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I’ve been reading Joan Last’s The Young Pianist (first published 1954, Oxford) – not from beginning to end, but in bits and pieces. The chapter on interpretation offers many very good, helpful points about music in general, playing the piano in particular, and hints for the teacher. Talking about tonal control, she says, in a classic English understatement:
“Contrapuntal music is the best practice of all for independence of tone control. The two-part inventions of Bach are ideal, but these cannot usually be tackled during the first year or two. “
Thankfully, we have many linear pieces that we can use to teach this independence of line and control of tone. The inventions in the early RCM books are linear. One Canadian composer whose music sometimes appears in these books is Pierre Gallant. He has written a book of elementary-intermediate pieces titled Imitations and Inventions (Frederick Harris) that I quite like.
Contrapuntal writing is the focus of the Artistry at the Piano method and Jon George’s Patterns for Piano. These are beautifully melodic pieces, much more satisfying and interesting than something like Kunz’s Canons.
Also friendly for the young student are Katherine Beard’s Do What I Do canons. These are short canons in the major and minor 5-finger positions with the pentascale and broken triad written out at the top of each page. These do double duty – teaching linear music in all the different keys. There are cute, simple illustrations and a sentence of lyrics in each piece.
Then there is the master himself who has left us many teaching pieces. In the past couple of years I have started relying less on just the Repertoire books for our exam systems, and more on the books from which these pieces first came, such as Bach’s Anna Magdalena book and Eighteen Little Preludes. I’ve just started using Bartok’s Mikrokosmos (book 2) with a couple of students. These accomplish the same things while opening up the student’s ears to 20th Century sounds.
Many composers have one or two contrapuntal pieces in their collections – the ones I’ve mentioned are books that are all contrapuntal. I love “discovering” music that is new or new to me, and surely my students are benefiting from this.
This time of year I get many calls and e-mails from people looking for a piano teacher. I’m grateful that the calls keep coming; I know others aren’t so lucky.
At this point I have enough students for fall. I’m still meeting with potential students but only if they are able to come for lessons during the day (pretty much limited to adults – like other piano teachers – love teaching them – and home-schooled students). Even then, I know my limit, and there are times that I’m simply not available. Like most mornings and any time on Saturday or Sunday. No explanation or justification necessary. I do teach all ages and all levels – I like the variety – and a student does not need to be anywhere close to the top percentile of young pianists to be a great and rewarding student.
The factors that I consider when I get inquiries:
- Time availability. If there’s no mutually convenient time, the interview is not even going to happen. Even one of Jan Lisiecki‘s teachers had to put him on hold for a year because she was already fully booked.
- Teacher troubles. Any badmouthing of a current or past teacher sends up a red flag. While I know there are a few unethical and incompetent teachers, I’m always inclined to take the other teacher’s side first. I will not breach the code of ethics of the associations to which I belong by accepting a new student, until I know the break has been made with the former teacher.
- The instrument. I do accept students with a keyboard, conditionally, but I’m much more likely to accept someone with a real piano. See Weighing in on The Great Debate.
- 4. Balance of the studio. I have had, and still have, some students with rough backgrounds and/or learning issues. Although it can be quite rewarding, it’s mentally and emotionally draining. There’s a limit on how many difficult situations I can cope with at any given time. Frankly, as I get older, I find myself less willing to go there.
- The music itself. My approach and strength is a traditional classical approach, handed down through the generations. The focus is on literacy and an appreciation of the genres and styles from all the eras, including the current one. I do not have the set of skills to adequately teach jazz or how to play in a worship band. More in an upcoming post.
- General impressions over the phone or at the interview. This includes an attitude on the part of the child, punctuality at the interview itself, excessive hovering on the part of the parents – don’t answer the questions that I have specifically directed to your child – or any sense that this could be more stress than it’s worth. When musicians are young and hungry, they accept whatever comes their way and they make it work. I’ve been there. Learned tons along the way. I’m simply not there anymore. I keep a list of other teachers that I think might be a better fit.