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#1588267 - 01/01/11 10:38 AM Teacher who doesn't play  
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My teacher is a very skilled musician. She does play piano, but it’s no longer her primary instrument. Growing up it was her primary instrument and by the sounds of it she played very complex music. When she went to college she started playing several other instruments as well. These days all of her students play piano, though in the past she's taught flute, baritone, and some other instruments that I can't think of at this moment. She teaches part time and has a day job. She plays the Bassoon in an orchestra. She's also an incredible sight reader. However, for the most part she doesn't play piano during the lesson. An occasional note or series of notes here of there, but that's about it. I sometimes wish that she would sit down and play some of the more complex pieces we work on as an example for me. Its not that she couldn't do it, but because she doesn't play piano regularly herself anymore I'm sure it would take some practice on her part. I wonder if this can hurt my playing somehow in the long run. At the moment I'm really trying to become a good sight reader, and I have a ways to go, so I think that she'll be perfect for learning this skill. However, I do have to wonder that once I am satisfied with my sight reading skills (if that ever happens) then perhaps I should move on. I just watched a video on this forum with a student and teacher both playing a piece. The student is learning it and the teacher is guiding her by example. I get that through my teacher more verbally than by example. Is this something that should concern me? I guess one of the things that bothers me is that I’m apparently her best student and I don’t feel that I’m good enough to be someone’s best student. I’m just an intermediate player at best with mediocre but improving sight reading skills. Thanks for your feed back.

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#1588282 - 01/01/11 11:07 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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The first thing, of course, is to bring it up with your teacher and see what she says. I, for one, am hesitant to sit down myself at times because I feel it "takes away" from the lesson time, in a sense. She may simply have a slightly more extreme view of that opinion. It is possible that she is perfect willing and able to show you by example but has not yet for whatever reason.

That said, learning is through ALL sense and approaches. Listening to your own playing, verbal advice, reading, etc. And that includes listening to examples of what it should sound like. A teacher is expected to put in enough practice time to keep up their skills in order to be able to "show by example". As students become more advanced, however, teachers are teaching "musicianship" more than "piano-playing", so it is possible to continue to a rather high level with a teacher who is not a skilled concert pianist. But it does not sound, according to your post, like you are there yet.

So yes, it is cause for at least a conversation. From there, and taking into account her response, you can make a decision how you want to proceed.

#1588283 - 01/01/11 11:09 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Gosh, this is a touchy subject. I wonder if you can perhaps ask the teacher to demonstrate for you on occasion if desired.
In my experience as a student going back to NYC, my best teachers shared their conceptions of phrases by actually playing them, and I totally respected their artistry. If you are feeling frustrated about this problem, it should be dealt with in a diplomatic way.


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#1588296 - 01/01/11 11:37 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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My teacher has played for 30 years, but in the past few years has had a lot of turmoil in her life (finishing another degree, working overtime, directing 2 musicals, moving house etc)...and she hasn't been playing much. When we are together outside lessons (we've become friends) she doesn't want to play because she's embarrassed at how rusty she is. She's got a real block about it.

However...... she WILL play parts of my pieces to show me exactly what my hands should be doing. She DOES play duets with me, (great for sight-reading at tempo!) - and she DOES play my homework pieces before I start them (if I ask her to) so that I can hear what I'm aiming for. These are things I find really helpful and by watching her, I can sometimes get a handle on what she is explaining more quickly.

Verbal instructions are good, but I think we also learn by watching and it might be very helpful if your teacher would demonstrate with action, rather than explain in words.

You should talk to her about it.


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#1588336 - 01/01/11 12:47 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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My undergrad teacher demonstrated all the time, my teacher in grad school never did. They both had their reasons (and good ones, I eventually learned).


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#1588405 - 01/01/11 03:00 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Originally Posted by MrHazelton
At the moment I'm really trying to become a good sight reader, and I have a ways to go, so I think that she'll be perfect for learning this skill.


Your description of your teacher paints a picture of a highly interesting person with an important musical capital. I think that you are underestimating what she can transmit to you.

Which is not to say that you oughtn't speak to her about the question that you raise. Or that there might not be another teacher better able to give you what you need or what you expect.

#1588437 - 01/01/11 03:53 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Quote
Your description of your teacher paints a picture of a highly interesting person with an important musical capital. I think that you are underestimating what she can transmit to you.

Which is not to say that you oughtn't speak to her about the question that you raise. Or that there might not be another teacher better able to give you what you need or what you expect.


That sounds about right to me, on both counts.

Supposing she truly is not much of a player anymore, that fact may or may not have any impact on your learning. If you aspire to concert level playing of Chopin Scherzi, perhaps you would need to move on to someone who has experience at that level on the piano. If your goals are less lofty, or if the eclectic mix of skills she brings to the table match your interests in music, you may be just fine. This is an issue that would seem to defy an easy answer.

I know that I did in fact switch my son from a very good pedagogue, but one who had no real performance experience, to a university level teacher/performer. I felt that this was a good switch for him on a number of levels, and he concurred after a few sample lessons. But our goals were, well, our goals. He wanted to play at a very high level, and that included competitively. The switch was a calculated risk that paid off.

#1588455 - 01/01/11 04:20 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Personally, the only way I would accept instruction from somebody who couldn't play under the following conditions:

a) if they were of a very senior age and no longer physically capable of playing well, but with a provable history of high level playing behind them - thus their comments on technique and fingering carry some weight.
b) They play another instrument but have a very high musical pedigree. When I was doing my performance degree, some of my best instruction came from people who were outstanding violinists and wind players.

If the teacher is not one of the above (or a combination thereof), I would not learn from them because it becomes a case of "do what I say, not what I do". Some of these teachers are actually not advanced musicians at all, and never were - even if they claim they were once great, you can't take that as read. Some are downright awful or were once intermediate at best - these people shouldn't be teaching under false pretences, and believe me, many of them are. A lot of them actually reach a very advanced level of self-deception - where they learn to devalue the importance of them being able to play and convince themselves that what's important is that they have great thoughts and sensitivity to music. Many of their suggestions will come from a place of high musical idealism, but sometimes they may actually be impractical - or even impossible. I believe this is irresponsible teaching because it can get very bogged down in words. Words are very often misunderstood and misinterpreted - it is very easy to miscommunicate. I'm not against lessons which are primarily or even entirely verbal, but in cases where the message is not getting through verbally, there must be the backup of demonstration.

In the end, anything a teacher says must be possible, and if the student is not finding something possible through verbal instruction, it must be proved to be possible - and the only way to prove that something is possible is to demonstrate.

To the original poster. I wouldn't confront your teacher with a conversation about it just yet. I would just test her willingness or capability to do what you want. Next time you don't get something or really need to hear what she means, ask her, "could you please play it for me so I can hear what you are asking of me?". If she does, great. If she declines, especially more than once, then you have to have a talk with her about it. Don't get too negative about it until you establish that she really won't play for you, rather than just suspecting that she won't.

#1588476 - 01/01/11 04:54 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: Piano*Dad]  
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Originally Posted by Piano*Dad
the eclectic mix of skills she brings to the table


It does not appear to me that Mr Hazleton's post permits one to affirm that the teacher brings an eclectic mix of skills to her lessons.


#1588478 - 01/01/11 04:55 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: ando]  
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Originally Posted by ando
and if the student is not finding something possible through verbal instruction, it must be proved to be possible - and the only way to prove that something is possible is to demonstrate.


A curious point of view.

#1588509 - 01/01/11 06:02 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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The bottom line is if you are learning and happy, stay with what works. You can learn from anyone if you choose. I learn from my students everyday. I have also taken lessons from guitar players and drummers who have given tremendous insight into seeing things differently. They could not play my instrument but were able to help me practice differently. Besides, even if a teacher can play, maybe you would want to play differently then your teacher does. Maybe the teacher wants you to bring out your own creativity. I always tell my students to listen to as many different people playing the same piece as possible. Then create you own version using the guidlines on the page. In the meantime, take a lesson with other teachers and see what happens. You never know. You may like someone better.

#1588517 - 01/01/11 06:10 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: ando]  
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The important thing is why the teacher is not playing. That includes what the teacher is observing, where the student is at, what the teacher's goals are - any number of things. Ando, you are writing from your experience, and it seems to be in a context of higher level studies. But we don't know what is happening here.

Supposing for example that a student is beginner or beginner-intermediate and is very weak in sight reading. Imagine that this student depends on imitating his teacher or recordings for a basic sense of "how the music goes" and the teacher wants him to start being able to look at the score and get clues about the music (basically) from the score. This teacher would have a reason not to play a simple piece in front of his student. That reason has to be important thing. Is it through lost playing ability, or a teaching reason? If a teaching reason, is it valid?

#1588521 - 01/01/11 06:16 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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The greatest teacher is that which makes the most astute observations.


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#1588533 - 01/01/11 06:28 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Quote
I get that through my teacher more verbally than by example. Is this something that should concern me? I guess one of the things that bothers me is that I’m apparently her best student and I don’t feel that I’m good enough to be someone’s best student. I’m just an intermediate player at best with mediocre but improving sight reading skills.

Mr. H, there are a couple of issues here, which we can explore. First, there's the question of how much you need the teacher to play for you. My first, second, and third teachers played virtually nothing for me at lessons, yet all three were highly accomplished players and solo concert recitalists. Would I have learned faster and/or better had they done so? I don't know. I do play a lot for my students, but more so for beginners and intermediates than advanced students. I do so to train their ears more than to tell them how to do something. In other words, I play example A and example B and ask them to tell me what differences they hear and which they feel better represents what the composer wanted. For elementary students who are having some rhythm problems, I play with them to pull them along into the correct rhythm patters. For beginners, intermediates and virtually all transfer students, I have to correct/illustrate a lot with their touch. For that, I need to play. It doesn't mean I need to play a lot, but just short phrases to show them. With advancing students it's more about refinements and interpretations. For that, I often sing and do a lot of hand gyrations. It is often much more effective than playing.

The second issue is about being a teacher's best student. I wouldn't worry too much about that. There are dozens of reasons why you might be the best. It could be that her clientele is, for the most part, less serious and doesn't study too long. It could be that she specializes in beginners and intermediates, and if a student advances too far, passes them along to another teacher. If you're receiving solid teaching every lesson, don't lose any sleep over it.


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#1588732 - 01/02/11 12:18 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: mikey keys]  
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Chopin's teacher was a violinist, no?

+1 to
Originally Posted by mikey keys
The bottom line is if you are learning and happy, stay with what works. You can learn from anyone if you choose. I learn from my students everyday. I have also taken lessons from guitar players and drummers who have given tremendous insight into seeing things differently. They could not play my instrument but were able to help me practice differently. Besides, even if a teacher can play, maybe you would want to play differently then your teacher does. Maybe the teacher wants you to bring out your own creativity. I always tell my students to listen to as many different people playing the same piece as possible. Then create you own version using the guidlines on the page. In the meantime, take a lesson with other teachers and see what happens. You never know. You may like someone better.


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#1588771 - 01/02/11 01:36 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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I would be a tiny bit worried if someone was claiming they can play AND teach the piano, the flute, the baritone and "a number of other instruments I can't remember". It's quite difficult to major in one subject like piano, let alone two. But to master 3-4 different instruments? This seems almost too much.

Then again, it's not to say that one should be a great performer in order to teach, but it would make me a tiny bit worried.

On the other hand, like othes have said, if you're earning something from the lessons keep up. If you have a good relationship with your teacher ask her to demonstrate things to you and explain why you feel this is needed. I tend to demonstrate a lot on the piano, though I always try to back it up by theoretical explanation...

#1588896 - 01/02/11 10:17 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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I frequently play for my students, for the following reasons:

1. Playing music exposes them to the music. In today's world, classical music is quite far down on the list of what people listen to, especially young people, as compared to students from, say, 1880. No iPods, heavy metal or hip hop or Miley Cyrus etc. back then.

Playing music that a student can learn opens their thinking, and gets them interested and even excited about playing that piece, and playing that genre in general.

Playing more advanced music gives them a glimpse into that world. If I never played anything, most students would have no clue about repertoire.

2. Playing music demonstrates how the music should sound. Again, if most students do not seek out examples of good music, they have no standard by which to move towards.

3. Playing music demonstrates good technique and body posture. I show them technique and posture as part of the lessons, but playing a short piece shows it applied in action, in real time.

4. Playing music is therapeutic. I have had several examples of students rushing in, all stressed out because of whatever, and I will play a piece simply to calm them, and focus them on music. It only takes a few moments, but it definitely sets the mood.

If I were studying with a teacher, I would be leery if that person never played for me. I am there to learn how to play...show me some playing!


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#1588932 - 01/02/11 11:25 AM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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My first piano teacher (I'm on my second, now) was actually a flute major but taught piano anyhow. Now, I had been studying with her for about three years, when I began doing a bunch of reading (I love reading!) on piano, technique, practice, performance, etc. It turns out that because my teacher (who never played, she only sat in her big armchair and scolded me) actually didn't know very much about piano, she had a hard time teaching someone like me, who learns very fast and very well (if I don't say so myself).

So about eight months ago I switched piano teachers. I am really happy with my new teacher. She is an excellent pianist, teacher, and musician!

Please, I am not trying to say that this is the case with the OP's teacher. Only that this is what happened to me. Food for thought.


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BACH: Invention No. 13 in a min.
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#1588955 - 01/02/11 12:18 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: rocket88]  
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Originally Posted by rocket88
4. Playing music is therapeutic. I have had several examples of students rushing in, all stressed out because of whatever, and I will play a piece simply to calm them, and focus them on music. It only takes a few moments, but it definitely sets the mood.

I liked all your reasons for playing for a student, but this one is particularly charming.


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#1588960 - 01/02/11 12:32 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: landorrano]  
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Originally Posted by landorrano
Originally Posted by ando
and if the student is not finding something possible through verbal instruction, it must be proved to be possible - and the only way to prove that something is possible is to demonstrate.


A curious point of view.


Why is it curious? In a music lesson you have 2 main modes of communication. Verbal and playing. If the verbal isn't working to get the message across, that leaves the playing. Nothing curious about that...

I feel quite strongly on the importance of teachers being able to play. The teaching industry is rife with people who are not equipped to instruct music. They may sit there looking like the wise old owl with all the knowledge, but very few of these types really have the piano specific knowledge they need. Unless they have a solid performance history, most of their ideas are untested or recycled from people who actually do play (may as well go to the original source)

I've seen the comment made here several times that if you feel like your teacher is helping, it's unimportant whether he/she plays, but I would dispute this. Due to the authority a teacher has, it's very easy for a teacher to convince student that he is helping and that the student is improving under his tutelage. Even if the student does appear to be improving, it's still very easily possible to be led down a dangerous path by a teacher who isn't a player. You can end up riddled with technical problems and limitations.

For this reason, a teacher should offer an upfront reason for why he/she doesn't play for you. If that reason is not offered, you can ask about it. If you still don't have the answer, that's evasive and you are dealing with somebody who is not confident of his/her own abilities, at best, has a physical problem/limitation, in the middle, or, never has been able to play and is deceptive/evasive about it, at worst.

I think there is a common belief that anybody who would offer music lessons somehow has a decency and honesty about them. I have met a number of teachers who are motivated by money and are really not devoted to music or the art of teaching. You still need to be a savvy buyer and look critically at what is being offered to you. The deceptive teachers tend to talk an awful lot and self-aggrandise quite a bit. That is something to watch out for. A good teacher comments more broadly and will pick you up on technical issues as well as expression/interpretation issues. If your teacher doesn't focus on, or doesn't notice your technical problems, but prefers to always talk about your phrasing or dynamics, that teacher is most likely not knowledgable enough about the piano. You can't separate technique from expression - the two go hand in hand. Even for advanced players, technical problems lead to expression problems.

#1588988 - 01/02/11 01:06 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Let me elaborate a little on my graudate school experience.

I studied for 2 years with my professor. In the entire first year with him, he never once sat down at the second piano and demonstrated anything. Having come from a teacher who demonstrated everything, i found this quite frustrating. We would talk about ideas, we listened to recordings, but he would never play.

It would have been very easy to assume he didn't play well, or didn't know the repertoire well enough.

What I eventually realized, however, was that he had a purpose in not playing for me. He wanted me to become more independent, more creative in my musical thinking. And I did.

I have used this process in my own teaching, often with students who need to improve their sight-reading, and used it successfully. It seems that this is also the OP's goal -- to improve his reading. Perhaps this is why the teacher is not playing, but he won't know this unless he asks.


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#1588998 - 01/02/11 01:36 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: Minniemay]  
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Originally Posted by Minniemay

It would have been very easy to assume he didn't play well, or didn't know the repertoire well enough.


The difference with your situation is that you're talking about a professor. They don't get appointed to their job unless they have excellent credentials. You had the confidence that he had ample knowledge of the instrument so it allowed you to suspend your disbelief. With somebody private, you may not have had the same confidence - and with good reason. A lot of these people really can't play. Only a few teachers that can play have a teaching approach that totally avoids it. It just makes sense to demonstrate something once in a while if you can. How about the inspiration factor of playing something? I use that all the time and it gets results. Some students won't engage unless you do play for them sometimes. To avoid doing that out of a determination to teach verbally (regardless of why) is not fair on many students.

Here's an example: Ornaments. Ornaments can be performed many ways and have been through changes according to the era of music. With a teacher who doesn't play, an accurate description of ornaments is virtually impossible. You certainly can't sing them properly at speed. If you could play, you would just play them. It gives the student a concrete sense of what you are talking about. Not playing can leave them in the dark and quite confused. Ornament interpretation is still an issue even at quite advanced levels, so it's not like you can claim to be a teacher that is past all that.

#1589101 - 01/02/11 05:08 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Wollongong, AUS
I am a teacher with some limited playing issues. I have quite bad RSI in my right hand and whilst I can play fine most of the time, its a limited time. I could play for about 15-20 before the pain gets really intense. That said, I don't take advanced students, I take on beginner students and I don't take on people wanting to become concert pianists. I teach music for enjoyment and fun, those who want to do exams, do exams, those who dont, then dont. I also teach 8 other instruments to beginner primary school students, I can play all the instruments and know the associated issues with those instruments, if I don't then I get help from my friends.


Rebecca.
Private Piano Teacher, Conservatorium Recorder teacher, Primary School Band Method Teacher
#1589132 - 01/02/11 06:11 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: casinitaly]  
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rocket88 Offline
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Originally Posted by casinitaly
Originally Posted by rocket88
4. Playing music is therapeutic. I have had several examples of students rushing in, all stressed out because of whatever, and I will play a piece simply to calm them, and focus them on music. It only takes a few moments, but it definitely sets the mood.

I liked all your reasons for playing for a student, but this one is particularly charming.


Thank you.

I had one adult student who had an incredibly stressful life, and sometimes literally had no time to practice due to traveling with the job; more than once I was asked to just play for the entire lesson time. In the long run it was beneficial to the student's overall learning.


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#1589133 - 01/02/11 06:19 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: Minniemay]  
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rocket88 Offline
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Originally Posted by Minniemay
We would talk about ideas, we listened to recordings, but he would never play.


I can understand what your teacher's goal is, and I respect that, and encourage it in certain specific instances to remedy a problem.

However, I cannot understand why a tradition exists in general in piano teaching to not play for students.

Students are encouraged to listen to repertoire on records, cds, etc, and to listen to repertoire in person by going to concerts, but then prevented from listening to repertoire in person from their instructor?

Makes no sense to me.



Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#1589135 - 01/02/11 06:20 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: rocket88]  
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casinitaly Offline

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casinitaly  Offline

Gold Supporter until March 1 2014


Joined: Mar 2010
Posts: 6,548
Italy
Originally Posted by rocket88
Originally Posted by casinitaly
Originally Posted by rocket88
4. Playing music is therapeutic. I have had several examples of students rushing in, all stressed out because of whatever, and I will play a piece simply to calm them, and focus them on music. It only takes a few moments, but it definitely sets the mood.

I liked all your reasons for playing for a student, but this one is particularly charming.


Thank you.

I had one adult student who had an incredibly stressful life, and sometimes literally had no time to practice due to traveling with the job; more than once I was asked to just play for the entire lesson time. In the long run it was beneficial to the student's overall learning.


Ah, a healer as well as a teacher. It is always very interesting to hear about the various paths teachers can take to help the student reach the long term objectives. I bet your student really appreciated those musical moments, those islands of time.


[Linked Image]
#1589140 - 01/02/11 06:34 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: rocket88]  
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kck Offline
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Originally Posted by rocket88


Students are encouraged to listen to repertoire on records, cds, etc, and to listen to repertoire in person by going to concerts, but then prevented from listening to repertoire in person from their instructor?

Makes no sense to me.



Me either. If someone has some insight I'd love to hear it. I totally understand creativity and interpretation in music. BUT I don't see how hearing your teacher play would damage that for anyone that had musical potential. My son's teacher plays for him all the time, but does not pigeon hole him to his own interpretation or style of playing. He does talk about historically accurate articulation, etc.


Amateur musician, piano and violin parent
#1589158 - 01/02/11 07:05 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: ando]  
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keystring Offline
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Canada
Ando, you have written some important things. It can be summarized as caveat studens. The bottom line is why a teacher does something. Your examples tend to be at a more advanced level: interpretation of music, ornamentation, lofty ideas. Supposing that a student is at the beginning stages, and is dependent on imitating. If a teacher plays so he can hear "what it sounds like" and/or encourages recordings, this is as crippling as not playing when a demonstration would be in order. What a teacher chooses to do should be based on a teaching reason, and not because of inability or some blind ideal.

#1589189 - 01/02/11 08:17 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: MrHazelton]  
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Chopinmaniac Offline
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If you are a beginner or at an intermediate level, then absolutely, the teacher should be able to play either the difficult passage or the whole piece that he/she is teaching.

At the advanced level, you can't expect the teacher to be able to play anything that you wish to learn, it takes a lot of practice time to get an advanced level piece to a decent shape, a lot of teachers just don't have that time.

The teacher should be honest and tell you why he/she won't demo the piece you are learning.

Last edited by Chopinmaniac; 01/02/11 08:57 PM.
#1589194 - 01/02/11 08:34 PM Re: Teacher who doesn't play [Re: ando]  
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AZNpiano Offline
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Orange County, CA
Originally Posted by ando
Here's an example: Ornaments. Ornaments can be performed many ways and have been through changes according to the era of music. With a teacher who doesn't play, an accurate description of ornaments is virtually impossible.

Why don't you just write out a realization of the ornament? Many editions of Bach do that, and people can read ornaments just fine.


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
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