Inadequate Indoctrination (or, a practical instance demonstrating why scales matter)

Scales matter. Piano teachers are renowned for insisting that this is true, examination boards reward mastery of these patterns, and piano students compare speed and distance as if they are training for field and track. I talked before about why I think scales matter, in my Scales as Propaganda post, and this post follows up a lot of the ideas I put forward there. One of the main ideas in the Scales as Propaganda post is that the reason scales are important is not for technical facility per se (finger strength, fluency, tonal control and so forth) but for a broader (and fundamentally imaginative) ideational and geographical facility with the diatonic patterns that underpin music from the Baroque through to the end of the Romantic period (chromaticisms notwithstanding). What this means in practice is that if you know how to play the major scale in each of its 12 permutations you will have a reasonably high fluency in sight reading

read more Inadequate Indoctrination (or, a practical instance demonstrating why scales matter)

A Teenage Cautionary Tale

In her marvellous memoir Piano Lessons, Anna Goldsworthy recounts a turning point in her relationship with her piano teacher. Anna had won an extraordinary string of awards, academic and musical, in her final year at high school, and she was being interviewed for a story in the paper. Anna describes the whole experience as being quite surreal, finding the questions put to her by the reporter as being weirdly disconnected from anything she might have wanted to say. When the story appeared in the paper then next day Anna was bemused to herself quoted as saying that she owed her success to her kindergarten teacher, and that she planned to move to Sydney to further her career. It’s not that she was misquoted exactly, but that the whole story skewed very far from Anna’s reality. Next thing Anna received a phone call from her piano teacher, very cold, asking her about her plans to relocate to Sydney. Long story short,

read more A Teenage Cautionary Tale

Teacher As Guide: A Case Study

I’ve been writing and speaking about the responsibility of the piano teacher to be a guide for the student in terms of each specific new piece of repertoire, the importance for piano teachers to take this role seriously. Students gain enormous value from good guidance both in terms of enjoyment and sense of accomplishment as well as saving the student a lot of wasted practice time. This last week a student of mine had a ‘post-exam lesson’ – that first lesson after the exam where new repertoire is assigned, and the piano teacher spends more time playing the piano than the student does. Even though my student had just passed Grade 5 Trinity Guildhall (with distinction, as it turned out) her first new assignment was Diversion 4 by Richard Rodney Bennett (a piece considerably easier than Grade 5!). Before she played it through I talked about the style of the piece: it’s clearly a 20th century work, but very lyrical,

read more Teacher As Guide: A Case Study