“What’s your approach?” The Art of Piano Teaching.
Ok, so you’ve found a piano teacher and you’re ready to take lessons – but you wonder: how are they going to teach you? What methods are they going to use? How do they approach lessons? From a piano teacher to you, these answers and more just below…
There are many ways to teach how to play the piano. A teacher’s job is to find an approach for each student that best suits the way they learn. Determining the elements of an approach is a complex issue involving several factors that the teacher must consider:
Factor 1: What to Teach?
The answer to this question depends on what the student’s goals are: Are they preparing for an exam? Are they aiming to be able to play a particular piece? Are they playing for fun? A teacher developing a plan for how to teach a particular student will need to consider what specific skills to teach that student in order to reach those goals or to generate a more generalized approach that covers a well-rounded base of skills. Sometimes, teachers themselves may be experts on particular fields and will incorporate specialized skills such as composition, improvisation, or knowledge in a niche genre of music into their teaching approach which makes for some neat learning for the student.
Factor 2: What is the student’s learning style?
“Learning styles” is a term used to describe the myriads of theories by experts in the education field that identify the different ways people learn. Each person has certain ways that they learn best and effective teachers will know how to identify these learning styles in their students and to teach accordingly. There are many learning styles identified by various researchers; in my own teaching, however, the learning styles that I think about are: Aural, Visual, Tactile and Kinesthetic Learning styles. Read on for a practical example of what learning styles might look like in a lesson.
Below is an example of how a teaching approach might be adjusted according to different learning styles. In each case, the skill being taught is the same: how to acquire and play the notes of a new song but the way that this skill is taught will be different depending on a teacher’s assessment of a student’s learning style.
a) Visual approach
The visual approach to learning a new song might take the form of showing the student how to read music notes from a “method book”, the instructional lesson books that one finds in a music bookstore that contains songs for learning.
b) Aural approach:
The aural approach to learning a new song might involve the teacher having the student listen to the new song on a recording several times, and then helping them find the notes based on whether it sounds “right” or “not” on the piano; In other words, playing by “ear” to find notes that match what they hear.
c) Tactile approach:
The tactile approach to learning a song might have the teacher placing the student’s fingers on the keys or perhaps tapping the fingers that play to help students feel when and where the notes are depressed on the keyboard.
d) Kinesthetic approach:
The kinesthetic approach to learning a song might have the teacher and student walking back and forth in the room, according to the pattern of how the notes in the song move up or down the keyboard, before going over to the keys and actually playing. The idea is for the student to learn through movement.
The reality is that very few students are based solely in one kind of learning style and may in fact have several dominant learning styles. As such, a teacher might mix aspects of different approaches to suit their students’ needs. Teachers who realize that students grow from being able to learn in various ways will also work to help students strengthen their weaker learning styles. Teachers should be knowledgeable about method books and know how to choose from the zillions of books out there in the market for their students. They will also know how to supplement students’ learning in areas where a certain method book or a particular approach may be lacking with other material.
There is no “standard” approach to teaching piano lessons. In fact, there are countless ways to go about it. For this reason, you will find little mention in the world of private piano lessons of a “curriculum” as each student is different and should therefore be taught in a one of a kind way! The approach of teaching depends greatly on the art of the piano teacher. A good piano teacher will be skilled at identifying their students’ unique learning needs and be capable of being flexible and adjusting their teaching approach accordingly.