I’ll never forget the time I accepted a transfer student who had moved to my area. She arrived with the books she had been using previously as well as all of her old lesson notes. I scanned through them quickly, took stock of where she was, and we started pretty much where her former teacher had left off. Easy peasy.
Not too long after she began I received a phone call from her former teacher; she wanted to explain why her student didn’t know certain things, why there were finger numbers written in her book, why they had skipped certain pieces, why they hadn’t got too far in her technical book… she was nervous and embarrassed that I was (in her mind) making assumptions about her studio based on this particular student.
I’ve been teaching long enough to know that basing your assumptions about a studio on one student is never accurate – and so I alleviated her concerns with my understanding of how every student is an individual with unique quirks and needs. No big deal!
Don’t Walk Out Of My Studio Without…
But it did get me thinking about the perception that other teachers may have of my students if and when they move out of town and start lessons elsewhere. What do I feel is most representative of my teaching? How would I hope another teacher would perceive my studio? And I narrowed it down to 3 main things, which have really helped to shape the way I teach. With these 3 goals in mind, my focus has become sharper and my teaching more purposeful.
1. The ability to teach yourself – My approach to new pieces is always with the end-goal of eliminating myself. Can my students “decode” a piece on their own? Do they have the confidence to give it a try without “hand holding”? Do they have the drive to work ahead, to try out new music on their own, and to work independently through challenges as best they can using the skills they’ve gained from me?
2. The ability to find freedom – I want my students to not even blink when asked to be creative at the piano – and so I work to pass on composing skills, improv skills, chording skills, and “sit-down-and-play-something” skills right from the very beginning of piano lessons.
3. The ability to be musical – Technique is important (and does actually play into musicality…just try to play beautifully with horrible fingering and fallen wrists!) but my overall focus is on inspiring my students to put a bit of themselves into everything they play. This is, after all, the goal of teaching music. We could just build piano-playing robots if we needed background dinner music with no soul… but we’re not doing that… we’re teaching children to play the piano. And with that comes the need to give each of these children their very own musical voice.
Teach As Though Everyone Is Leaving
This is a funny statement, but it really has helped me to direct my teaching practices. I teach each and every student as though I’m going to lose him to another teacher the following week. What do I hope he takes with him? What do I hope the new teacher will observe? If you teach as though everyone is leaving, you’ll likely find that you quickly zero in on that which is most important to you. We all likely teach with goals in mind, but having that sense of immediacy and transparency is a powerful motivator to develop a laser-like focus in your approach.
Want that other “imaginary teacher” to really think you’re awesome? Then check out PianoBookClub.com. We deliver a brand new supplementary repertoire book to you each and every month for just $8 – helping you build a music library that is varied and interesting. Collect the perfect piece for every “type” of student and print the books as many times as you like forever!