I think there was a lot more they could have taught me. In some ways I feel like I sort of taught myself although I must have learned something from them.

It's probably a good question parents should ask of teachers. I write a short paragraph of my musical backround and training in an information sheet I give to new students. I don't think my parents paid too much attention to the backround, experience of my teachers. I think some of time, my parents went with the only teacher they could afford but it was better than no lessons at all.

My latter teachers and instructors, I only know the music schools or universities they attended or taught at themselves not their former teachers.




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Postby Stretto » Fri Mar 10, 2006 8:41 am

Beckywy wrote:I was wondering - the way we have our family trees, do we know the tree of our music educators? Who our teachers learned from - who learned from - who learned from?

Beckwy,

What is the "music educator tree" of your piano instructors?
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Postby Beckywy » Fri Mar 10, 2006 1:04 pm

My classical teacher is Mr. Leon Karan - who is the latest interview of the month, and he has listed his influential teachers, particularly Maria Bogomas who was taught by Henrick Neyhaus.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Mar 10, 2006 4:48 pm

If the teacher distributes a brochure to students and parents, I think it should certainly include a brief resume that mentions the teacher's background and education. This should be important to the people who are paying for a music education, but most parents just never think about it.

You can actually get situations like one I encountered some years ago: the president of the local music teachers association had had 3 (that's THREE) piano lessons in her life! No joke.

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Postby Stretto » Mon Mar 13, 2006 2:30 pm

Beckywy wrote:My classical teacher is Mr. Leon Karan - who is the latest interview of the month, and he has listed his influential teachers, particularly Maria Bogomas who was taught by Henrick Neyhaus.

I read the interview. It's good to know there are those like him developing programs to help private piano teachers become more qualified and skilled. It can only mean improved quality of lessons and musical learning.

I was just wondering. Is there a place for the "lady down the street" who is giving music lessons? Or the young piano student teaching another young student? Does everyone wishing to teach need be highly qualified, highly skilled, with the best possible training? Is there a place for those piano teachers who are amateur pianists themselves, who had mediocre teaching or training at best, or who just play for enjoyment and want to pass on a little of that enjoyment by teaching others to play simple tunes for fun? Is there a place for piano teachers who just want to teach some beginning lessons and then send them on to another teacher? I've talked to some teachers who only take beginners.

Or should these teachers or young students throw in the towel because they lack high quality of skill and training and maybe take up babysitting instead?

I consider myself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum - some decent knowledge, skill and training valuable enough to pass along but not enough to produce concert level pianists or get someone to some top level music conservatory or university program. So should every piano teacher possess the knowledge, skill, and training necessary to get students to these higher levels of performance? Or is there a place in private piano instruction for the rest of us?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Mar 13, 2006 3:55 pm

Stretto, the problem here is that the teacher is not just "passing on enjoyment", though that's very important, too. The problem is that there is a physical skill involved that, if taught incorrectly, can at best ingrain the wrong habits and at worst cause actual physical injury. I'm not overstating the case here; I have seen young students with strained tendons because some dumb teacher made them practice with weights on their wrists or with incorrect, tense, exaggerated movements of some kind. And it's especially dangerous with young kids because their hands are small and weak and undeveloped.

Nobody has to be a concert artist or possess an earned Doctorate from Juilliard in order to be a good teacher. But ask yourself if you'd want your kids to study gymnastics, or ballet, or aerobics with some hack who overworked them to the point of injury, or didn't know the proper movements in the proper order and degree.

I aspired to be a professional musician from an early age, but from 9 to 22 I had teachers who were earnest, supposedly well-trained, and who gave me a lot of good musical knowledge but did not know how to teach technique. I worked on my own for a couple of years after that and finally gave up and went into something else full time. Then I happened to run into Hans Barth, who turned everything around.

This may be an extreme case, since you're talking about the great majority for whom piano will be just a hobby, but piano playing involves certain movements which are not natural to everyday life, and teachers should know something about it no matter who they're teaching.

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Postby Beckywy » Tue Mar 14, 2006 7:50 am

All students have the potential to be great - but if their formative training is mediocre - it will affect how they will do later on. I find myself fixing a lot of bad habits with transfer students - from poor posture to poor fingering of technique, poor hand positioning. Students who supposedly studied for years but have zero understanding of phrasing... Parents ask me all the time that if their children had started with a better teacher would they have progressed faster?

Keep in mind - even teachers who only teach the beginner level, the first teachers these students encounter are the ones who build their musical foundations.




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Mar 14, 2006 8:28 am

Right on, Becky. And I'd like to add something to my previous post.

I didn't mean to imply that every teacher has to be able to know every possible detail about the anatomy and mechanics of how the hands should work. What I'm driving at is mostly practicing common sense so as to avoid hurting people:

A seat height that allows the hands and forearms to be more or less level with the keyboard. If the feet dangle use a footstool temporarily.

Sitting at a comfortable distance from the keyboard, close enough so the upper arms can hang comfortably without stretching out much, but not so close as to be cramped and crowded (this often happens to nearsighted people).

Good posture: largely a matter of keeping the lower back straight so that the shoulders can hang loosely without slumping forward.

Keeping the back of the hand level for most chords and passage work, so as to avoid the natural tendency to slope towards the outside and play the weak fifth finger with a karate chop.

Avoiding tense, clawlike hands, twisting, and exaggerated movements.

Most important: working for freedom and relaxation, not only in the hands, but also in the arms, shoulders and neck.

That's 90 per cent of it right there.

Beyond that, I do believe teachers should learn and understand how to play scales. Everybody teaches scales, but there are some basic things about the movements that can be real problems, and call for specialized instruction.

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Tue Mar 14, 2006 10:34 am

I feel better after reading the post today - I was feeling quite unqualified, after yesterdays!

I am aware of all the things you mentioned - chair, hands, relaxing, etc. and work on them. With my young ones, especailly my boys, the chair is constantly moving, as are they. I do not 'enforce' sitting straight all during the lesson or there would be little teaching. If the 5 year old is sitting with one leg under him and playing his piece well, I wait until he is finished and suggest a better position. They all know the correct way. At this stage, I feel it is important that they are playing and enjoying the music. I have all students shake out their hands at times, loosen their shoulders (massage some tense ones), etc. I would never put weights or do other harmful things to the students. I feel that more technique can be learned as they progress. Maybe this is incorrect. But if they do not enjoy their music, they will not continue...so!

If anyone has a solution to the moving chair, let me know.

:D

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Mar 14, 2006 1:54 pm

Maybe we should all adopt the motto from the Hippocratic Oath for doctors: "First, do no harm."

As Joan says, not a whole lot of technique can be taught to young beginners unless you've got a genius on your hands, but we can be aware and alert, keep them from things that can lead to tension or bad habits later on, and gradually steer them into more awareness and proper movements as their hands get bigger and stronger.

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Tue Mar 14, 2006 7:30 pm

Thank you, Dr. Bill. I know I feel better and I hope some other people do as well.
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Postby Stretto » Wed Mar 15, 2006 10:05 am

To tie into the topic of the thread and as already mentioned, probably the best thing a parent/student can do is be sure to make a well informed and educated choice in selecting a teacher. While not making excuses for my ability, I am very upfront about what I stress in teaching and what I am and am not able to do. That way, years later no one can blame me for somehow failing to get them where they wanted to be. For example, my emphasis in teaching leans more toward MUSIC lessons and music appreciation than performance as that is where my interest lies and desire in teaching others, although my students are doing everything according to Dr. Leland's "checklist". Their a lot better off than I was at the same stage of the game. (As I side-note what concerns me most is the subtle forms of tension a student may be doing I can't see from the outside. I can teach or correct all the 'visible' forms of tension and technique.) A lot of people I'm sure never consider what Beckywy mentioned of who one's teacher learned from and who the teacher before learned from and so on. In selecting a teacher, I've always thought more in terms of what kind of formal training they've had, for example, what kind of degree and have always assumed, the higher the degree or training, the better the teacher. Becky's post made me think more in terms of considering who one's former teacher was trained by. Even amongst those with higher forms of training, "who" they learned from would probably vary greatly.

The best someone like me who didn't have the opportunities to take from more highly trained teachers can do is to make sure I get adequate training and skills to pass a better "legacy" on to my students than the teachers I had. Just as with parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. the current generation may have the advantage of having some "great" family members that went before them that they can automatically pass down their values, etc. to the next generation. Those that didn't have the best of family members before them may have a tougher time being the "first" to change that to pass down a better legacy from their point on.

The best thing a teacher can do is not to remain stagnate in their teaching but as with any other profession continually seeking to improve their skills in order to provide the best quality lesson experience they can for the student. It's good to see that there are more programs being offered to enable teachers to improve thier skills and I commend Mr. Leon Karan for his desire to help teachers to this end and appreciate his thoughts on this.

I continually question, "am I standing in the way of my students reaching their fullest potential?" Could they reach greater heights in performance skill with someone else?" But that questioning and sense of responsibility keeps me on my toes and drives me to continually improve my skills and the teaching/learning experience.

The only thing we in the music community need to be more cautious of is stereo-typing "homemakers", "housewives", "neighbor ladies", etc. as equated to "less than desirable" teachers. I've just come across more and more comments here and there in reading referring to lesser skilled teachers as "the housewife just wanting to make a few extra dollars on the side" or "the housewife just teaching for 'fun'." I'm a homemaker and stay-at-home mom supplementing my income by teaching in order to enable me to stay at home with my kids rather than work outside the home. I'm growing somewhat tired of remarks about "housewives", "homemakers", "neighbor ladies" in private piano instruction. Before I ever knew if I wanted kids or even knew if I'd have the opportunity to stay at home with my kids, I purposely planned long-term, purposely went to college in music to learn more to become a better piano teacher. I've been planning for years how I might earn an income doing something I enjoy while staying home. That makes me a "homemaker earning a few bucks on the side" and proud of it. I think rather than using the wording "housewife" or "neighbor lady" in referring to lesser skilled teachers, it would be far better for those of us in the music community to refer to range of ability amongst piano teachers based soley on level of skill, training, and of course "who" they were trained by and how.




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Postby Beckywy » Wed Mar 15, 2006 4:49 pm

A vocal student at the music school I work at came to me asking for advice in how to choose a good music college. My response to her was to research the faculty of the schools she's interested in attending, and find a teacher she wants to study with.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Mar 15, 2006 5:15 pm

I. too. feel my students are getting moe than I did in piano lessons. We moved around a lot and I had many teachers.

I have found that "the local concert pianist" may not be the best one to teach children. (I have had several of his students!) I do not look for a degree or who taught whom. I interview a teacher and take my child, now my grandchild, to meet the teacher. I listen to them tell me how they teach, how creative and felxible they are, and do I feel their love of music...that is important to me. A degree does not guarentee me a good teacher!

I recently spoke at length with a young teacher recently here from Kansas. I looked at her resume briefly, (impressive) but it was speaking with her about teaching, that made me decide to suggest her for my granddaughter. So far, they are enjoying each other and the music!

The terms "housewife" "homemaker" etc. should not be seen as derogatory in any sense! I began teaching my daughter and then her 5 yo friend and her 8 yo friend at no charge many years ago. Then a neighbor mentioned that a local piano teacher was upset...so I began charging-$5.00 a half hour! (That was over 40 years ago).

My Mother-in-law had shown me some books her husband had written with a friend on rote teaching.( He was Professor of Music at Columbia University but died young, before met my huband, his son) I fell in love with that way of teaching and I have shared my joy of music with others for over 40 years and feel I have done good and no harm! I have never advertised and have had very few students stop mid year - maybe four in all those years!

OK - I've gained and earned confidence over many years, knowing many pianists, listening to many, many piano 'recitals'. I do things my own way - it seems to work. I am always looking for new ideas and thanks to this site, I have learned many. I still love to teach. When a student excitedly pulls her Mother over to the piano to show her new song, when a student makes up his first composition and we write it out, when a student teaches his Dad to play the duet for Elephant Walk....I could fill this site. I love to teach!

:D :D :D
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