Hello readers, I apologise for the lateness of this blog. I know I've been a little slack with the social medias lately but I've been meeting with a whole heap of new students, which has been both fantastic and also inspiration for today's post!
The wonderful and challenging thing about being a music teacher is knowing that no two students will learn the same way. I believe there is no real set formula to apply to a new student, though I find age and prior experience can give me some clues as to how to proceed. However, there are teachers in the world who do follow a particular set of what I guess you'd call rules. They call them good habits. I call them the three P's: posture, practice and perfection. And I hate them.
Occasionally I'll come across a student who has had the three P's enforced upon them at some point. I'll ask them to play me through their favourite piece so I can gauge their level, they'll assume the painfully straight posture associated with most pianists and then they'll stop breathing. This is the most common (and disturbing) phenomenon I encounter with new students and it terrifies me. What if the piece goes for too long and they just pass out? They will literally hold their breath until they either turn a page, finish the piece or make a mistake, and this is where the perfection rule comes in.
To me this is the very worst of the 'good habits'. A student will make a mistake and then they'll go back to the beginning. I firmly believe this is very bad for your mental health. If you make a mistake in life you can't return to infancy and hope you don't do it again. You just keep going. I've told my students if you're playing to an audience the majority will have absolutely no idea you've made a mistake. If you stop and go back to the beginning, then they'll probably notice something's up. I don't require perfection from my students, or maybe I do but I define it differently.
To me perfection can't come from rigorous hours of exercises (another of the 'good habits', don't get me started on Hanon) or an unnaturally straight spine. Perfection to me is seeing a musician who is confident and comfortable. How can you possibly be either of those things when you're worrying about how you're sitting, as opposed to what you're playing? Have you ever noticed that the truly great pianists, Einaudi, Yiruma, Beethoven are famously hunched over their pianos? Sagging over the keys as they put all their energy and emotion into their fingers, their faces getting gradually closer to their hands as if they're listening as hard as they can. Which they are.
I had a sad moment the other day when I asked a new student which was her favourite piece to play, and she said she didn't have one. Not because she enjoys all her pieces equally, but because there really is no one piece she connects to, that she loves to sit down and play. I am determined to find that piece for her, and then a whole lot more because otherwise what is the point. Why learn folders and folders worth of songs that bring you no joy?
As a positive counterpoint I have another new student, a 7 year old who complained to me in his first lesson that piano is 'boring and hard'. Looking through his folders I had to agree. I gave him some new stuff and on the day of his fourth lesson he was waiting for me at the door, bouncing up and down telling me he'd practiced every day and could he please play me his song? After a quick mental self-high five I listened to him play with all the joy and confidence I try so hard to instil in all my students.
I'm afraid all my blog posts are becoming rant-esque, but I'm going to blame that on how passionately I feel about teaching and music in general. Music should be enjoyable, relaxing, invigorating, inspiring and if it's not doing anything for you then it's time to examine how you're going about it. I've been called unorthodox but I'd like to think my methods are based on common sense, and an understanding that a 6 year old does not have the same attention span as a 40 year old. Whether you're a professional musician or just learning for fun, find the joy in what you do and the rest will fall into place. And please remember to breathe.