Teaching Music – The Early Stages

Obviously, the basic “Principles of Teaching” is based on the intermediate to advanced student of the piano. Since we all begin at the same place, it is crucial to understand, from the outset, what is expected.

Daily practice and consistent lessons are the foundation for study. Daily practice because the basic skills must be acquired through regular use and consistent lessons since the commitment to the weekly time allotted in the teacher’s schedule must be respected. As we all know from experience, if we give ourselves an out–we will take it.

Daily practice should consist of carefully following the teacher’s instructions. Two or four measure sections repeated four to six times would be a minimum. Trouble spots often require eight or more repetitions. Remember, a sloppy repetition yields a sloppy performance.

Special care should be taken to count in a steady manner, letting the counting pull the playing along (and not the reverse) and, of course, diligently following the marked fingerings. We have eighty-eight keys to cover and only ten fingers. Which exact finger to use, even in a simple piece, is not a minor consideration.

As skills are gradually acquired and knowledge of dynamic marks, legato and staccato and phrasing are added, greater concentration is required in the repetitions. However, since this is a gradual accumulation, the additional intensity should not be particularly noticed–as long as the skills gained along the way are solid. See also this mandoline group post.

A beginning student should practice a minimum of a one-half hour each day (for the very young student this should be split up into two fifteen minute periods)–preferably at the same time every day. For each additional year of study, add on five minutes to the daily total. Please note! This is a BARE minimum.

When playing any piece of music, you should always have something specific in mind that you are trying to project. We all hear music in different ways. Some of us hear it as a story; some of us hear it in terms of feelings and some of us hear it as movement and/or color. Think carefully about how You hear music and then follow through by making sure that you are communicating that in your playing. It really doesn’t matter if the listener knows what you are doing. The honesty of doing it will spark their own responses. In this way, you are truly giving the music a chance to work its magic.

Many beginning students use an electronic keyboard. As soon as possible, anyone studying the piano should consider purchasing an acoustic instrument–not only for the range of notes and type of touch but also for the use of the pedal. Acoustic pianos should be tuned at least three times a year to protect against humidity changes. After all, musical instruments usually don’t come cheap. Just check this Stradivarius post!

Particularly in the beginning, attending live concerts whenever possible is crucial, as is participating in as many student performances as are offered. The range of superior performances on CDs is limitless but ask for recommendations. The range of mediocre performances is, unfortunately, also limitless. On video, movies like “Amadeus”, “Immortal Beloved”, “Song Without End”, “Madame Sousatzka”, “Brother of Sleep” and presentations of the Cliburn and Tchaikovsky Competitions are memorable.

By now you are probably tired of reading the word “repetition”. Remember when tying your shoelaces was a major effort, requiring all your concentration? Eventually, as if by magic, you could do it so automatically that you could watch television at the same time or have a conversation while doing it. Or think about what it takes to shoot a basket reasonably well or rattle off the multiplication tables. There’s that word again, “repetition”. But there are innumerable ways to repeat something–to trick the mind into storing a skill to the point where it becomes second nature. Use your imagination in the type and quality of the repetition and it can be an exciting adventure. Producing something beautiful, the shimmer of the genius of the composer sifted through the uniqueness of who you are, is well worth the hard work.