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Boiling it down: Recipes for effective teaching

When I think back on the great teachers I have encountered in my life, I find that they all had one thing in common—the ability to boil things down to their essence. These teachers' abilities to reveal the essence of the subject matter made my understanding possible. Perhaps it was an applied teacher communicating the essentials of tone production,...
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Scalin' the chords

​When I was about twelve years of age, my parents took me to a restaurant that featured a live jazz trio. I was amazed to see the pianist playing without written music. Unaware of the awkwardness I might cause by interrupting a performing musician, I approached the stage and asked him how he did it. His succinct reply changed my life. Without missi...
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Adele Marcus: Master teacher

"They  don't make them like they used to," my grandmother often said, shaking her head. She was referring, of course, to some deed—or misdeed—of mine, compared to her own generation, who were much too busy and exhausted from getting up at dawn to plow the fields and walk barefoot to school to ever get into any kind of trouble. I listened silen...
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Chopin's teaching

We all know Chopin's piano literature-almost every serious piano student plays (or aspires to play) his works. But what do we know about Chopin's teaching? After  all, teaching was an important part of his life and provided his main source of income . 1 What can we take from Chopin's teaching in the 1800s and apply to our own professional mode...
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Donald Waxman: An American Classic

Are all piano composers dead?" my student asked. The question seemed a bit ironic since we had just finished working on a folk song that was arranged for the piano by me. Last time I checked,  I wasn't dead. But I understood what  she meant. It does sometimes seem that piano teachers spend an inordinate amount of time working on the music...
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"Is a physically gifted student likely to be rhythmically reliable and musically aware?"

Anyone who has taught piano or any other instrument for more than a short time invariably must deal with one of the major challenges facing a music teacher. That is, becoming a good player simultane ously involves diverse kinds of learning: perceptual, physical, emotional, intellec tual , spiritual, etc. To make matters even more complex, each stud...
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Building a healthy technique: Ideas from Matthay

T he piano as we know it reached its full bloom in the late nineteenth century. Inventors have tinkered with the design in years since with varying degrees of success, but the acoustical grand piano we play today is largely the same piano on which the students of Liszt performed. Would it then be fair to say that piano technique, too, has not devel...
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A survival manual for college teachers

Every year it's the same - a group of my students prepare to leave the hallowed halls of academia and search for the elusive "job." For these students, this is BIG - and not just a little scary. As the "professor," part of my job is to prepare these changelings for what will be one of the most exciting times in their lives. For me, mentoring my stu...
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What role does mental preparation play in piano technique?

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. Thomas J efferson , Third Pr esiden t of  th e United States Mental attitude, to use Jefferson's term, is crucial to learning the piano. I tell my students, if  you can h ear it, th en think it...
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What do Beethoven's piano sonatas reveal about his pianism?

from the series: Let's Get Physical: Technique  ​ Scott McBride Smith, Editor  Hans von Bülow, the nineteenth-century pianist, conductor, and master class teacher won fame for his   meticulous musicianship and formidable technique. His sarcastic bon mots to students were legendary. "You have but one qualification for playin...
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Is slow practice always the best way to develop technique?

from the series: Let's Get Physical: Technique Scott McBride Smith, Editor  I had the great good fortune to study, at intervals, with one of the grand ladies of American piano teaching, Adele Mar cus. She was quite a character, to say the least, and she put a strong emphasis on slow practice. I'm being tactful. It would be more accur...
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How do you help an adult student who has ingrained poor technical habits?

from the series: ​It's Never Too Late: Adult Piano Study Michelle Conda, Editor by The Adult Learning Committee of the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy Okay, let's face it - I'm not talking about the good habits your adult students have, but the bad habits   that form the foundation of so many recreational pianists' technique...
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Teaching artistic phrasing

from the series: Let's Get Physical: Technique Pete Jutras, Editor My wife and I have spent a lot of time lately teaching our young children how to read. I've never  taught anyone to read language before, and it has been a fascinating and enlightening experience. One mild surprise was that after all the work on letters, sounds, sound comb...
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How does good technique relate to ear training?

Recognize this student? I confess. I'm not sure what to do about my student Roger. He's a nice boy. Tall (about 3 inches bigger than last year, he's in middle school now), friendly, talkative, he sometimes reminds me of a large and only partially housebroken dog. With him, as with a puppy, there's always some kind of mess that needs cleaning u...
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Is fingering an important part of technique?

I  was recently sharing thoughts with a respected colleague after a long day at a piano conference. Yes, if you must know, we were in the cocktail lounge. "I've given up on checking students' fingering," he said. "I've decided that if it sounds beautiful, it doesn't matter what fingering they use." He paused and looked furtively around the roo...
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Shouldn't technical study be fun? Liszt, etude practice, and attention to detail...

It  rests in a corner of a neo-classical style building from the 1920s - a beautiful temple, faced with Indiana limestone. The central court in which it slumbers is full of beautiful things: several pieces of Chihuly art glass, mounted high on the wall; a seventeenth century Claude Lorrain portrait of a young boy; and a Fairfield Porter painti...
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How Do You Teach Weight-Transfer to Early-Level Students?

​from the series: Let's Get Physical: Technique Scott McBride Smith, Editor Who was it that said, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, teach gym"? Not a piano teacher, obviously! And probably not a gym teacher, either. It's not necessary to be a world famous concert pianist to be a fine teacher, but it is essentia...
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Is there a way to make technical practice fun?

from the series: Let's Get Physical: Technique Scott McBride Smith, Editor A child need not be very clever To learn that, 'Later, dear', means 'Never'.  Ogden Nash, Grandpa is Ashamed He makes a good point, don't you think? Is there ever time for "fun" in a piano lesson, especially when it relates to technique? Fun is a charged word for p...
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Can we teach piano technique without physically touching the student?

from the series: ​Issues and Ideas: Perspectives in Pedagogy Kathleen Murray, Editor Those of us who teach a physical skill have to try to balance a number of issues. This question was not at or near the top of my list of worries as I began my piano teaching career in the   early 1980's, but it has become a worrisome issue ...
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How do you help students who say, "I know what I want, but my hands just won't do it!"?

​from the series: Let's Get Physical: Technique Scott McBride Smith, Editor Our hands are only a final link in a long chain of events that work together to produce the sounds we want. This might have been one of my shortest Keyboard Companion introductions ever. Yep. Three words. "Gimme a break!" You see, I seldom believe students when they assure ...
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The Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching and learning.

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