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Hello all -- please let me ask the forums for advice.

I'm an intermediate-level adult who has been taking lessons for several years. I work at a university and have been taking lessons there; it's wonderfully convenient, I just walk over from my office at the end of the day.

The teachers are graduate students in a Ph.D. program in piano pedagogy that the university runs. Overall I'd say the program is pretty good! But it does have the disadvantage that the teachers don't have a lot of experience. Another disadvantage is that the teachers tend to graduate and move away; I've had several and my current teacher is wrapping up, so I'll be assigned a new one if I stay.

I have at least some hopes of progressing to advanced level and being able to play Beethoven sonatas and the like. I'm curious if forumites have a positive impression of university programs like this, or if you think I'd be better served by seeking out a more permanent instructor?

Thanks.

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Hi Impendia!

I think that at a certain point you will need a more permanent and especially a more advanced and experienced teacher. And probably you have reached this point, because this question came up. smile


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Is it possible for you to arrange lessons with one of the professors instead of the grad students?

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Most people work during the week. You can try to get a teacher near your home on weekends or the days you don't work.

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You may want some longer term continuity with a teacher than you're getting now with the grad students. Lessons with one of the professors might do the trick (and be convenient for you). Do you have any knowledge of them, i.e., one you might like to have as a teacher? You might have to sign up for an applied piano class with the professor, which usually involves paying tuition and fees. I don't know how your university works, but as an employee you might get a tuition break.


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Is it possible for you to arrange lessons with one of the professors instead of the grad students?

Well, that depends. At many conservatories and high level music departments within universities the professors are fully booked with students (undergraduate and graduate). Developing a long term relationship with a faculty member is a lot easier at undergraduate-focused institutions that aren't conservatories. At that kind of institution (like mine, for instance) the permanent instrumental faculty tend to be NTE rather than tenured or tenure-eligible. The TE faculty doesn't teach piano or violin (specific instruments). They teach composition, history, theory, musicology and the like. At places like this the faculty who teach specific instruments take paying students into a private studio. In that case it's easier to develop a long-term relationship with a single faculty member who plans to hang around for the long term.

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I've boon on both the student and teacher end of this. I went back to school at 62 to get a piano performance degree (long story - here's the thread). I took lessons from a professor for four years, but I had to be enrolled (including an audition first). The teacher I took lessons from did not teach privately. But there was one instructor that had a private studio. She was not a professor, but taught keyboard skills and accompanied voice students.

I also did student teaching for pedagogy class. In my experience, you could get a very good student teacher, or one that doesn't know the least thing about teaching and is only doing it because they have to. If you want to develop a long term relationship you should probably look around for a seasoned teacher.

Once I got to know more teachers, and joined the music teachers association, I learned that the teachers all know who the best teachers are - if you can get them to tell you! In my opinion, you are looking for someone that participates in exams for their students, that has recitals, and that has a track record of students going on to a career in music. Which means that they have experience teaching the sort of things that you want to learn.

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Thanks everybody! I appreciate it.

I did decide to email one of the piano professors this morning and ask, although I'm not too optimistic about getting an encouraging reply. The music department heavily promotes their piano pedagogy PhD program, so it is understandable that they funnel anyone seeking piano lessons through it.

I also wrote my departing teacher (who is one of the PhD students), and she wrote back right away -- for better or worse she seems very loyal to her program and didn't encourage me to look outside it. I could write the professor who manages the program, but I worry this might just cause bad feelings without accomplishing anything.

I might end up striking out on my own; for example, one of the graduates of the program still teaches in town, and she guest-taught one of the "master classes" I took. This would involve more of a schlep to get to where she is (assuming she's taking students at all), but maybe it would be worth it.

Anyway, a lot to think about, thanks again for the feedback!

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The community colleges in our area offer private lessons and use instructors for teachers. If you have community colleges in your area you might check that out. I've had the same teacher for 8 years and the cost is low.


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If you have had positive experiences of the other teachers, and so local and convenient, then there may not be good reasons to move. I presume these lessons would be cheaper than someone who is established. However if you can walk from work and its there you may find it very annoying to find any alternative. I think one key factor when I chose a teacher, other than having experience and qualification, was location. I tried the nearest person. I could not leave a place so convenient and walking to lessons is really awesome so I'm not sure why you'd leave that ! You do have an option of online lessons if you are like me too lazy to travel regularly for piano lessons. I really resisted this but after 6 months out of lessons I tried online lessons and I would not go back to fact to face when covid allows this. I found my piano teacher can try stuff out on the piano and advise me on things so there is some small advantage. It may not be so easy if you are have only had 3 years of lessons as perhaps things like technique are not very easy to demo online in 2D. I think you have a valid point about being more advanced and having different needs but I do not think beethoven sonata requires a conservatory level pianist and any pianist at a phd level can play really epic music. I think most piano teachers could teach a beethoven sonata and you should be able to learn movements already if you are an intermediate level as beethoven wrote so many of these. Whether they all people who can play these pieces teach it to others is less clear. I have had lessons, on and off now for over 15 years, so I perhaps do need a teacher who has actually played to a high level rather than someone who teaches mostly to young kids but I think if you have had lessons for 3 years maybe it is less important factor for choosing a teacher. I am sure some high level pianists you could argue have less experience with beginner and intermediate so may be less good at this than someone who teaches mostly this. A difficult dilemma. Maybe try the new student teacher and if they are useless explore other options !

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I had taken lessons with grad students at the local university for a couple of years, and they were good, but now I take them with a full professor. She is much, much better as a teacher, and is more permanent. More expensive, but worth it.


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Originally Posted by cmb13
I had taken lessons with grad students at the local university for a couple of years, and they were good, but now I take them with a full professor. She is much, much better as a teacher, and is more permanent. More expensive, but worth it.
I agree, Craig! Many more years of experience equals quite a wonderful learning environment. I feel like my own teachers knows, and has probably seen, everything smile


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Thanks again all.

A related question comes to mind. My lessons over the last year have focused a lot on musicality, which is great -- but over the next year I'd like to focus more on technique and reading ability. I'd suggested this once or twice to my outgoing teacher previously, but the discussion didn't really go anywhere and I wasn't comfortable pressing the matter. Especially since, if I'm being honest... it wasn't like I was practicing two hours a day.

I'm a math teacher myself, and I know it's a *lot* easier to give feedback about results than process. If a beginner showed me a writeup of a math proof and asked for advice on how to improve it, I could definitely give useful advice. If that same beginner asked me for advice on how to write proofs in general, or how to improve quickly -- well, I could give advice here too but I would be less sure of myself.

So perhaps related to my original question, how do I seek this out? Do I specifically look for a teacher who is good at giving this sort of feedback, or perhaps I just need to be more comfortable sharing my goals with whoever I end up with?

Thanks.

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Something to think about. To me, musicality and technical skills are totally intertwined. So when your teacher discusses how to make a piece more musical, he is addressing the technical skills that will achieve the musicality. Playing Albert bass but it is uneven? Your teacher will discuss how to improve the evenness. That is the technique. Intended legato not sounding attached? Your teacher will discuss specific techniques of note decay, fingering, firearm rotation and maybe pedaling.

You get the idea. Just my personal experience.

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The study of technique goes hand-in-hand with the choice of repertoire. Pick a piece with voicing challenges? Then study that. Pick something with fast repeated notes - better learn to do that. That's always the way it has been with my teachers. At least once I learned all the scales and arpeggios, then new techniques were studied as they came up in repertoire.

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Originally Posted by impendia
over the next year I'd like to focus more on technique and reading ability.
Both of these take time and develop very gradually. One way you could work on both is to do "quick studies" - short etudes that take you one or two weeks to master and then move on. But they have to be of the appropriate level. You can ask your teacher for suggestions. I have used Czerny op. 821 for this purpose.

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When it comes to technique, I think you'll need to find a teacher who has excellent technique themselves, who has thought a lot about technique and who focuses a lot on technique in their lessons. When it comes to reading ability, basically you can buy a series of sightreading books and work with them yourself, according to the instructions that are given.


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Originally Posted by impendia
My lessons over the last year have focused a lot on musicality, which is great -- but over the next year I'd like to focus more on technique and reading ability.

....it wasn't like I was practicing two hours a day.
With technique, it depends on how advanced you already are and what you can play now to your teacher's satisfaction. I assume you're already playing scales & arpeggios, the bedrock of classical piano technique. If you've reached a certain standard, progress from then on is really all about spending time at the piano concentrating on your weak points. There are a couple of technical books (of purely technical exercises) I use that help to highlight - and target - a student's weakness in specific areas.

But if you still have a lot to learn about piano technique - e.g. voicing (bringing out any note in chords at will), varieties of articulation, pedalling, thirds etc - you'll need a teacher to help you.

With reading skills, again, once you can read, it's all about practice, practice, practice (reading) - with a wide range of music (i.e. everything from Baroque to 20th century, or Bach to Bartók) to familiarize yourself with common patterns used in classical piano music. Again, it depends on the level you are at now as to what music you might use: everything from Vol.17 & 27 ("Easy") to Vol.37 ("Intermediate") in the Music for Millions series are the volumes I recommend, and use for my own students. You get a lot of music for your money, and they all contain original piano music by great composers that are worth your while to learn as well as for practicing sight-reading, reading and technical skills. There are no short cuts when it comes to improving reading ability, no magical technique that will double your sight-reading speed within a few weeks.

And you don't need a teacher to help you with improving your reading ability - just make sure that whatever you choose to use for practicing is real piano/keyboard music by real composers who know how to compose, not rubbish arrangements (derangements) by hacks - of which, unfortunately, there is a lot.

I think that if you set aside, say, an extra half an hour a day to focus on tackling your weaknesses, you'll see the results within a few months.

BTW, what's noticeable to me is that when teachers teach kids, they focus on technical skills, because kids know nothing and they will just do what their teachers tell them to do, including playing with 'musicality' (loud, soft, crescendi etc). 'The technique is the expression' - Horowitz said to Perahia. With adults, it's the opposite: teachers tend to gloss over technical deficiencies in their students, thinking that adults don't want to spend their precious practicing time on boring stuff like honing their scale & arpeggio technique etc (or even learning them), and instead want to play 'with expression'.......


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Originally Posted by bennevis
BTW, what's noticeable to me is that when teachers teach kids, they focus on technical skills, because kids know nothing and they will just do what their teachers tell them to do, including playing with 'musicality' (loud, soft, crescendi etc). 'The technique is the expression' - Horowitz said to Perahia. With adults, it's the opposite: teachers tend to gloss over technical deficiencies in their students, thinking that adults don't want to spend their precious practicing time on boring stuff like honing their scale & arpeggio technique etc (or even learning them), and instead want to play 'with expression'.......
I don't think that's it. I think what's happening is that adults are capable of understanding more abstract concepts and their musical understanding quickly outgrows their technical capabilities. As an adult student I often find myself unable to express what I hear in my head due to technical limitations although I know exactly how I want it to sound. I suspect kids are just the opposite.


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