Some new thoughts on Teaching
Many of you who are reading this are already enrolled in one of my courses. Those courses really grew out of my 20+ years of experience teaching privately. After all these years, I have attracted a lot of different singers to my studio. Many were frustrated because they had tried to learn to play piano and they just couldn’t do it. This resulted in them thinking that somehow they couldn’t ever play piano. Lo and behold, after a couple of lessons with me going through this very specific protocol, they realized ‘oh wait a minute, I actually can play piano’.
After many years of experience teaching these wonderful singers, I realized something. The problem was that the material I taught was the wrong material to be taught. Ultimately, starting with a method book, two-handed playing, classical pieces or classical method books, wasn’t efficient. Learning your scales in two octaves hands together and all of that kind of wazoo actually is a massive waste of time.
All singers need to be able to do is play chords, play voice exercises so they can accompany themselves/their students/a choir and also to learn a skill called faking.
Faking is a great way to be able to play any of the songs that you know. Instead of having to play the fully realized, notated piano parts, you can approximate them if you just know how to play chords.
THAT’S my secret sauce.
Teaching My Son:
A lot of you may know that I have an eight-year-old and I’ve been teaching him piano for a few years. Recently, I had a completely head-smacking moment which changed the direction of how I’m working with my son. What did I say was the problem with the way that so many singers are taught piano? Well, the problem is that they’re given method books and going through the whole rigmarole of the typical classical education. Week after week, day after day we would sit down and work through a TON of method books. He was loving it, he was enjoying it, he was making progress. It was all good stuff and he can read music very well.
So I started to think; aren’t I kind of doing the exact same thing that I said people shouldn’t be doing? I thought I would take him through and see what happens. I’ve never taken this exact material and used it to learn faking. We’d start with the level one material of learning your triads in 12 keys and minor triads and scale patterns in 12 keys. Then we learned how to fake and how to accompany yourself singing pop songs.
Where is he with teaching now?
He’s now halfway through level one and it’s the most incredible thing. He can play the five note scale patterns in 12 keys. What’s really interesting for him is that usually people get to the key of Gb and they panic or they get to B major and they panic. My son is having mistakes on the key of Bb which usually isn’t that hard. All of the the kind of usual trouble areas that you think he would have, he’s not having which is really fascinating. I’ve got the circle of fifths wheel on the piano. Every day we’re going through the initial scale patterns in level one. Then the five note scales ,the outlines of the triads, solid triads and he can play all of it
I know sometimes people think ‘well he’s your kid he must be some kind of prodigy’ and not to say that my kid isn’t amazing, he is. He’s not really a prodigy. He’s not one of these kids who sits down and can play everything he hears. He has an enthusiasm for the piano because he hears me play and my husband is also a musician. He likes to play but he’s not one of these savant people that can sit down and play Beethoven’s fifth symphony by ear . He’s sort of just your average kid who’s enthusiastic.
So I’m telling you this for a couple of reasons:
For one, it’s okay to change your direction at any time if you are inspired to do so.
Second, for anyone out there who thinks that they can’t play piano, I’m here to say you 100% can play piano. If an eight-year-old can do it, don’t you think that your 28 year old self or 38 or 48 or 58 or 68 or 78 year old self can also do it? Don’t you think it’s something that you can learn?
I was really prioritizing classical training and so I just want to say for anyone out there, it is possible to be able to give your children a very different musical education and if you are a musician and you have children, this is something that you can start right away if your child is willing.
Are You A Parent Of A Young Musician?
It’s okay to look outside the scope of the usual royal conservatory and look to some kind of an alternative. If your child doesn’t seem like they’re wired that way, there’s a lot of other ways that you can engage your children. My little guy is now enjoying being able to play Mario music. He’s also able to play the beginnings of a Beatles song which means he’ll be able to jam with his dad who plays guitar and bass.
That’s just some food for thought. I’ve been teaching music for 22+ years and I’ve been teaching my own kid piano for 4.5 years so since he was four.
I hope this was helpful. Something for you to think about if you’re a music educator, a music parent or a musician. And certainly if you’re someone who has always dreamed of playing the piano and thought it was not ever going to happen.
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