While I try to keep this blog "professional", many of you who are reading this may know that my family and I have been building our new house and so we've spent a large part of this past fall and winter living in the studio. Literally. I often figuratively say that I live in the studio, but we've LITERALLY been living in the studio for the past several months. With the house nearing completion (we should have our occupancy permit tomorrow), we've spent February working on growing the student base by offering free trial lessons during the month of February. I spent a lot of time this past month talking to parents about my studio, my background and experience, and my teaching philosophy.
Early on in the month, I had a parent specifically ask about my teaching philosophy, so to clearly articulate, here is my teaching philosophy:
I am fortunate enough to be a private teacher. I mainly work with students on an individual level, so I have the opportunity to focus on each student for 30 minutes every week. I get to know them- their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, their goals and aspirations, and I work hard to address their unique needs. This was the basis of my masters' thesis- learning personalities, and using different teaching techniques and strategies to address different learning styles. Although it is very "old school", I have a preference for the Bastien Piano Basics method- it is not as modern as either Alfred or Faber and Faber, but it moves through material quicker, there are less books to buy, and previous students have done well using this method, so it is where I tend to start with young beginners. HOWEVER, I deviate from method books a lot- primarily through scale use focusing on technique and theory. If you are an older beginner wanting to learn pop music, or to read a lead sheet, I start by teaching the key of C- the scale, the arpeggio, the I, IV, V, I cadence pattern, and the chord inversions for the primary chords (C, F, G). From there, students choose a song in the key of C, we find the lead sheet, and begin to work through the chords- I tend to push toward Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, but whatever they want to learn, I will work with them. I have different strategies for different ages, different styles. I myself am a unique pianist as I am comfortable reading traditional music AND lead sheets. I grew up and went to college playing classical music, but I don't want to play just Mozart, I also love playing Joni Mitchell. Or Amy Lee. Or Broadway musicals. It doesn't matter the style- I like good music in all genres, and if I like a song, I want to play it, or sing it. And I want to prepare my students to play what they want to play as well.
As a voice teacher, I spend roughly half of a 30 minute lesson working on vocal warmups, getting to know each student's voice- the range, the sound, and personality is a huge factor in singing. I allow students to choose any song they want to learn- if it is not something that works well for piano accompaniment, we can learn the vocal line and use karaoke tracks (thank you YouTube! I don't know how I functioned before YouTube!). I will then choose a contrasting song which is a good fit for the voice. This way the student is able to direct their own learning, while still broadening their musical palate. We'll also do sight singing (because singers need to know how to read music too), and rhythm drills.
Anyway... I had a parent ask me about my teaching philosophy for a piano student, and I basically talked through my "unique individual approach" philosophy. Unbeknownst to me my husband was in the garage grabbing something and overheard the conversation. Later that evening, he told me he overheard, and mentioned that the new buzzword for education philosophy was the term "learning outcomes" (eye roll) and that what she was probably asking me was about recitals, and other performance opportunities, to which my response was- "that's not a philosophy, that's a "to-do" list."
The thing is though... he's probably correct, because the question about recitals was her IMMEDIATE next question. So, I talked through the fact that I do two recitals per year, one in the winter and one in the spring. I also have students WHO ARE READY do adjudications- either through LEST, or SCMTA, and students WHO ARE READY participate in SCMTA's Music in Action event every spring. This year, I have some students doing a professional recording session, because the opportunity presented itself, and they were ready. Again, I push them each as they need to be, and if they're struggling, I give them a pass on the high pressure situations- because music should be fun, relaxing, enjoyable, and improve their confidence.
The unfortunate truth is that somewhere in the early 2000s, our education system began prioritizing "outcomes" and we let "philosophy" go. It doesn't matter anymore if students are truly understanding the information- just as long as they can recite back the "correct" answer, or at least choose it out of a list. We've stopped helping students grow in a way that makes sense for them and set up benchmarks which may or may not be attainable. Then we shame students and teachers for not achieving the goals and cut funding for those who are struggling. I DO understand that schools and teachers do need to be accountable for student's success (or lack thereof), but by prioritizing the outcome instead of the path, I believe our kids are losing a lot- creative thinking, reasoning, logic, philosophy, and so much more. Education is more than just spitting out correct answers!
I don't have an answer for my perceived problem- maybe others don't see a problem, but it was on my mind. It also seemed like a good idea to articulate my teaching philosophy, and communicate the goals that I set up for my students- if for no other reason than so I can share it with current and future students and parents.. And I should close by saying... my PRIMARY GOAL with my students is not to have them play recitals, or adjudications- even though that is something I do. I want to see them achieve their own goals. I want to see them proud of their progress- even if it's slow! I want them to enjoy music, and have an emotional, artistic outlet that works for them. Individually. Each one is special, and unique, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them!
Thanks for reading! Now go practice- and do YOUR best!
is a professional pianist, teacher, singer, and Music Director currently residing in Snohomish, Washington. She is the Director of Music at Peace Lutheran Church in Monroe, WA, and also teaches private piano, voice and ukulele lessons at The ARK in Snohomish, WA.