Piano Lessons for Life

Piano teaching has been a part of my life since birth (my mother resumed her at-home piano teaching when I was three weeks old) and a part of my professional existence since I was 14 and started giving lessons myself. Teaching at such a young age provided many lessons to me beyond the usual teenage job learning curve: I had to create invoices, prepare materials, plan learning sequences, discuss the progress of students with their parents, coordinate timetabling, engage in professional development, and so forth. This learning curve was much facilitated by teaching under the watchful eye of a mentor-mother, but even so, these are considerable responsibilities for someone who won’t be allowed to vote for another 4 years. The most challenging aspect of teaching as a 14 year old was, without doubt, talking with the parents. Fortunately my early students practised well enough, and everyone paid their fees on time, so two of the biggest piano teacher communication challenges

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New Metaphors for 21st Century Harmony

I’ve been dismayed by the degree to which traditional theories of harmony are tangental to the working keyboard practice of a 21st century pianist working in collaborative contexts.  A knowledge of figured bass is fantastic if you are working on the harpsichord with period repertoire, but for most pianists the kinds of harmonic thinking that underpin the repertoire they are asked to perform finds no clear expression in traditional music theory. Today I’ve been mulling on whether our metaphors aren’t the problem. Once upon a time it made perfect sense to say chords have a hierarchy, made up of the most important chord relationships (primary chords), and chords which play a complementary role (secondary chords). And once upon a time the idea of modulating really did describe the journey-like characteristics of the harmonic experience throughout a composition. But for the best part of the 20th century composers have shown remarkably little interest in modulating, and their use of chords suggests

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The Dominant is Daggy

For readers from the northern hemisphere and non-English speaking backgrounds, “daggy” is a wonderful word used in Australia and New Zealand to denote that which is embarrassingly out of fashion…. It was back in 2005 when I attended a Rolling Stones concert (for the first time in my life) that I realised what made the Rolling Stones so ‘cool’:  the almost complete absence of the dominant chord in their tunes.  More than that, in fact, because this absence of the dominant was accompanied by an abundance of the subdominant. This is all classical-speak for saying that the Rolling Stones use chord I and chord IV (C and F, for instance) and almost no chord V (G). Now, I haven’t sat down and catalogued the occurrences of the various kinds of chords in Rolling Stones numbers to be able to support this assertion, but certainly in the play list the Rolling Stones for that September 2005 Madison Square Gardens appearance the

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