What should quality piano lessons include? - What areas and experiences?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Feb 07, 2005 8:39 am

Most people, both students and teachers, expect that piano lessons should allow the student to "learn to play piano." However, that short phrase can mean very different things to different people, both teachers and students. How much theory should come with the lessons? Is sight-reading essential? What about ear-training? How broad shoud the teaching repertoire be? Should the teacher offer some music appreciation as part of the lessons? How much emphasis, if any, should there be on providing performance opportunities? How long should the lesson last to accomplish the necessities?

This list of possible inclusions in quality lessons could go on for some time, but everyone has a slightly different idea. If you're a teacher of piano, tell us what you think should be in the best quality piano lessons you can give. If you're a student or parent, let us know what you want to learn and what you would just as well skip - and why! Anybody with an interest in piano should be able to offer their insights, so let us know what you think! :)
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Postby 80-1107978580 » Wed Feb 09, 2005 2:25 pm

Just joined this forum, after reading some posts over tha last couple days. I have a degree in piano performance, have taught in the past, changed careers, and would like to teach again.

In the US - I notice this is an international forum - music education in public schools is lacking, in that theory, ear training, appreciation, and history is not taught very much. At least, that's my experience having grown up here, and having a daughter in school here. As a result, private music instruction provides most of the music education for kids who are lucky enough to have lessons. The problem is, there is only so much time in an hour lesson to cover theory, history, ear training, and then have time left over

In my humble opinion, piano teachers should primarily focus on piano - technique, repertoire, sightreading - as the core competancy of what they are teaching. They should definately touch on theory, ear training, history/appreciation.

I started piano when I was 15, and my teacher used the Robert Pace method, which was heavy on the theory side. I learned a lot of theory through my piano lessons, which was helpful.
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Postby Lyndall » Thu Feb 10, 2005 12:03 am

I completely agree with Phlebas:
In the US...music education in public schools is lacking
giving the private music teacher a greater burden to attempt to cover all the aspects you mentioned (which I also consider important). I wish there was more lesson time for everything - I run out at 45 minutes - and I'm sure an hour would also go by just as fast. I can't begin to understand how teachers can succeed in only 30 mins/week - let me know your strategy!

An organized teacher can probably do very well at fitting everything in by setting up short & long term goals for each student & checking to see whether these goals are being met.

Regular group classes can be a great way to cover theory, ear training, history/appreciation without taking time away from private lessons.

I learned a TON of theory/ear training/history in highschool. My piano teacher did ear training for only 4 or so lessons a year, about a month before the annual exams, but this was enough at least for me. I had also played in school bands since the age of 8, so had developed a pretty good ear & had so much extra knowledge. Guess I was just so totally immersed in music & had no other hobbies to distract me. Lucky huh!
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 10, 2005 8:22 am

Lyndall wrote:Regular group classes can be a great way to cover theory, ear training, history/appreciation without taking time away from private lessons.

I'm intrigued by this. Are you suggesting that students should have a private lesson AND a group lesson weekly, or perhaps alternating such lessons? I've never heard of any teacher doing this, though it makes perfect sense. Assuming that you are proposing such options, do you have any experience trying to persuade students to do it? :)
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Postby 80-1107978580 » Thu Feb 10, 2005 8:58 am

I agree that regular group lessons can be effective in teaching theory, ear training, etc. They can be difficult to arrange logistically - matching children of similar levels together, getthing busy kids to your studio more than once a week (for group, and private lessons).

My first teacher used to group people in pairs or threes. I was paired with a kid my age who was also a beginner. He had his private lesson from 6:00-6:30. I showed up at 6:30 for group theory, ear, improvisation, etc. with him from 6:30-7:00. He left at 7:00, and I had my private lesson from 7:00-7:30 (I got the better deal because it was my teacher's last lesson of the day, and she usually gave me a 45 minute to hour lesson). :)
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Postby Beckywy » Thu Feb 10, 2005 9:28 am

The RCM exams up here include sight reading and ear training. In a 60 min lesson, sight reading and ear training take up 15 mins of the time. In the early intermediate grades, theory is required components to a level, so what I do is take another 15 mins to do the theory and assign homework. If the kids are the advanced grades, the lessons are 75 mins. Some students who's parents are adverse to the idea of tacking on another 15 mins to the lesson because of cost, we concentrate on the practical portion of the exam. Complete that exam, and then concentrate on the theory for the next 2-3 months before the theory exams. Theory includes history, harmony, counterpoint and analysis.
"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 Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Feb 10, 2005 11:11 am

Before my wife joined the university faculty she taught at home, and we were fortunate to find a house that had an add-on room in the back right next to one of the rear bedrooms. We had a rear entrance there, and one room was set up with the grand piano for private teaching; the other was furnished with six used Wurlitzer electronic consoles that we bought from the university, and became a combination waiting room, practice room (where a student could warm up with head phones), and group teaching studio for theory and sight reading. Many of the kids took two lessons a week--one private, one group.

I realize this wouldn't be possible in many cases; probably the biggest obstacles would be space and insulation from the rest of the house. But it worked great, and there are many modifications of this setup possible.

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Postby Lyndall » Fri Feb 11, 2005 11:31 am

I would dearly love to have kids come to 2 lessons/week: one private, one group theory/aural etc. But I don't believe it's practical mainly because of cost to parents & time (not my time, but rather extraordinarily busy students & parents). Mind you I've never actually proposed it. I think I MIGHT have 5 or so students (1/4 of my total) who would be interested.

Actually by regular I meant monthly. Even then it's hard to get every student involved. I group mine by ability which usually but not always corresponds to their age. Students are supposed to come to their scheduled group but if they're unavailable they must come to another group - usually one that's either too basic or too advanced for them, an incentive to try to make it to their own level.

I love the idea of Becky's 60 & 75 min. lessons. I wish mine would take it this seriously. Then again I've not actually asked any of them, but I do know several of them find the fees hard to manage because they have so many kids in so many activities. You just hate to ask for more.

I would never want to alternate private/group theory lessons at least for young students because I feel that to teach good technique & prevent bad habits from forming, kids need weekly input from their teacher.
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Postby Beckywy » Fri Feb 11, 2005 1:21 pm

Well, I know I am not the best teacher, but I will say I'm about the mid-level teacher, but I charge more than most teachers do in this area. I have a friend who studied at the St.Peterburgh conservatory in Russia, and she charges $5 less than me. I find that if you charge more than most teachers, you attract more serious students who's parents are okay with the fees.
"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 Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Feb 11, 2005 5:05 pm

Yep, here it is again: the commonest problem we hear about students is that they're spread too thin. So are their parents, financially as well as with time. Everybody's frantically busy, convinced they've got to do everything or they won't belong. Maybe someday we'll all grow out of this.

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Postby Chris X » Sun Feb 13, 2005 1:52 am

I agree with Dr. Bill.

I live and teach in California, and I will tell you that life is very fast pace around here. For many of my students, piano lessons is one of many extra-curricular activities.

When I teach I feel that many students try to get things done too quickly. Some seem like they are in such a hurry, and they play without thinking, thus leading to inaccuracies.

I feel that if I can get them to slow down in the learning process and learn with more accuracy, thus gaining a better understanding, that will be a valuable lesson not only in music, but in life.

It just seems though as there is this conception to get things done as quick as possible and move on to the next activity.

Then again in the professional world of music, this rings true. Many professional performers and accompanists get these monster pieces to learn, and they have a very limited time to do it.

I do not teach lessons with the goal that the student will become a professional. If they do that is excellent, and I hope to offer my best service to get them to that level. I just want them to enjoy music, and not see it as just another weekly assignment.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Feb 13, 2005 10:43 am

There is no question that people in general and piano students in particular have too many demands on their time. That was the crux of the original question I asked: How do you fit everything in the available time and what areas do you include or remove, given the time constraints? I'm hoping that, collectively, we can provide advice and strategies for time-pressed teachers and students that will maximize their success in lessons. Even if we can't do that, we can help define the issues by discussing them.
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Postby Beckywy » Sun Feb 13, 2005 11:38 am

For the time pressed students - I focus on technique, 1-2 pieces, and sight reading. If the parents want their child to do an exam, I explain to them more time is needed, and for the 3 months leading to an exam, I would have my extra time.
"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 Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Feb 13, 2005 1:05 pm

If it wouldn't sound sarcastic I'd be tempted to say, "advise people with overloaded agendas to get out of music", because you can't 'do' an art form like a tourist 'doing' the Tower of London, the Roman Colosseum and the Taj Mahal in a week. The "crux of the crux" of the question is, how can you get a person to reset his or her mental/physical/emotional pace for half an hour in order to be taught meaningfully, or even to listen and appreciate music? Or, more to the point, how can you make music meaningful to someone geared to an overloaded life? I'm sure this problem lies at the heart of public school teaching as well. I'm not sure we can come up with any pat answers.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Feb 13, 2005 1:34 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:If it wouldn't sound sarcastic I'd be tempted to say, "advise people with overloaded agendas to get out of music"

... I'm not sure we can come up with any pat answers.

Without any sarcasm intended, I'd say that this prescription, if applied to current teachers and students, would probably exclude 90% of students and at least 50% of teachers from taking or giving lessons. I think that would effectively end the teaching of music in any meaningful sense, except for those who are retired or independently wealthy. Is music for everybody or just those who can devote all the time they would like to it?

This thread was not intended to generate "pat answers"; quite to the contrary, it was intended to get people to think about and begin to address one of the most difficult issues that private teachers face. Every teacher and student will have a different "solution" or come up with a different set of accomodations to the problem, but hearing how people deal with it on a day to day basis can be a help to others facing the same issue.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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