Lilian Kohlhoff, Piano Teacher
The musical classroom should always be a nurturing environment that allows students to learn through guided exploration. Teachers must do everything out of a sincere interest and concern for their students’ success. This requires that a teacher be sensitive to the goals and needs of each student so that progress can be made in a manner that is enjoyable and rewarding for each individual. Therefore I design a curriculum for each student that is tailored to accommodate their specific needs and goals while including fundamental principles that are necessary for providing a foundation upon which a multitude of musical activities can be built.
In the private piano studio, my students work in several general areas:
The physical mechanics of piano playing and the ability to use that technique for achieving one’s musical goals. Technique provides students with the tools by which musical ideas can be most clearly expressed. Technique is a means to an end, not an end itself. A solid technical foundation allows musicians to make their own technique as they deem appropriate for each piece being studied. While scales, arpeggios, chords, and etudes (study pieces) constitute the typical activities in this area, technical training must also seek to use these mechanics to find a pathway that leads towards true artistry.
Weekly Study Pieces
Accessible music to develop general reading skills.
While these pieces are easier than the more challenging repertoire pieces, they are usually not “sight reading” pieces. These pieces are designed to continually develop each student’s self-sufficiency at learning new music. If this area is neglected, students learn new pieces slower and more laboriously. These pieces are intended to be learned within one to two weeks with the student doing all of the initial work. This allows students the opportunity to assume responsibility and pride for their own work while challenging them to figure out how to create a refined musical performance through their own initiative.
Repertoire pieces are challenging pieces most commonly presented in public performances (such as recitals and competitions). These pieces are carefully selected so that each student is working on a piece that is incredibly motivating and yet appropriate for their musical development. This gives students the opportunity to select music that inspires and challenges. These pieces provide an opportunity to develop practicing skills that are highly structured and carefully monitored. With thoughtful practice, anyone can have successful musical experiences.
Theory and Ear Training
Understanding music through visual and aural analysis.
Theory and Ear Training are required to develop each student’s ability to hear and understand musical patterns and syntax. Developing one’s listening ability is an important part of being able to play with great communicative power. This sort of study also allows one to develop a musical vocabulary that can be used to discuss music in an intelligible manner.
Improvisation and Composition
Students creating their own music.
Improvisational and compositional studies allow students a chance to become directly involved in the creative process while exploring different sounds in a natural and stimulating manner. This process allows students the opportunity to find and connect with their personal creative voice which in turn helps them to gain a more enlightened understanding of music by other composers. This study is therefore an integral part of developing a musician’s capacity to hear and internalize different pieces and styles on a deeply meaningful level.
Music Literature/History, and Critical Listening Skills
Understanding our musical world.
A study of music history and literature is necessary not only so that students are performing music in a historically sound manner but also so students can develop critical thinking and listening skills. This also allows students to become more aware of the musical world in which we live. This means that they develop an informed awareness of the vast diversity of music in our society and other societies and begin to see historical trends in music. This then encourages other academic interests in musical scholarship and a general respect for music of all cultures.
All these areas constitute a holistic curriculum that surpasses the more fragmented traditional approach of developing repertoire and technique alone. Each area reinforces the other thus allowing students to excel in all areas with greater fluency. While evaluating musical ability through performance is possibly the easiest way to gauge success, it is not the only way. Far too often many teachers work primarily in this area while neglecting the others. True artistry comes only after understanding. This approach shows students a musical world that can be enjoyed for their entire lifetime not only through performing, but also by attending concerts, supporting the arts in our schools and communities, collecting recordings, and by the many other countless ways that we experience this life-enriching activity.