Approaches to teaching
“The Virtuoso Teacher also needs to develop a broad range of teaching strategies. Often, those who simply teach by reacting to their pupils’ (often poor) work end up becoming frustrated and bored. We must develop other approaches.”
Paul Harris, ‘The Virtuoso Teacher’.
While teaching piano I notice certain trends in children’s learning. Most notably which concepts the children are able to understand, and which they struggle to understand.
Consequently, I find using different approaches at different times makes teaching fun for both teacher and pupil. However, these approaches should always be used alongside other approaches and not in isolation. Renowned teacher George Odam also suggests this approach is beneficial, in order to avoid using a singular approach as a “crutch”.
Talking through musical patterns with the children has proved to be one of my most successful approaches. It is useful to make links and connections between audio and visual learning, and learning in this way also starts to develop the pupil’s ability to analyse music.
Teaching by rote (copying) and kinaesthetically are other successful approaches I use. Improving muscle memory is the main method used when teaching kinaesthetically, which is also closely linked to the memory approach.
Odam says that, “musical memory is strengthened by repetition.”
Learning through repetition or copying is a very natural thing for children to do. Learning by rote and kinaesthetically allows the child to play before they read music notation. As Knerr and Fisher say:
“Most children have been exposed to complicated music since birth, and they are capable of playing more difficult music than they can read.”
The last approach I use is encouraging children to play from memory. Once the music is learned from memory, the child is able to concentrate on other musical concepts. There is significant research about the importance of music and memory. Hallam discusses some research:
“When required to recall items in an order different from that in which they are presented, for example backwards, musicians also outperform non musicians when words or numbers are presented aurally (Parbery-Clark et al., 2011; Strait et al., 2012). Overall, there is a growing body of evidence that musical training stimulates aural memory.”
Odam also says that,
“Children’s memories are so extraordinarily efficient at primary age that it is verging on the criminal to set them immediately upon a path that leads them away from musical memory and binds them to the crutch of notation for ever.”
Find the right teacher
When looking for a piano teacher, it is important to ask them which approaches they prefer to use. They may say that they use the Kodály, Dalcroze, Orff, Suzuki or Intervallic approach and so on. But ultimately, they are just different titles for the approaches that I have summarised briefly here in this blog.
Jake Hicks is this month’s Spotlight Student. I was impressed by Jake’s ability to memorise several pieces from the tutor book Piano Safari Repertoire Level 1 and to understand the landmark note, Treble G. Jake’s favourite piece in the tutor book is Ode to Joy because it is Romantic. His favourite genre of music is contemporary because it is “funky”. Jake says “It makes people happy hearing me play” and playing the piano “makes me feel experienced”.
Call to action
Don’t forget to like, share and comment on the blog. Check out the references for further reading. Feel free to ask Ijeoma questions about piano as she has had over 20 years of experience in piano playing.
Hallam, P. S. (2015). The Power of Music (p. 47). International Music Education Research Centre (Imerc) Press.
Harris, P. (2012). The Virtuoso Teacher The Inspirational Guide For Instrumental And Singing Teachers (p. 8). Faber & Faber.
Knerr, J., & Fisher, K. The benefits of rote teaching. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://pianosafari.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mini-Essay-6.pdf
Odam, G. (1999). The Sounding Symbol (p. 24, 52). Nelson Thornes.
Uszler, M., Gordon, S., & McBride Smith, S. (2000). The well-tempered keyboard teacher (pp. 4, 50 and 1-79). New York: Cengage Learning.