Keep the Lessons Exciting!


After many years of teaching all ages and levels, I am convinced that students thrive when they love what they play, and teachers need to find pieces that inspire and motivate!   When a new student enters the studio, it is essential to build from that student’s strengths and interests.

My philosophy is to continually make the learning process fresh and exciting.  Excellent technique and a solid background in classical music lay the foundation to become a great pianist.  However, exploring other genres as well, e.g. jazz and popular, can add new dimensions to piano lessons and open up a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of harmony and theory.  A variety of repertoire provides a springboard for students to play by ear, compose and arrange their own music.  The same chord progressions in classical music can be found in movie soundtracks, and it is fun and enlightening to make a comparison. 

Each student comes with his/her own passion for music.  When I interview a new student, I generally ask, “What is your favorite music to listen to?”  This gives me a good idea of the initial direction we need to take to capture the imagination of the child.  This does not mean that important concepts and styles are ignored. Rather, it is a matter of choosing wisely.  One transfer student, a very talented young teenage boy, expressed clearly that he loved slow, moody pieces with interesting chords.  His former teacher was giving him a steady diet of lively, harmonically repetitive sonatinas.  He played them adequately, although mechanically. He yearned for complex harmonies and a chance to better develop his interpretive skills. As soon as I gave him the melancholy piece, “Ivan Sings” by Khatchaturian, his excitement grew to a whole new level and so did his playing.  I was also able to find sonatinas that appealed to this student.  

When the student learned how to read a jazz “lead sheet,”  (music notation that indicates melody, lyrics and chord symbols), another world opened up for him.  Not only could he play countless standard songs, but this new skill also enabled him to create his own arrangements of popular melodies.  This knowledge led to growth in the realm of classical music as well.  Grasping the fundamentals of harmony made it possible for him to quickly identify all the chords in a Chopin Prelude and better understand the overall structure of the piece. By doing so, his sense of phrasing and interpretation were heightened dramatically. This student became a fine pianist and went on to compose some beautiful pieces.

Music needs to touch the heart of the performer, no matter what age.  It is up to the teacher to find the passion living inside of every budding pianist.  When that is accomplished, the sky is the limit.