What are your thoughts on the future of piano teaching?
What's next for our profession?
Clavier Companion asked twelve pedagogues from around the country to contribute their thoughts on the future of piano teaching. In the following article, each author provides a short musing on this broad question. This series will continue in future issues, where longer articles by the same authors will provide an in-depth look at many of the topics facing our profession.
Walk through an airport, college campus, coffee shop, almost any public space, you will see what appears to be a very focused society— lots of people in fierce concentration with little awareness of their surroundings. What is everyone so focused on? Little devices that provide instant connectivity through texts, tweets, instagrams, and status updates. For many people it feels uncomfortable to not be on a device while waiting for a plane, train, or beverage. We are addicted to connectivity, and we hold it in the palms of our hands.
What seems like "focus" may actually be putting a great strain on our brains. Jumping from websites to social media to texts to email makes our heads spin, and there is an increasing concern that this is harming our ability to empathize, to carry on face-to-face conversations, and to think deeply. We worry about our students in this regard, but we are often equally guilty of trying to do too much.
It is easy to blame technology for our students' lack of focus, and this may lead us to be hesitant to incorporate electronic games and media into our studios. But technology is here to stay, and it is capable of engaging our students in electrifying ways. We don't have to compete with technology. Research tells us that both music learning and educational technology can have remarkable, positive impacts on neural development. The combination of technology and music education can give our students a focus we assume has been lost on this next generation. The challenge lies not in how to get our students' attention, but in how we, as educators, can use technology in meaningful ways to give our students opportunities to explore, listen, and create.
When speaking of technology, Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, famously noted that anything that is in the world when you are born is normal and ordinary, while anything invented after you reach the age of thirty-five goes against the natural order of things. Perhaps that explains why those of us over the age of thirty-five are often puzzled and perplexed by the younger generation's widespread use of and dependence upon technology. There have always been students who learn to play music by themselves or with informal help from peers and family, particularly in the traditions of jazz and rock music. This learning typically takes place without a curriculum or teacher—imitation, listening, trial and error, playing by ear, and discovery take center stage. The opportunities for this kind of informal learning have exploded with recent advances in technology. It is now easy to access recordings, performance videos, teaching videos, and learning apps. These apps can do amazing things: a learner can slow down recordings without changing the pitch, create rehearsal loops for repeated imitation and practice, have a backup "band" provide accompaniment, analyze chords from recordings, notate and assess performances, and more. How does this impact traditional piano teaching? As informal music learning expands, we should expect to see an increasing demand for "piano consulting services" online and in person. Interested students will seek out instruction on topics of interest, and successful teachers who can do this online and offer a wide variety of topics may do a brisk business. I don't expect technology to displace traditional weekly piano lessons—instead it may serve as a supplement or enhancement to those lessons. Piano teaching will become a more varied and diverse affair, and teachers will find themselves adapting more frequently to meet students' needs.
— Alejandro Cremaschi
The Oxford Dictionary declared google and official verb in 2006. Spam, hashtag, and avatar are more recent additions to everyday "mobile" conversations. Somewhat by mistake, a student of mine recently replaced the verb surfing (coined in the early 90s) with YouTubing. Could this verb find its place in the Oxford as well? Perhaps. The current digitally slanted vernacular reflects our culture's unprecedented immersion in technology. What does this environment mean for piano teachers? How should we instruct the digital natives who warm our bench? Pete Jutras, Clavier Companion's Editor-in-Chief, noted in an interview, "Whether we like it or not, kids are not going to travel back in time just for piano lessons and suddenly pretend they live in the eighteenth century." And why would they? Although the 1700s boast legendary composers whose music we still cherish, it seems presumptuous to limit piano pedagogy to the traditions from an era of hooped skirts, tall headdresses, and no indoor plumbing. Today's students live in a world embedded with smart-phones, tablets, and instant connectivity. This world begs for a relevant, indoor-plumbing approach.
— Leila Viss
Since the dawning of the information age, teachers have adapted technological innovations, often in revolutionary ways. Physical copies of books and chalkboards are disappearing. The cloud and Google are replacing reference guides and all-knowledgeable professors.
With the evolution of access to information, modern teachers must figure out how to remain relevant while functioning beyond familiar boundaries. If traditional teacher roles of providing basic information are now being carried out by technology, how can teachers provide value to learners?
Technology does not have to decrease the role of the teacher—it might just redefine that role. For example, I no longer have to spend time telling my students scale fingerings—they can find them on reputable websites. Online videos can demonstrate technique and interpretation, and online discussion groups can help students consider arguments for different approaches. The role of the teacher has shifted from that of the sole source of knowledge to that of a guide to help assist students as they sift through a deluge of information. When we consider the ratio of online information to the number of skilled pianists and teachers, it becomes clear that teachers remain a rare and valuable commodity.
As we remap our roles, we must consider the best ways to use technology effectively in our teaching. Technology should complement pedagogical goals, not replace them or distract from them. Novelty has a brief shelf life, and we should guard against needlessly modernizing our studio with tools that have little substance. The misapplication of technology can interfere with our teaching efforts. In the future, we will have to adapt technology in ways that allow our true value to shine and thereby improve our students' learning experience.
— Courtney Crappell
Our roles as teachers have changed, and they will continue to change in the future. Teachers used to be the primary source of information for students. It may be difficult to admit, but the internet can now outdo teachers in both the amount of educational content provided and the speed at which it is delivered.
With so much valuable information available online (mainly for free), what can music educators provide that would be of value to students or potential students? I confess to being "guilty" to contributing many video lessons and tutorials over the years. When I uploaded my first instructional videos and podcasts to YouTube and iTunes nearly ten years ago, I had no idea that people would start considering this method of delivery as a serious alternative to traditional instruction.
A shift to online content does not have to signal the downfall of education. Teachers need to adapt to emerging technologies and realize that we can still provide genuine live experiences and interactions with students that can be far more valuable than the content they find using only search engines. Teachers have to see themselves as contributors to the online knowledge base and recognize the opportunities that technology provides to connect us to potential students around the world. Regardless of the technologies, teachers will stay viable and relevant if they continue to emphasize the creation of meaningful learning experiences that bring about positive change in the way our students think. This should remain at the core of what we do.
— Mario Ajero
Let's face it, our students today live very different lives than we did when we were their age. I'm surprised to hear myself say that, as I don't consider myself very old. But it is true. Today's students are living in the "now" generation, with instant access at their fingertips any time of day. Need to find a good place to eat? Just ask Siri. Want to learn how to play "Let It Go" from the movie Frozen? Go to YouTube. Students can find just about anything they might be looking for, and they can find it immediately.
Music is a universal language that speaks to everyone, and everyone has music (in some form) in his or her life. This is good news for us, as our students come to us with a desire to learn how to play the music that surrounds them.
How do we, as teachers, preserve the future of our music students and keep their interest over the long term? How do we teach them how to work? How do we show them that learning music will not always be easy, and that it is OK to have to work at it? How do we teach them patience to get through difficult times in their music study? How do we increase their love of music and their desire to learn more? Teachers must stay relevant, and in this changing time teachers must understand their individual students while also understanding the entire generation. If teachers cannot relate to their students and connect with them, they will lose them.
— Jennifer Foxx
In recent years, technology has become a hot topic in music education. Piano teachers—especially—have become ardent fans of technological development and advancements that enhance our students' overall musical experiences. Some of us embraced technology in music education from the very beginning. Others are still overwhelmed by the explosion of the 'app' market and struggle to incorporate apps that support their pedagogical efforts.
Let's face it—the sheer volume of technology in our lives overwhelms many of our students (and their parents!). Tablets and smartphones are handed over to young children for entertainment or reward. Most popular apps are entertaining and provide games where learning occurs without students even being aware that they are learning. However, neurologists are now recommending strict limits on time spent with digital media. Many parents in my area are already limiting their children's access to technology. I think the 'future' of piano pedagogy (and music education) is going to see a pushback in technology, in a similar way to the slow-food movement's pushback against the fast-food industry.
I believe that the future of piano pedagogy demands that only technology that truly enhances learning will be utilized in the studio. This means that piano educators will need to be well-versed in child development and age-appropriate skills, executive functioning and Bloom's Taxonomy, just as public school teachers have been trained in all of those areas. We all understand that technology has been a 'pupil-saver' many times over in studios around the world. Given that fact, how do parents and teachers limit technology? Clearly we cannot say 'no,' but we have to strike a balance. As teachers, we need to evaluate how best to utilize all technology to truly enhance learning. Technology that enables more efficient and useful learning and human interaction should be our goal. Caution, my friends, as we race into the future of piano pedagogy.
— Kathleen Theisen
"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without."by Confucius
Technology has drastically changed the expectations of our piano students. Students now come into our studios expecting not only to learn to play the piano proficiently, but also to be able to create their own music. It seems that almost every musical app encourages students to create and share their own musical ideas. In fact, it is now quite easy for even the most unmusical person to create a musical experience of their own.
This is a wonderful opportunity and challenge for the piano teacher! While this change may be generating more interest in music lessons, it is also changing the expectations of our students. Because technology has made the creation of music so easy, many students come to us expecting to be able to create and even play great music without much practice or training. In addition, piano students now no longer want to learn just the music that others have written; they also want more "apportunities" in their lessons so that they can create their own music or re-arrange what has already been created.
This can be frightening for teachers; we have to give up some control, and we may not feel comfortable teaching or coaching students as they create music. However, by adjusting to students' expectations and taking appropriate action to learn how to assist them in meeting their goals (and ours as well), we can rise above these fears and help enable a generation to not only play great music, but also to skillfully create great music that can be played and shared with others.
— Wendy Stevens
The world is moving at an intense pace, and the last ten years have seen an explosion in social media, educational technology, interactive video gaming, and global access to information and people. This technological revolution is drastically changing the world of musicians and music educators. Access to artists, teachers, and information has never been easier, and more learners are working through these channels, perhaps spending less time in a "traditional" teaching studio.
It is essential that we as teachers take an active leadership role with these changing technologies, rather than a reactive one. We will lose relevance if we are not engaged. In the future, teachers must take the lead in the creation and curation of content, instructional design, assessment, and resources for learners.
The debate is no longer about whether we "believe" in the value of technology or whether we should use technology in our teaching; now the question is how we will use the tools of technology to further the mission of music education. Technology has advanced and increased the opportunities for learning, and we must take advantage of these opportunities to remain relevant and valuable. We should consider collaborating with software designers and game developers, expanding interdisciplinary relationships, and rethinking business models.
Amidst this constant change, we must respect the great traditions and standards of our profession. Inspired teaching, rich musical experiences, and human connection remain at the essential core of what we do. We can continue to foster these qualities while facilitating discovery and innovation in our students. It is an important and exciting time to be a music teacher, and, with an engaged awareness, music teachers can continue to lead the way.
— Jennifer Snow
As children and adults become more self-sufficient and independent in their learning through the internet, flipped classroom learning, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), so will they become more self-sufficient and independent in their pursuit of hobbies and recreational learning, such as learning to play a musical instrument. The professional independent piano teacher is not going away anytime soon, but there are now amazing resources and learning tools that are being ignored by some "professional" teachers. These resources are not just being used by other teachers (teachers we might consider not-so-professional), they are being embraced—with tremendous success. It's time we take a look at what works not just from a top-down learning environment dictated by the university system, but from the bottom-up environment that has proven time and time again to be more effective in social organizations, businesses (yes, even Fortune 100 companies), and families alike.
Through the advent of self-learning platforms such as Playground Sessions, Piano Maestro, Piano Marvel, or plain old YouTube, the possibilities of music learning have multiplied beyond our wildest dreams. Imagine having a piano student who is able to learn a song of his/her choice by simply following the instructional videos provided, without having an in-person instructor. All of the programs I mention include self-guided progress reports that demonstrate where errors occur in the music, and suggestions for improvement. How can this be a bad thing? Not enough time in the lesson to cover all you wanted? Just send home the link or assignment you'd like your student to complete. Now, imagine a class of piano students in a juvenile detention center, prison, religious organization, or school, and see the possibilities of meaningful music-making that can take place with this type of learning at our fingertips. This is the kind of revolution we will be seeing going forward in piano pedagogy.
— Kristin Yost
Technological advancements have changed our everyday living, including our lives as teachers. In an instant, I can get student repertoire suggestions from numerous other teachers in a Facebook forum, instead of waiting until the next scheduled event with colleagues. I can purchase and download sheet music online at a moment's notice. I can do a quick Google search to find game ideas and music worksheets related to a particular concept. If there is anything I desire to know, I can consult the internet to find a video, book, article, app, or person that will tell me more.
This is the future of pedagogy. It is about being able to connect and correspond instantly with students and colleagues. It is about being able to increasingly customize the piano study experience to students' needs and goals. It is about increasingly enabling students to become independent learners.
But there is much to sift through. We must learn which tools are valuable to us and what purposes they will serve in our teaching. We must know whether and how each tool can make us more effective as teachers.
Despite all the changes as well as the advancements yet to come, piano teaching will thrive. As we adapt, we must keep our eyes fixed on our important, unique role as teachers in the education process. It is an exciting time to be a piano teacher.
— Joy Morin
As I ponder the future of piano teaching, I am reminded of a Bob Duke lecture about making learning fun. He described high school band students who, bored by the typical "this is a half note, this is B-fl at" teaching, got together after class, figured out the hook to "Louie Louie," and played it over and over and over again. They weren't bored with the repetition because they loved the song and playing it was fun.
When I was a child, I used to sit for hours at the piano, situated right next to the family stereo (a record player console) and try to play along with my Billy Joel, Styx, and Elton John records. I would play the same first minute of a track hundreds of times, literally wearing out the record. It was loud, and it was fun, and I give a lot of credit to my mother for putting up with the cacophony. She must have realized its educational value.
Back then, we didn't have computers (I didn't even have a Walkman). I can't imagine how much fun my learning would have been if I had access to the technologies that are now available. I didn't have access to the learning experiences provided by programs like Home Concert Xtreme or Piano Maestro, so I had to create my own.
These experiences share a common thread—having fun while repeating steps to get better and reach a higher level. Today we call that "gamification." Many have devalued this concept in education, but I say, "Bring it on!" If students have a way of learning that is fun, intuitive, and even addicting, then let them be addicted to learning music!
— Linda Christensen
Alejandro Cremaschi, NCTM, teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Colorado Boulder.