Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Why do I teach? How do I teach? A few thoughts on an academic mission.
The objective of effective teaching is the empowerment of the student to become a consummate, self-thinking musician. To this end, the aim of instruction is to examine, develop and nurture the process of various facets of musicianship rather than the simple product of a specific performance. While specific musical and technical instruction is an important part of any directed tuition, these elements serve only as a means to an end. Successful performance is achieved through self-discipline, organized study, sound practice/study regimes and, most importantly, clearly defined goals. By equipping a student with the abilities to examine their own difficulties with productive self-criticism, and providing the tools necessary to obtain that student’s own musical vision, the product will ultimately be a musician of sound abilities with a capacity to think, study, practice and develop on his/her own.
Artistry begins with a solid technical foundation. Through a direct approach at developing a proficiency on one’s instrument, and overcoming any discernable deficiencies, the building-blocks of musical interpretation are laid securely in place. In this way, the empowerment of the student begins with the technical ability to articulate his/her musical vision through the instrument. This is achieved through careful examination of the student’s technique combined with that person’s musical intentions. Only in understanding both elements can a technical problem be addressed comprehensively since this provides a musical motivation for success directly related to the process of musicianship (as opposed to an abstract technical issue). With clearly defined musical aims, pianistic challenges can be approached with a view towards an economic and fluid motion which will achieve the desired musical result. However, success should be determined by the student’s process and not solely by his/her performance. Naturally, an accountability to repertoire and performance standards must be demanded, but these standards too are a part of the process of developing one’s musicianship. The demands of performance are great, including the ability to prepare repertoire well, and the self-discipline required to meet such demands is a crucial element to sound musicianship.
The most important question that any musician must address is “what sort of musician do I wish to be?” This fundamental question affects the ways in which a student thinks, studies and performs. At its core, this question calls for the definition of a musical aesthetic. Every musician should have a clearly defined musical aesthetic which guides his/her own self-criticism and musical vision. Helping the student cultivate this aesthetic should be the priority of any tutor. This is achieved in a number of ways including the frequent challenging of the student’s musical decisions (ensuring they are always sound), instilling in the student an interest in the exploration of repertoire (both for their instrument as well as others), and in acquiring a diversity of knowledge (beyond piano literature). The practical application of the developing aesthetic must then be exercised by the student with an ability to critically examine performances (especially their own) and articulate such criticism in a positive manner. In doing so, not only are the musical tastes of the student defined more sharply, but the student learns to be productively self-critical. If a desire to learn and improve has been established within the student, then self-examination becomes that student’s best tool towards success.
As an instructor, it is essential to address one’s teaching to the needs, character and talents of an individual student. To that end, no method is sufficient to incite the qualities of student’s musicianship that enable them to work independently. Instead, great efforts must be taken, on the part of the teacher, to assess the capabilities of each student and find an appropriate stimulus. Some students may require a certain amount of demonstration at the piano, while others may respond to being presented with certain interpretive options (accompanied by a discussion of the merits and objectives of such options), etc.. Applied instruction is easiest when the teacher articulates specifically his/her own ideas. Unfortunately, this approach does not equip the young musician with the ability to formulate his/her own answers to musical difficulties. A guiding principle in studying, as in teaching, should not be to pursue the “easiest” course, but rather the “right” course. Therefore, individual instruction must be tailored to each individual student.
Respect for people, and their ideas, is essential to refined musicianship as well. A young performer is more likely to excel in an atmosphere of community than in one of alienation. To that end, a sense of civility and support is important in maintaining a productive studio. By treating the members of one’s own studio as people first, musicians second, and students third, a teacher can create an atmosphere that allows for positive growth amongst all studio members. This can provide a stimulating environment for sharing musical ideas and criticisms which will, in turn, impart a freedom to strive for success without a fear of failure. The studio should be a place where no idea is belittled, no question is unanswered and no attempt is unappreciated.