A small rant about diagrammatic illiteracy in the Arts Curriculum draft document

This has been my longest ever break in blogging since I began nearly three years ago. Family matters have been very pressing, and I ended up shutting down all my projects until things were on a more even keel. During this time, however, I’ve either tried or wanted to blog about any number of things: the Steve Reich retrospective held at the Sydney Opera House at the end of April, the value of learning the melodic minor scale, background information on my piece Vendetta which is currently on the Trinity Guildhall Grade 5 piano syllabus, a post on how I’ve let a student down by not teaching her to read chord charts before now, a review of the Nico Muhly/Sufjan Stevens/Bryce Dressner collaboration “Planetarium” as performed here in Sydney at the end of May, a Top 5 Things Parents Need to Know Once Their Child Starts Taking Piano Lessons list, as well as a discussion of the value and challenge

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Is the Study of Piano Declining in the United States of America?

This topic in the Tuesday afternoon line-up of MTNA Conference presentations seemed almost arcane on the page of the conference booklet, especially by way of comparison to other topics with immediate practical application in the 30 minute piano lesson. And the question seemed one of those asked-and-answered types: is the study of piano in decline? Hell, yeah. Who doesn’t know that, right? But I’m an arcane-topic kind of chick, so I bounded with enthusiasm into this panel presentation-discussion. It was already impressive just checking out who was in the panel: Peter Jutras, who is the editor of the wonderful Clavier Companion; E.L. Lancaster, who is both Vice President and Keyboard-Editor-in-Chief of Alfred Publishing; Brian Chung, Vice President of the Kawai Corporation; Gary Ingle, CEO of MTNA; Mike Bates, Senior Member of the Institutional Solutions Group, Keyboard Division, Yamaha Corporation of America; and Sharon Girard, NCTM, a private piano teacher since 1976 in Connecticut. To begin: college-level study (and beyond). The raw

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“The wrong sound is much more horrible than the wrong note” – Steven Spooner

“The score is not a wall but a window” – Peter Takacs

“Some pianists have alcoholic rubato – they stop at every bar” – Peter Mack

Pedagogy Saturday at the MTNA Conference 2012

I’ve never been to an MTNA Conference before. In fact, my music education conference experiences to date have been restricted to events held in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Malaysia. Fantastic conferences, each and every one, but each on a rather modest to cosy scale. Walking in on the first event of Pedagogy Saturday brought home the huge difference in population base between, say, Western Australia and the whole of the United States of America. The massive Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel (capacity in theatre mode of around the 1900 mark) appeared to be half-full of teachers sitting chock-a-block, each hanging off the wonderful words and thought and insights communicated by Nelita True. I only got to hear the tail end of the masterclass, but the ease and joyfulness with which Nelita approached her master-teacher role were an inspiration and she perfectly set the tone for the day. An understated wit and a deeply empathic approach to the preoccupations

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High School (Virtual) Music Class

There’s a chance I’m years behind on this one, but I had a thought today that high school music classes are on a hiding to nothing. The syllabuses works towards a particular kind of assessment that is, effectively, based on performance and theory exams, given a bit of a tweak for the purposes of fitting in with the other subjects. Even when ensemble performances are part of the assessments the emphasis is on the individual performer rather than the group achievements or the learning that has taken place to bring the performance into existence. High school music classes are just a kind of AMEB or ABRSM exam on steroids with a different marking system. So when high school music teachers think about contemporary approaches to teaching, it’s quite tricky to see a purpose for these new-fangled education ideas in an individualised performance + theory/musicianship exam kind of assessment context. My current favourite new-fangled idea about teaching is this one called

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Teaching v Learning in the Piano Lesson [Part I]

One of the biggest privileges of being a piano teacher is the opportunity to become a consistent part of a student’s life. Each school week for maybe even a decade or longer the piano teacher and the piano student have time one-on-one (more or less) to explore musical puzzles, pianistic tricks, and challenges both physical and imaginative. This is not a relationship in the knowledge-transmission model (where the teacher pours knowledge into student until student is all full up) but rather a relationship that is built on the teacher tweaking the learning experience to match the interests and accomplishments of the student. This teacher-student relationship is usually nurturing and supportive, in the sense of helping the student achieve their musical/pianistic goals and ambitions and substantially beyond. Piano teachers get to notice things about their students that can be missed in the hurly-burly of classroom activity, and piano teachers participate in building a sense of achievement in students who might otherwise

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Let’s Start At the Very Beginning, Part 2: Where is the beginning?

In Friday’s presentation I began by challenging the notion that our beginner piano students are in fact ‘beginners’. Sure, this might be their first piano lesson, but most of our newest pupils bring with them a myriad of musical lessons learned prior to walking in our studio doors. Music educators are deluded in the extreme if they believe that students have had no musical experiences prior to formal classes; from hearing their mother’s heartbeat while still in the womb through to being exposed to Muzak at the supermarket, children have a very rich tapestry of musical memories by the time they are 4 or 5 years old. There is complex musical accompaniment to children’s television (whether we’re talking opening themes of Disney preschooler animations such as Handy Manny or Jungle Junction or the rich semiotic of musical signification that organises In the Night Garden),  there are toddler/preschooler rock groups (The Wiggles, The Imagination Movers, and so on), and that’s without

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Let’s Start at the Very Beginning, Part 1: Models of Learning

Yesterday I gave a presentation on teaching beginners as part of the Sydney Conservatorium’s annual Piano Teacher Festival. I promised I would blog about this presentation, but there were so many ideas in the 90 minutes of talk that I need to break things into smaller units. So today I begin with Models of Learning. What I couldn’t show in my presentation, but would have loved to have had as prerequisite viewing, was this clip  that sets out the issues at play in ‘education’ generally. Part of what’s fabulous about teaching the piano is that we piano teachers have never bought into the industrial model Sir Ken Robinson outlines – we’ve never taught children content according to their age, for instance, but rather have responded to students’ progress and capacity, for instance. On the other hand, we have certainly taught to the test (in many countries) and as a result too many of us have taught our students to play

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Labels v Shapes: A Real-Life Reading Story

I find teaching addictive. It’s problem-solving, anecdote-sharing, exploration, creation, drama, psychology, youth culture, and every now and again a little bit of inspiration. But, for me, part of the addiction (I think) is the honesty you need, as a teacher, to bring to each lesson: admitting you get things wrong, not persisting with an approach that doesn’t connect with the student, not refusing to adapt your plans to real life, being prepared [and yes, I’m now specifically referring to instrumental and vocal teachers] to find new repertoire when a student (for no discernible reason) simply hates the fabulous music you’ve assigned. And then there’s the very humbling moment when you realise that something has gone under your radar for far too long – a student is missing something you assumed they knew, and you’ve both been going on for weeks, months, terms, or even years without the omission being noticed. That happened to me on Monday when my gorgeous young

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