Why I Stopped Teaching Piano the ‘Traditional’ Way

When I taught piano many years ago, maybe it was 20 years ago, I taught students the way I was taught – focus on passing exams by learning three exam pieces per year. As part of the exams, I will practise all my scales and arpeggios diligently. Needless to say, the focus during lessons is to focus on note reading. Come to think of it, that’s the focus of almost my entire piano education – to learn music by reading notes and executing them. I can play some pretty impressive pieces too.

Nowadays, especially in the last year or so, there’s a transformation in my teaching:

  • I no longer require students to practise on an acoustic piano. It’s fine if they have a digital piano or a keyboard. After all, the focus is on making music. Unless the student is learning western classical music from me (which I generally stopped teaching now), there is really no need for an acoustic piano
  • I focus on teaching chords: students learn comping i.e. coming up with accompaniment (without notes) to play along to their favourite music, accompany the family on Christmas carols, etc.
  • I focus on teaching different styles of music e.g. blues including boogie woogie, pop and rock. Of course, there are different styles in western classical music e.g. baroque, classical, romantic and 20th century. However, the emphasis in the latter is to read and execute notes while the former is learn the vocabulary of each style and create your own pieces. For example in blues, students learn the common turnarounds, endings, introductions, licks by rote which are then memorised.
  • Students are strongly encouraged to play by ear and create their own arrangements of tunes. Unless a pianist is taught using Suzuki which focuses on the ears, playing by ear is usually frowned upon in lessons taught the traditional way. I suspect this is because most teachers don’t quite know what to do or progress the lesson.

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