What do I teach?
I coach teenagers and adults in a number of piano and performance styles. These are most often pop music but also include Classical and Jazz Harmony (theory).
How I teach
I first set out to empower the budding pianist by teaching them chords. Chord recognition and instruction in the basic music archetypes that rule most of what we hear. I refer to this as “Chordal Literacy”. The parallel I draw is the way the babies are taught words before they are taught how to read. (Imagine the opposite being true, babies being taught to read before they are allowed to speak. Well, that is what happens in conventional music instruction.)
In music, chords represent the “words” that convey meaning. The notes are what’s being sung or played, but the notes live within chords that change. The same way that vowels + consonants convey the meaning of the words we are hearing in spoken language.
Later, should the student want to, I slowly immerse them in the world of printed music. But first comes the notion of understanding chords and chordal movement, whether the song they prefer to play be Lennon’s “Imagine” or Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata.
ARE YOU “STYLE SPECIFIC”?
I am not style specific but I am student specific; my lessons are tailored to the musical interests, age and personality of the student.
I have student that is only interested in Blues.
I have a teenage student who I coach in songwriting and music production (Logic).
Another one (12 years old and enormously talented) just wants to write songs, I help her with songwriting tutoring.
I have an adult student who began her musical studies at 59 (2+ years ago). After nine months she completed what was to be a permanent leap into printed music. She is currently practising and playing pieces by Mozart, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, “Moon River”, Chicago’s “Colour My World” and most recently started on the classic Hanon exercises as well.
Piano for exercising the brain
I have developed a series of pieces and exercise techniques that promote bilateral thinking at least, in terms of our hand functions, reconciling Left and Right hand behaviours so they are unified. Setting aside Pop psychology about the brain having characteristics such as “logical” for the left side, or “creative” for the right, Music is the one arena where the logical, mathematically ordered world (e.g., notated music), reconciles with the emotional, intuitive, at times inexplicable realm. It’s what makes music, music.
On Piano — Teaching Philosophy
A sentence is a collection of words assembled to convey meaning. In [instrumental] music we have chords.
That is what the musical phrase is, a collection of chords assembled chords that convey a notion; instead of vowels and consonants we have notes; naturals, sharps and flats. Words contain vowels and consonants. Chords contain the notes. In many pieces of music, the notes spell out the chords.
This is why I teach chords first, what I call “chord literacy”. If a player can read chords, she or he can decipher and play almost any popular song.
Knowing what the chords are in a classical piece helps not just to understand the harmony involved but also helps in memorising the piece.
Most people are taught piano as an exercise in mechanical reproduction. They too often start by learning pieces that bare no emotional relevance to the individual’s musical tastes or their age. They learn music as a series of rules, dogmatic, unyielding and unforgiving; often taught by instructors who take a disciplinarian approach to piano teaching—coercing rather than coaching. The student dutifully trudges through ‘Für Elise’ in an enforced manner that almost guarantees he or she will hate Beethoven for the rest of their lives.
I believe teaching people how to read and play notes without them understanding what it is they’re playing is like teaching kids to read aloud without them understanding what they’re saying.
Not every piano student wants to become a concert pianist yet; piano instruction is conducted as if every young pianist is almost obligated to become a concert pianist. Yet, if you thumb through the pages of the AMEB piano grades for testing the composer names will be mostly unfamiliar and many of the pieces are simply un-hummable. Why learn to play a tune you can’t hum, or wouldn’t want to?