The title of this blog entry is a little misleading, as in fact I wonder if anyone ever did teach transposing to more or less every student who passed through their door. But be that as it may, I genuinely do wonder if anyone does teach transposing anymore.
Once upon a time piano exams would include some kind of exercise that needed to be performed in a variety of keys. In the 70s and 80s (when I was taking piano examinations myself) the English examination board Trinity College required students in the lower grades to perform the first few bars of some of the exam pieces in either the dominant or the subdominant, or a tone higher or lower, or some other pair of transposing options according to the grade of the exam. During this time both the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College also offered Keyboard Musicianship examinations, which consisted of aural, sightreading, transposing and improvising tests.
The demise of this kind of examination alternative, and of any keyboard musicianship-type component in standard piano examinations suggests to me that teachers stopped teaching these skills somewhere along the way between the end of World War Two and the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the fall of the Berlin Wall, for those too young to have watched the news that week, was in 1989, some six years after the release of the Yamaha DX7, which (for the sake of this argument) I’m going to declare as the moment the transpose button started impacting on the performance habits of keyboardists.
Once you can change key at the flick of a switch (or the push of a button) the value of being able to play in any key is somewhat undermined. And by the later decades of the 20th century it was only pianists who worked with singers performing ‘popular’ music who were regularly needing to be able to transpose at sight or by ear instantaneously.
Add in the rise of the backing track, and the necessity for anyone to be able to transpose fluently on the spot has just about completely disappeared.
So, is my argument that transposing skills are a pianistic ability best relegated to the past? Well, no.
My argument is that all the practical pressures that lead pianists to develop the skill of transposing might be gone, but the benefits that transposing skills can bring to 21ct century piano students are vast. So who is teaching their students to transpose? Who is creating pedagogical materials that don’t just tack transposing on as an ‘extra for experts’ suggestion at the bottom of the page? And who is devising curricula that actively seek to provide joyous experiences to students mastering the tonal patterns of the keyboard?
These are not rhetorical questions! I’d love to know what your experiences are with teaching or learning the skill of transposition. Why do you do it? What makes it worthwhile? Or, possibly, why did you stop? And most importantly, does anyone teach transposing anymore?