On Teaching Music

I approach music education primarily through the piano, and a classically-rooted pedagogy.  I focus on music literacy, learning the basics of theory, while increasing technique (muscle control, strength, agility) and overall musical sensitivity.  While I’m always open to a variety of source materials, I’ve been gravitating towards Alfred technique books for young learners (they also have a series for adult beginners).   I find their books to provide a nice combination of music theory and performance, and the lessons offer consistent repetition of key concepts.

Listen differently

My own training included many years of lessons with pianist Ramon Salvatore, who specialized in the works of contemporary (20th century) American composers.  This teacher was enormously influential to me.  He introduced me not only to the great standards of the classical, baroque, romantic world (Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Chopin, etc), but also to a range of modern music that does not conform to these earlier formulas of composition.  Modern composers have experimented with potentially every element of musical structure: 12-tone, atonal or differently-tonal melodic constructs, modes, rhythms not confined to basic 3/4 or 4/4 patterns, song forms that can be wide open in their development of beginning-middle-end, music that can challenge the intellect and the first sight-reading…. yet can utterly enchant and fascinate.

Bringing creativity into the lesson

I credit this early exposure to non-standard music for my own study of music composition.  My ears are a little “looser” than many classically trained musicians, and I find myself equally curious about the “mistakes”, as well as the written notes.   I love to explore new territory, try out different combinations of sounds, melody, chordal structures.  This carries over into lessons:  I highly encourage my students to explore their own musical ideas, and there is always an option to open up the lesson times to working on their original compositions.  Pedagogically speaking, learning to write down one’s own ideas is a critical component, and an excellent test, of music literacy and theory.   The student must learn to listen to what he’s playing, and find a way to notate it according to traditional rules so that someone else can play it back.  We can then discuss larger topics of the structure of a piece of music, motifs, patterns, dynamics, etc.  The process of composing can become a motivating, rewarding, practical application of all the theory learned so far.  It is an exact parallel to the importance of both reading and writing ( -and speaking!) in a language class.

Breath and body mechanics

In addition to being an educated musician, I am also a certified RYT-500 yoga instructor.  This movement and anatomical training enables me to identify and correct postural problems, and assist students in developing healthy, pain-free practicing habits.  According to the student’s interest, I can offer movement practices, stretches, and breath awareness techniques to improve overall healthy alignments as well as quieting performance anxieties.

Keep it fun!

Finally, let’s always try to keep the “play” in “playing” music!   While it does require diligence, practice, and patience to see progress in your lessons, remember that this can be fun.  Playing the piano can be a great source of enjoyment, and a great way to draw people together.  Host a sing-along, play duets, help someone else learn your songs… music can be a rewarding community and family activity.