Teach me to teach piano
January 12, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I have a piano, I have piano playing ability, and I have a girlfriend who wants to learn to play. How would I go about teaching her? Any recommendations for books for her to learn from, or methods for teaching?

Assume no musical ability on her part. She would like to learn how to read music and get a solid foundation in piano technique. Children's piano books wouldn't appeal to her, as she doesn't want to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and its ilk.

Style of music isn't a concern at the moment.

Assume no previous teaching experience on my part.

Don't know if this affects anything, but my playing level is:

Beethoven's Piano Sonata #8, 1st movement
Chopin's Prelude in Db ("Raindrop")
Debussy Arabesque #1
posted by baniak to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My wife is recently started taking piano lessons. Her instructor has her using these books, but noted that within a few months she'll start augmenting the old classics in that book with a wider variety of music.

In the early lessons, the instructor seems concerned with developing and keeping good form, while internalizing how to read music. It's all been very positive to date.
posted by grudgebgon at 11:17 AM on January 12, 2013

Best answer: I think the idea that “The style of music isn’t a concern” is a big mistake. Your friend should start out playing the music she wants to eventually play. If she wants to play classical then start her out with beginner classical books. The greatest predictor of whether she’ll stick with it is how soon she’s playing stuff she likes. If she wants to play standards like “Stardust”, then that’s what she should be doing, super simplified versions that still sound good.

The guy that does the PBS specials, Scott Houston, takes this approach. His book “Play Piano in a Flash” is cheap and would get her started. It’s basically the way musicians play from lead sheets, with a melody line played with the right hand and chords in the left. She could be playing stuff she likes in a week.

I would show her the most very basic in technique, “hanging hands” hand position. There’s plenty of time for her to build her technique once she is really into it, but my belief is you have to feed the interest. If she quits in 6 months, then doing Hanon studies was a waste of time. I personally think kids should be taught this way as well, there’d be a lot more people entertaining themselves playing instruments than watching TV.
posted by PaulBGoode at 12:16 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As you note, piano playing ability does not translate necessarily to piano teaching ability. If this is a romantic-type girlfriend, I would recommend you do not do this. Just provide her with materials you have (easy music to practice with, online tutorials, use of your piano) and offer to answer questions.

When I learned the piano, first my mother tried to teach me, then my boyfriend tried. It led to some of the biggest fights I ever had with my mother, and I broke up with the boyfriend (maybe not related to the piano lessons, but they didn't help. They showcased his condescension and lack of empathy, that's for sure).

I did really well with professional lessons, on the other hand.

If you do decide to go this route, the things that really DIDN'T work when my mother and boyfriend tried to teach me:
- expecting too much progress too quickly
- demonstrating something at normal speed and expecting that to magically make me understand how to do it myself.
- sighing
- cutting lessons short because I just wasn't getting it
- refusing to show me something new because I hadn't practised the previous material "enough"
- saying "it's really easy" in an exasperated tone.

I know you wouldn't deliberately try to do any of the above, but it's stuff to watch out for in your attitude that might creep in subconsciously.

I really think the best approach, if you are going to teach her, is to help her understand the basics of reading music (with written instructions or other tutorials she can refer back to in her own time), show her how to hold her hands and which keys correspond to which notes (maybe use sticky labels on them), and then let her noodle around on the piano while you are nearby in case she has questions. That way it's not a teacher-student relationship so much as her driving it with you present as guide/advisor.
posted by lollusc at 5:08 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look at doing some stuff as duets - she takes the melody, you play the accompaniment. Be prepared to be the ultimate sympathetic accompanist, though - you'll really need to take your time.

The biggest problem I find with adults is that they know how bad the simplified arrangements they're doing sound, and they want to do something that sounds better. Sharing the load achieves this - pick some melodies with limited range, easy key, lots of stepwise movement etc.

Style is a concern, because it will affect the way you need to learn. The leadsheet approach is great for some styles, and you can play music of great complexity using it, but it's rubbish if you yearn to play Bach. On the other hand, a good classical technique and methodology isn't the best thing for someone who wants to be able to improvise a heartfelt blues. It's possible to learn one with a grounding in the other, but most adults don't have the free time to be able not to specialise a bit.
posted by monkey closet at 6:33 AM on January 14, 2013

One thing my piano teacher taught me that I've always liked is this simple gem:

Most of the time when you are moving up the scale, there is crescendo (louder) and if you are moving down the scale, there is decrescendo (quieter).

I learned to play using a lot of pencil-on-paper learning of the notes, the different musical symbols/terms, phrasing, etc. It not only helped me learn piano, but gave me the ability to sight-read music in church and choirs.
posted by tacodave at 3:38 PM on January 14, 2013

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