Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Method

Theodore Leschetitsky, famed teacher of great Romantic pianists, reportedly had a sign above his studio door that read "no method". His approach was said to have been individualized both by his mood and by his connection to each student, either of which could be changed on a whim.

Years back I attended my first PMTA conference. I met many independent teachers, one of whom stopped me in my tracks by asking me what method I used. Not that I couldn't answer her, but I wondered why a more experienced teacher would care what a young teacher was doing at all. Then I realized she wanted to know what printed lesson materials I was buying for my students, which I still thought a curious question.

The difference between "method" and "materials" is worth examining. Leschetitsky was a proponent of the great and grand 19th century literature, his materials, but his way of teaching had a lot of flexibility, hence no method. I wonder how many modern teachers think of method and materials as exactly the same thing?

Not hard to do these days, with all the "methods" on the market. Having taught from a great many of them, I find the wealth of materials available to be great indeed, each method having its own special characteristics. Most methods are beautifully designed and printed and include special elements like CDs of the music. Most meet pretty high quality standards.

What I do with those materials when I get them home, however, may be quite different from other teachers. That is my method, the way I attempt to connect with students and their individual goals and learning preferences. Do I have just one?

Although I never turned out a Paderewski from my studio, I, like Leschetitsky, enjoy being a flexible teacher. In some ways it might be easier to stick with a set curriculum, but easy isn't my goal. Connecting with the student is my goal.

Having reliable "tricks of the trade" is great, and I draw on them frequently. Having one path to music teaching from which I never waver, not so much.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Waking up early on a Saturday morning was never my favorite sport, and it still isn't. Even greater was the agony of the feet walking to the college music building at 8:00 AM while my roommate stayed huddled under her covers. What could motivate me to be one of the few, the tired, heading for four hours in the practice room?

Students. There were students waiting for me when I got there. As a charter member of the preparatory program, I was assigned a full roster of students. Every thirty minutes a new musical hopeful came in to play for me and - I hoped- to learn from me.

I was lucky I had a faculty mentor who helped assess what worked and what didn't. I was even luckier in that he was an experimental thinker. He also taught me the basics of studio set-up, which was immensely helpful when I got out on my own.

When I think about my early days as a teacher, I realize there were things I didn't know that I wish I had. On the other hand, I had a playful spirit about teaching that I have occasionally denied since then. Coming back to it has been a true joy.

Every teacher has a personal gift of spirit to give. It is the vessel that holds and pours out our knowledge. Mine is play. While yours may be something else, honor it for what it is. Use it,
value it, enjoy it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What box?

The person who first used "thinking outside the box" should be thrown under the bus, right after the person who first used "thrown under the bus".

There are those of us who just think, who have never recognized mental boxes unless someone attempted to force us into them.

After years of struggling with tendinitis due to faulty movement patterns at the piano, I began a journey of exploring movement and the mind/body connections for musicians.This blog will include explorations in teaching that strengthen those connections.

For more info, see