Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Impossible dream?

I'm starting to wonder if what I want in a piano teacher is just not possible.

I want someone who can provide both specific technical instruction as well as overall guidance (i.e., what should I work on? what pieces would be good? what sorts of goals are realistic?). And then I want someone who will take me seriously -- and by that I mean disregard any negative preconceptions they might have about a student who is 53 years old.

The first thing on my list is the easiest to find, it seems -- probably because it's the easiest to do. I know from my teaching days that you can get through a lot of lesson time focusing on minutiae.The student comes in, plays (or attempts to play) their piece du jour, and you proceed to pick it apart (why are you using that fingering? this would be better . . . there's a piano there, not a mezzo-forte . . . did you know you're playing the rhythm wrong there? . . . etc.). When I taught, I would then assign some specific things for the student to do in terms of practicing over the coming week; students who followed my advice would always come back playing the piece much better the next time (pats self on head here . . . ). Any teacher who can't do this just shouldn't be teaching.

The overall guidance thing requires the teacher to actually think about the student's individual situation and goals -- IOW, think outside the basic teaching box, at least a little bit. This seems harder to come by. Although sometimes you get this without the previous type of help, which is definitely worse than the other way around. However, I believe a big part of a teacher's job is helping the student choose appropriate repertoire and having a sort of big-picture plan.

And then, finding a lack of prejudice -- talk about impossible dreams. Maybe it really is asking too much. But somehow I feel that I can do so much more than they think I can.

So you may be thinking that I am disappointed with my new teacher, after the second lesson. I will say that he seems to be good at the first job. On the second, he has not shown much interest. He's very much into the benefits of Taubman retraining, which involves dropping all music for an indeterminate time and working only on relearning one's physical approach to the piano. I do find the Taubman principles interesting, though at the moment I guess am not up for the radical approach. He has said that's fine, that he is willing to do only a little of it while working on music (and he offered this during our initial phone conversation), but he obviously thinks that is not the best way to go about it.

My feeling, though I may be wrong about this, is that I am not doing everything wrong; I am not hurting or tied up in knots when I play. So wouldn't it be more organic to build on what is natural and instinctive, gradually changing the things that need changing?

Addressing the third point, the fact that he suggested the retraining may mean that he does take me seriously. Or is it just a one-size-fits-all prescription?

In any case, I'll just keep practicing. What else can I do?


Anonymous said...

The Taubman approach may be all well and good but I see some flaws in it. Not "breaking" or dipping the wrist doesn't make sense to me.
The wrist as shock absorber is certainly a prominent role for it.. and it helps with delays into keys as well, sculpting and shaping. Golandsky seems to get things tied in knots sometimes, with each finger's separate status doing this and that. I really found myself at odds with the nit picking, and a colleague whom I respect teaches the wrist forward motion, and had problems with the Taubman method.

Harriet said...

I am just dubious about any dogmatic method that claims to cure every ill. It seems only reasonable that every person is a little different. My point in this post was that music lessons are in some way more than the sum of their parts.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. I think any approach that's monolithic and dogmatic is to be questioned. There are many ways to skin a cat. I have seen varied technical approaches that work for some, and not for others. Barenboim, for example is such a wondrous player, with small hands, very musically driven, also analytical.. Take a look at his masterclasses on Beethoven. I can't stop watching. He just has it altogether. I think with piano teachers, you take the best ideas from each and synthesize them. One might emphasize the singing tone and way to achieve. Another may expand a gesture of the arm or wrist. Still another, may teach breathing and phrasing. If you fall upon enough good ones, you can have a potpourri of suggestions, some or most of which work for you. I don't think any one teacher has everything, necessarily.