January 12, 2013

The Essence of Teaching the Piano: Balancing Technique, Intellect, & Expression

Tara Hofmeister
Submitted: Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 4:25pm
There are so many aspects to learning music and the piano. Balancing all these aspects is essential for students to develop properly and fully. Technique, expression, listening, music theory and history are all crucial to everyone learning the piano, both students on the professional track and those learning on a less serious level.
Physical technique is essential in order to allow musicians to have the freedom to completely and comfortably speak through their instruments. Music is another language and students learn that they can express themselves through not only words, but also through their music. In fact, people often feel more comfortable expressing themselves through music and some also feel that they can play music when there are no words to express their feelings.
Truly listening to oneself while playing takes an amazing amount of concentration! Besides physically playing…using both hands and all fingers in their individual ways and using both feet on the three pedals…pianists must also listen to gauge the sound that they are actually creating and adjust themselves accordingly. They need to listen intensely in order to ensure that all of the dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and expression are really coming through their instruments the way they intend. Pianists especially must listen with great care since they are always playing on a different instrument. And every musician must adjust when playing in a different room.
Music theory allows students to deeply understand a composer’s meaning behind the music they wrote and know how they wished it to be expressed. Understanding the musical language in each melodic note, each harmony, each phrase, each section, and every little marking describes exactly how to play the music behind the notes and understand what the composer was thinking and feeling while writing the piece.
Music history helps musicians better comprehend where the composer was in their life and what was happening in the world around them while writing a particular piece. It also helps students understand the instrument that the composer had at the time. All of this helps musicians interpret the music in the way the composer heard it their own heart.
All of this takes discipline and patience, two of the most valuable traits that are needed, not only in piano training, but in all aspects of life. The best teachers require students to work to their greatest potential all of the time and the bar must be constantly raised as each student progresses. But the best teachers also share their love for the art of music with every student they come across.