A Piano Teacher’s Manifesto

Originally published some years ago as What Are Piano Lessons For? this is my manifesto on the purpose of piano lessons.  This is a manifesto that emerges from my experience, that reflects my values, and that frames everything about my piano teaching, about my writing for piano teachers, and about my composing for piano students. 1. Piano lessons are for learning how to do cool stuff on the piano. Cool stuff starts with things like playing familiar melodies, creating glissandi, using the sustain pedal, and moves on to more sophisticated cool stuff like creating a balance between the melody and accompaniment, voicing two parts within one hand, being able to control tonal variation, learning to recognise and perform any number of patterns (both by sight and by ear), knowing how to make different chords and chord sequences, being able to play a chromatic scale – fast, being able to play scales in contrary motion, or thirds apart, or sixths apart, creating different effects

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These ARE The Good Old Days

This last weekend I attended the Kennedy Awards, a New South Wales-based peer-awarded recognition of excellence in journalism, in the role of handbag to my journalist husband (who also happened to be nominated for, and go on to win, an award). Many stories were shared over the course of the night – events that had transpired behind the headlines, hair-raising exploits of reporters whose recklessness was matched by their journalistic brilliance. At some point in the evening, my husband noted that, for all the journalists in the room, these were ‘the good old days’ that would be recounted 20 years, 30 years, 50 years hence. From the premier undone by a bottle of wine through to disgraced former policemen being arrested for murder; from pervasively corrupt infrastructure deals involving Sydney’s water supply and regional mining leases through to politicians being handed paper bags of $10,000 cash just prior to elections; these are the good old days these journalists will look back on. This last weekend

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It Takes Two Generations…

This year I have had a handful of gorgeous beginners taking lessons with me. I’m trialling new material for beginners and I need a cohort of children of different ages, genders, interests and learning styles so I can really test a range of approaches I believe will be more effective than the approaches I’ve used in the past. I haven’t auditioned these new students prior to accepting them into my studio –  inviting a diverse group of children to explore the piano and learn musicianship and performance skills with me gives me my best chance of testing my material (as well as keeping me on my toes!). Of all the diversities amongst these beginners the greatest is probably this: some children come from families of professional musicians while some come from families where no one has ever learned an instrument. What does this mean? On the surface it means that I can write “start on F sharp” in a notebook

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MTNA 2013: About to Begin

It’s Music Teacher Conference time here in Los Angeles. I’m all checked in to the Disney Hotel here in Anaheim and have just finalised my choices for tomorrow’s marathon Pedagogy Saturday sessions. There are five tracks this year: Advanced Piano/Teaching Artistry, Collegiate/Young Professional, Jazz/Popular, Recreational Music Making, and Teaching Those With Special Needs, and those attending Pedagogy Saturday can mix and match to their heart’s content. Which is just as well, because I’ll be attending moments from each of the tracks (with the possible exception of the Collegiate/Young Professional track, for the obvious reason that I’m not a college student; neither, it pains and entertains me to say, am I a young professional). From surviving and thriving with small hands through to assessing whether/how performers can serve both audiences and composers; from teaching children with autism through to teaching children with dyslexia; from exploring creativity as a teachable skill through to  meeting the needs of a YouTube generation; from incorporating popular music into

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The Hal Leonard Australia 40 Piece Challenge 2013: suggestions for getting started

In 2013 Hal Leonard Australia is running a 40 Piece Challenge. And I’m very excited by this news. The challenge is to teachers primarily – can your students each learn at least 40 new pieces in 2013?! This challenge is not a random, out-of-the-blue event. There’s a massive back-story to the development of this 40-Piece Challenge, which you can read about here. But the point of the whole exercise is to encourage students to learn, perform and experience far more music than our exam-focussed culture usually allows. And to do so in order for students to develop much better reading skills and much broader musicianship, which will lead our students to be more likely to play the piano for the rest of their lives (no matter what grade exam they make it to before they stop taking piano lessons). This post isn’t about convincing you that this challenge is a good idea – there are plenty of posts I’ve written

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