First and foremost, I teach pupils to become musicians. Being a pianist is part of that, but everything that is learnt should have music at its core.
When I learnt piano as a child, I started with middle C and worked outwards through ploughing my way through a series of music books. Sometimes we learnt scales and arpeggios; all the time we looked at a score, decoded it, played it and moved on. However, piano pedagogy has moved on somewhat from those days!
I believe that all pupils should begin by creating music using the whole range of the piano from the outset. Students often learn by experiencing music through rote learning. This works because that we are capable of playing more than we are able to read in the early stages. Through focussed listening and imitating, students are able to play actual music from the very beginning. They can feel the joy of communicating as a musician; they can work on aspects of technique without the initial challenge of reading music, and can actually begin to connect the sounds they produce with their growing understanding of the symbols on the page. Games, improvising and other activities (designed to promote deep and broad understanding) are also part of the foundation of reading traditional music notation.
What can be surprising is that great deal of learning may be away from the piano, especially in the case of younger pupils. I make use of Kodály rhythm and sol-fa approaches, and I include aspects of Dalcroze Eurythmics and Paul Harris’ Simultaneous Learning in my teaching approach.
As a teacher, I promote positivity at all times. The best learning takes place through encouragement, joy and smiling. This does not mean that I do not expect high standards of practice in a pupil’s own studio at home. However, it means that achievements will always be celebrated, and pupils should feel safe and engaged in their learning.
I believe that music theory and aural skills should be taught in tandem with a pupil’s musical development and should not be some kind of “add on”. Too often, I have been asked to give extra lessons to pupils from other teachers in theory and aural prep for exams! I am passionate in my belief that theory and listening skills are taught throughout a pupil’s learning journey with me.
Since music is one of the most wonderful performing and expressive arts, I provide my students with opportunities to perform, whether through sharing videos of them playing, or in celebration concerts. Piano and theory exams are used from time to time: they should be a celebration of good learning that has already taken place. I do not believe in stumbling towards grade 1, then immediately beginning work on grade 2 pieces! Exams provide a syllabus and not a curriculum. However, I am proud to have a 100% pass rate for my pupils in music exams and diplomas, with most achieving merits or distinctions.